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Shock value and terrible writing: the future of gaming?
Editorial by 
October 28, 2009, 01:31
Games are looking more realistic and developers keep trying harder to excite their audiences but I'm finding that instead of them getting better, many are crossing a line of good taste and demonstrating just how shallow our talent pool of writers and directors is.

The march of technology should automatically improve games, shouldn't it? But instead of games rivalling film and literature in their ability to express ideas and emotions, the demands of the technology are instead exposing the juvenile, shallow and overall inarticulate nature of a lot of developers. Today, story and visual impact is valued as much as gameplay, but it doesn't feel to me like most developers are able to deliver.

For me, Resident Evil 5 was spoilt by the ignorant portrayal of Africa. Whether you could say it was unintentionally racist, blissfully unaware of the socio-politcal context of its imagery, or just laughably spun from crude Japanese stereotypes of black people and the continent, it was a disaster because it felt so dimwitted. Expensive, flashy and shocking, yes, but devoid of any creative integrity. Capcom had the budget and the tools to make something incredible, but either their ambitions or their skill as content makers failed them.

Bad content displayed in high defintion at 60 fps with blood physics and surround sound voice acting seems so much worse than bad content displayed in 8-bit pixels.

We all knew that as the generations went by, the violence that most games are based on would start to get more realistic and perhaps more uncomfortable to experience. As the graphics improve we expect deeper and more nuanced stories to go with them, to live up to what we see on the screen and to justify the violence, or better yet, flesh it out with other experiences. Unfortunately great ideas and great writing seem to be in short supply. Do developers have the right kind of directors and writers to achieve it? Is the talent there? Where it's lacking we'll see more and more games that rely on shock value to stand out, and that's unfortunately what I think we're seeing.

Take Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. The game has a level in which you play a terrorist (or undercover agent with terrorists) shooting civilians inside an airport. The civilians in the crowded terminal are your only targets during this mission, and with state of the art graphics the crowds howl and scream as they try to run and are cut down by your hail of bullets or are picked off through the scope of your rifle. It's pretty shocking. If you haven't already seen the movies, you're bound to hear about it when the mainstream media picks up on it.

Maybe I'm just turning into Danny Glover and getting too old for this shit, but from what I've seen it's genuinely repulsive and it doesn't exist for any other reason than to cause controversy and to appeal to the anarchistic nature of teenagers. Let's be honest, Infinity Ward doesn't have the literary skills for this to be described as a commentary on world events, or a thought provoking interactive sequence - or any of the other things they will defend themselves with.

This seems to be the worrying formula:

Inherently violent game genres


increasing realistic graphics


densensitized gamers


crowded marketplace


mediocre developers desperate to stimulate them


Depressingly unsophisticated games clamoring for your attention with thoughtless graphic violence

I'm not bothered by the fact that artistically bankrupt games exist. It's that the gaming media seems to embrace them as being the core of gaming. Journalists write off the old guard, imaginative games like Mario platformers as being casual, kiddy, family, not for the core, meanwhile these clumsy, grisly epics are held up as the biggest releases of the year. They are the poster children of modern gaming, they're what people inevitably judge gaming by and so long as they do that, the medium won't progress.

Those games wouldn't stand a chance in hell of garnering respect in other mediums. MW2 wouldn't stand up against a double episode of 24, let alone a novel or film with actual depth. It's sad to me that we have so far to go.

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Posted: 10/28/09, 01:31
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Today, story and visual impact is valued as much as gameplay, but it doesn't feel to me like most developers are able to deliver.

I don't know if that's really true. I think it's just given lip service. Devs have grand (Hollywood) ambitions, but I think most of them realize that the gameplay is more important. I am honestly shocked that people expected a realistic, nuanced portrayal of Africa from frigging CAPCOM (the masters of unlocking). Their stories are always ridiculous, and they don't even have pretensions to make them otherwise. That would be like expecting Nintendo to make Bioshock. I hated RE5 for other reasons, though.

I think the Modern Warfare 2 example you cited actually sounds pretty cool. Have you played CoD4? I thought it employed some very interesting storytelling devices which were specific to the gaming medium. The ability to view the action from different perspectives was handled in a fairly powerful way. That is one franchise that I think is moving gaming storytelling (if not story, necessarily) in the right direction. And if they have to push a few boundaries, so be it. Even though GTA often pushed boundaries in a tasteless way, it still served to expand the freedom of expression in gaming.

Realistic graphics are boring, though. I don't like how most HD games seem to be converging towards that same boring goal.

One thing I do think is strange is how companies can shell out tons of money for shitty cutscenes. I mean, if you're going to pour all of that effort and time into creating some CG, shouldn't you create a solid foundation first? And some believable dialogue?

Posted by 
 on: 10/28/09, 16:30
It probably doesn't help that RE5 wasn't directed by Shinji Mikami, it felt like it was made by committee. Or mistake. Or one pile of papers falling into another pile of papers and then the cleaning lady putting that in a folder marked design document.

As visuals get more defined, directors need to have an equally well defined vision for the story/setting/content. I love the fact that Resident Evil has always been a B-movie type experience, but if you make the images more serious, gritty, violent and evocative of real world wars and issues, then you need to be either following through with the storyline too, or committing to the B-movie feel and having more goofy dialogue, monster scares and engaging characters. For me, it was a complete mess and the cause of that was the intense, HD detailed violent depictions of Africa and Capcom's inability to deliver either a B-movie or an equally gritty, serious story to match it.

I don't think you can defend Modern Warfare as an example of games moving in the right direction. For me, and this can only be a personal distinction, games are reaching a point where developers need some level of responsibility about how interactive violent acts are portrayed. It's partly about responsibility, and it's partly about just a level of quality and artistic credibility.

I have friends who feel uncomfortable playing MW1 because of their use of real world events that their friends are actively involved in. Sure, they can marvel at the graphics and the big set pieces, but part of them is saying it's not right to glorify or exploit modern warfare. I can't relate to that exactly, but I think it's like an incoming tide. The games are getting more realistic and no less bloody, because as Simbabbad says, violence is still the easiest foundation for a game. Sooner or later everyone will be asking themselves whether it's right, or developers will have to try harder to raise their craft.

Infinity Ward portrays themselves as proponents of the idea that games can make you think, but I personally find their games very shallow commentaries on war - and not nearly articulate enough to justify endless hours of realistically depicted exploding bodies.

Posted by 
 on: 10/28/09, 17:48
Well, I don't know if exploding bodies need justification in a game, realism notwithstanding. Is it more insulting to you that IW even ATTEMPTS to make some sort of commentary on war? Because most games don't. Hell, most works in other media don't.

I don't really get the distinction between glorifying WWII, glorifying Vietnam, and glorifying modern war. Seems pretty similar to me.

I dunno. A lot of things make people uncomfortable. Even the Care Bears probably make some people uncomfortable. Should media/art/whatever shy away from anything that might upset or offend someone? If not, who gets to decide where that line is drawn? Will it be judged by the beliefs of a certain faith? That kind of thing seems pretty dangerous to me.

Honestly, I wouldn't mind a totalitarian dictatorship, but only if I were the dictator.

Also, you have an interesting point that RE5 abandoned its B-Movie roots with the realistic graphics, but did it, really (any more than RE4 did)? Or is that just your perception, because the visuals are so sharp and the setting was different (although not much different than RE4)? Are B-Movies defined by cheapness or cheesiness? The Resident Evil franchise has always been on the cutting edge, technically.

Posted by 
 on: 10/28/09, 18:07
Interesting. There are some good points made here - good discussion material. I have to agree with the basic premise, that video games seem to be relying more on overall shock value and terrible writing. Once in a while we'll get something good, deep and/or profound. But those are far and few between, and the less "classy" stuff gets more exposure.

But... isn't that how it is with just about ANYTHING? Movies, books, TV, graphic novels, music... they ALL exploit certain shock values to drum up chatter and attention to themselves.

Why would video games be any different? Should they be?

Posted by 
 on: 10/28/09, 20:14
I didn't mean for this to be a big, heavy discussion when I started writing. :) I didn't realise I even felt that strongly about the subject, but there are definitely some problems brewing in the current gaming scene.

GameDadGrant, I agree that all mediums rely on shock value some of the time. And all of them have products that appeal to the lowest common denominator - or at least, what they consider the massmarket to eat up. Audiences are often thought of as being less intelligent, less discerning than they actually are. In the case of videogames, the massmarket audience is considered to demand violence and as Simbabbad said so well, it's all about being the perpetrator.

Movies that have a lot of violence have many scenes where the violence is carried out by the villains. The hero may end with a high body count of bad guys or they may be cleverer than that and succeed more on wits and agility. Movies are varied in their stories and events, sometimes it's the films that have the lightest touch that are the most effective. Gaming is kind of a blunt object when it comes to this. You rarely relinquish control of your character, and so an already violent medium is all about you doing the violence and as games spawn sequels or try to one-up their rival franchises, the violence becomes more explicit, more realistic, more open to sadistic freestyling from the player.

I'm not anti violence in videogames. I like personal choice and I tend to choose games that aren't violent, unless they have a rich universe and a high fantasy/sci-fi quotient. I choose not to play GTA, even though it has become the standard for videogame blockbusters as far as most of the media is concerned. I'm fine with games being violent, but too much of a focus and celebration of it could negatively affect what happens in the industry. That's why I'm interested in the trajectory we're on at the moment.

anandxxx: "Also, you have an interesting point that RE5 abandoned its B-Movie roots with the realistic graphics, but did it, really? Or is that just your perception, because the visuals are so sharp and the setting was different?"

Well part of my argument is that the visual fidelity of next-generation games is a dangerzone. Grittily realistic graphics set the tone of something being a serious piece of entertainment. It creates an expectation of equally precise and well crafted content, but when there isn't much thought put into that content you start to create interactive experiences that are very questionable.

We've all read discussions about the uncanny valley, working on making game characters look and move and react like humans, and looking at the biggest budget games we're making real progress. But what happens when we cross the valley? We'll create realistic humans, only to revel in their realistic deaths? Is that what we're looking forward to?

The depiction of brutal violence and gore is widely accepted as normal, especially in America. I've watched so much CSI, Bones and Criminal Minds that I can eat a pizza while the maggot infested, crushed corpse of a waitress oozes brain matter from its eyeballs. I'm a little densitized myself. But even there, there's a line that can be crossed that's taking it too far, a point where the fact that you're watching something constructed, something not real, stops being enough of a defense. With gaming, it's all about making your actions, cause and effect, seem real. That's what's bringing the line closer than it used to be.

Creators love toying with that line. The cinema has been cranking out torture porn for the last few years in the shape of the Saw movies, Hostel, etc., and audiences have enjoyed going along for the ride up to a point. But one-upmanship eventually takes everything too far, and in the case of games, something that's primarily aimed at young males and already has very limited respect in the wider world of the arts, going too far could have really bad consequences.

If you swapped out violence for sex, (something you admittedly can't do even a little bit in America!) it would be obvious developers have already made games that are damaging to the medium. The equivalent of murdering innocent civilians in a serious and realistically depicted game, would be the violent rape of women. No-one would be defending that, but the default position for most gamers looking at where we're headed right now, is that violence is normal. Violence is fun and there are no limits. No responsibilities. No need for deep and thought provoking motivations for what you're doing.

Okay, I'll stop ranting now.

Posted by 
 on: 10/28/09, 22:22
I'm uncomfortable with your violence-sex analogy, because the standards of each vary wildly from territory to territory, and no matter how you slice it, movies take things waaaaaay farther than videogames.

I don't agree with Simbabbad that gaming violence is somehow more affecting/toxic than movie violence just because you're behind the controls. I always say this, but I have a much bigger problem paying $10+ to watch people get realistically disemboweled while eating popcorn than playing a game where violence is just a byproduct, rather than the sole purpose of the activity.

Also, Simbabbad, I'd be careful when quoting any studies on anything, especially since you can almost always find a study that has the opposite conclusions. Who was it paid for by? Who was it performed by? Are the assumptions and conclusions and hypotheses and methodology reasonable? I already don't like their conclusions, because when people's heart rates are elevated, they are more aggressive. If I roughhouse with my nephew and spin him around, he's far more likely to act aggressively for the next couple of minutes. I don't see enough reason to conclude the things that they concluded. I could just as easily show you a study that the aggression caused by gaming is only temporary, but, like I said, studies are all suspicious. I'd like to think people are mature enough to know the difference between playing a game and living life. Some people have trouble, but those people were already unbalanced. It seems silly to blame games for society's ills when violent crime has been down since they appeared.

Which brings to mind another possibility - it could be that the catharsis of blowing people's heads off in a game actually acts as an outlet for the aggression of the less balanced among us.

I don't exclusively like violent games, or anything. I thought Y-Alpha brought this up because he wanted to see some sort of censorship in action. If he doesn't, then there's no need to argue, really. Every individual can choose for themselves whether a game crosses their personal boundaries. I just don't want anyone to decide for me.

And I'm concerned about the direction of the industry, as well, but the trend towards realism is only one part of that concern. Unfortunately, I am neither the majority, nor a decision-maker, so I have to just seek out the types of games I want to play, and hope they continue to be made.

Speaking of which...

You rarely relinquish control of your character,

I wish! I was playing the first section of Uncharted 2 the other day, and I was getting so annoyed at how often control was taken away from me. Everything was constrained by hobbling animations and little mini-cutscenes, and the actual platforming was reminiscent of the original Tomb Raider, with little to no room for creative expression or problem solving. And everything was so SLOW. Jump to the ledge, dangle, sloooowly pull yourself up, sloooowly climb and shimmy around, wait for mini-cutscene, rinse, repeat. Geh.

It was like a linear roller coaster ride, except it was boring.

Posted by 
 on: 10/28/09, 23:11
Nail. Head.

Thanks Simba'. Interesting that you're feeling what I am. If you talked about this subject most places people would say you were being reactionary to even consider there might be a problem, but it's something worth examining. If developers aren't careful they'll eventually make Jack Thompson look sane.

Not to say there aren't many games that do approach violence in a thoughtful way. Maybe this explains why I'm drawn to the new Silent Hill... although it could just be the rarity of a well rounded 3rd party Wii game. ;)

Many developers do feel the responsibility, I think, and they do aspire to create deep, meaningful games. But when you look at the size and the fame of franchises like Modern Warfare and Resident Evil, the fact that they don't seem to be aware of what they're doing is shocking. These are the highest profile games and they have no concept of needing to shape their violent imagery into something meaningful or acceptable in modern society. I mean, publishers are running in fear from the release date of CoD:MW2, pushing their games into next year just to be safe. This thing is a guaranteed sales monster. And yet, Infinity Ward acts as if it can do whatever it feels like without any consequences on themselves or the gaming industry. They have no fear of a backlash because violence and gaming has always gone hand in hand. It's just accepted. But for how long?

BTW, anandxxx I wasn't equating sex and violence. Just using the analogy to show that violence in games is getting more extreme and no-one really questions it. Game violence has crossed into an area of criminally evil acts that are modelled as realistically as possible, and without any humor. GTA at least has a tongue-in-cheek feeling, it's stylized and knowingly wrong without being overly serious. While GTA is black humor, MW2 presents itself as realistic, serious depiction of war and terrorism - and then it revels in blood and guts, and civilian massacre.

Too many developers are being provocative without having anything to say.

Posted by 
 on: 10/29/09, 02:31
Hmm, I kind of skimmed a lot of this very big discussion, but...

I think the core of the problem is the emphasis on story.

It's way easier to destroy in a video game than build. The whole idea of a game is to be victorious against opposing forces. Whether the opposition are enemies or environmental puzzles, you undo something that has been built to oppose you.

From there, if you believe video games have to tell a story "seriously" (that is, not in a light hearted way with cartoony characters), and video games have to be "serious", then that opposition has to be something evil/gritty/disturbing/disgusting etc. And there starts the loop of violence and overdoing it.

Once we accept games don't have to tell a story, that it's not the point of the art/medium, we'll get variety back.

I never thought of it *quite* in those terms but it is a good point. It's tough to think of how to make some of the greater stories out there that aren't gritty into games. Well, maybe not that tough, but tough for game developers who frankly, are not the most creative story writers out there.

I had this idea for a game once where basically it would take place in the main character's dreams, over the course of his lifetime. But as he got older and older the "dreams" started to become more serious, for instance he would become tired all of the time and start passing out in the middle of the day and such, falling into the dream state more and more. The waking world "story" for the most part would just be how this normal guy tries to live a normal life with this increasingly problematic issue. The sleeping world "story" would be all over the place, sort of loosely based on various dreams (mostly an excuse to make whatever kind of stage types/styles one wants and having a vast variety of stage types/styles in one game.) At some point he would realize these dreams are more than just dreams and he is fighting something serious here. Not sure where it would go from there though.

Um, the only point I have for mentioning this game is I always thought of it as a sort of "epic" game without relying too much on fighting/shooting. He would be battling this force, but through all of these various dreams that could take all kinds of forms. I dunno, seems like a cool idea to me, but not the type of thing you see much in the game industry.

Posted by 
 on: 10/29/09, 05:53
Sometimes you even save one of the terrorists in Disaster :p

Personally, I don't have much experience with the Call of Duty series, but I'm not really offended by Resident Evil 5. The initial 2007 trailer in particular made me feel nervous, but judging the final game on its own, I don't think there's anything really bad in it. I think it's kind of laughable how some of the imagery in the game got a pass in the final product, but I just look at that as Capcom being ignorant/stupid in regards to how such a thing could be perceived by others. In the end though, I don't like Resident Evil 5 for reasons aside from the fact that it has a "realistic" depiction of violence.

Although this topic reminds me of when I first saw Black Hawk Down. I heard it inspired Resident Evil 5, so after playing it, I wanted to see Black Hawk Down. In the opening scene of the movie, you see a bunch of starved African villagers trying to get their hands on food that's in a pile, while an automatic gun unloads on them. That made me think about how unfortunate they were, and how it was kind of silly how Resident Evil 5 basically takes the "victims" from Black Hawk Down and makes them into the enemies of its game [face_silly]

Posted by 
 on: 10/29/09, 09:39
Just wanted to add that this is a really, really good discussion and I'm enjoying reading all sides of it.

Really has me thinking, but at the moment my allergies are kicking my ass (AGAIN, been doing this every night this week!) and I'm starting to get drowsy from taking Benadryl... ugh...

I will say that I agree with a few of the various points made, primarily that developers do need to realize that a video game does not have to tell a deep, engrossing story. The industry would certainly be better for it if devs stopped trying to emulate what sells in Hollywood and make interesting games.

But to GDG's point, that happens in every entertainment medium. Flashy, violence, sex... all of that sells.

I agree with IW and Simba then, that this is where the gaming industry will likely find itself in trouble, because these things are getting more and more realistic, and the industry seems to just roll along with it and making it the norm.

Posted by 
 on: 10/30/09, 09:56
I can't take Benadryl or Actifed or Sudafed or any of that shit. Even Claritin-D makes me drowsy. I usually don't take any, because I'd rather be conscious and miserable than a healthy zombie.

Honestly, I wonder if you could make many fun, accessible games that had narrative, but weren't centered around violence and conflict. You could do it with adventure games, but that's a special case that limits the gameplay. I remember that shitty '90s Spider-Man cartoon had a rule where Spider-Man would never punch anyone, and would solve his problems in other ways. Man, did that result in some shitty fight scenes.

InfinityAlpha, I know you weren't equating sex and violence. I was just saying, by any measure, the content in 'adult' games is far, far shy of what you would see in an 'adult' movie. (Not an ' 'adult' ' 'adult' movie.)

And Simba, I know you were speaking on a quantity-basis, but the quality of violence is much, much higher in films. Games are still very abstract to me, even 'realistic' ones. Seeing one particularly gruesome, drawn-out murder is way more affecting to me than killing 10,000 Nazi zombies, but that might change from person to person. When it comes to the motivation behind playing a violent game/seeing a horror movie, I'm sure that also changes from person to person. But I'm sure quite a few people also identify with the serial killer. Just look at Dexter (awesome show, btw) or Death Note.

If you really like saving people, though, maybe you should check out Exit and that new Firefighter game.

Nevertheless, it will NEVER amaze me that Capcom doesn't fully think out the narrative of one of their games. I have realistic expectations that are based on years and years of experience. Just like I try to avert my eyes from the plot holes/uneven characterization that I know will be in every movie, and willfully ignore the stupid lyrics of most songs, I expect games to have shoddy storylines. As long as the integration of those shoddy storylines doesn't get in the way of my good time, I'm fine with it, personally.

One thing I wonder, though - if the creators of RE5 were black, how would the reception differ? How about if they were white? How about if it released in a different era, when people weren't always looking for reasons to be offended (see: Scribblenauts).

In general, fuck political correctness. I'd rather everyone's true intentions and feelings were out in the open, whether benign or malignant. From the perspective of someone who grew up in a pretty racially charged environment, that would be a lot healthier.

Posted by 
 on: 10/30/09, 22:31
I was just saying, by any measure, the content in 'adult' games is far, far shy of what you would see in an 'adult' movie. (Not an ' 'adult' ' 'adult' movie.

I wonder if this is even true anymore though? I feel like more and more games are going beyond what I've seen in most R rated movies, and they never have any real context to it that makes you think ok, that violence/sex/etc. was really necessary at this point. Not that a lot of R rated movies do either, but at least SOME do.

Posted by 
 on: 10/31/09, 05:06
I can't take Benadryl or Actifed or Sudafed or any of that shit. Even Claritin-D makes me drowsy. I usually don't take any, because I'd rather be conscious and miserable than a healthy zombie.

Ugh, I hear yah man. I have severe allergies/sinus issues, so whenever the weather changes slightly or someone a mile away is cutting the little bit of grass that exists, I'm SOL in less than 5 minutes, lol. And things that most people take by the handful, if I just take one I'm KO'ed for like 3 hours.

Though on a really bad day I'll still take Benadryl and just pass out, hoping the problem fixes itself. TheraFlu works well for me too.

I remember that shitty '90s Spider-Man cartoon had a rule where Spider-Man would never punch anyone, and would solve his problems in other ways. Man, did that result in some shitty fight scenes.

I never knew that. I loved that show, by the way. My favorite Spidey show, until the recent Spectacular Spider-Man started up and blew that one away (IMO).

Just like I try to avert my eyes from the plot holes/uneven characterization that I know will be in every movie, and willfully ignore the stupid lyrics of most songs, I expect games to have shoddy storylines. As long as the integration of those shoddy storylines doesn't get in the way of my good time, I'm fine with it, personally.

Well - and I know this is somewhat going off-topic (because I've been so on topic thus far!) - I think that speaks to a much larger problem in games personally. It's gotten to a point that the writing is so bad in most games that we just learn to overlook it for the most part. As has been mentioned before, the industry just refuses to hire writers for games, instead relying on programmers or designers to write. This works out here and there (when said person actually is at least an amateur writer), but more often than not, it just leads to... well, where we are now.

They produced there the game with the most "motherfuckers" ever in a game, where a giant old incestuous bitch breed hordes of enemies through her giant vagina, vagina where the baddie will eventually willingly return physically.

...WOW. I need some sort of uh... background or context on this. Like is that literally what happens or just a metaphor or am I reading too much into that...?

Keeping in mind, I've never played the game, really just turned out to not be my style.

Whereas, in Trial HD, you can't finish a level without the biker dying a horrible accidental death. Even in a fucking Excitebike game, they HAD to put gory violent stuff. Honestly it's getting scary.

Didn't know that either, and its funny that right alongside that you have Ninty who doesn't lean on such things or haphazardly add them to their games just for that shock value like that. Though to be fair, Trial HD isn't overly gory or bloody, but it does appeal to that part of humanity that has somehow grown to really love sickening violence.

I wonder if this is even true anymore though? I feel like more and more games are going beyond what I've seen in most R rated movies, and they never have any real context to it that makes you think ok, that violence/sex/etc. was really necessary at this point. Not that a lot of R rated movies do either, but at least SOME do.

I definitely agree there. It does come down more to just violence for violence's sake rather than "we really need to emphasize this point at this moment." There usually isn't a lot of reasoning behind it, if any. Personally I believe that's why zombie games are all the rage, because at some base level devs/pubs/producers can just say "it's just zombies" or something like that and people will just say (or they think they'll say) "oh, okay."

By the way, I'm also getting sick and tired of zombies. Ugh.

Posted by 
 on: 10/31/09, 20:14
I think zombies are cool, though they are sort of over-used.

I don't think you should have to justify every single instance of violence that you include in a piece of art, or in a game or anything else like that. I mean, I don't like stuff that feels violent for the sake of violence, but I don't think that one should feel discouraged from putting violent content in something, just because it's not absolutely vital to what they're trying to create. If they want to put it in, then they should pretty much feel free to do so. But I don't want to sound like I'm absolutely for it in every single possible situation. I guess I'm sort of in the middle, somewhere. But in the end, if I'm not liking something, I don't have to watch it/play it.

Posted by 
 on: 11/01/09, 14:49
Simba: ah, HoTD. I thought you were talking about Madworld for some reason, so in that case I wasn't interested in HotD because I'm not really big on lightgun shooters to begin with. :p

That said... I'm not sure I want to look at that scene, lol. I'm still struggling with the disturbing series summary of Silent Hill 2 I watched last night with friends. I had no idea the series was that psychological. It makes me really interested - and yet REALLY AFRAID - to try Silent Hill: Shattered Memories...

Posted by 
 on: 11/02/09, 02:00
You know what? Now I think that terrorist scene in MW2 is even more interesting.

I just listened to the Player One podcast, and *SPOILER*

You are actually playing an undercover agent, posing as a terrorist. So you have to choose whether to kill innocent people to maintain your cover or abstain and blow it. I dunno. That sounds pretty cool to me. I honestly think that Infinity Ward has done some pretty bold, interesting things with storytelling in games, at least since CoD4. Far moreso than someone like Kojima. I really think they're the wrong fall guy for the plight of storytelling in the gaming industry. Unlike, say, Rockstar, IW apparently emphasized the consequence of your actions in that scene with realistic reactions from the victims. The whole scene is kind of a litmus test of the player. Pretty interesting.

Posted by 
 on: 11/03/09, 03:19
You are actually playing an undercover agent, posing as a terrorist. So you have to choose whether to kill innocent people to maintain your cover or abstain and blow it. I dunno. That sounds pretty cool to me. I honestly think that Infinity Ward has done some pretty bold, interesting things with storytelling in games, at least since CoD4. Far moreso than someone like Kojima. I really think they're the wrong fall guy for the plight of storytelling in the gaming industry. Unlike, say, Rockstar, IW apparently emphasized the consequence of your actions in that scene with realistic reactions from the victims. The whole scene is kind of a litmus test of the player. Pretty interesting.

Ah, I recall hearing about that idea a while back, and I thought it was a pretty interesting twist. I'm not into this genre of games or the series much, but I remember being impressed with the way they set it up, and actually did have quite the moral choice in there.

Heh... one could argue that if a young teen wee playing that game and got a really disturbing joy out of killing the innocent... maaaaaaybe that teen is a little unbalanced to begin with. [face_thinking]

Now here's a question, considering what we're talking about here: Where would something like the No More Heroes series fall into this debate?

Posted by 
 on: 11/03/09, 03:52
Eh... I hate that kind of twist though. I think Splinter Cell DA did it as well. I know I may have a very naive view of morality, but I think the "right" thing to do never involves just straight up murdering innocents. So maybe I don't kill this one innocent and more innocents die... so what? Is the ultimate goal of human morality the saving of the most lives possible at whatever the cost? I don't think we make any moral progress longterm that way.

And regardless of my views on it, working it into a game is tough. Because in real life, the moral quandary comes from the fact that you only get one shot at anything, and you can't predict the future because the future isn't A->B or C->D, the future is this big dynamic thing where the choice is just the first step. For instance, when it comes down to kill this innocent or don't kill them, it's not a simple kill them and this happens, don't and this happens situation. It's really more a kill them and this may happen, with this seeming this likely, don't kill them and that may happen, with that seeming that likely, and yet maybe you kill them and based on other decisions made get found out before you do any good anyway so now things are worse, or you don't kill them and still manage to maintain your cover based on other decisions made. Yada yada. I'm explaining it poorly, but my point is, the choice itself is just a small part of it, everything you do from the choice on also matters to a large degree.

But in a game if a choice comes your way, kill this innocent or don't kill them, usually that choice is the crux of the whole matter. One decision means one result, the other means another result, and that is that. And the results aren't the erm... result... of a dynamic world where you're still making decisions, but a static world where some designer simply decided this choice means this, that means that, etc. But how do you know what the forced results are? Well, you have to just make a choice and find out. But if you don't like the result of your choice, you can generally just reload your old save anyway. So what moral basis would you ever really have to choose murdering the innocent instead of not murdering them and seeing if you can still make things work out well with that path? And if you choose to not murder them and things turn out worse, is that because you made that choice AND screwed up a bunch afterwards, or is it simply that the game decided "not murder = more people die in the future" which seems pretty arbitrary?

Actually the whole idea of moral choices in games seems kind of questionable period. Even though I do get pretty immersed into games and some things sort of bother me despite me deep down knowing it's all just a bunch of pixels, I still don't think a true moral choice can exist in a game. 9 times out of 10 you just pick the choice that seems like it'll be the most interesting gameplay-wise anyway. There is that movie out right now, the whole "would you press the button and get a million dollars but one random person dies?" thing which in real life would be a moral issue, but if it were in an RPG or something? Would anyone REALLY feel bad pressing the button in a game and seeing the text "Bob Jones just died" pop up on their screen? The main reason I wouldn't press the button in a game would be because I might think I'm going to screw myself out of a better ending, like something cool happens at the end if you make good choices. (Uh oh, wait, isn't the the main reason religious people are moral? Don't want to screw themselves out of the better ending? LOL, I just opened up a can of worms.)

Plus games seem like a poor medium for getting into the true issue of moral choices, which I think isn't necessarily the choices themselves but the erm... personal sacrifices? required for many good moral choices. For instance, I think most of us know it's a better moral choice to say... adopt a child than to let them be bounced around the foster care system. Or lend a friend in need tons of cash you don't expect to see again. Or let a struggling child move back home and mooch off of you for awhile (thanks mom!) Or donate a kidney to someone who needs one. Yada yada. But it's also a drain on our day to day lives, something you can't just decide on the spot and be done with. Again, the decision is just the first step, you have to make sacrifices for pretty much the rest of your life. Now, you CAN work this into a game, but how? Anything you do that requires true "sacrifice" from the player for the rest of the game would probably just be plain annoying when most people are playing games to enjoy themselves.

And there it is right there. The main reason why moral options in games can't work well. We (generally) play games for personal satisfaction. True morality often means choosing the path of LESS PERSONAL SATISFACTION. To work true morality into a game, you would need to compromise the personal satisfaction one could obtain from the game... which seems like a very, very poor design choice for a video game. Movies can at least *sort of* get away with it because they tend to be short and passive so even when they are uncomfortable, they aren't really asking much from the viewer besides sit there and be uncomfortable for a bit longer. But games? I dunno. Would anyone really want to play a game that forces them to make real sacrifices?

Anyhow, I wonder how many secret agents even end up in these situations where they may have to murder innocents not to blow their cover anyway? Seems like such a forced moral plight to me.

Posted by 
 on: 11/03/09, 07:09
Well, it's a common premise for movies, and such, because of the moral dilemma it introduces. It might be a exceedingly rare situation in real-life, but lots of stories involve wildly improbable events. And why shouldn't they? Extraordinary circumstances make for interesting drama. Just because other people's works have used the same improbability, why should it limit them? I'm fine with it, as long as it's internally consistent and logically handled.

Anyway, you seem to be conflating a couple of different types of morality. There's the Bioshock/KOTOR/inFamous morality, where decisions seem to be based on quest lines that you want to complete and powers that you want to have. But this appears to be a different kind of situation. It's about the real-time tough decision, and how you handle it, with the realistic reactions (that apparently go further than "Bob Jones just died") emphasizing the gravity of your choice. I think it's an interesting situation. No one knows how they would handle that kind of thing in real life, until it happens, and IT NEVER WILL. I think it's interesting to personally experience that moral dilemma. I'm not even sure what I would choose in the game, without having a better idea of the consequences.

Fire Emblem plays on the mortality thing a bit, as well. Especially in the new one, where they FORCE you to sacrifice characters. That was uncomfortable, perhaps because they had personalities. I find that kind of stuff interesting. I dunno.

Depending on how they handle MW2, it could turn into an actual moral/ethical decision, rather than "Ooo, that black-colored lightning looks fucking sweet!!"

Haha, almost all of my examples were assumed and hypothetical, because I don't actually PLAY any story-based games.

Plus, you view IS a bit naive, maybe. Haven't you read Monster?!

Posted by 
 on: 11/04/09, 18:20
Man, I wrote out this big reply and it got eaten. Anyway, here goes.

A. I admit I don't know much about what is going on with MW2, but I really, really don't think it'll offer real moral choices. I don't think anything in a game ever could. Until the future when we have games that let us control real people like that crappy GAMER movie, lol. I think some people will still prefer to do the "right" thing in a game based on something going on in their conscience, sure, but I still don't think it approaches the level of a moral choice. More just taking the most comfortable path or whatever. Give the same person a game like No More Heroes where you are essentially an asshole going around killing people for a shot at getting laid, and they will jump right in (I know I did!) Actually I think Simbabbad hit on it a bit up above... that you can create these war games where you kill waves and waves of enemies and it's FUN. Don't get me wrong, I'm sure some people in real wars enjoy the slaughter too, but for most of us it would at least be a pretty large and uncomfortable moral issue. Put it into a game though and that disappears and it becomes entertainment.

B. And I still think (despite being unable to word it well) that there is a subtlety here. In the real world, if you are faced with the choice of executing an innocent or blowing your cover, what might make you think executing the innocent is the correct choice? Well, I think two factors. 1. You only have one chance to make the choice and 2. you can't really foresee a path out of this if you don't pull the trigger. But what if you had multiple chances to make the choice and/or you KNEW there was a path where you could not kill the person AND not blow your cover? Well, suddenly it becomes very, very difficult to justify pulling that trigger.

Ok. Now put that same option into a game.

As for 1, there is generally the option of reloading an old save, etc. It'd be very difficult to create a game where you only get one shot at anything (my cousin used to joke about this, she said she wanted to create the game of "Life" and once you die, you can never, ever play it again.) You COULD build the moral choice so you only get one shot at it, with only one save slot and auto-save... but that'd probably piss everyone off. Or you could expect gamers to just live with whatever decision they make, but seriously? Who does that in games? I think we have all, at one point or another, restarted an area/stage/whatever to get our desired result.

Anyway. As for 2, I think this brings up what I tried to explain earlier, poorly. In real life, there are probably infinite results to your choice based on how you do it, what you do afterwards, a billion other factors, etc. But since you only have one shot, you have to go with what seems the most likely result, and make a choice, and live with it. Per 1, we don't have to live with it in games, but let's just say the game does force us to, or we decide to, or whatever. The problem remains that every possible result of your choice is STILL BUILT INTO A LIMITED DESIGN. Or in other words, no matter how open-ended they try to make it, they are still programming choices and programming results and even with a very complicated web, it's still limited. Why does this matter? Well, think about it...

If I were given this choice in a game, pull the trigger or not, what would my first response be? My first response would be to think "how did they program this?" and then "Is there even a way to not pull the trigger and not have more death come about because of it?" See, I would already be thinking not in terms of what is likely to happen, but what the programmed possibilities even are. And I'd start second guessing the designers. I'd think ok, they wouldn't put this in as a choice if not pulling the trigger meant things would work out. Or would they? And then I'd think ok, maybe they will let me get away with it once or twice, but eventually they WILL force things to go all fucked up because of it, because honestly... who would design a game with moral choices where you could always pick the no killing route and everything turns out ok? But then I'd think uh oh, but what if they want me to think that, and yada yada yada. What it would come down to in my mind is not a real moral choice built on a living breathing world, but ME TRYING TO GUESS HOW THE DESIGNERS SET UP THE RESULTS and act accordingly. And then if say, I choose not to shoot this guy and ten more people die because of it, I'd just be like fucking designers, do they really think that's clever? And until something changes out there in the game development world, I'd honestly assume it's always going to be some stupid twist, or this or that. It'd feel less like a moral choice and more like a game of rock, paper, scissors. Don't pull the trigger this time, do pull the trigger this time, which is the right time to do which one? All based on some choices or web of choices or whatever built by game designers who, despite trying and trying for years, have rarely shown me that they have any clue how to create a truly "mature" game and instead rely on fake depth and cheap twists... so why would I believe my actions and the results of my actions would make any real sense in any given game?

Now, there is one exception, which would be... moral choices where you make the choice and then what happens next depends heavily on what you do afterwards, involving your SKILL. Which is, in reality, how it more tends to work in the real world. Ok fine. But the problem with this is I'm a skilled enough gamer (and games are so damn easy nowadays anyway) that I'd always just pick the no murdering innocents choice even if it takes a lot more skill to pull it off successfully. And if I failed well... would I really feel that bad about it? I'd probably feel like oh, ok, so I haven't wasted enough of my life on video games to be THAT good yet. Maybe that's a good thing.

Posted by 
 on: 11/05/09, 07:34
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