Friday, October 26, 2007

Plausible Deniability

I am all for game designers tackling social and political concerns through interactive media.

But there are certainly times when a designer tries too hard to convince people that their game is deep without actually adding any depth to the game.

That's what I think of when I read this Gamasutra interview:

Are you at all concerned that people are not going to get the message, and the game might, instead, glorify this situation? Because the characters themselves do look like the ultimate male power fantasy.

CF: Well I think that obviously when you see that armor and the masks and the guns and stuff -- we need an image to get people to go into the game, right? And the world is obsessed with it. I mean how many shooters are at the show today -- eleven plus? So it’s popular. People like guns. Americans love guns. The world likes violence. It’s human nature. People enjoy war, they enjoy this stuff. It’s creepy when you look at it... a singing game [compared to a] shooter, what the sales numbers are, it’s actually kind of scary in just the amount of violence. But what we’re doing is... we’re going to try to bring this to light subtly.

I look at it like Invasion of the Body Snatchers. That movie came out back when, and people were like “oh, it’s a horror movie.” And some people took it at face value -- “oh, it's a horror movie... I’m afraid of body snatchers!” But other people realized that the underlying message was McCarthyism, and what was going on in America at the time.

We’re hoping that someone who plays the game a lot and who really follows the story, and doesn’t just skip through it and pays attention, that we can spark them to say “you know what, I’m going to look into this.” That’s all. “I’m going to gain interest in this, and find out what’s really going on here. What am I doing?” In the game you’re doing all kind of crazy stuff for this company. You’re sent on all these different missions, and then you find out what’s wrong with this deniability and what’s wrong with everything in general.


I would really like to believe Chris. It's very possible that he is in fact making a highly negative statement about mercenary armies through the medium of videogames. But every single trailer makes it look like any other consequence-free run and gun. The slasher-mask helmets, impossibly beefy main characters*, Dukes of Hazzard water jumps - I am just so totally reminded of Blackwater opening fire on civilians.

Chris isn't completely wrong. Violence can be titillating. Where he's wrong is that he thinks the widespread enjoyment of violence in media means that he has to portray it as enjoyable. Were he really interested in making a statement he wouldn't be crafting a game where two buddy mercs blow a bridge with rocket launchers. Radical, dude!

It isn't an impossible task to make a playable game that also makes a statement. It's just not as easy a sell as balls-to-the-wall murder.

A scenario I would like to see: Your character is attached to a squad that detains a group of civilians. You are told to pull the truck around. When you do, you see through the windshield that they have opened fire and the civilians are running for cover while the squad laughs. You have to make a decision - place your vehicle in the line of fire, watch as the civilians are murdered, join in, or radio to headquarters explaining the situation. A thirty minute game with these kinds of decisions would be infinitely preferable to twenty hours of gunning down faceless "ethnics" in a scenario based on the fantasy world of xenophobic right-wingers.

*The funniest thing to me about these roided out character designs that seem so popular in shooters is that I saw maybe two Marines during my four years that resembled those inflated ubermen in any way. Do developers not realize that military members are recruited from the general population and not grown in a genetics lab?

1 comment:

Patrick said...

Yes, context is not enough, you need the context and content to work togther meaningfully.

Still, I'm glad that the use of subtext as a commercial as well as artistic edge is catching on.