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  1. #1
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    Are games a good place for social commentary/criticism or not? PC games might be...

    I ask this because Apple have decided that, unlike books or music (or perhaps even apps), they are not

    http://www.pocketgamer.co.uk/r/iPad/...ws.asp?c=49468

    This is one of those days when playing games on a PC is a GOOD thing, but I think there's a serious point to be made over and above the general "Apple have too much control over their platform - it needs to be stamped-out" one.

    Endgame: Syria was perhaps a bit insensitive but I'm open to anything which engages people with current affairs if it's not tasteless and a sweatshop TD game sounds like a brilliant idea to me (esp as it's backed with data from a proper charity who research this stuff) - it's online here for the curious

    http://www.playsweatshop.com/

    I wonder how MS's curation system would deal with this? I suspect it would pass Google's curation unless someone complained (as they don't really curate until that happens)

    I wonder where Steam stand on this - anyone care to create a quick "How to tease the entire gaming world with the last part of your trilogy but never make it" match-3 game - we could call it "Half Baked Match-3" perhaps?

    p.s. I noticed one of the RPSers just posted this too - which is nice :)
    Last edited by trjp; 21-03-2013 at 01:49 PM.

  2. #2
    Lesser Hivemind Node Shooop's Avatar
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    Are you asking if the publisher will allow the game to be made, or if the public will buy the game once it's made?
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  3. #3
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Smashbox's Avatar
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    The truth is, I can't believe this is even a question.

    Reducing it to its essential nature:

    Is [art medium] a good vehicle for [artistic expression]?

    Yes, of course it is.

    The other question seems to be about closed platforms, curated storefronts, and corporate interests.

    That said, Scribners or Penguin have the wherewithal and courage to publish 'difficult' works.

    Games publishers are still living in the childghetto.

  4. #4
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    They can be, but too often developers force players to commit actions they don't want to commit to make their point. I'm looking at you Far Cry 2 and Bioshock. Prison architect and that riot game look like they may do it well.

  5. #5
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Smashbox's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Internet View Post
    They can be, but too often developers force players to commit actions they don't want to commit to make their point. I'm looking at you Far Cry 2 and Bioshock.
    This is an interesting trend, and not always successful.

    I did think it worked well in Metal Gear Solid 3, during the ending sequence. You were forced to commit the act, not watch it happen, and your character had a real motivation to do it.

    Watching him harden during his presidential commendation was very well done, in my opinion.

    It's got (actually, massive) storytelling problems, but that was clever, I thought.

  6. #6
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Nalano's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Internet View Post
    They can be, but too often developers force players to commit actions they don't want to commit to make their point.
    Some make the decision seem natural - after all, all on-rails games essentially make all your decisions for you, and the quality of the on-rails game is inversely related to how much you notice that you're on rails - and then only show the consequences afterwards. Like Spec Ops.

    The only difference, I see, is that Spec Ops actually makes a point of rubbing players' noses in it. Usually players are oblivious to the consequences of their actions.

    I'm kinda reminded of my last session in Civilization 5 where I, as China, was stringing Siam along as a border state between myself and Rome. Rome took Vientiane from Siam, and I declared war on Rome and liberated the city. Siam loved me, despite the fact that Vientiane had, over the course of a few years, gone from population 14 (several million) to population 3 (tens of thousands).

    Having crushed Rome's armies, Siam was then poised for a quicker recovery that culminated in their invasion of Rome 50 years later, where-in they threw away half a million troops and razed the countryside, lowering Rome's total population by some 10 million. Great for my empire, but a bloody consequence of my hegemonic indifference.
    Last edited by Nalano; 21-03-2013 at 03:51 PM.
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  7. #7
    Lesser Hivemind Node Faldrath's Avatar
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    The Paradox games are good about that. Looking at the figures for "losses due to attrition" after a long EU2 campaign was always rather sobering.

  8. #8
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Skalpadda's Avatar
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    Games certainly have a great potential for social criticism, I can't think of another medium that's more involving and has a greater possibilities of showing you the consequences of different choices. I struggle to think of any specific games that do it well though, which is a bit sad.

  9. #9
    Lesser Hivemind Node TillEulenspiegel's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by trjp View Post
    I wonder how MS's curation system would deal with this?
    Apps with a rating over PEGI 16, ESRB MATURE, or that contain content that would warrant such a rating, are not allowed, unless the app is a game, is rated by a third party ratings board, and otherwise complies with these certification requirements.
    no "mature" indie games allowed

    Your app must not contain content or functionality that encourages, facilitates or glamorizes illegal activity in the real world
    no drug-related apps

    Your app must not contain excessive or gratuitous profanity
    no bad werdz

    etc

    it's pretty fuckin terrible

    http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/libr.../hh694083.aspx

  10. #10
    Activated Node TheIronSky's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Nalano View Post
    Some make the decision seem natural - after all, all on-rails games essentially make all your decisions for you, and the quality of the on-rails game is inversely related to how much you notice that you're on rails - and then only show the consequences afterwards. Like Spec Ops.
    But the social action doesn't always have to be made by the player. It could be an action that defines the game's main enemies, thus putting the player in the morally ambiguous or even amoral position of being the game's antagonist. It would simply be presented in a way that shows both sides of the conflict and that makes the player chaotic neutral at worst. I know that seems entirely impractical from a narrative perspective, but it's important to note that even on-rails games have the potential to make some kind of social commentary without forcing the player into an unenviable position.

    But let's face it - even if developers are trying to make a point about some social issue, they should still present a choice. If narrative-based games are derivatives of Dungeons and Dragons, and the computer plays the role of the Dungeon Master who establishes all of the rules, when you consider the lack of choice given to the player in most singleayer games these days, it's like you're playing with a first-time DM who made his campaign with the prospect of showing you all of his die-cast monster figurines rather than providing you with a fun or intellectually stimulating experience. If you want the player to really feel invested in a social issue, you need to spend considerable time establishing the situation before you can hit the player with a morally ambiguous choice. Then you need to let them be aware of the consequences, both seen and unseen. If more developers spent time carefully crafting quests and their related logic trees, we could not only have better social action in games, but better games in general.

  11. #11
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Nalano's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by TheIronSky View Post
    But the social action doesn't always have to be made by the player. It could be an action that defines the game's main enemies, thus putting the player in the morally ambiguous or even amoral position of being the game's antagonist. It would simply be presented in a way that shows both sides of the conflict and that makes the player chaotic neutral at worst. I know that seems entirely impractical from a narrative perspective, but it's important to note that even on-rails games have the potential to make some kind of social commentary without forcing the player into an unenviable position.

    But let's face it - even if developers are trying to make a point about some social issue, they should still present a choice. If narrative-based games are derivatives of Dungeons and Dragons, and the computer plays the role of the Dungeon Master who establishes all of the rules, when you consider the lack of choice given to the player in most singleayer games these days, it's like you're playing with a first-time DM who made his campaign with the prospect of showing you all of his die-cast monster figurines rather than providing you with a fun or intellectually stimulating experience. If you want the player to really feel invested in a social issue, you need to spend considerable time establishing the situation before you can hit the player with a morally ambiguous choice. Then you need to let them be aware of the consequences, both seen and unseen. If more developers spent time carefully crafting quests and their related logic trees, we could not only have better social action in games, but better games in general.
    While true, that all depends on the quality of the writing.

    Let us both take a moment to lament the quality of games writing.
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  12. #12
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus soldant's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Nalano View Post
    While true, that all depends on the quality of the writing.

    Let us both take a moment to lament the quality of games writing.
    This. This times a thousand. It's why I get so annoyed when people hold up Indie Art Game #1050 as some masterpiece when the vast majority of them are ham-fisted in their approach to whatever they discuss and are very poorly written.

    Gaming can be just as powerful as books or film or any other medium for social commentary, but so far most people are too busy writing DudeBro stories or are using it to peddle their bad art attempts because any art game is almost guaranteed to get exposure if you post it around enough. Case in point: that bullshit Unity engine game that RPS posted about a while back which was just a bunch of random nonsense... can't remember what it was called, it tried to call itself a "non-game" or something. Used a bunch of assets ripped from other games/mods or various free sources.

    Until we get out of that stage dismissal will continue. It seems silly to me that we abhor mediocrity for everything except art games, where it seems we give them a prize just for turning up and trying. Crap like The Path shouldn't be celebrated. Something like Planescape: Torment on the other hand absolutely should.
    Nalano's Law - As an online gaming discussion regarding restrictions grows longer, the probability of a post likening the topic to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea approaches one.

  13. #13
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Xercies's Avatar
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    I don't think its the writing per se I think its the mechanics, I think the Bioshock twist was great because the mechanics of the linear first person shooter made it a lot more resonant. Sweatshop game also has great mechanics to show the issues its facing. We need more people to say ok I'm doing this issue what best mechanics show this issue in different lights to give the player the full picture or even a little bit of the picture.

  14. #14
    Activated Node TheIronSky's Avatar
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    While true, that all depends on the quality of the writing.


    Let us both take a moment to lament the quality of games writing.
    I thought that was an inherent part of quest design. But yes, that's true. The one thing that could always use improvement is the writing.

    Quote Originally Posted by Xercies View Post
    I don't think its the writing per se I think its the mechanics, I think the Bioshock twist was great because the mechanics of the linear first person shooter made it a lot more resonant. Sweatshop game also has great mechanics to show the issues its facing. We need more people to say ok I'm doing this issue what best mechanics show this issue in different lights to give the player the full picture or even a little bit of the picture.
    Ehh... I don't think your argument is as well intentioned as you might think. If the game is about sweatshops, and you design the mechanics to be tedious as to allow the player to sympathize (to a certain extent) with the people who actually work in a sweatshop - well, there's an argument to be made for that, obviously. But I don't see how being able to shoot lightning at peoples' faces has anything to do with Andrew Ryan or Ayn Rand's theories on objectivity. The mechanics in BioShock add to the fun, they provide a lot of the impetus to keep playing, they add plenty of moral choices to the game in terms of saving or killing the little sisters, and they do a lot for the dystopian theming and lore that surrounds the BioShock universe. The whole "science and innovation gone mad" premise behind the powers is brilliant, and in a certain sense it enriches the story. The linearity of the story as a whole, however, does not do anything to promote the story other than keep you pressing onwards towards the inevitable conclusion. It is in many ways a roller coaster experience, but at least it allows you moral decisions and variations in combat. The problem in your argument is that while BioShock does indeed have a good story, it does not fall directly into the category of "games as a vehicle for social criticism," and the mechanics that it uses were not designed with that intention.

  15. #15
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    Crap like The Path shouldn't be celebrated. Something like Planescape: Torment on the other hand absolutely should.
    Why The Path is The Crap? Also - apples (hehe) vs. oranges.

    PS. I can't stand Torment "after finding that you're dead you're entering the random house and you got random quest from random woman to help pay her husband's debts, because fuck logic, asking strangers for help with such important thing as debts is the proper way to deal with bad situations" approach.

    they add plenty of moral choices to the game in terms of saving or killing the little sisters
    These wasn't choices. These was just simple calculations - saving Little Sisters would give you MORE Adam (and some other bonuses like ammo too) than killing them. It's broken "moral" mechanism. Imagine if saving Little Sisters would NOT give you any Adam, and killing them would give you shittons of this substance.
    Last edited by GameCat; 26-03-2013 at 06:21 PM.

  16. #16
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus thegooseking's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Xercies View Post
    I don't think its the writing per se I think its the mechanics
    I don't think that's necessarily true either. Dear Esther has terrible writing and mechanics, but is still good art in some sense (mostly in terms of world-building/atmosphere). The problem, I think, is that it's far less appropriate to be reductive about what makes art good than it is to be reductive about what makes a game good.
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  17. #17
    Activated Node TheIronSky's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by GameCat View Post
    These wasn't choices. These was just simple calculations - saving Little Sisters would give you MORE Adam (and some other bonuses like ammo too) than killing them. It's broken "moral" mechanism. Imagine if saving Little Sisters would NOT give you any Adam, and killing them would give you shittons of this substance.
    But it's here where you're wrong - you did have a decision to make. In context, you had to make a decision based on two opposing stories each given to you by distinct characters. Deciding between life or death for another human being, whether fictional or not, "was" a moral choice that the game allows you to make. In fact, any opportunity to make a decision in a game is a simulated choice, and we know from years of playing and experiencing games that the more invested you are in a decision, the more weight it carries. So in order to get the player invested in the decision making process, they incentivize both paths with specific rewards and then allow the player to determine whether or not it's worth it. You can be pro-Harvester, which, by the way, is the path to take if you want to maximize your ADAM (unlike what you seem to believe), or you can be pro-Rescuer, get less ADAM, but perhaps find some extra tonics or ammunition. This principle can be easily carried over to cover societal issues while in game. Which leads me to wonder why in the world you would think that the game providing you with a decision to make wouldn't be considered a choice. Or what in the world it is that you're talking about in the first place.

  18. #18
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus thegooseking's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by GameCat View Post
    These wasn't choices. These was just simple calculations - saving Little Sisters would give you MORE Adam (and some other bonuses like ammo too) than killing them. It's broken "moral" mechanism. Imagine if saving Little Sisters would NOT give you any Adam, and killing them would give you shittons of this substance.
    Jonathan Blow said this too, and it was just as wrong then. The only way that mechanism is "broken" is if you try to apply it to what you assume the game is trying to tell you rather than what it's actually telling you (namely that cooperativism is more rewarding in the long-term than individualism). It might not sit right with the narrative conventions of "doing the right thing" requiring some "noble sacrifice", but a choice between long-term-ism and short-term-ism is still a moral choice, and for that matter a far more interesting moral choice than between bare good and evil.
    "Moronic cynicism is a kind of na´vetÚ. It's na´vetÚ turned inside-out. Na´vetÚ wearing a sneer." -Momus

  19. #19
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    I think "moral choices" shouldn't be simplified to "if I'm good I will get some stuff, and if I'm bad I will get little more of slightly different stuff which barely makes a difference at all".
    It could be done much better. What if you must somewhat sacrifice some health/mana points, ADAM or something else in order to save Little Sisters? Or what if Little Sisters would not give you any ADAM and to save them you would just need to kill Big Daddy without any kind of profit for you?

  20. #20
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    Quote Originally Posted by GameCat View Post
    I think "moral choices" shouldn't be simplified to "if I'm good I will get some stuff, and if I'm bad I will get little more of slightly different stuff which barely makes a difference at all".
    It could be done much better. What if you must somewhat sacrifice some health/mana points, ADAM or something else in order to save Little Sisters? Or what if Little Sisters would not give you any ADAM and to save them you would just need to kill Big Daddy without any kind of profit for you?
    But then you're incentivising the 'evil' route, so the same people arguing that there is no moral choice as the rewards are essentially the same, will then say that there is no moral choice because one route is clearly the optimal path for a player. Those people aren't engaging with the story anyway. They're making choices based on what is best mechanically.

    By making the mechanical results pretty much even, you're turning it into an actual moral choice: are you individualistic or cooperative? An assumption here is being made that players will take the 'good' route by default if the rewards are the same. And the majority will. But the fact that they do that reflects a moral decision.

    After all, if the choice didn't matter in Bioshock as the rewards were the same either path, you'd expect a 50/50 split between routes. Which is nothing like the actual figure.

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