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  1. #1

    Would you recommend a game that makes the player feel awful?

    If you've read the comments on Alec's WIT of "This War of Mine", you'll know what I'm talking about.
    Here is his comment about the game:

    Oh, It’s very good at what it does, but I have some degree of dilemma about encouraging people to go spend money on feeling awful about everything, which has caused me to avoid using the usual superlatives of a positive game review. May write upon this dilemma in a separate post.
    Now, I posted my view below in the article, but I'd like to take it to the RPS forums for a more structured discussion.
    What games have made you feel awful? Did you find the experience worthwhile? Would you recommend them to others?

  2. #2
    Network Hub EPICTHEFAIL's Avatar
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    I am told that Spec Ops: The Line makes you feel like an utter scumbag, and comes highly recommended.
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  3. #3
    Quote Originally Posted by EPICTHEFAIL View Post
    I am told that Spec Ops: The Line makes you feel like an utter scumbag, and comes highly recommended.
    Heh, kinda. It does turn the protagonist from good to evil, and so breaks the identification between player and player character, but I don't know if it does make you feel anxious/sick/desperate/lonely/depressed/etc the way Cart Life or Actual Sunlight do. It certainly didn't do it for me.

    I'm going to copy my comment on the main site for reference:

    I find that the portrayal (and communication) of negative experiences, and the courage to make the player feel bad (not just in a Spec Ops kind of way, but also, for instance, in a Cart Life way) is vital to the maturity of the medium. As long as games remain slaves to catering to the simple need of enjoyment, games will remain towards the “childish escapism” end of the spectrum.
    Experiencing negative/painful emotions in a virtual space, as proved by every other form of art, is not only an exercise in empathy, but can be a cathartic and valuable aesthetic experience. Would you not recommend, say, a sad song, a tragic play, or a tragic film (e.g. Dancer in the Dark) just because it’s not “enjoyable” in the immediate and shallow sense of the word when applied to games?

    From Liz Ryerson’s blog


    game culture is so thoroughly built around identification with your character avatar that seriously challenging surface reading comes off as a direct antithesis to the conventional wisdom that exists within it. and that’s not to say that big budget games haven’t tried (and failed) to muddy these waters ala Bioshock Infinite or Spec Ops: The Line. but they failed in part because of a large part of the ideology of corporate game design is that players are never allowed to feel serious pain for more than the shortest period of time. and i don’t mean pain to your character avatar, but pain to you, through design ideas which challenge your assumptions or your patience or your perspectives. often people approach games as some sort of sacred escape space defined by a complete lack of ideology. the almost spiritual, religious fervor that gamers approach games with makes it an excellent breeding ground for intense ideological indoctrination. this isn’t rigidly and aggressively applied, but one that is seen as natural and normal state of games to occupy. but that level of deep, almost spiritual comfort games provide make it even easier to actively ignore how strongly constructed that idea of ‘enjoyment’ is in the first place. it also makes that much harder to wage any kind of serious, sustained counter-current against it.

  4. #4
    Network Hub Skyturnedred's Avatar
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    I don't mind recommending movies that make you feel like shit, so I don't see how it should be any different for games.

  5. #5
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Wenz's Avatar
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    Maybe pathologic and analogue: a hate story but I'm not sure. Never got around to play them properly.
    post in progress

  6. #6
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    I'd feel like not suggesting others play those games, but that's a personal opinion. Usually though, it's best to build up understanding than to tear it down. Someone going into such an entertainment/education/learning through their own desire is great as they know what they are in for. Someone pushing them to have a try, might scare them off.

    Papers please is an example for me. It works well (still not played it, I THINK I have it, but too scared to even check!) as I understand it, played the demo and feel others should understand it. However, some may not. It may be too abstract or too grim for them. It might be best for them to learn and understand what repression and difficult social constructs are like in other ways.

    Though, I suppose if I stop worrying about failing to get the message across, then I would recommend the game. :P
    Last edited by TechnicalBen; 18-11-2014 at 07:33 PM.
    It is a technical difference, but's there none the less.

  7. #7
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Wenz's Avatar
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    what happened to that non virtual game about shipping slaves and dealing with food/sickness/etc issues?
    post in progress

  8. #8
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    Define awful. Contemplating joining the Extinction Project (or whatever that movement's called) in a fit of despair, nothing. But plenty of games have moved me to emotions that weren't particularly "fun". Spec Ops was flawed, no question, but I think it still did this quite well; I don't agree with Liz Ryerson it was a failure. Then again I don't agree that Bioshock 'Murrica was trying to do this at all, or at least I think if such was Levine's intent then he completely cocked it up.

    I haven't played Papers Please because I thought it looked ugly, as in I thought the art style didn't really work in any sense - that it was so aesthetically unattractive it would annoy me, playing it. Not played Cart Life or whatever for the simple reason I'm not really interested in interactive digital experiences that exist solely to make a point like that. But I don't have a problem with such things existing. Quite the opposite. More of them, please, even if I'm not the one playing.

    A few regular games off the top of my head that made me feel genuinely horrified, shaken and so on - I thought The Darkness was shockingly good at basically saying "Yeah, you're not cool and badass and sex on legs or any of that - you're a monster, and you really should feel very bad about it. Don't like that? Fuck you". (But then I'm pretty sensitive to some of this stuff - I'm one of those people who goes out of my way not to run over pedestrians in GTA, for example.)

    I found some of the classic Silent Hills very effective not only in playing on my psyche but in grossing me out - I mean this very seriously, not simply as material for a YouTube reaction video. Silent Hill 3's otherworld made me feel physically ill at the time. Shadow of the Colossus did an astonishing job of making me feel like a complete heel - ashamed that I'd even started the thing, yet determined to see it through (in a good sense, not a why-did-I-pick-this-out-of-the-bargain-bin sense). The Path may not be an actual rape simulator (it's really not) but I still find it supremely disturbing - looking at these kids on the start menu and thinking I'm about to send them to, if not their deaths per se, then something horribly close.

    EDIT: Oh, I guess Deadly Premonition's ending pretty much punched me in the gut - contemplating what it implied about so much of the story, how all the key plot beats now looked when viewed in context. Hard to go into details without spoiling things. But it really did make me feel pretty terrible.

    Games should not simply be about fun. End of story. If anyone thinks that, they are wrong. It's as simple as that. It's absolutely fine to only enjoy playing games for fun or escapism or positivity. Nothing necessarily wrong with that at all. But there's nothing about games that means we can't or shouldn't have a Come And See (still one of the most terrifying, stomach-churning films I've ever seen) as well as our yearly dose of AAA man-shooting.
    Last edited by Eight Rooks; 18-11-2014 at 07:39 PM.

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by Wenz View Post
    Maybe pathologic and analogue: a hate story but I'm not sure. Never got around to play them properly.
    Haven't played Pathologic.
    Analogue does a lot of interesting things, and it does ask the player to exercise compassion and empathy for others, but making the player herself feel bad is not one of the things it does.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by Wenz View Post
    what happened to that non virtual game about shipping slaves and dealing with food/sickness/etc issues?
    Europa Universalis?

  11. #11
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus alms's Avatar
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    I'll have to read the WIT (for some reason I thought I had read it already...) to better understand what you're saying.

    FTR I don't think Papers Please is an especially good example of a game that makes you feel awful because of the overt use of dark humor, despite the clear 1984 inspiration, the overall tone is different and those who have played it will surely remember the characterization of Jorji Costava.

    Then again there's plenty of games that manage to pull off that moment from time to time, e.g. not so long ago, I mentioned the very unlikely name of Torchlight II, which in turn leads me to think a lot rests on the player being open to the feeling.

    How many DayZ (or suchlike) players ever stop to feel awful about their awful actions?
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    Yeah, I always feel icky when I have to starve citizens/peasants/whatever. Doesn't matter what game it is.

    I also felt pretty awful when, after spending my time tooling around the galaxy in ME2, the woman gives you the passive aggressive guilt trip for not arriving sooner and saving more people.

    I also felt terrible at the end of Fallout. I spent at least two or three weeks playing that game daily, and when the ending hits I could feel the blood rush from my head.

  13. #13
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Fanbuoy's Avatar
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    I would definitely recommend a game that made me feel awful, but not to anyone. I know a few people (not gamers) that I'm sure would be fascinated by the intimacy of some of the emotions that can be evoked by games. Games can make me feel personally responsible in a way that other media haven't been able to do. I don't think I'd use that kind of games when trying to introduce people to gaming, but rather as an example of what the medium is capable of.

    Quote Originally Posted by Wenz View Post
    what happened to that non virtual game about shipping slaves and dealing with food/sickness/etc issues?
    The 17th century? It was scrapped some time ago. There have been iterations on the concept, though. The current version has you sitting in a chair for ten hours a day and dealing with increasing dairy prices.

  14. #14
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Zephro's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Skyturnedred View Post
    I don't mind recommending movies that make you feel like shit, so I don't see how it should be any different for games.
    Yeah I'd recommend requiem for a dream so this just seems the same.

  15. #15
    Life is a roller-coaster, beauty and ugliness, light and dark, the good and the bad it's all part of life. How can you ever fully appreciate the good things in life if you've never encountered its bad sides? Points of reference are necessary, so I don't have a problem at all with media that makes you feel awful. The same goes for games.

    What I don't like though is the vilification of media as entertainment or fun. I can enjoy a serious drama like La vita è bella as much as I can enjoy a stupid action movie like Die Hard. It all depends on the mood and what I want. Sometimes I just want to have fun or be entertained and sometimes I want to contemplate. The right balance is important.

    I found that the biggest lessons I learned in life were through times of hardship and misery, when I'm happy I enjoy the moment as much as I can. Sometimes media is used to counter balance these needs and sometimes it's used to enforce them. One can't exist without the other.
    CÉTERVM CENSEÓ KOTAKVM ESSE DÉLÉNDAM.

  16. #16
    Lesser Hivemind Node TheDreamlord's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Zephro View Post
    Yeah I'd recommend requiem for a dream so this just seems the same.
    This is an incredible movie, one of the best movies on addiction. But be warned it is utterly bleak and unrelenting. I love Aronofski.

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    Quote Originally Posted by strange headache View Post
    What I don't like though is the vilification of media as entertainment or fun.
    By and large I don't think its the vilification of media as entertainment with many people as much as the vilification of the almost pathological pursuit of certain media (namely gaming) as purely entertainment by a fairly large swath of people. You see this mindset rear itself quite noticeably in those now defunct women's roles in games/gaming articles that are now usually comments closed. I'm not talking about the people who are defiantly in favour of whatever people say is bad but merely those who see the discussion itself as intrusive to their pure gamer space, those who want no part in it and think such a discussion is out of place in the entire genre. They see games as games with no connection to wider cultural and social topics.

    From my personal perspective it feels that unlike with film, book, or TV, or even any other mature cultural media, gaming offers me few opportunities to challenge myself with complex emotional experiences. Instead its mostly a lot of great variety in ways to be creative, or be entertained and wile away for hours. Those are good things but there is a whole side to the full human experience thats largely missing.

  18. #18
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Drake Sigar's Avatar
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    There has to be some good in the game to provide a contrast, some victories to be had even if they’re small in the grand scheme of things. Judging by Alec’s article This War of Mine achieves this. So yeah, I’d recommend a game like that.
    Quote Originally Posted by P*Funk View Post
    From my personal perspective it feels that unlike with film, book, or TV, or even any other mature cultural media, gaming offers me few opportunities to challenge myself with complex emotional experiences. Instead its mostly a lot of great variety in ways to be creative, or be entertained and wile away for hours. Those are good things but there is a whole side to the full human experience thats largely missing.
    Didn’t movies go through the same thing back when it was a newish medium, with people saying they shouldn't be serious?
    Last edited by Drake Sigar; 19-11-2014 at 01:22 AM.

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    Perhaps, though I'm no expert. Birth of a Nation (1915) was a pretty obviously "serious" film and thats not terribly late in film's naissance.

    The interesting thing about gaming is that while film began with sourcing theatre for its inspiration and then quickly evolving into its own legitimate form, gaming seems to do a lot more of imitating the style of things like movies without trying to take on its deeper meaning or thematic weight. You then get a bunch of games that typify the style of a director but perhaps miss much of the complexity to the stories or the characters therein. With respect to narrative mainstream gaming has yet to really do much more than simply digest and process mainstream culture and regurgitate it in satirical or imitative form while avoiding trying to make its own style. Just look at FarCry 4. Pagan Min talks to you through the fourth wall but overall everything seems very typical of a modern slick movie down to the way they slip The Clash into trailers and parts of the scripted story sequences. Call of Duty is outright using Kevin Spacey to literally make you think "Oh yea, just like a TV show".

    Mainstream gaming is extremely commercial but in a way where it seems to exist only for the sake of being a product and it doesn't really think of itself as art or anything beyond a product much if at all. It is a product, it is sold, it is manufactured to be consumed. Meanwhile you get a guy like Scorcese or Spielberg or Cameron or Ridley Scott making a big budget flick they're still trying to make more than a product, as are the actors. There's merchandise, lots of BS with producers and studios, but there's more to it, even if its a failure, than just product. I think gaming doesn't even take itself seriously enough for it to pretend at being more than a product so why should we be surprised it doesn't produce much more than a diverting time sink half the time.

    I think it goes beyond the fact that its a young form. Gaming is pretty old. The era of 3d rendering in games is at least 15 years old now. The budgets are also ridiculous. We have games being made for well over $100 million. Its gotta be something else.

    Indies notwithstanding of course.
    Last edited by P*Funk; 19-11-2014 at 03:10 AM.

  20. #20
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Wenz's Avatar
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    Last edited by Wenz; 19-11-2014 at 10:54 AM.
    post in progress

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