A mini-post for I am weary. I had the chance to play the Game of Thrones boardgame a week or so ago. It’s very boardgame-y. Little units in little regions attacking each other and claiming resources and land and generally trying to take over castles to eventually win the Iron Throne and thus the game. The short take on this is that it wasn’t really a game for me almost entirely because it was about fighting and battling – that stuff has just interested me less and less lately, I just can’t be bothered pretending I’m killing people or waging wars or devastating opposing armies, it doesn’t titillate or thrill. It bores. It makes me wonder what would happen if you completely reskinned Game of Thrones the boardgame to have the exact same mechanics but a different narrative/aesthetics over the top. Would I then enjoy it? It’s quite possible I would, sorry straw-ludologists.
Have been finding it a little difficult to blog recently just because I’m putting so much time into Safety Instructions and for whatever reason it doesn’t put me in “writing mode” as much as playing other people’s games tends to. I guess that, in the moment, it’s a bit hard to really see what you’re up to when you’re making a game – need a little time apart, rather than staring bleary eyed at the latest animation cell.
I will say, however, that it struck me quite solidly today that I’m making a game in which a child dies, which just isn’t something you see all that much. I’ve been going along animating all this gruesome stuff without a second thought because, to be fair, it’s all implied by the safety instructions you see on a plane. If you don’t brace – so much the worse for you, and so on.
Even so, it makes me wonder whether I’ve hit some kind of boundary of taste that I’m just unable to see because I’m so obsessed with the technical fact of getting the game working and finished. I wouldn’t remove the scene, I don’t think, but is it a “woah!” sort of thing, or an “oh, okay” sort of thing? Guess I won’t really know until some people see it, but it seems funny to me just at the moment that I’m unclear on it, and that there’s a dead kid in my game in the first place.
And who killed him? Me? You? The disaster which struck the airplane? Who’s responsible here?
I played through the first episode of Alan Wake this evening and found it to be a very tightly designed experience, which is at least somewhat a good thing. It’s a polished-feeling 3rd person shooter but with a torch, essentially. The plot is a little creaky, but it has a pleasing relationship to the genre of a-bit-cheesy-but-trying-hard horror movies. The character models could afford to move their lips instead of their whole jaws when they talk.
As with a lot of games, I’ve taken the most pleasure in the more banal stuff surrounding the game when you’re “not playing” but are rather navigating the world without danger, but perhaps a little implied danger. It’s really a pretty game, and walking around in a local diner or exploring a house in the dark sans zombie-things is quite nicely executed and satisfyingly creepy.
The problem arises with the gameplay, which is that you walk along a more or less linear path and eventually bad people come out of the woodwork and try killing you so you kill them first. Which you do by shining a torch at them for a while, which is cute but starts feeling weirdly silly, and then shoot them in the face (or wherever). And down they go. And you do that some more and some more with a couple of spatial puzzles.
Which is to say the Alan Wake is, in its heartest of hearts, just like every other game that wants you shooting things and shooting them good.
And I declare myself over this particular school of games, and I declare myself concerned that there’s not quite enough to choose from outside this genre if you’re wanting to play games that situate you in an interesting world you can inhabit as a “person” (like Alan here, or FemShep, or whomever). It’s understandable, of course, that shooting things is a tried-and-true form of interaction during games. And it’s also true that shooting people has a high affective value while simultaneously being at least somewhat easy to implement in code and graphics.
On the other hand, shooting people is now so utterly commonplace that there’s no shock or awe in taking digital life, the shock and awe is when, for brief periods, you don’t have to. This is why the banal sequences in Alan Wake, or Deadly Premonition or any other shooter with the odd respite, are so wonderful and minty fresh. The problem is that the interactivity hasn’t quite caught up with those non-shooting periods of play. Other than the deep satisfaction of interesting spatial navigation (e.g. Fallout 3), the interactivity can be pretty poor outside of shooting shit.
All of which raises the question of what other forms of interaction (as in, other than shooting and traversing space) are doable in the context of games these days? While “talking” as an interaction has not fared well in gameplay to date, I find it extraordinarily hard to believe that “running and shooting” are the only two viable options. I don’t have a suggestion here, since I’m sleepy now, but I feel that we should have our best people on this one.
That means you.
So Bullet Storm is this tremendously controversial game. It’s controversial in large part because it wields the titillating blend of extreme violence (nothing at all new) and sexual innuendo. By way of illustration, the game includes these “skill shots” you can do for special points (or whatever, some kind of validation). And these skill shots are called things like “gang bang” and “facial”. And there’s one called “rear entry” which revolves around shooting enemies in the ass.
So that’s the current news on Bullet Storm. It hasn’t actually come out yet.
Unsurprisingly, the mainstream media is all upset and saying kind of epically dumb things about games. Notably, Fox has in some capacity claimed the Bullet Storm causes (or, rather, will or would cause) rape. Because, you know, video games… violence… something something… sex… something something… causality something something… rape. QED.
Unsurprisingly part two, the proud defenders of games from these spurious claims have fought back by pointing out that such claims are inane. They’ve deconstructed the various arguments, queried the citation of psychological studies, discredited so called experts and so on. You can get a dose of that over at Rock, Paper, Shotgun if you want it. Nothing much new going on, though as per usual, the defense of games is pretty admirably well reasoned and all. Pretty calm.
In the midst of this, however, I really do find myself missing another kind of voice. Not so much a middle road as just a different perspective on it all. Maybe it’s out there and I’m missing it (like all of us on the internet, I think I can say pretty safely that I miss more or less everything that happens), but the voice would say something like this…
“All this business of precognitively crying “rape trainer!” and assuming rather than showing that video games are a big bad evil is super lame. It’s great that there are people willing to tirelessly respond to it.
“On the other hand… shooting people up the ass? Really? Is that where we are now? Is that what we’re fighting for? Video games, violent ones included, can be the source of much beauty and deep interest, but do we have to also drag ourselves into the fray to defend ass-shooting?
“Further, maybe it is the case that video games do have a bit more to defend. Ass-shooting movies, those that exist, are also a bit of an embarrassment, but video games, where we do the ass-shooting, seem degrading to everyone involved. The ass-shot clearly, but the ass-shooter every bit as much.
“In conclusion, what in the sweet hell is going on with video games? Why are we shooting other people’s asses as part of our daily dose of entertainment? Is it really just fine and dandy that we got here? Or should we be kind of pissed off about it? Shouldn’t we be directing at least some of our displeasure at Bullet Storm and its “rear entry”? Rather than saving it all for the bunch of jerks who criticise our video game life?
“Just say no to ass-shooting.”
Something like that. Don’t quote me on it, though.
I picked up Burnout: Revenge for cheap the other day – I really enjoyed time spent with Burnout: Paradise a while ago, so I thought I’d check out its highly praised predecessor. And it’s pretty good, really. It’s Burnout. I’m driving. I’m smashing. I’m crashing. Going fast, suddenly stopping. The usual. So usual I was figuring I’d have nothing to say about the experience, really.
But fortunately I snapped out of it and paid attention to what was going on. What’s great about Burnout is how bizarre it actually it. You’re driving around at top speed, smashing cars off the road in gruesome cars, wrapping your own car around a pole at times, and generally causing untold destruction. And that’s the point of the game. But it’s also deeply disturbing behaviour, right? I mean, car crashes are no laughing matter…
Terrible things happen in many, many games. In GTAIV I’ve crashed a lot of cars. In Mass Effect 2 I killed a lot, a lot of people. And on and on. But these games generally present those actions in a context. You’re killing people because they’re bad, or because you’re bad. There’s at least some kind of purpose. (Well, perhaps less so for the many civilian casualties in GTA, but even then it’s in the context of a city – the police pursue you, for instance.)
As far as I know, the Burnout games don’t contextualise your activities. They just are. It’s not like some story of the Car People from the Car Planet or anything… fighting a deadly battle for supremacy, blah blah blah. There’s nothing like that, there’s just cars smashing into each other. And that’s somewhat peculiar. Even Mortal Kombat had its kind of ridiculous story for why you were pummeling other people. In this way, I think of Burnout as clinging to the idea it’s a sports title. Sports games don’t need contextualisation because the sport is a context all its own. You don’t ask why people are playing football in Madden. And perhaps that’s good enough for Burnout too? You don’t ask why there are a series of insane and deadly street races going on constantly in the various locations that game presents. That’s just the way it is.
The other thing is how the cars seem to have no drivers. Presumably this is in a bid to remove the frightening idea that people are being maimed and crushed in the horrific accidents that so casually occur…
So maybe it really is Tales From the Car Planet…