Letters to the Editor

Letters to the Editor
The Industry's Seedy Underbelly

The Escapist Staff | 2 Nov 2010 11:48
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In response to "The Devil Inside" from The Escapist Forum: I disagree with your framework here and think it's problematic in a few ways.

I think your positioning of the game designer as a God figure is problematic. The game designer does indeed make god-like decisions about the world they are creating, but they lack the cohesiveness of the Divinity (what is actually represented as a "Game Designers" choice is actually reflective of a multitude of other people, and might not actually reflect what the Game Designer wants.) Similarly, the game designer must make strategic decisions about the aspects of the game to include, and which ones not to. While you frame the choice to not let the player stand on the horse instead of it as a malicious decision designed to force you into a specific mode of thought, it is reality more likely to be a matter of resources--A God figure would have unlimited time and resources, taking anything strategic out of the equation--which makes all decisions necessarily moral decisions because there are no other considerations. You cannot proscribe morality onto a decision that could just as easily be a strategic/resource driven decision as it could be a morally guided decision. (I'm using morality here in such a way as to imply a deliberate effort on the part of designer to ensure that the game is played in only one way, the way the designer intends.)

Finally, player agency really has nothing to do with being in line or out of line with the designers intentions (or, in other words, their morality). In fact, within the context of an open world, player agency effects designers exactly as much as it does within more structured, rigid worlds -- ultimately, the player can only act according to how the designer dictates and never in any other way.

Within a game, the concept of Free Will is an illusion -- the game can never be anything other than a pre-destined outcome. In essence, you've completed a game as soon as you've purchased because there is no other possible outcome except to win. We often like to think that we can "Lose" a game, but we can't. The best you can do is "Not Win yet," and even implies the eventual outcome of winning the game. Free will within a game is counter-intuitive because by playing the game, you are tacitly agreeing to the rules of engagement - that is, giving up your free will to act in any way that strikes your fancy, and instead decide to act in the way the game proscribes for you.

I think the sole exception to this would be something like SecondLife, where the game is literally defined by the player. The rules of engagement are defined by the player. But even within SecondLife, you can join other games where your free will is essentially stripped. SecondLife itself only provides a greater illusion of free will than other similar games - but never the truth that is free will. Only a game that contains no rules and no guiding principles can let you truly express your will, but then the game, which is essentially a set of behaviors guided by rules, actually ceases to be a game.

- Serrenitei

This is a tad silly, sorry. A game designer, in general, is more of a storyteller than a deity. He creates a world in the same way that I can create a world if I write a sci-fi story. Sure he may give the player freedom to interact with the characters in different ways, but that is not so different from the way it's handled in a less interactive media - it only allows the designer to give much more thought to a particular character without hindering the main narrative.

That one series about RPG games once said that the DM is the devil - he creates a world, but more importantly he constantly antagonizes the players, creating conflict in which games thrive. Sure there are games that can thrive without obvious conflict - Dwarf Fortress and Minecraft, for two - but essentially most gamers will prefer to be lead by their hands to their next objective over wandering around godforsaken wastelands for hours, unless the godforsaken wastelands are particularly interesting.

(Then again, a good DM is closer to a real god, compared to a computer game, in which he isn't as limited. If on my medieval campaign you want to go around killing people until the lord pays you to leave him alone, feel free to, I won't force you to be a nice guy. Just keep in mind that while you're improvising ways to fuck up the world I'll be improvising ways for the world to fuck you up.)

(Curiously I guess a world-creating devil would be more similar to the Gnostic concept of an 'evil' god of materia that contrasts to the 'good' god of spirituality, a viewpoint I feel answers several of the spiniest ontological issues of religion. But that's for another time.)

(Fuck, two parenthetical paragraphs. Three now. I think I'm getting an award for this one.)

I see nothing wrong with trying to enjoy a game the way it's 'supposed' to be. I don't see people starting to read books through the middle so that they can skip the intro, or blanking out pages to change how events play it. I guess the analogy to sin works if you think that the 'morality' of the dev is the congruity of the world and you're breaking it, either by having your stoic saviour of the world jump up and down on a desk like a moron or by revealing the ways things don't work how they should in the real world and using that difference to your advantadge. But it's a strenous conclusion.

- The Random One

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