Jun 17, 2008

Game Violence

Games have some really bad PR. Some of it is certainly undeserved, but lots of it (sadly) rings true. When I tell people that I make games, the first thing that is said is “ooh they are so violent. Doesn’t that bother you?”. It doesn’t occur to most normal folks that violent games are only one genre from a large spectrum. No one has that reaction to the idea of a movie – although it used to be fairly common.

I am not really against violence in media, though. I guess what I have issue with is the glorification of violence. One of the most common sorts of challenges in games is to fight/kill/crush “bad guys”. Who decides who is bad? Where’s the love? What roles do games play with our society?

For most animals (and historically for humans as well) play is form of practice/training for adult life. Animals pretend to bite and scratch each other for fun, but it is direct training for survival in predatory world. Children used to go fishing – a skill set that has a pretty direct application in that it is a means of obtaining food. Likewise, children would play with dolls in part as preparation/familiarization for parenthood.

Sooo… what does that say about the games we play (or create)?

Either developers are either inadvertently training our audiences to solve problems with force, or (what I find to be more accurate and relevant) NOT training our audiences for anything they are more likely face in their lives.

The play that developers are offering isn’t relevant to our players' lives.

Could we make interesting games with more general relevance? Perhaps there could be some form of economic content that would help folks understand money and debt better in real life. Maybe there could be something that helps people to better understand how to work up the social hierarchy of the corporate ladder.

Could we make a game that prepares people for life in a cubicle?

On the game that I currently have in production, the core mechanic is all about exploration, which seemed fine to me – as it does not have any particularly negative aspect to it.

But perhaps that is not good enough. The ‘message’ of the game as I intend it, would be the importance of exploration and experimentation. But then I wonder if it’s just an excuse and that I could be offering content that is more directly useful in people’s lives.


Krystian Majewski said...

"The play that developers are offering isn’t relevant to our players' lives."

Funny that you wrote that. I'm working on my thesis project right now and one of the central terms to I use evaluate different games is the word "Lebensrelevanz" which means "Life-relevance".

Genrally, I agree with you that lebensrelevanz is pretty low right now. It might be because games in the 90ies were heavily targetet towards kids. In the 80ies, you had at least a company like Infocom, who really made some extraordinary lebensrelevant textadventures. In fact, the whole marketing idea of Infocom was lebensrelevanz. Check out this ad:

But there is some change. It doesn't seem like much but the Touch! Generation Games by Nintendo are pretty lebensrelevant. I'm talking about things like Brain Age.

And one last thing: one way to make things more lebensrelevant is to let go of the idea of a "message". People will find your work more interesting if they can interpret it on their own. That way, it will seem to them as if the game is about them. The trick is not to force any message onto you audience but to use elements which afford lebenrelevant interpretation. Some ideas: Remove fantasy or comic elements, Take back any "story" you have, remove a protagonist and address the player directly.

Evil Dan said...

Oh man. I killed a ton of the day just reading through that paper on InfoCom. It was so interesting that couldn't get myself to stop.

You've written a really great comment, let me bounce another idea off of you --

I can kind of imagine lebenrelevant elements to emerge as a secondary element to support a (fantasy) story, if the skill gained has relevance within that fantasy context.

For instance, here is an idea that I have been kicking around that I may some day want to build: You have a PC game that has a really complicated keyboard player input scheme - and through playing the game, you learn how to type quickly.

The key in this case would be engaging the players so much in the story that they wouldn't realize that they are gaining the real life skill of typing.