In response to “Woman, Mother, Space Marine” from The Escapist Forum: Your statement about feeling a maternal attachment to some in-game character reminded me of Bioshock in some ways. Even though that last, annoying escort mission riekd me to no end as I had to keep a brainwashed little girl from becoming splicer fodder, I still felt some mode of attachment to the rescued but still brainwashed Little Sister. Even though no emotional connection was made to establish the Little Sister I was escorting as someone in specific, the co-mingling of maternal and paternal instincts as I froze, bludgeoned and blasted splicers left me feeling vaguely like the end sequence from Aliens. Get away from her, you bitch, indeed!
I really enjoyed the article, but the closing argument for a game whose story is based on the maternal protection instinct is flawed. While the protection of your civilization or species is justification enough for the whole sale slaughter common in video games, a mother’s desire to protect her child is not. Perhaps a game that emphasizes danger over violence like Prince of Persia would be a good match for the story, but the average space marine game would not.
There was a game released in 1999 called “Drakan: Order of the Flame” whose driving plot point was a strong (scantily clad) female character trying to rescue her brother. The game play was good and the sub plots were compelling but after the 5th kill I lost all interest in saving my brother and continued the game for the joy of the game play. The “save your brother” plot kept emerging to string the player along but it felt artificial and forced.
I am not saying the protective instinct is not a good instinct to harness for games. Ico being the prime example of a game where it worked, to a degree. I have heard many complaints of “let the stupid girl die she deserves it”. However there are more ways of getting it wrong than there are of getting it right. After all most players don’t mind charging into battle screaming “for king and country!” but when the battle cry changes to “for little Billy!” a lot of players will start wondering who is this Billy and why should I kill 1000 people and die 100 times for him.
In response to “Pixels and Picket Lines” from The Escapist Forum: I see the industry treading in fear of having a Comics Code Authority rammed down its throat, and walking delicately around the sensibilities that led to the hobbling of the American comics culture for forty years, as the reason games are so apolitical these days. (How crippling yourself is better than having someone else cripple you is left as an exercise for the reader.)
In my experience, games do a remarkably good job of addressing political issues. The problem is that no one notices because it’s just “part of a game” and usually happens though an analogy. To my knowledge no one has made a game about Hurricane Katrina, but the concept of a devastating natural disaster and a government that fails to properly respond shows up quite often (just look at the Enclave in any of the Fallout games)
Games fall into the same trap here as a lot of science fiction: without someone hitting you over the head with an analysis stick and saying “look! here’s what this is!” most people will simply not think to draw parallels. And even if they do, there’s a very strong cultural prejudice against applying anything remotely geeky to serious political discussion.
As an example, look at the Starcraft campaign: the Terrans are overthrowing a corrupt government by supporting a popular dictator who ends up being just as bad. We play though this in extensive detail from multiple perspectives, and get to experience firsthand (on the losing side, no less) governmental abuse of powers and betrayal of trust. The entire Protoss campaign is about racism and fundamentalism and how they can tear a civilization apart. The Zerg just happen to be the product of genetic engineering undertaken with the best of intentions. And that’s just the really obvious stuff – if you want to go digging a bit deeper and actually assume that political commentary is intended you can find a whole lot more.
And yet, because all of this is set in fictional world, nobody ever thinks of Starcraft as a detailed portrayal of corruption and racism. That’s why games aren’t political, because no serious political debater will draw from a fictional world to make a point.
In response to “To Do: Finish Any Game” from The Escapist Forum: Games seem to have gone one of two directions: Become nearly endless (with tons of sidequests, sandbox play or something like an MMO which never, ever ends), or become almost too short, but very tightly constructed and with a compelling narrative.
I think success for the game industry lies in creating games that are both. Provide a short single player storyline that enables someone to feel like they ‘beat the game’, while giving the option to complete a wider variety of objectives for those who want to sink more time into the game.
World of Warcraft is a pretty good example of this – there are oodles of things you can do by yourself or with a small group that don’t require looking towards beating the end bosses. But at the same time, those intent on grinding towards the end can do so, giving them the satisfaction of ‘finishing the game’.
I have to completely disagree with your viewpoint on video games. I usually choose games specifically because of an extended narrative and view them in the same vein you describe for movies and books. It’s an expected point of pride to complete the game (and here I’m using “complete” as you have: finishing the story arc) and it’s only the truly poor games that I choose not to finish.
It simply sounds to me like you’re trying to play too many games (a problem I must confess to as well). We don’t have enough time to read every great book or watch every great movie, what makes us think we’d have enough time to play every great game?
In response to “Global Games, Local Perspectives” from The Escapist Forum: Until there are more cultures involved in video game production, we won’t see more cultural viewpoints represented. I mean, sure, we’ll keep seeing Lara Croft go to Peru (or maybe next time she goes to Suriname, who knows?). But what American, British, Japanese or Canadian developer is going to tackle the problem of how to make a game from a specific cultural viewpoint when they’re not from that culture themselves?
I’m sure not going to try to construct a story from the POV of a Chinese, Chilean, or Icelandic hero without someone from that country showing me what that view really looks like. When you write about a fantasy world, there’s nobody who can tell you “no, that isn’t how it is” there aren’t any cultural sensitivities to trip over, and there aren’t any right or wrong approaches to the subject. Real cultures are a little more delicate. What we’re seeing isn’t an unwillingness to explore other people’s realities, it’s just classic “write what you know” when all the content creators know approximately the same realities.
In response to “Postcards from the Road” from The Escapist Forum: Another “travel experience”: Helping the Somali woman seated next to you on the airliner fill out her visa application while you try to discern whether the dots swimming in front of your eyes are hallucinations induced by your malaria medication or a result of sitting on airplanes/in airports for 26 hours. I smell a mini-game! Or maybe a quick-time event.
Perhaps it’s because I read your article immediately after Tom Endo’s, but I see your call for truly jarring experiences as a possible remedy for the player fatigue referenced in his piece. At the same time, I think many players go to games for a comforting or reassuring experience: “I have learned the rules, and by following them I receive this little rush of endorphins on completing a task.” Hence the appeal of multiplayer and the validation one receives from the group upon doing well.
I think that, upon the creation of these varying virtual worlds you mention on Page 3, you might see a result similar to what happens in real life: Many players’ stories would be told within the bounds of the world in which they are comfortable (no doubt a rich experience in itself), while a relative few would strike out into the unknown. It’s a theory, anyway.