Archive for August, 2009

A-B-C, Easy as 1-2-3
Monday, 3 August, 2009

Because Far Cry 2 is one of those open games where you have to exercise a whole bunch of investigative thought and careful planning, I restarted my game with the aid of a walkthrough. The immediate popular response to this kind of thing is to label it as a form of cheating, and it maybe it is, for what it’s worth. However, I don’t think it’s worth all that much.

Specifically, I’ve quite enjoyed the process of receiving my instructions from the walkthrough and carrying them out. There’s even a strange whiff of authenticity in the process – the idea that I’m a mercenary who receives specific instructions as to what my ‘handler’ (the walkthrough author) wants me to do. In the game I follow instructions, after all, just not instructions so exact. On the balance, I’m enjoying the experience of doing what I’m told and reaping the rewards, it’s nice.

A further benefit, again related to authenticity, is that if I follow the instructions in the walk-through, it tends to yield a more ‘realistic-looking’ game in output. Knowing how to sneak around an enemy camp rather than stumble around being shot at makes me feel more satisfied with the representations of the game.

One clear fact, damning for many, is that it makes the game less challenging. Frankly, I don’t always have the time to be challenged.

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One Less Digital Dude in the World
Saturday, 1 August, 2009

I was surprised to encounter an actual ethical ‘moment’ in a game today. I’d just started play Far Cry 2, being interested in the whole “open world” genre of shooters. After a jeep ride to a war-torn area, discovering my avatar has malaria, and being stranded in a hotel in the centre of some kind of combat, I took control of the avatar. I grabbed a gun, obviously, and tried to pursue my assigned objective of “escape the hotel.”

I shambled around the hotel for a while, vision blurred by malarial episodes. Eventually, I made it downstairs and looked out the front door. There was a guy out there with an assault rifle, shooting at someone – but not me. When I moved my cross-hairs over him, they went red. I aimed at him, fired, and killed him.

I have been kind of haunted by this action ever since. After all, should I really be shooting people just because there are red cross-hairs involved? (Also, if I hadn’t been playing in Easy mode, I wouldn’t have had cross-hairs in the first place.) It really was the first time in a while that I’ve had that feeling of possibly doing something wrong in a game. There were at least three contributing factors:

  1. The narrative set-up was really ambiguous – it was never made clear who was to be thought of as “good” or “bad”, just that there was fighting going on. As such, there was nothing in the fiction of the game stating the guy with the rifle was my anyway – I didn’t have any way of knowing much of anything about him.
  2. There were no obvious repercussions for my action (other than his death, of course). That I wasn’t congratulated or chastised for killing the guy made it hard to know if it was the right thing.
  3. I’m still unclear on whether, at a game mechanical level, I had to shoot him. Soon afterward a cut-scene triggered (a malaria fit), but I don’t know if it happened because I killed the guy, or would have happened anyway.

Basically, the general lack of “moral information” both in the fiction of the game and its rules, led me to have some kind of genuine ethical problem. Which is cool.