Extra Consideration

Extra Consideration
The School Shooter Mod, Part 2

Extra Consideration | 23 May 2011 19:30
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imageMovieBob: Can't really go there with you, i.e. if the tech works but the story/setting are bigoted then it's still a "good" game - or at least not a bad one. I understand what you're saying, and could get onboard at least up to the point where it couldn't be just immediately dismissed; but it feels like a version of the argument that since games are traditionally most about play-mechanics that story-critique can't/shouldn't be part of the discussion, and I've never been comfortable with that. If the game has a narrative and/or a tangible "setting," those things are PART of the game and have to be taken into account. Just as I think it's acceptable to place Bioshock near the top of the FPS genre despite it's fairly by-the-numbers control/play scheme because its narrative element is so far above and beyond, I'd say it's also fair for "how does it treat the white-hot subject matter it's based around?" to be a factor in sizing up School Shooter - or Imagination is The Only Escape, or the Sonderkommand game, or whatever else falls into this wheelhouse.

The thing about Birth of a Nation, though, is that even though the narrative is hateful to the point of downright evil... it "works." The reason it's still - grudgingly and always with great caveat - revered in the study of film history isn't just the technical aspects but the storytelling ones. To the degree that you can put the "reality" of what was actually being depicted out of your head, the structure - guy fights "noble" but doomed war, returns to blighted home, goes vigilante - is executed with alarming skill, even today.

I'm willing to entertain the idea that a good shoot-em-up could be made in the narrative of a school shooting - and hell, I'll go one step further: I'd be REALLY interested to see someone have the stones to make an unironically non-judgmental one; i.e. one that doesn't instantly demonize the shooter(s) and maybe even - gasp! - explores whether or not there's a "point" to whatever they've been driven to... that maybe even says "obviously this is sick and horrible, but high school is HELL for some people and while I [the theoretical game maker] don't condone what they did I sort of understand how they got there." Of course doing it as anything other than a one-note ironic joke (the game in question) or an introspective art-game (Super Columbine Massacre) would sort of negate making a "pure fun" version just on the basis of logic: Spree-killings like this are generally affairs where a short run of "action" is followed by a drawn-out standoff. Not really XBL-multiplay-fun-fun material, unless you want to kid around about it.

You can't really make Call of Duty out of it, for example... but perhaps it could be a "stealth" game where you (the shooter) try to get out of the place alive post-massacre. Or you could "No Russian" it - have the protagonist be less-than-totally-sold-on-it co-conspirator with options to follow-through or subvert the "leader's" actions. Or better yet, a "survival" game where you're an innocent student/teacher trying to survive/escape the actual event by evading/resisting the shooters - maybe with a mechanic to lead others to safety (seriously, that JUST crossed my mind and now I'm wondering why it doesn't exist yet?) And hey... there's always the option of playing from the perspective of a police/SWAT man/team on the scene - something in the vein of Hostages aka Rescue: The Embassy Mission.

Hm... thinking more on it, maybe the whole thing would lend itself more to the realm of an "interactive novel." I'd be curious to know - and maybe one you guys is more dialed-in to this than I would be - does Japan (where i-novels are more popular) have a comparable "problem" with school shootings/violence and if so have there been any material like that dealing with it?

imageJames Portnow: Agreed about Birth, it has a lot of execution merit all around, not only as a technical work but also in terms of how they delivered their message. When I said "film technique" I meant in understanding how to use the medium of film (it broke a lot of ground). But execution alone, even if innovative, is not enough for me to call something "good". I may call it "brilliant" or "groundbreaking" but not "good" (this was really just a semantic distinction I wanted to raise with Jim about how he was using good and bad in the previous mail).

Also, the "survive a school shooting game" is brilliant. I've wanted to do something similar with a civilian in a warzone game for a while, but that may well be a better tack!

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