Jonathan ‘Braid’ Blow has posted a recording and illustrative slide show from his talk at the Montreal Games Summit. It’s stirring stuff. Blow attacks World of Warcraft, describing the grind of leveling and the reward system inherent in that as “lying to the players”, and even suggests that designers should be ashamed of exploiting illusory level-based mechanics. He argues that games are, like film and literature, becoming a powerful medium in which creators will be able to make choices they can be ashamed of. He wonders whether games as they are currently executed could lead to a “societal problem”. Gasps and nervous laughter rises from the audience as Blow delivers his ideas, an audience which reportedly included uncomfortable-looking reps from Blizzard. (Blow argues that some game rewards are like drugs, while others are more like food. Good and bad. But we at RPS love both food and drugs equally, so we were a little confused about what he meant.)
Anyway, Blow goes on to attack Bioshock’s Little Sister dilemma, and characterises the Big Daddy as the sympathetic character of the piece. He compares the emotional response created Bioshock’s “big choice” to the frustrations people felt when they were forced to incinerate their Weighted Companion Cube in Portal. Could Portal’s approach, of using mechanics rather than character-based empathy (think of our response to Alyx Vance, or freed Little Sisters) point a way to better, ultimately more rewarding game design?
Blow’s argument is a little wobbly in places, but I think it’s constructive. You should have a listen.