Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Gamestorming: Images of War

"I don't believe in objectivity. Everyone has a point of view. But I won't be a propagandist for anyone. If you do something right, I'm going to take your picture. If you do something wrong, I'm going to take your picture also."

-John Hoagland

Of late I've been considering a basic outline for a game based upon combat journalism. The most difficult challenge is finding a way to make a game centered on combat without allowing the player to engage in combat. Should be very simple.

Journalists are often found in videogames as plot devices, like Valerie Cortez in Far Cry. But her investigation (and how she survives) are lost in some parallel plot, while you run around gunning down everything in sight.

Beyond Good and Evil had an investigative journalism bent to it, though I felt that it wasn't nearly as developed as it could have been. The central idea of the sleuthing and photographing, however, that the right pictures and the right story at the right time could change the world, made for powerful and emotional gaming. A shame that bringing down the system still required laying the smack down on a big boss.

I would've preferred Boiling Point: Road to Hell to take much more an investigative route since, y'know, you were investigating the disappearance of your daughter. This, naturally, required you to join with rebels, the military, drug smugglers, and so forth and blow lots of stuff up and kill lots of people and take drugs.

A sufficiently motivated team might be able to work out a simplified virtual social networking model based upon willingness to divulge information and then map different verbs which can affect that network in both positive and negative ways.*

Collecting information could expand your network, enhance your knowledge of the gamespace, give your reporting greater influence or add to your toolset. On the negative side you might find yourself tracked and ambushed, vilified in the press thus restricting your contact pool or your equipment stolen.

Your character might be embedded with an infantry unit on patrol. A firefight breaks out and you have to seek cover while capturing the best angles with your camera. A soldier is hit and calls out for help. Do you run out and expose yourself to risk to help his buddies drag him to safety?

Or you're asked to find a local guerilla leader and get an interview. Your friend, a physician, asks you to track down some antibiotics which he will exchange for setting up a meeting. You're taken before the warlord and ask some pointed questions. Someguerrillass burst in and inform the leader of an assault, with mortars incoming. You have to make your way back to the safe zone by avoiding the battling factions.

There are so many narratives you could weave into a fictional warzone: exploring atrocities and ethnic tension, discovering how people cope with their everyday lives during a time of war, the quiet horrifying banality of death. You know, the usual subjects explored in videogames.

*A concept which seems to be explored by agent-based modeling.


Chris said...

A year or so back now we designed a concept for a client called 'The Inside Story', which was set in the late 1950's /early 1960's. The entire game was based around investigative reporting, against the background of the tensions leading to the Cuban missile crisis. The client went ahead with other concepts we designed for them in the same 'batch', but I have a great fondness for that concept design. In essence, it was a stealth-action game but substituting camera work for gunplay. (The player had no violent options at all - the worst thing they can do is blind someone with their flash).

Anyway, I don't really have a point, but your post reminded me of this. :)

GregT said...

The main issue would be empowering the player's journalist character. In a warzone environment there would be the danger that the player feels like the least powerful actor on the scene; whereas the soldiers can influence events directly with their weapons the player may only influence the situation indirectly and after the event. The player would need to feel like it was their story - that the war, as it was, was working for them.