“All Human-on-Human Tragedy has a System”

By Kieron Gillen on July 31st, 2010 at 1:26 pm.

I finally got around to watching Brenda Brathwaite‘s GDC 2010 presentation after Splash Damage’s Ed Stern twittered about it yesterday saying “it remains the most moving and exciting thing about games I’ve ever seen”. And I just lost a whole hour to her “How I dumped Electricity And Learned to Love Design” on a day I could scant afford to do so. It’s a few months old, but it’s brilliant stuff and – hey! – it’s a Saturday. It’s a talk about pure design and all the issues surrounding her re-embracing of analogue game design and the much-talked about Train. I will say no more, lest I spoil. Go watch.

EDIT: Sigh. Our mighty gaze appears to be causing sporadic weakness in the GDC vault. If it doesn’t work for you, do try later.

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70 Comments »

  1. Shadrach says:

    Gdcvault appears to be down. I didn’t know RPS had the power of Slashdotting (RPSing) – yet.

    • Taverius says:

      RPS is invincible.

    • MartinNr5 says:

      I’m kinda wondering how mighty the RPS gaze actually is. Not all that mighty it would seem:

      There are 19,073 sites with a better three-month global Alexa traffic rank than Rockpapershotgun.com. Compared with the overall internet population, the site’s audience tends to be male; they are also disproportionately childless users under the age of 35 who browse from school and home and have no postgraduate education. Search engines refer about 10% of visits to the site, and visitors to the site spend approximately 61 seconds on each pageview and a total of three minutes on the site during each visit. Roughly 61% of visits to Rockpapershotgun.com are bounces (one pageview only).

      Fark has an Alexa rating of 2274 and Slashdot 1438. Alexa isn’t the end-all-be-all but it’s one way of measuring.

      Perhaps a weekly “game” of sorts is in order were we try to increase the Alexa score for RPS? The risk is that some might use unethical methods to boost the rating and that isn’t exactly what I’m looking for.

      Nevermid, it’s a a bad idea.

    • DJ Phantoon says:

      I’m probably bringing up that bounce number as RPS is my homepage.

      And if there’s no new articles…

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      I’m fairly certain US-centric sites perform better on Alexa.

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      It’s all based on whether you have the Alexa toolbar on, innit? At least that’s how it used to be. So if you don’t have the toolbar, you don’t count.

      KG

    • Mo says:

      I would take those numbers with a huge mountain of salt:
      http://blog.reddit.com/2010/07/experts-misunderestimate-our-traffic.html

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      They’re acceptable for very vague sorts of trending, but not really trustworthy for comparisons between sites unless there’s a factor of 10 difference or something.

      KG

    • dethgar says:

      It doesn’t seem all that US centric when viewing the top sites…

      It does make me cry that GameSpot.com is the #1 gaming site.

  2. DMcCool says:

    Oh god, that voice, “THATS AWESOME!”, “legos” ..sometimes I wish speakers would publish their notes online. But I shall persevere…

    • DMcCool says:

      Okay, she did grate, but that was briliant. Getting a topic that sensative to work, giving the player just enough room not to feel utterly cheated but still devestated and to bring about this whole realm of game-experiance she talked about, you’ve got to take your hat off to that. The bloody irritating voice was quickly forgiven.

    • Alexander Norris says:

      I actually quite liked her voice/diction. She sounded like a human being talking about something she likes rather than someone droning on about something they’re obliged to talk about.

    • Redd says:

      Am I wrong in thinking this (Train) is getting so much attention because of the GAMES ARE NOT ART thing? I don’t know the time-line of it all, but I had the feeling during the presentation that I was looking at someone who was in the right place at the right time to be a champion of the counter-argument.

    • Mo says:

      The “Games As Art” debate has been going on forever though. It has come up frequently during (at least) the past five years.

  3. GamerV says:

    Wow.

    That was brilliant. Chills down my spine.

  4. DMcCool says:

    I have to admit I was thinking the same thing throughout, also she seemed to really, really love talking about herself. None of that is actuallly important though, from the sound of things she’s a bloody good games designer talking a huge amount of sense. Really was a talk for developers though, not us gamer plebs.

    I mean the whole making-non-digital games seems kind of like a self-help course for developers, because in the end getting these kind of princibles to work on a game that can be digitally distributed for free too thousands around the world is the ultimate prize, right?

    • Alexander Norris says:

      The notion that there’s an artificial barrier between game designers and gamers is complete bollocks. You can be good or rubbish at designing interesting or fun games regardless of whether you have professional credentials or a degree in game design.

      Really, just playing games is enough to equip you to understand game design discussion as long as you’re at all capable of engaging critically with the object of your playing during the course of your playing.

      • DMcCool says:

        Totally agree with you, I was more getting at how its a video about rediscovering the joy of games design, which, y’know, isn’t much of a problem unless you happen to be a games designer. Still clearly enjoyable for the rest of us, mind, even if the talk wasn’t geared towards us second class citizens.

  5. Morte says:

    I found it interesting, in a ‘love hearing about people talk about their craft’ way.
    But definitely nothing else. This is a form of gaming that I just can’t associate with at all, and I don’t mean board gaming.
    I’m actually genuinely intrigued how this can affect people in the way she describes. I see a ‘game’ but never make an attachment to it in that way, and definitely make no grand pseudo-social connections.

    Perhaps somewhere inside I’m rejecting it. Games for me are pure escapism and joy.

    Interesting watch though.

    • Premium User Badge

      AndrewC says:

      Perhaps the gamer’s mantra of ‘it’s just a game’ becomes more interesting in the light of the ‘I was just following orders’ of WW2 – the willful decontextualisation of the following of rules and the bureaucratisation of death. Nothing is without context.

      Equally, one of the awesome things about games is that they are, concretely, consequence-less, and so are often useful for exploring nastier things, like trying to MinMax Train.

    • aerozol says:

      Have you ever played Jesse Venbrux’s game, ‘Execution’?
      That kind of thing can have a big impact on gamers, it did on me. In the end it’s all semantics really (‘what is a game’?), but ‘pseudo-social connections’ is definitely incorrect. How something made by people to be used by people could NOT have a social connection, is beyond me… But that’s probably semantics again (;

  6. Alexander Norris says:

    It was very good when I watched it yesterday (I don’t follow Ed Stern, but either one of the RPS Four or else one of the other journos I do follow tweeted about it, because I got it via twitter yesterday morning), and it’s still very good. Nothing directly to do with video games but it’s always fun seeing someone with professional designer cred detailing a part of the game design process.

  7. Coded One says:

    Wow. That was absolutely fantastic. This pretty much sums up the games as art debate.

    Just hearing about the games made me emotional. I can’t imagine the emotions of actually playing this game and experiencing the end in an abrupt fashion.

    • Turin Turambar says:

      I always thought that the games are art debate are sometimes very timid, as they only get to say “games are art, because you have equivalent stuff to painting, architecture, sculpture, etc” or “games are art, because they can have plot, like books and movies, that are also art”.

      But i always thought games themselves can be art, i mean, game design is also art, looking through a certain optic. Games like Doom or Civilization are art to me, and it’s not because they have a great plot or a inspiring visual art.

  8. Neil says:

    Watched the whole thing. The so-called games remind me of “group activities” that you do in training and support groups and whatnot to gain sensitivity and understanding and whatever.

    The problem with games like these is that people will play them once (perhaps not even finishing the first time) and then never again. The whole point of games is that they have systems that allow the experience to be repeated with different outcomes. If no one will ever repeat, what’s the point? Movies and books offer much more potent experiences, if the experience is only to be had once. A game made someone cry or think about something or look at something in a new light- great. A movie or a book could have done much more, for a much wider audience.

    The whole talk feels like a self-promotional pseudo-academic who fancies herself an artist going down one of those self-indulgent dead-ends that typify “ludology.” It is therefore unsurprising that an RPS writer thinks it is Important.

    • Warskull says:

      A bigger issue with her games is that they fail at their intended purpose because people don’t get to play them. There is an extremely small number of physical copies available. They aren’t the kind of games you could mass produce and sell either. As you mentioned a book or movie could actually reach people. She likes to use games for the interactivity and getting people invested, but she skips over the idea of implementing them as free flash games, which again reach magnitudes more people.

      It doesn’t matter how incredibly well you design your games if they are so exclusive only a handful of people can play them.

    • vanarbulax says:

      I really don’t agree at all that the value of games are in their repeatability. I mean pretty much since we ditched arcade games we seem to be heading in the direction of progressing through an overarching arc once rather than replaying set challenges over and over again.

      The potency in games comes from the results emerging from the system and I think that works really well when instead of a sandbox (which often tend to bore me), you are playing within a rule set trying to get meaningful consequences out. I have no immediate desire to play The Void or Red Dead again despite the fact that they are both set up to have different outcomes for the events, just the fact that those outcomes were there was enough for me. In fact I’d love the notion of reloading a section to maximise outcomes to disappear, I found Demon’s Souls far more potent because everything was a permanent save, any foray into the dangerous world was meaningful.

      Obviously this means I am a very wasteful consumer, expecting the developers to create content I am not going to see. But I think that’s the reward in games, things being permanent, meaningful, affecting other parts of the world and moulding in response to my actions.

      I think what Brenda has demonstrated is a way to overcome the entry barrier of creating content. As we’ve developed new mediums they have been more and more time consuming to make and as a result its harder initially to get one meaningful vision out. Someone who is educated can write what they want, someone with supplies can paint or sculpt, anyone with access to costumes, sets, actors, videocameras, editing can create a film. Anyone who can design, program, generate art, voice act, animate, model, test, debug, make compatible etc. etc. can make their own game. Now obviously this isn’t set in stone, software has made making personal movies easier, game making tools have made game development easier but you can see why more and more money has to be invested into these harder mediums and as such less and less risks are taken.

      By making her games analogue, and simple she’s distilled her vision down to the core value of the game, the system. Sure a movie could display a particular scene much better but I’m sure the partial realisation of the nature of holocaust comes so much stronger from tangibly having it represented, getting a feel of how people can come to view human beings as cargo and how people do terrible things they know is wrong, only if they have orders backing them (this seems very similar to the Stanford Prison Experiment).

      Sure she did talk her self up, and I don’t think this stuff needs to be treated over academically. But basically I think that it’s a great demonstration of the power of systems to give messages not just well shot anecdotes (though that may just be my analytical mind).

    • littlewilly91 says:

      limitation in flash games, man. I can’t decide to set fire to the whole thing.

      Seriously though, being able to smash the glass, all of that. She feels it’s essential. She doesn’t want to cheapen the holocaust.

    • Neil says:

      When I talk about the value of games being in replay, I am not talking about the entire game – it is small bits within the game (e.g., gameplay mechanics) that a game system allows you to experience over and over without it growing stale. You have a combat system, and you shoot, dodge, take damage, whatever repeatedly throughout the game. Those actions and experiences are meaningful. In the so-called games about the Holocaust, Trail of Tears, etc., the gameplay is meaningless. It is not enjoyable in its own right, and the ultimate objective is not to succeed at the game, but to have the designer preach at you. When the interactivity is pointless and unrewarding, you might as well just watch/make a movie or read/write a book.

    • disperse says:

      I’m sorry, I couldn’t disagree more.

      Of course, it is hard to say how affecting Train would be without hands-on experience with it. Also, using the Holocaust as the theme certainly muddies the waters.

      However, the best authors of narrative mediums let their readers/viewers come to their own conclusions; show don’t tell. Symbols are powerful. Interactive mediums are powerful. The sense of touch is powerful.

      I can’t think of a better example than Brenda’s: placing colored tokens on an index card taught her 7-year-old daughter more about the Middle Passage than lectures and books could.

  9. Nallen says:

    Yikes. That was an eye opener.

  10. Markachy says:

    Great lecture, really made me think. I can’t help but think that games still have so far to go. There was so much innovation back in the 90′s/early noughties, but now the focus seems to have shifted away from emotional string-pulling, story-telling and pure design to polish, twitch-skills and polygon crunching, I think those big dollar signs are too much of a lure.

    While watching that, I couldn’t help but think back to the earlier MMORPGs and the troubles some had with players effectively “breaking the rules” by exploiting errant programming. WoW plague comes to mind…

  11. mwtb says:

    As a statement about how games can/should try to address a broader range of themes, including difficult or painful subjects, it was great. I could really have done without the sense of amazement and self-congratulation over the fact that her games got an emotional reaction though. If you slap people in the face with the Holocaust, they’re going to have an emotional reaction.

    Perhaps it’s the kind of nuclear fuel needed to persuade people that games can at least provide a conduit to emotion but, based her description, I can’t see that the “game” part really brought much except as a kind of bait to get people to think about an enormously emotive topic. On many levels it feels like rather a cheap trick. At one point she describes a conversation where someone recognised what Train is about and declined to play. Ms Brathwaite declares, “You just did”. I think the correct response would be “Fuck you”.

  12. Premium User Badge

    Flimgoblin says:

    Very moving, very inspiring stuff – as a total wannabe game designer it’s a bit of an eye opener that you can evoke emotions other than the usual “fun” of mastering a challenge (or possibly anger/frustration at too tricky a challenge ;)). Makes me think “hrm I should totally try something meaningful”. Of course there’s not much replay to be had from “Enough” or “Every day the same dream” but they do move you in different ways (and to be fair I get no replay from most games these days – no time, must move to the next)

    Mass Effect et al have a way to go before they can match the full range of emotional pulls that Brenda’s fairly simple games do, but they do use the fact that they live within the mind of the player. As she points out – the inifinite outcomes of a Derailment card is a tricky one to put into code… ye olde pen and paper vs computer RPGing argument…

    Anyway, if you’ve read all these comments and not yet watched it – go watch, well worth your time (if you’re unsure if you want to take an hour, skip to “#3 obviously planned random tangent” and give it 5 minutes, if you’re like me you’ll be halfway to the end of the video before you realise.

  13. Premium User Badge

    Sagan says:

    She is pretty great. I agree with all the positive comments here.

    The only thing I have to add is, that it is a shame that educational games don’t realize their potential. We could have had stuff like this ten years ago if someone had made proper educational games. Make an educational game that is not trying to get you to memorize the facts, but that is trying to get you to play with the systems. If all educational games were made like that, someone would surely have come up with smart rules that move you like Brenda Brathwaite did.

  14. HawkesOfSavileRow says:

    Fascinating and thought-provoking, though occasionally veering into hyperbole.
    It would be interesting to use the concept on an event not already so culturally pre-loaded, as it does raise questions of ‘expected’ emotions.

  15. Spacegirl says:

    that was astonishing.

  16. bildo says:

    interesting. although, is it me or is this lady a terrible presenter? listening to her is like being skinned alive.

    • frags says:

      Game designer generally aren’t great presenters. Unless of course you are Will Wright.

  17. frightlever says:

    I feel smarter for watching that. Makes me want to have a PC linked to my TV so I can watch these sort of talks (TED talks particularly) in comfort.

  18. Xercies says:

    I would really love to lay this game with my family, there the kind of family which would have interesting reactions to this kind of stuff when they finally knew wha they were doing. Shame they only have 1 or 2 board games of this. I feel like making my own version just to show them it but I dont know the rules and the cards or anything like that. I would definitly buy this game f it was on the market and i think she may want to give this to schools as well because something like these kind of games are perfect to show kids different ruipoarts of history

    • mwtb says:

      @Xercies: I think you may be granting too much respect to the role of the game she devised in all of this. I would suggest that replicating her “Work” (gush… oh, my “Work”!) boils down to:

      1. Choose an emotive historical example of man’s inhumanity to his fellow man.
      2. Create trivial dice-rolling game that casts player in the role of an evil-doer.
      3. Poke player in chest with their complicity in said historical evil for playing your game (or stand back and be smug about it while they wonder what your point is meant to be).

      Alternatively, you could sit down and simply talk to your kids about the topic you want to broach and reference history books, documentaries in your shared exploration of the topic and teach them without being an arse and trying to make them feel some level of personal guilt for something they had absolutely nothing to do with.

    • Ergates says:

      Have to disagree there. From a purely abstract perspective, playing a game is actually a very effective way of teaching children something. If you tell them something, then if you’re lucky, they might remember a few facts and figures but it’s unlikely they’ll really understand it. If you play a game with them, and it personalises it, gives them an emotional attachment. This helps take in the real meaning of the events.

    • mwtb says:

      It’s not much of a disagreement as I’m not saying that games are bad teaching tools. I’m saying that the above poster is giving too much weight to the specific rules of the game that was used. The teaching part is getting the child to sympathise with the human reality and the value of a dice role or exact statements on cards doesn’t really count for much.

      I am, however, saying that using the set-up of Train (not being upront about the subject and making the player re-enact an abstraction of an evil act) is something that seems rather dickish, particularly if you want to use it to teach a child. If you can come up with a game that avoids that unfairness or simply being crass then more power to you. Can facts and figures be dry? Yes. Can teaching of history be poor and uninvolving resulting in children feeling distanced from the human experience? Yes. They don’t have to be though and I don’t see that “Train” is a good approach, nevermind a necessary approach to get children to consider a subject like the Holocaust.

  19. kafka7 says:

    Some important observations on game design, without doubt. But the bleeding heart Americanism became progressively more nauseating with each new idea.

  20. Freud says:

    I don’t think I ever played any of ‘her’ computer games. The Wizardry series never caught my attention and back when Playboy: The Mansion was released I wasn’t creepy enough to play it.

  21. jalf says:

    but unless you’ve actually designed a game (that is, unless you’re a professional game designer), you won’t *know* if you’re good at game design. True, you *might* be good at it, but there’s no way you or anyone else can *know it*.

    Everyone who’s ever played a video game has thought “Hah, I can do better”. And for the most part, they can’t.

    But that’s easy to forget when you’ve never put it to the test.
    (And by “putting it to the test, I mean putting your design into an actual game. Not just writing an angry blog post about all the flaws of game X, and not just writing a “design document” and leaving it at that).

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      That’s the thing: what’s stopping you from making a game? Pretty much nothing.

      Do it.

      KG

    • Premium User Badge

      Flimgoblin says:

      I’m currently following Jesse Schell’s suggestion (from his Art of game design book).

      Say “I am a game designer” a few times, pretend you’re a game designer, do the things game designers typically do, eventually you’ll find you’re a game designer. Maybe not a highly successful world renowned rich one but hey, can’t have everything :p

      http://www.develop-online.net/features/931/You-can-do-it

      You may want to start small though, and not by trying to make your next WoW/ME2/SC2/Civ-killer, get a few crap games out of the way before working on the Opus.

      (Please note that this advice should not be applied to medicine or law, “I am a doctor!” doesn’t end so well. Not thinking of Gillian anyone in McKeith particular here.)

    • Premium User Badge

      Flimgoblin says:

      Meh, such linking without remembering to comment – that link that isn’t Jesse Schell (which my post reads like it is, sorry!) but a piece by Sophie Houlden pointing out how there really isn’t anything stopping you making some games.

  22. Adamamam says:

    She lost me at OMFG.

    • toro says:

      She lost me at the moment she said that programmers don’t matter. It’s the same idiotic attitude of managers in a corporate software house, even if they are paid better, they have a complex towards coders, because in the end, everything comes from the coder’s hands. Other than this, it seems that the entire video is a huge fast rambling. Yes, is inspiring, it’s enthusiastic, but in the end is just a lamentation about what she would like to do but she couldn’t or cannot, probably because a multinational culture is no longer possible to recreate an meaningful story.
      Ok, I exaggerate. There is good stuff in the video, but it’s hidden under so much crap that I’m not sure that the searching effort is worth. Counter-culture in game design!? Let’s be realistic about this, few game will have meaningful choices ever, and right now, the industry is not capable to include meaningful choices for the world in a game universe. And right now, I’m starting to think that the all desire to have meaningful choices in a game, in order to provoke and manipulate emotional response from players, it’s just a manifestation of a dark desire to control or impact other people’s life. The proof that we impacted something or somebody, is a way to validate our existence and ego.
      And she has an obsession with Jews/Holocaust and American-Indians . I don’t know what is amazing in death of millions of people. It’s pretty idiotic, cause if you want to recreate the realization of so much pain, it will actually leave scares on the gamers for the rest of their life. This is not the goal of games, it is the byproduct of war. Thank God that games are not capable (yet) of this kind of experiences, maybe the thrills from Doom, System Shock and Dead Space are the best thing for us. A gamer needs to carry on with his life after a game is finished.

      In the end, the call for more emotional experiences is great, but the overall, she is pushing a dark agenda. “If you can make a game about Holocaust, you can make a game about anything”, Catholics and gays, the struggle after her family came to US – I understand that personal history is probably the main fountain for human inspiration , but leave it there. I don’t need conservative, liberal, feminist, gay, counter-culture agendas in my games. Yes, they are great discussion themes, but when I start the game, I want to have fun and not to be punished for it, like making me have more problems than when I started the game. And after all, after 20 years of gaming, I know that the avatar from the screen is just that, an avatar build out of polygons mimicking the human behavior, but totally free of any other meaning. I enjoy smart story, nice personalities and so on, but I always know that is just a game, a tool to kill some time or whatever. Pushing some minority agenda in a game, will no make the game reach an greater than life status, it will only annoy the vast majority of players. Yes, it would shed some light on some dark parts of the human history, it will create more sensitivities, but why should someone use a game for this kind of purpose? It’s sick. Enjoy a game and leave others to enjoy it the way they want. That’s why Deus Ex was so good and I never heard of Brenda Brathwaite, until today. A day of infamy :))

      Be indulgent with the rant and spelling mistakes.

    • toro says:

      I miss the edit button.

  23. littlewilly91 says:

    The best argument I’ve heard yet for “Fun” in videogames as a requirement essentially homogenizing everything. “The fun of fear.” “The fun of realistically rendered warfare.” “The fun of Train.”
    It’s ridiculous and people need to move past it.

    I’m interested in why she doesn’t want to mass produce any of these things. You don’t want to capitalize on it of course, but you want to get the word out don’t you? I was expecting some kind of conclusion saying “this black history month I’ve persuaded a few local schools to trial the middle passage game in the class room”. She was horribly disheartened by how ineffectively her daughter had been taught, and the game fixed this by making history human and immediate. But what about all the other students? Doesn’t she feel an urge to share this with them aswell?

    She didn’t seem interested in it at all. I guess she’s always thought of these as personal prototyping experiences but it seems like she’s missing a trick.

    The ultimate way to effectively share and mass produce gaming experiences has been through digitizing them, thanks to the power of interwebs. Perhaps, as she feels, this does cheapen the experience, (like it has cheapened the worth of journalism by rendering it as data- the stuff on a calculator) and it’s extremely limiting to hapticness as though you can get different effects like the stickiness whenever a game uses euphoria to drive the main character, ultimately you are holding a controller or a keyboard and mouse, and this is insubstantial compared to having the game a solid thing to tinker with before you.

    Computers are leaps and bounds ahead of board games when it comes to, well, math and communicating over great distances. Beautiful mathematically perfect twisting helixes of skyscrapers? The feel and momentum of a racing car accurately given to you using a simulation on a piece of kit a few hundred pounds? A community of select people across the world logging in to talk as if they are sitting round a table, as they go on adventures as elves and dwarves? IBM can you help you there, and with certain kinds of sound and vision perhaps, but this is quite insubstantial when you think commercial video games end up playing through undictated set ups of screens and speakers across the world, whereas installation art has vision and sound as you move right through it and is perfected by the artist. It’s cost really. Computers can do certain types of things astonishingly cheaply.

    Anyway, I wonder if she’d feel the same about a digital version of train if it had started out that way? As a shockingly simple flash game? I suppose the way programming enforces rules limits the open interpretation and finding of loopholes in the protocol that makes train powerful. And any kind of limit on the human imagination and intuition, or restriction of it to months of modding, in her game renders the whole thing an abject failure. A disgusting failure disrespectful to a very recent and painful genocide. And what about Playstation Move and Kinect? I know what your thinking. “Waggle controls? Shutup.” But if the Move effectively maps your hands into a virtual world and lets you pick up and move things around, and you have the 3D glasses, and Train the board game, every little piece of it, is modelled accurately before you and playing by the rules is down to you, surely that would be approaching something?

    It’s just I really want to play Train, and I want my friends to play it, and I don’t think we’ll ever get the chance. But if it was like that on the Playstation network I’m not sure I’d have any qualms. And the experience of all sorts of board games could be translated to digital almost effectively, and I wouldn’t have to have cupboards as big.

    There’s a trade off between perfection and the ability to let the message reach people.

    Is coding really so lame and insubstantial as she makes it sound?

    • toro says:

      “Is coding really so lame and insubstantial as she makes it sound?”

      This is the third way in which I want to respond to this question. I wanted to write a long post, but I decided not to after I butchered my other post in this topic. Anyway, coding is not lame or more lame than any other human activity of resolving a problem. Coding is not insubstantial as in fact, the product of coding is the actual game.

      What Brenda is implying is that the coding is not important, probably because she has a bias towards game designing and probably some misconceptions about the real world. She thinks that great design can overcome a bad implementation, however is totally unaware about the fact that the final product is what the gamer experiences. Transforming design requirements in code is not a trivial operation and it involves the coder personality. Therefore no programmers or game studios will produce the same output starting with the same requirements. Coding as game designing is part of the same chain, where the end product is based on the relations from these elements. As a chain is strong as it weakest ring, coding is not more or less important than game designing. Thinking otherwise is stupid, but I understand that we are all humans and in this case, Brenda is letting her personal bias to produce a wrong statement.

      Good design, good implementation -> System Shock 2
      Good design, weak implementation -> Mirror’s Edge
      Weak design, good implementation -> Torchlight
      Bad design, bad implementation -> Fallout 3

      In the end, coding is hard. Really hard. To bring a product to a market is an achievement in itself and most of time, the coder is drowned in a see of boring problems. As any other thing, coding is not for everybody. But is neither lame and certainly not insubstantial.

    • Thants says:

      I think you’ve got Mirror’s Edge backwards. It’s the design problems that hamper the game (Frustrating forced combat, too short, bad story). The technical side is very strong. It runs great, and it looks great (they did some new things with texture detail).

    • toro says:

      @Thants: You are right. Technically the game is very good, the weak parts being the inclusion of combat, the one-way levels and the plot (basically design problems).
      I guess “Deux Ex: Invisible War” can fill the space for “good design, weak implementation”.

  24. Bahumat says:

    I think this is one of the very best things RPS has ever linked to. Thank you. Enjoyed the whole hour.

  25. Eamo says:

    This annoyed me on several levels. She shows the image of that indian gentleman with his culture being prostrated as a tourist attraction while she decries the treatment. Then five minutes later she is cramming every twee, cheesy, outdated irish stereotype into her game. Yes, being irish is all about the sod of the earth, burlap sacks and trite sayings about how grass is green due to all the irish blood in it. Doesn’t she even realise the hypocricy?

    There is also the flaw that she utterly failed at her goal – to express tragic emotion through a game mechanic. She may have expressed tragic emotions in her game because she took tragic, emotionally impacting settings from history. The emotional impact in all the games comes from the knowledge that these things happened. The train game hinges on the shock value of the “you just did a terrible thing”. It is no more of a game than that old internet meme where you end up aborting an unborn Beethoven, its impact comes not from the decisions you make but from tying it to a real world event.

    This is not an emotional impact. This is emotional manipulation. Trying to land the entire guilt of the holocaust on someone who was just playing a game is tantamount to abuse. And the whole faux emotionality of the thing, the cheery “this is sooooo awesome” presentation then the Oprah guest type tears on demand at the end. Then its business as usual again two minutes later. Doesn’t that strike anyone else as fake? That she spends $1000 on a piece of Nazi memorabilia just to type the rules of the game. That is, at best, crass and at worst she is sending money to the exact people who believe the holocaust was a good thing. I just think it is wrong that someone would make a game about the holocaust and then attribute its emotional impact to their skills as a game designer and nothing to do with the horrors of the holocaust itself.

    Unless the game can generate an emotional impact in and of itself then it seems reasonable to assume that that emotion comes from hijacking a deeply distressing historical situation and not from the game.

    • Freud says:

      I did bother me that for pretty much all of her game prototypes that were supposed to evoke emotion all of them were basically about white guilt. Isn’t she really going for the exact same emotional response in all these cases and are there no other emotions that are worth exploring. After Train, isn’t the Indian thing kinda redundant. Isn’t Train just another iteration of the original slave shipping idea?

      Then again, I guess painting those 50000 Indians might have some sort of therapeutic value to her and that is as good a reason to design a game as any.

      I did find her stories about how people reacted interesting, in the same way I find Milgram experiments interesting.

    • HawkesOfSavileRow says:

      @Eamo. I was trying to be tactful, but yes, pretty much this.

  26. ceb says:

    You all know the story(myth?) about the Columbus egg? Where he gets trashed by ARAM -Angry Royal Advisory Men- for making a point of how it doesn’t matter if ‘anyone could do it’, the hard ting is doing it first. (Enter AIM pointing to some reference to someone having done something similar even earlier. Kudos to you. This was new to me so kudos to her)

    I puzzles me why people want to get so worked up. She doesn’t slam programmers. She does not want to preach, unless it was a typo for teach. And the reason she talks about herself is she was asked to. If you get provoked by this thing, I’m pretty sure it would be worth your time to try figure out why. And if you are not interested: You have already played. Ref. mwbt: Fuck me. – The woman declining to play, and the consequent : “You have played” comment isn’t a smug comeback. To judge by the slave game, the point is to let people connect with an event. (Her current theme is glum, but don’t trash her for being consistent and thorough) People connect in probably as many different ways as there are people. Maybe she should have sais “You won” instead. Not because she didn’t play, but because she had a connection with the topic of the game to such an extent that she did not want to play. That’s a strong connection. She didn’t have to partake. The game was not for her. It is like, but not, how monopoly is no more fun anymore. Its to trivial. We know how to, well most do apparently, manage capital and investment. Monopoly: You didn’t play? You won.

    Anyone are of course free to think that for something to be a game you have to be entertained, compete, win, etc. To me game is interaction within a set of rules. That’s what sets it apart from the other media. Maybe its to broad, but it works for me. Work with me for just a minute. Games, that challenge you, help you connect and learn. Maybe it does not revolutionize “the gaming experience”. (I think it could probably give it a fair shove in a healthy direction, but nvm that.) How about just making schools a little better?

    To me she has balls the size of coconuts. Listen to it again if you have doubts. She made this for her self. Look at the timeline. The daughter, herself, one of the most iconic tragedies recorded. (AIM: I said iconic) It is a fairly natural progression. Sounds almost like she was a bit burned out, known to happened in creative professions. Then this thing catches fire like AIM to close to the sun.

    I totally get that she doesn’t want to distribute these games. 1) they were not meant to be. (It has design implementations, and i am not talking about the number of available nazi typewriters. (To the guy aggravated that she supports neonazi? groups by buying one: That’s not how it works)) Now she has control over who plays it, who gets “slapped in the face”. Again, respect to her.

    As for her being selfish. Perhaps a little, but she is selfish like any researcher trying to get full grasp of a topic before making it readily available for mass production. If thats selfish I wish people were more like that. I’m betting a bottle whiskey her next project will be leveraging the things she has learned by doing this, and it will be for the benefit of many. Any takers?

    • Eamo says:

      My point is, talking about sad things makes people sad, talking about happy things makes people happy. You could take a game of snakes and ladders and theme it about the holocaust and achieve the same effect (in fact, I suspect if you called it Downhills and Breakdowns and played it with little train counters that is pretty much how this game plays). The emotional impact is because you are dealing with weighty subject matter and nothing to do with the game mechanics.

      The whole “you already played” response kind of highlights the point. The emotional impact comes from making people think about the holocaust, not from the game itself. If the game can have the same impact without being played as it has by being played then it is not the game that is having the effect but the subject matter.

      Using a cheap trick to lump the guilt for horrible events from history onto another persons head is a horrible thing to do. I find the idea distasteful and anyone who would willingly do that to another person is just not nice. Here is a hint, if what you are doing is making other people cry you need to stop doing that. At the very least you need to make sure that they are aware when you begin that the outcome can be upsetting. You don’t tell someone you are about to watch a Will Ferrell movie and then spring Schindler’s List on them when they show up with beer and popcorn. Tricking someone into approaching such an event with an inappropriate mindset so you can get an exaggerated response is abusive plain and simple.

  27. disperse says:

    I’d hazard a guess that those RPS readers who were unaffected by this talk do not have kids.

    The part where she was using a game to teach her 7-year-old daughter about the Middle Passage was really quite powerful. I almost pulled a John Walker at the “we are not going to make it” slide.

  28. ceb says:

    @eamo: I don’t disagree with you. I am trying to ask if this isn’t her purpose. She says something like: Explore how the media can convey something more than it does today. Like “Stalingrad” by Beor is with the same letters and on paper, just as the Guide by Addams. Some books entertain – primarily, others teach — primarily, and we love them both.

    So the mechanics doesn’t make you feel anything, the topic, content or setting does. But the mechanics enables you to feel something? Hopefully in a different way, or to a different audience, than a book or a film.

    Indeed not spring something like this on someone unaware. Though with her reluctance to make 5.99 versions, we are pretty safe i think. Hehehe, next time a buddy asks for some board game action ill remember to ask: Is it Train? But seriously, I think we generally could benefit from poking at events like this a bit more, and everything that enabled that is a good thing. What the hell is the point of sitting around feeling guilty about holocaust? A valid question, first of all I don’t think its guilt, at least not just guilt. Its a mix of remorse, frustration, disbelief, anger ad. nausum. Now here is the kicker. It is to easy to turn a blind eye to stuff that is going on in the world now. Exposing ourselves to historical tragedy is a little easier, and thereby can act as a steppingstone, because you cant do anything about it. It is not on any level implied that you have to try ‘fix’ it. Other than do your bit to make sure it does not happen again. And how to aid in that is an interesting train of thought. So, having been able to get, if not comfortable, but at least able to process and absorb the emotions welling up when confronted with these kinds of horrors, we are better equipped to handle, say … urban US drug and violence. Western world poverty issues. (Yup, they are there and they are bad) Rest of the world water and food issues.

    At this point someone is probably provoked by any hint that a board game can make the world a better place. I’m not saying it can, I’m saying it can affect people in a non adverse way at the worst, and the world is made better by people. Baby steps at a time admittedly, but each step is golden.