The Sunday Papers

Sundays are for sheltering from the harsh weather and cursing the time lords who stole an hour from your sleep. Better hunker down with a particularly fine selection of the week’s best (mostly) writing about games.

  • After the end of Saturday Crapshoot around six months ago, Richard Cobbett started a new PC Gamer column on story and writing in games. That sadly ended yesterday with this excellent piece on representations of depression in games, with Life Is Strange’s display of contact information for a suicide hotline as the starting point. No spoilers inside.
  • Again, I won’t go into the plot details behind why Life is Strange felt the need to display what it did, but it’s worth addressing a very important reason why such things are entirely worth doing – not that players are likely to jump out of a window while the credits are rolling, not that the moment is so emotive that they’ll need to speak to someone… though if either of those facts are true, I of course hope that it helps. Instead, its benefit and all the justification needed for its inclusion is to push the single most important, most life-saving message in mental health: You are not alone.

  • This went up a little too late for me to read it before last week’s Sunday Papers, but Keith Stuart at the Guardian asks: why don’t we feel guilty in videogames? Obviously he’s never read the conclusion of our Neptune’s Pride playthrough.
  • What’s really interesting about this is that players complain about how moral systems in games are too systematic. In games with morality gauges, like Fallout and the Fable series, players often find themselves thinking not “what is the morally correct thing to do in this situation?” but “what does the game require me to do in order to ‘win’?”. This is often seen as a failure of game mechanics: it’s not a true moral conundrum if there’s a victory state dependent on our choice. But then, is this really a failure? There’s a whole branch of moral philosophy, deontology, which considers how much our ethical systems are based on external sociocultural rules and duty. Do we avoid doing bad things because we’re inherently moral, or because we have laws? What’s the true imperative behind moral behaviour? Perhaps morality is just a rule system.

  • Keza MacDonald over at Kotaku UK did the thankless work of explaining why everyone should want politics in their videogames. Although I guess this is my way of saying thanks.
  • Why would anyone be against this? It makes no sense. Upcoming PS4 exclusive The Tomorrow Children plays with Communist imagery and concepts of communal betterment, and this is precisely what makes it interesting. Developers are very often keen to deflect questions about their games’ political context, or to downplay its significance – witness the developers of The Saboteur turning the rich and troubling setting of WWII occupied Paris into a wilfully stupid Nazi kill-a-thon – but it’s when games embrace their political context that the most interesting work gets done. Metal Gear is inseparable from the Japanese anti-nuclear sentiment post-WWII and from its creator’s view on American military dominance. Fable III alludes closely to the distressing politics of real-world revolutions of the 19th and 20th centuries, making you think about them in a new light. Why wouldn’t you want this?

  • I will remove the space from every “video games” till I win. Meanwhile, Don’t Die is “a videogame confessional” that alternately interviews people who make games and people who used to play games. Sometimes the two cross, as I’ll quote below. The articles are a little hit and miss, but unusually human.
  • Is this going to cause any trouble for you at work, having a conversation about people losing interest in games, acknowledging this is a thing that happens, or acknowledging this is a thing that has happened to you?

    No, I mean, I’m not talking about the industry as a whole. I’m talking about myself more than anything else, and again, my opinions are my own and do not represent Nintendo’s. They’re all completely mine.

  • Sometimes the age of the internet frightens me more than my own, as when I read Offworld’s Laura Hudson on Jason Shiga, a comic artist whose work I’ve been reading online since 2003. Offworld naturally focuses on his interactive (though physical) comics, but I’m currently reading Demon and first encountered him via Fleep, which always seemed like it would make a tight, interesting adventure game.
  • Over time, his interactive comics grew more even more complex, including stacks of panels that you read by locking and unlocking different sections with pegs, and others where moveable parts shifted images around in troughs. Although these comics were incredibly clever and unique, each had to be created by hand, turning them into boutique items that were impossible to digitize and difficult to mass-produce. Shiga sometimes created less than a hundred copies of each, limiting their audience to the several dozen readers lucky enough to stumble across his table at a comic book convention.

    His experiments reached their apex with a comic called Theater Eroika, which involved a series of five overlapping wheels that would spin together to reveal different sequential images. “That one was so crazy that I only made one copy of it,” says Shiga. “I was like, I’ve reached the pinnacle of complexity. This is just insane. This is too nuts.”

    Brendan Vance writes about The Ghosts of BioShock, tracing the inspirations of the game to their root in historical events and relating those events back to the game’s own creation. This is long, but you’ll learn something – if not about games, then about American history. Here is Black Elk, survivor of the Wounded Knee Massacre.

    “I did not know then how much was ended. When I look back now from this high hill of my old age, I can still see the butchered women and children lying heaped and scattered all along the crooked gulch as plain as when I saw them with eyes young. And I can see that something else died there in the bloody mud, and was buried in the blizzard. A people’s dream died there. It was a beautiful dream … the nation’s hoop is broken and scattered. There is no center any longer, and the sacred tree is dead.”

  • Eskil Steenberg is working on a strategy game and writes about what that means. The developer of Love is a smart cookie, and I like seeing the mental arithmetic behind design decisions.
  • When a sports team does poorly the question of replacing the coach inevitably gets raised long before anyone talks about booting out the players. Why is this? Its because the Coach has knowledge not skill, and everybody things they have or at least can have knowledge too. It is clear to most of us that we will never be able to kick, run or throw like a professional athlete, so when they fail we tend to be forgiving, but we all think we can do the job of the coach since it is purely intellectual. If a coach has to decide what player switch out, its a decision any of us can make, so when the coaches gets it wrong its easy to label them incompetent, no matter how many factors they considered internally.

  • I meant to give this its own post earlier in the week, because it’s a delight: a DayZ player, made to sing for his life, surprises his captors with his performance. It’s worth watching the whole video from the beginning, for the tension.
  • Paul Dean’s Greatest Gaming Memory over at Shut Up & Sit Down.
  • I like numbers that contextualize game successes, because it’s hard otherwise to get a sense of what it means to release a liked, profitable game. Here’s Failbetter on the numbers behind Sunless Sea, and there are valuable links to similar stories at the end.
  • In the first 31 days, we sold 54,210 copies across all distributors – more than during the entire seven months of early access. Once again, most sales happened during the first week: 70% of the total, compared with 72% during early access.

  • Why do I like numbers? Because as Bryant Francis at Gamasutra writes, let’s get real about the financial expectations of ‘going indie’.
  • Hartman and other developers speak fondly of their time at the Indie Megabooth at PAX, a fixture that might best describe public perception of the indie game scene: A well-stocked group of independent developers crammed together with a carnival of small games and bright ideas. Their budgets may be low, but everyone’s either showing off a recently launched game, launching something on a crowdfunding platform, or showing final builds in the months or weeks before release. Everyone talks about features, art assets, but no one talks about the anxiety of budgeting for next month’s rent. Or the creeping dread of pacing out how long your those student loans are set to last. But the anxieties are there, and most independent developers are well aware of the social and financial ecosystem they must navigate in order to thrive and survive.

  • That Simon Parkin writes about the National Videogame Arcade in Nottingham, which has been established by the organisers of GameCity as a permanent representation of videogames’ contribution to culture. I need to get out of the house more.
  • Britain’s video game arcades, having been at last evicted from our cities, are now mostly found chirruping on piers in lonesome seaside towns. It’s been a lingering decline. Once upon a time the arcade was the only place in which the video game could be encountered (aside from, perhaps, a date with a squatter on one of the room-sized mainframe computers found on affluent university campuses in the 1970s). But today the video game is ubiquitous, both in homes and in pockets (where a smartphone filled with Angry Birds, Crossy Road and all the Adjective-y others provides a miniature, on-board arcade for the contemporary human). We don’t, in other words, get out so much these days, when it comes to video games. Ergo, the arcade has become a defunct entertainment venue, like Blockbuster Video, Tower Records, the hanging gallows, or the increasingly forsaken cinema.

  • Margaret Atwood geeking out at Game of Thrones is fun.
  • Russel Davies on the internet of rest.
  • Music this week is Qrion. After months of electronic music, I am starting to crave warmth and guitars.

    135 Comments

    1. Rindan says:

      My problem with the moral systems of most games is that there is never a reason to be bad. In most games, doing the obviously “right thing” results in the greatest rewards, or at the very least, equal rewards to being a fucking bastard or practical. It makes all moral choices false choices.

      For instance, let’s say an evil demon takes over a kid. You are given the risky option of talking to demon while your friend magics the demon away, or just slaying the kid, killing both kid and demon. In most games, it is a shitty choice because the “don’t hurt the kid” option will work. For once, I want it so that if I pick the “don’t hurt the kid” option, it results in failure and a bunch of people getting killed, and if I do the “kill the kid” option, it results in accolades for resolving the problem with the minimal loss of life and everyone agreeing that there was no choice.

      Even Mass Effect, which did a decent job moving away from the boring dichotomy of “I do stupid shit that always turns out right” vs “I eat orphans for no reason while cackling with evil” good/evil system, still failed to enforce consequences. The paragon and renegade options were usually both equally viable. You never really suffered from being more violent than a situation called for, or failing to act quickly and violently when that was what was needed. You could essentially auto-pilot picking the blue option or the red option with no real consequence. On top of that, the game punished you if you didn’t always pick the same fucking color.

      I would really love and RPG where when I saw the options, it sometimes made sense to be pragmatic and maybe a little ruthless, and where always going the high road resulted in you getting knocked on your ass and people dying on occasion.

      • LionsPhil says:

        Yes, absolutely this.

        I remember Fallout 1 being better in this area but by this point this may be wishful memories.

      • Philopoemen says:

        I would really love and RPG where when I saw the options, it sometimes made sense to be pragmatic and maybe a little ruthless, and where always going the high road resulted in you getting knocked on your ass and people dying on occasion.

        Shadowrun: Dragonfall Directors Cut would be the most recent morally ambiguous RPG that I can think of.

        • CraftyBanana says:

          You know, I’ve always had a bit of an issue with the morality of Shadowrun (both the Shadowrun Returns games and the tabletop game), in that the world seems designed for you to be an amoral criminal, but the, I don’t know, authorial voice seems to assume the player is cyberpunk Robin Hood.

          In Dragonfall, for example, in two of the three actual paid runs you do in the game, the majority of your team will be upset with you for actually fulfilling your contract (which you requires you making some ‘evil’ choices). These guys are supposed to be experienced Shadowrunners – how have they managed to fall into a career of running illegal spec ops for massive corporations without doing this kind of stuff all the time? And how come they’re ok with mowing down all those security guards, who were presumably just in the job for a quick paycheque?

          Or how about at the end of Shadowrun Returns, when Harlequin gives his big speech about how Shadowrunners don’t play the corporations game, man, they’re, like, outside the rules! Except they aren’t, really, given that corporations are their main employers (after all, who else can afford to hire/has a need for freelance black ops agents?).

          For the record, I’ve got no problem playing an amoral bastard, or a good person struggling to do the right thing in a murky world. But I could do without being asked to play a criminal in a gritty cyberpunk world, and then hearing a game/rpg designer quietly cluck their tongue in disappointment when I act like it.

      • doswillrule says:

        This is something that The Witcher did pretty well, particularly the first game. Siding with either of the two factions was easiest but had repercussions, and compromised your supposed neutrality. Avoiding them both was much harder to achieve and results in both disliking you, but is the more satisfying option (and yields you a silly sex card).

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          Grizzly says:

          If you take the neutral option, The Wild Hunt reprimands you with it too, as siding with neither faction ensures that the casualties rise higher then ever.

      • Scrape Wander says:

        I totally agree. Typically, I think the boon that these games imagine they are imparting is simply the “thrill” itself of being a bastard, as if being evil is its own reward in the gamespace.

        That being said, one of the more bristling “evil” decisions I remember making in a game occurred during my jerk-playthrough of Fallout 3. Megaton. That image alone, of standing on the patio and looking out at the town seonds before it happened. Gave me distinct chills. Remains one of the more powerful moments of that game to me.

        • onodera says:

          Megaton didn’t touch me at all. It was a so outrageously senseless thing to do it destroyed my suspension of disbelief. And old coot so bored he has people blow up towns for him as the game’s first side quest? Sure, why the hell not? I was more touched by the survivors in the irradiated vault in New Vegas. Do I let them die right here and now to preserve more lives in the future? Or do I save them, knowing well enough what that means for the sharecroppers?

      • AngoraFish says:

        My problem with the ‘moral’ systems of most games is that they are typically a choice between saint and sociopath, which actually isn’t any kind of moral system at all.

        Generally you’re not even offered an a-moral system, with a choice between altruism and self-interest. For the most part, ‘choice’ is limited to role-playing ‘being bad’ for the sake of it, or ‘being good’ if you’re not the kind of person who gets a thrill out of such things.

        Genuine moral choices, however, are tangled up in supposition, inference, personal experience, vague calculations of risk and reward, and inherently unknowable consequences… none of which, if one is being honest, sit particularly well with video games where one is, at best, playing out a choose your own adventure story, with every outcome scripted through the lens of someone’s else’s morality, and completely predictable, if not by prompts within the game itself then certainly from a quick search of the applicable wiki.

        Which is why games based in some part on procedural generation, with their inherently emergent and unpredictable outcomes, offer the only genuine moral choices in PC gaming, and when done well, ultimately make the best storytellers.

      • Geebs says:

        KOTOR 1 managed to make orphan-eating and cackling seem like a whole lot of fun. Then KOTOR 2 came along and taught us all that failure to make a choice ends in a fatal case of logorrhoea.

      • Silith321 says:

        I slightly disagree with your assessment of Mass Effect. You are right when you talk about immediate consequences – usually there were none and I agree with you that it is bad design that the first two games punish you from straying from the chosen path (ME3 changed this).
        But if you take the more indirect consequences of your actions into account, certain actions did punish you severely in the following story arcs.

        MAJOR SPOILERS for ME3 follow:

        I really, really liked how ME3 handled the consequences of your actions of the past 2 games, especially the Tuchanka and Rannoch story arc. I don’t have every story branch in my head right now but if you for example killed Wrex in ME1 (or handled the situation badly so that he got killed, I’m not quite sure if you could kill him yourself), it simply wasn’t possible to reach the “best” outcome in the Tuchanka arc. Same for choices you made during Mordin’s loyalty quest in ME2 – again, they had severe consequences in the Tuchanka arc in ME3. However, it is actually arguable what the “best” outcome actually is – because if Wrex AND Eve are dead and you handled a prior situation the correct way, Mordin survives – for some people, this might actually be the “best” outcome, depending on what you think of the Krogan situation.
        Choices made during ME2 had big consequences in the Rannoch arc, too – again, only a certain set of choices enabled you do reach the “best” (sigh…) outcome.
        I really, really liked how ME (especially ME3) handled your different actions during the trilogy and the Tuchanka and Rannoch story arcs are some of the best I have ever played because of their reactivity to seemingly unconnected choices during the previous games.

        • bleeters says:

          My main problem with Mass Effect was in how the third game started applying numerical values to your choices, which meant they effectively began ranking them from best to worst in the most basic, objective sense. And frustratingly, in nearly all cases the most beneficial path was paragon. The only major renegade decision I remember working out better in the long run was when deciding what to do with the base at the end of two, and that yielded a frankly embarassing ten points more than going the paragon route.

          There are plenty of times when one is just as good as the other in the long run (say, opting to resolve Tali’s loyalty mission with the renegade choice of yelling at the admiralty board and calling them out on their bullshit), but I don’t really consider that a fair balance. Far too often, Mass Effect (and Bioware in general, really) encourages us to take the good but generally impractical route because things will work out somehow even when by all reason they really shouldn’t.

      • Archonsod says:

        I dunno what games you’ve been playing, but that’s not usually the case. It tends to be more along the lines of ‘pick evil for instant reward, pick good for long term gain’. The lack of consequence is a result of abstracting the effects of choice into a reputation system, which usually only half works – if you opt to kill the child it results in a reputation drop, but you get the same drop whether you’re renown for being a self serving bastard or a saint – there’s no ‘expectation’ for you to act a certain way based on prior reputation.

        What Mass Effect managed to avoid that most RPGs don’t is that it moved away from the Good//Evil axis, which doesn’t make sense given the usual plot of the main character being the saviour of the world.

      • Merus says:

        The most difficult decision I remember in a game was in Failbetter’s Fallen London. Fallen London takes pains to establish early on that there is such a thing as a foolish decision; certain actions are sucker bait, and mostly go away as you level because their purpose has been served. Soon after, they introduce the idea that some decisions you make will linger, and will affect what options you see later on.

        And then you get to minding the Comtessa, (the count’s daughter, don’tcha know), and she disappears. Your investigation leads you to the Clay Men, who have a home under the city. When you find the Comtessa, you’re given a choice between one of two irreversible actions, where it’s entirely possible that either choice will lead to something good or something bad happening. The game’s already established that your choices aren’t always right, that the consequences of your actions linger, and I distinctly remember staring at that choice for ages trying to decide what to do.

        Most morality systems don’t really ask you hard questions, where it’s not entirely clear how to express your character concept. They’re usually not good at capturing any sort of nuance – you can’t have a guiding principle, a moral failing, or delusions of righteousness. (Fallen London has a neat trick where you have a set of morality attributes, which are usually, but not always, opposed.)

        • Scurra says:

          Yeah, in the end the problem is that the best place to explore these sort of things within a gaming framework is with pencil-and-paper face-to-face games. But they cannot be reproduced outside of the individual sessions, making them just as useless as places to explore moral dilemmas because you can’t compare your own choice to that of someone else in the same situation when it’s never going to be the same situation.
          Whereas in a videogame, the control of variables at least means that there are only a limited number of outcomes, but that also tends to mean lack of nuance; although it’s fair to add that this doesn’t mean there aren’t interesting and dull ways to handle those outcomes.

      • Eight Rooks says:

        The thing is I can easily still criticise you for this, in that as far as I can see what you’re actually saying strays far too close to “I want whatever I feel like doing to be the best possible option” for my liking. What about saving the kid, having people die, but having the survivors accept it was morally the choice that made the most sense to them – preserve his life at all costs, no matter what the collateral damage? What about killing the kid, and everyone refusing to listen to reason because they’re blinded by grief and then pursuing you for the rest of the game until you kill them too or they kill you? It’s still impossible to allow for every potential choice – someone is always going to feel cheated (which does not necessarily mean binary choices are irrevocably bad) – and procedural games, whatever people might think, do not yet allow for an adequate substitute – you’re basically making up an answer solely in your own head to compensate, which isn’t the same thing at all. You’re just not being called out on whatever you tell yourself to justify what you just did.

        There are certainly plenty of things to criticise about binary morality systems, but a lot of the existing criticism seems – to me – to boil down to “You offered X and Y but I wanted to do Z”, or “I picked Y because that was obviously the “best” choice – for the value I chose to assign to “best” – STOP YELLING AT ME, CAN’T YOU UNDERSTAND WHY I PICKED THAT”. The first is why the vast majority of point-and-click adventure games are fundamentally broken and yet no-one seems to complain about it there. :P The second is disingenuous at best, a childish tantrum at worst. By all means carry on thinking about how things could be better. At the same time, maybe try and appreciate what these games get right, flawed as they are?

        • Rindan says:

          The issue isn’t wanting “my” choice to always be correct. The issue is that the “high road” choice is always correct. There should be consequences for always giving the cliche villain a second chance, always trying to talk it out, and never striking first. It would make games more nuanced and interesting if the cliche “high road” option didn’t always result in good outcomes.

          If nothing else, it would make playing a “good” character vastly more interesting. Right now, there is no struggle to play a “good” character. You just pick the good high road option and everything turns out dandy. What if when you were presented with dilemmas, you had to ponder a little. If occasionally a few of those “good” options were traps, it would make playing the high road far more interesting.

          Imagine an RPG where you must walks through New York City. You will be presented with people asking for stuff, people in trouble, etc. In most RPGs, you could basically hand over your cash to everyone who asks, trust everyone, take any sketchy deal, and you will walk out as being declared honorary mayor and hero of the city. What should happen is that you are a penniless unknown wretch after about 3 blocks because you have been taken advantage of and stripped of everything of value, further, no one should know about it, and anyone ho does know about it should consider you an idiot dupe.

          What I would like, in my hypothetical walk through NYC game, is that you can do good things, help a guy out, increase your status, and make lives better, but you can’t do that by saying yes to everything. When a sketchy guy tries to get you give him money so he can help save his sister, if you give it to him, he laughs and walks away richer, and there is nothing you can do about it. However, if you sit down with a random homeless guy and he tells you how he wants to get a particular job, but he can’t afford clothes, maybe you do give him money, he makes good on his promise, and gets what he wants and you get a new friend.

          My point is that you should have to pick and choose when to do crazily altruistic “high road” things. Sometimes those decisions should have actual negative consequences. Sometimes just being a little ruthless should be the only positive option.

          As it stands, there few RPGs out there where you can’t simply blindly pick the “good” option and not come out on top every single time.

          • A Gentleman and a Taffer says:

            Yes good call, plus isn’t there a quote by someone or other saying something along the lines of being ‘good’ requires the vigilance to not do bad all the time. Being bad only takes one little slip. That seems like something games should reflect better, that one renegade action you choose in Mass Effect should really tarnish your rep for the rest of the game, not be instantly redeemed by going Paragon in the next available convo.

          • drygear says:

            KotOR2 does something kind of like that. Early on a guy begs for money and you can give it to him, and one of your party members disapproves of it and lectures you about her ideas of morality and how you didn’t really help him. And all the while you watch him walk into the distance and get ambushed by people who see that he has money now and they kill him for it.
            Or it’s something like that. The details are hazy.

      • malkav11 says:

        Games offering a good/evil dichotomy but clearly preferring the good side of things in terms of quest availability, rewards, etc was common early on (BG2, while a great game, had dramatically less to offer an evil playthrough and made you fight guards constantly if your reputation was low enough, so it wasn’t something I considered truly viable), but I think we’re generally past that. Certainly, most of Bioware’s games from KOTOR on have you doing pretty much the same stuff with the same rewards either way, except that you’re narratively either a saint or a monster. (And in KOTOR, you get to play with a different set of force powers.)

        What is still fairly uncommon is games with moral decisions that aren’t black and white and with unpredictable consequences. That said, I think Dragon Age: Origins was generally a pretty good example of that – there’s no morality meter and a lot of the decisions are pretty tough, albeit sometimes circumventable as with the demon-possessed kid one. And the post-game epilogue screens provide unintended consequences for a number of decisions. The Witcher games are pretty good at that sort of thing as well. And Pillars of Eternity has been advertised as a game where constantly picking the “good guy” lines can paint you as a sucker to certain NPCs, among other twists on the usual dialogue formula for these games like just because you’ve unlocked a dialogue option with a stat or reputation or whatever doesn’t mean it’s the best one to choose. I’m not far enough in to see if the game delivers on these promises, but I trust Obsidian.

        • BirdsUseStars says:

          A problem I’ve had with the “ambiguous decisions with unpredictable consequences” thing is that all of your choices end up causing some kind of awful misfortune to someone. So now all of your decisions are bad, no matter what you do. Your choices still don’t matter, but in a different way.

          • malkav11 says:

            That’s certainly an easy writing trap for that sort of thing to fall into. Of course, in that case the consequences aren’t genuinely unpredictable: you can predict that whatever you do, something awful is going to happen, and maybe even specifically to the people you wanted to help. Though, on more thought, being genuinely unpredictable is maybe not the goal – if you can’t identify at least potential consequences of your actions, you’re essentially making them at random. But the knock on consequences should be pervasive and varied. Maybe this single dad with his family of small children that you just helped turns out to have been a villainous figure posing as their parent, and now he’s in a position to do something nasty at this point here in the storyline, but hey, the kids are safe and well fed and in the meantime you’ve met this wonderful potential foster mother and…

            I dunno. I don’t write these things. :)

            • BirdsUseStars says:

              Yeah, and it doesn’t end up being ambiguous either. The results are always bad, possibly in the name of grittiness.

              For my part, my preference is for a completely good guy option that is far and away more difficult to achieve. Like doing pacifist or no-kill playthroughs. The difficulty and time commitment is a real motivator to take an easier, but less moral path, but the satisfaction of knowing that I went halfway around to world to avoid killing one person is huge for me.

        • April March says:

          Oh man. Remember how helping the ghouls co-exist with the humans in Tenpenny Tower from Fallout 3 would go south? Remember how people got angry at that? I do!

          That was a great way to do things and I hope more games have the guts to do it in the future.

          No, I haven’t played the original Fallouts… but I’ll be disappointed if they don’t throw similar stuff at me at every corner.

          • Laurentius says:

            No, it was terrible way to do it. Giving player agency to make choices and then taking it away is idiotic and infuriating. I can deal with consequences of my choice even when things go south but Bethesda “Oh well, moving on ” attitude is terrible.

      • A Gentleman and a Taffer says:

        Yes, agree mostly but personally I think games should do away with good/bad options and sliders altogether. Thats not really what morality is about and life rarely parcels up such neat good/bad scenarios. If the writing and worldbuilding is good enough you should care about the consequences of your actions anyway. Someone mentioned Dragon Age: Inquisitions above as a good example, Pathologic is another one. That game is almost all about morality, your decisions of what to do in the limited time you have each day are a constant battle between selfishness and helping the townsfolk you are there to save. Failing either too hard is game over so there’s no way to just pick the ‘blue’ option every time and know it’ll all work out alright. Found myself genuinely disturbed at how ruthless I got further into the game. Stealing bread from starving children being a particular low point. If you need a ‘morality system’ to give you points based feedback about how wrong that is there’s something clearly wrong with you!

    2. aepervius says:

      “keep politic out of my game”.

      Most of the example given, inclusive paper please, are remote example either physically, or temporally. The problem of inserting politics in game is that you risk turning off a significantly part of your audience. Politic as a general is neither viewed positively by the public, nor it is something which significantly add to the fun factors (in fact in some case significantly detract from it : replace all nazi in wolfenstein with US GI and make yourself a nazi infiltrator, you change nothing to the gameplay, and yet most would seriously dislike the game) .

      That’s is why you chose something remote enough , so that distance help alleviate this. But far more importantly even if controversial, it is no chip off the shoulder of people *AND* there is far more likely with the hindsight and distance that a “side” is far clearer to agree with (like the above with the nazi – another reason why them and the USSR cold war enemy were often used as target).

      On the other hand if you chose something near, you will not only get controversy, but you will remove the enjoyment of people from the game, and far more importantly, even if your claim is to make people think about it, the chance you are on the “correct” side once story will be written is fully open. Until then you are feeding your opinion onto people.

      All those risk contribute to make *current* politic something to avoid in most game. It can be in some edge cases you WANT current politic (or similar to current politic, like this “war of mine” which is neither remote physically nor temporally to me) but those are the rare case , not the general rules.

      And then there is the activism, where people want the game of other people like to be changed to match their world view. And that is mostly the current case I think. Like with the “sexism” controversy (and sometimes the violence controversy) . people which do not buy certain type of game want them changed because they do not match their world view, despite the fact they are neither the market, nor would they buy the game if it was changed. In other word they want to impose *their* personal politic into the game onto others. This is the case with most of the “sexism!” yell article, and where the most “keep politic outta my game” is coming from.

      • LogicalDash says:

        people which do not buy certain type of game want them changed because they do not match their world view, despite the fact they are neither the market, nor would they buy the game if it was changed.

        No, I’m pretty sure most of the people complaining about the sexism in, say, Final Fantasy XV are still going to play it. If you think that makes their concerns invalid, ummmm, I disagree.

        In other word they want to impose *their* personal politic into the game onto others. This is the case with most of the “sexism!” yell article, and where the most “keep politic outta my game” is coming from.

        This is an accurate description though.

        I think that imposing gender equality is the correct thing to do, don’t you?

        • aepervius says:

          I was thinking more of the recent fracas with GTA V, and the various local censorship of game, some of which are not even available, but sexism is also a point.

          Equality of opportunity in real life is good, but this is different to male and female representation in game. Fantasy should be allowed. And if you like to represent in your game universe women in skimpy outfit, go for it. if you like to represent men in skimpy outfit, go for it. And if you like neither go for it. The public should *choose* by showing which games it buy, the choice should not be imposed by external political entity which are not the market. It will evolve as culture evolve.

          In fact even if we have total equality of opportunity for both women and men in my lifetime, I would still contend that book/movie/game should be able to be created with matriarchy or patriarchy universe inside them , and let the public decide what’s to be bought. I view any attempt at limiting the creativity or art, which is not legally limited , very negatively.

          Now you could argue that some part of people are not in the market because of that, and it would change if the market changed. Congratulation you perceived a hole in the market. Go for it !

          What I disagree is attempt at skewing or braking the creativity of some, because that creative art is disagreed with it. Be it a violent game, a stupid thesis, or skimpy armor outfit.

          As of note I find those skimpy outfit stupid, and tend to ignore them. But it is one thing to ignore them and another to campaign to have them removed.

          • RobF says:

            “The public should *choose* by showing which games it buy, the choice should not be imposed by external political entity which are not the market”

            The problem we’re seeing with this argument and over the past nine or ten months especially is that in the sheer weight of numbers game, “the market” is expansive, it is pushing for tolerance and more equality, less sexism and and and all that jazz. And, well, the opposite is being imposed by external political entities with little to no interest in videogames with the assistance of a relative handful of regressives or selfish idiots who want to keep videogames as theirs and theirs alone.

            The market has very much spoken and it is expansive. The market has very much spoken and it wants everything from intimate twine games to representation in big games to Candy Crush to Call Of Duty and more. This is easily backed up with the numbers, this is easy to spot by the way some larger companies previously married to a very narrow view of what videogames are becoming so much more.

            EA now are primarily a casual games development house with a side order of football and guns. Activision know full well with CoD that the big money for them lies in movie style launches, a wider market than those who’d just play videogames. They are the Michael Bay of videogames. Yet they also launched Sierra to cater to smaller, more niche audiences because this is the market and the market for small niche games is hungry. There’s Ubisoft and Gameloft wedded at the hip but even Ubisoft are branching out into smaller, niche titles. Experimental, emotional, or quirky.

            The problem here isn’t people outside the market deciding what videogames should be, it’s a bunch of men screaming that they should be for them and them alone, trying to restrict the market.

            Which is a long way round of saying that the market argument is pure balls.

            • joa says:

              That’s not entirely true though — the market also wants irreverent and ‘offensive’ games like GTA, which provides a nice apolitical antidote to what the more po-faced political people are demanding from games.

              I’m a big fan of diversity — and that includes diversity of political opinion. I think that’s where the cry for ‘keep your politics out of my games’ comes from, not because people object to the politics themselves (although I’m sure some do), but because these political/moral crusaders see their politics as the only valid ones, and the only ones that should get any air time.

              I think there is always room for some irreverence and political scepticism. This seems to be widely accepted and tolerated in other forms of media. Why in games, of all places, do we demand communist-style political purity?

            • RobF says:

              We don’t.

            • joa says:

              Evidence to the contrary on this very site?

              Look at the endless stream of criticism aimed at interesting games like Hotline Miami, that don’t quite toe the political line, or at games that are intentionally offensive like Grand Theft Auto.

            • Premium User Badge

              Grizzly says:

              Criticizing a game for the points it makes or how it displays those points is not demanding a communist politically pure thing. It’s just criticizing games.

            • Premium User Badge

              Grizzly says:

              Heck, criticizing Miami and GTA *IS* political scepticism. GTA brings it’s own politics to the table all the time, and that game is a dominant force in this sphere.

            • RobF says:

              Hotline Miami, the game that has been widely praised ON THIS SITE in both its incarnations, you mean? Grand Theft Auto, the game that has been widely praised on this site in multiple incarnations, you mean?

              Nope. Sorry. We still don’t.

            • joa says:

              Grizzly, criticizing a game on how it makes its points is the most important thing. This is what for me determines the quality of a game. I think when you start criticizing the points themselves you’ve moved into demanding political purity from games. Even the most trashy or offensive of topics can be interesting, given the right treatment.

              I’m not sure I’d agree that GTA brings any ‘politics to the table’ in a meaningful way — since its modus operandi is basically to be cynical about everything. In that way it’s basically apolitical or even anti-political — everything gets put through the ringer and nothing is sacred.

              RobF, I suppose you’re right in that these games have been praised. Still I remember reading things from time to time criticising the depiction of a female character in a game and it often takes on this political component, like this female character must be representative of the developer’s views on all women, and so on.

              Often the same with race, like the criticism of Bioshock Infinite — which had the sort of ‘power corrupts’ theme, once the tables turned the previously oppressed group are now the oppressors. Apparently this is seriously racist — because you’re not allowed to depict blacks as oppressors ever. That’s clearly a highly ideologically motivated criticism — not engaging with the content itself but with a concept of political purity that to content violates.

            • RobF says:

              “Still I remember reading things from time to time criticising the depiction of a female character in a game and it often takes on this political component….”

              OH NO! WE’RE SURELY ALL GOING TO DIE.

              The thing is.. Well. It will do because as the article linked in the Sunday Papers goes to great lengths to try and explain and which you are ignoring with all the best will in the world, what you choose to put in a videogame is political. What is and isn’t included, what is and isn’t satirised (although I’m thinking at this point the internet has watered down the concept of satire to just be a go to defense for shitty things in the main) is political. So in discussing what a *woman* is wearing in a game (please fuck offfff with “female” unless you’re from the planet Zog and have never encountered another human being) it is impossible to discuss it without it being a political act. Because in dressing a woman in the way she’s dressed in a game, THAT is a political act. It follows naturally enough that the discussion too will also be political, yeah?

              Your idea of political purity, or at least the one you’re trying to thrust down our throats here (see what I did there?) is one in which criticism of aspects of a work is simply not permitted. You are the one asking for political purity, one that matches -your worldview- and expecting everyone else to simply shut the fuck up whilst accusing them of communist political purity or whatever utter twaddle you’ve made up to defend your stance.

              Now, you’re well within your rights to be content with the media that you’re given, the representations that you’re given in games, the aspects of games. Other people are welcome to criticise them too. And if you can’t engage with that criticism without resorting to a variation on “it’s political correctness gone mad” then you don’t come across as smart, you come across as an idiot and I’m fairly sure you can be better than that.

              I would very much like you to be better than that too.

            • subedii says:

              Not with the intention to bandwagon jump, but I just wanted to say RobF, somehow you consistently manage to say a lot of what I’m thinking.

            • joa says:

              You really think ‘woman character’ sounds better than ‘female character’?

              And yes, I agree that a lot of elements in games are political — I never said otherwise. What I’m arguing against is politics being used as some kind of stick to beat games and developers with if they don’t espouse the ‘right’ politics, instead of an interesting point of discussion. It’s like there’s only one right way of viewing the world to some people. I am all for more and better representation of women in games, and other minorities, and so on, but I don’t presume to tell any one *all* games should be like X.

              To me it also signals the immaturity of discourse around games. Look at the film ‘Straw Dogs’. A lot of people find it sexist — personally I’m on the fence about it. But certainly discussion on that film will centre around the sexual politics in it — and I can certainly see why its politics would make some people dislike it. However if they were to go from dislike / distaste or even hatred of the politics, to saying that it therefore has no worth as a film, I can’t take that sort of argument seriously (and you can find plenty of feminist writing from the time doing just that).

              I’m in no way against discussion of politics — or the presence of politics in games; it’s basically impossible to avoid short of casting a wry eye over everything (which I would argue can be apolitical). My problem is with the political stance taken being used a metric of quality.

            • Premium User Badge

              Grizzly says:

              You can just say “Women”.

              I fully disagree with your last notion, simply because this website doesn’t use any metrics for quality. It’s why reviews don’t have scores. It also seems weird that the games you mentioned – Hotline Miami and GTA V, which certainly are games that like to invoke political stuff – are some of the most well recieved games in the world (and highest scored on metacritic for that matter).

              Your overall point has already been adressed by myself and Rob, so I am just going to stop here now.

            • Consumatopia says:

              “However if they were to go from dislike / distaste or even hatred of the politics, to saying that it therefore has no worth as a film, I can’t take that sort of argument seriously (and you can find plenty of feminist writing from the time doing just that).”

              Is that really so unreasonable? There are films like Birth of a Nation or Triumph of the Will which were blatant racist propaganda that film schools today still examine as art. And as well they should, but can’ you really fault people at the time would look at Birth of a Nation primarily through the lens of the race riots the film inspired?

              People weren’t merely complaining that Straw Dogs was sexist, they were complaining that it glorified rape. I haven’t seen it, those complaints may or may not be fair, but if that’s true I must admit that I would have a hard time thinking about the “worth of the film” as a positive thing except as a historical artifact. Just because something is full of beautiful and innovative craftsmanship doesn’t necessarily mean it was worth making or doing.

              Then again, I think video game bias and prejudice is less a matter of “Sexism! Burn it!” as much as “ho hum, more lazy sexism. meh.”

            • joa says:

              Well I’ve rather lost track of what I was arguing. Basically I disagree with flavour of politics being used a metric for a game’s worthiness (or lack thereof). And I’m not talking about blatant Birth of a Nation style racism or sexism — I’m talking about people with alternative viewpoints; ones that aren’t hateful, just different.

              And Straw Dogs is quite an uncomfortable film but it certainly doesn’t glorify rape. The fact that you’ve come away with that impression speaks volumes about the simplistic level of thinking that some feminists engage in.

          • Consumatopia says:

            There is a very strange, yet surprisingly widespread world view lying underneath all of these quotes:

            people which do not buy certain type of game want them changed because they do not match their world view, despite the fact they are neither the market, nor would they buy the game if it was changed. In other word they want to impose *their* personal politic into the game onto others.

            The public should *choose* by showing which games it buy, the choice should not be imposed by external political entity which are not the market. It will evolve as culture evolve.

            What I disagree is attempt at skewing or braking the creativity of some, because that creative art is disagreed with it. Be it a violent game, a stupid thesis, or skimpy armor outfit.

            As of note I find those skimpy outfit stupid, and tend to ignore them. But it is one thing to ignore them and another to campaign to have them removed.

            In this world view, it’s okay to not buy something because you don’t like it. It’s okay to refuse to work on a game if you don’t like it. But it’s not okay to discuss these reasons publicly. No one should make their criticism of a game public when that criticism is deemed somehow “political”. And, unlike a lot of people who are strategically ambiguous about this, this poster was clear: they were not talking about government censorship. In fact, it sounds like they’re actually okay with government censorship! “I view any attempt at limiting the creativity or art, which is not legally limited , very negatively.” So legal limitations are okay, but limitations by voluntary persuasion are unacceptable.

            From a marketing perspective, when one says “market”, that includes game critics and journalists. If consumers stop wanting buy, or producers stop wanting to sell, because of something a critic said, that’s a market outcome. But here the poster seems to mean “market” in a far more strictly defined sense in which any exchange of information other than price signals is suspect, like a fun house mirror reflection of Hayek.

            • pepperfez says:

              It’s very similar to the anti-labor idea that unions are unnecessary and employees should just quit if their work conditions are unacceptable.

            • DrollRemark says:

              I hate how this ridiculous notion of “don’t buy it if you don’t like it” presupposes that people don’t see any other redeeming values to games they see as problematic, and that we therefore have to resolve our approval into some kind of bizarre binary system of like/hate.

        • Tasloi says:

          “I think that imposing gender equality is the correct thing to do, don’t you?”

          I’m surprised you didn’t go for the more popular variant “You’re not against treating women like human beings, are you?”. Of course, it doesn’t really matter that these game issues have pretty much nothing to do with these fundamental values. It’s merely a good way to reframe the debate and make your opponent look like a bigot. Might aswell start a human rights struggle for factory robots while you’re at it.

      • Premium User Badge

        Grizzly says:

        Because it fits so well, I am just going to leave Errant Signal’s video here:

      • kwyjibo says:

        People saying that politics should be kept out of games are fucking idiots.

        But your point about distance is something that Bogost talks about in his piece for The Atlantic (which was covered in a previous Sunday Papers) It may be that games are better as a medium for showing “distant” systemic structures than personal stories.

        link to theatlantic.com

        • Geebs says:

          I agree it’s odd that people make such a fuss of keeping egalitarianism out of computer games. What’s your stance on the more….idiosyncratic end of the spectrum?

          • Archonsod says:

            . Not all stories are, or should be, about an equal society.

          • pepperfez says:

            I don’t know if I understand your question. Do you mean, like, the disapproval of openly fascist games?

            • Geebs says:

              Personal theory of another way in which humans are inherently bad at risk stratification: I reckon people are more likely to get bent out of shape about relatively cost-neutral things which are small scale but close to home (“what do you mean, why not all be nice to one another? Stop being so political”) than things on a larger scale which will clearly harm everybody involved (“Poland, you say? Righty-ho, then”).

            • Dances to Podcasts says:

              First thought: I want a Starship Troopers game.
              Second thought: We might already have one.

            • pepperfez says:

              I want to say we have a game of the book but not of the movie?

        • PancakeWizard says:

          “People saying that politics should be kept out of games are fucking idiots.”

          I agree, but then I think the argument that there are people who want that very thing, is a strawman so..I guess we all win? Good games will always be good games, regardless of any message intended or otherwise.

          • April March says:

            I don’t think it’s fair to call that a strawman, when ‘keep politics out of our games’ is word for word the rallying call of a bunch of people.

            And saying that good games will be good games is also a bti of a fallacy. How good we perceive a game to be does in fact dovetail with what it says. You could take the best game in the world and make it about killing minorities and rape, and even if people were forced to admit it was still the best game in the world mechanically, they’d feel compelled to add “even though it’s about…” And as the article says, failing to do so would not be an apolitical stance, but rather a tacit agreement of its politics.

            • PancakeWizard says:

              Except that’s not the rallying cry though is it? It’s ‘keep your politics out of our games coverage’.

              A very different thing, but not nearly as easy to be outraged at.

            • Reefpirate says:

              No no no, I thought it was all about misogyny, keeping women out of games and the games industry, and sending a requisite amount of rape and/or death threats to women each week.

        • A Gentleman and a Taffer says:

          I would tweak your idiots comment to say: Anyone who thinks any man made creation is not political is a ducking idiot. All games are political, just pick one at random: Mario Kart. As basic a game concept as it comes but in its level playing field of competitors, regardless of gender or creed, it makes a political stand. And in its decision to give poor performing racers better items it effectively imitates the welfare state, with an equally decisive response from those who think it a fair way of keeping races competitive and those ‘better players’ who think it’s a hobbling handicap.

          Point being: all games are political, the ones you want to worry about are those that claim to not be as they are the ones that calibrate what ‘normal’ is. Anything openly making a political point is harmless, you can agree with it, ignore it, try it and have your opinion changed one way or another, it doesn’t matter. At least you are aware of its intent.

      • AngoraFish says:

        I absolutely agree.

        As much as I’m very politically aware in real life, and I often think that I’d enjoy more ‘political’ games, I will inevitably pass on games that clearly conflict with my own world view (eg ‘Christian’ games), if for no other reason than that I’d prefer not to encourage/give money to such causes.

        Even with games such as Fate of the World, which in theory I should be entirely supportive of, I inevitably find myself clashing with some of the game’s underlying assumptions that I *do* disagree with, which in turn starkly exposes the game’s artifice and killing much of the enjoyment.

        Ultimately, I find that the games I most enjoy, and that I am therefore more likely to play (and to pay for), are pure escapism and so remote from my life that I can enjoy them without real world politics getting in the way.

      • thedosbox says:

        In other word they want to impose *their* personal politic into the game onto others. This is the case with most of the “sexism!” yell article, and where the most “keep politic outta my game” is coming from.

        People complaining about politics in games also want their politics in the games. That’s the point you’re missing.

        • pepperfez says:

          People I disagree with have politics.
          People I hate have agendas.
          I have nothing but objectively true knowledge about the world and the way things ought to be.

      • Michael Fogg says:

        I think McDonald’s article is a bit of a strawman since the sentiment of ‘keep politics out of games’ is a rare one. To use her own examples: did you ever hear anyone compalin about Fallout being to political with the cold war stuff? Or Bioshock? Or Papers Please etc? What people DO often complain about is the overtly political content in gaming commentary and criticism. An old rule goes that any worthy work of criticism reveals more about the work than about the critic. A lot of game journos rub people the wrong way with their milquetoast big-city left-liberal opinions pieces, that very often boil down to ‘more political correctness, please!’.

        • Silith321 says:

          What is “overtly political content” though? You say that no one criticized Bioshock for being political and you reason that this is because it’s not overtly political content if I understood you correctly. So a game like Gone Home, which is apparently heavily criticised as being too “political” is overtly political then? How? Because it’s a story about a young love which happens to be between two girls? Or DA:I and its LGBT characters. How is that more or less political than Bioshock’s themes? What you’re saying is that people don’t complain about certain “politics” (commentary on certain political systems in your examples) – but they DO complain about others (mainly, same sex relationships and gender issues). So maybe your point stands – people think the latter is “overtly political”. Why is that, though?

          • joa says:

            I don’t think anyone worth listening to has a problem with Gone Home itself, or the LGBT characters in Dragon Age themselves. The problem is with the discussion around these games — how these games are elevated by the game reviewers and critics, seemingly because of their political content, rather than how effectively the content is delivered through the medium of gaming.

            It almost seems to suggest we’ll accept any old crap (not that either of those example are, though they have their issues) so long as it ticks our political boxes, and reject others that are creative and daring if they are politically uncomfortable to us. It’s a lens for reviewing and criticism that would seem laughable if applied to any other media — but seems to have some traction in games.

            • April March says:

              So, basically: these people think that these games are bad, and when a sizeable group of people disagree, they invent an escape goat by saying that people only liked them because of its politics.

              I liked it that Gone Home was willing to tackle the issues it tackled. But I loved that it was a game about deeply exploring a single environment, and about engaging with people indirectly and subtly. It was a game that I had been waiting for, for a long time. The fact that I liked its politics was the cherry in the cake, not the entire stuffing.

              Relatedly, people who take objectivism really seriously did take umbrage at Bioshock the First. So I find it hard to argue that people equate strong political stances with political stances they strongly disagree with.

            • April March says:

              *argue against that. Edit buttoooooon!

            • Reefpirate says:

              Seriously. Speaking of politics in games’ commentary… Can we start a movement to get a damn edit button on RPS comments?? Hashtag that shit and burn the house down until we get one!

        • ScottTFrazer says:

          Not a strawman, though. It’s basically a direct response to a tweet by TotalBiscuit:

          link to twitter.com

          “Injecting politics into fiction is naturally exclusionary and in my view regressive.”

          Which is about the best example ever of why you should take everything TB says with an enormous grain of salt.

          • LionsPhil says:

            Or just not pay him any heed in the first place.

          • Michael Fogg says:

            Except that tweet by TB was taken out of context. If you look at its proper context or just have an idea about TB’s opinions as a critic you will see that he meant exactly what I said: holier-than-thou sophomoric soapboxing. See, it’s the critics who are ‘injecting’ the politics with moronic opinions such as ‘game placed in medieval Bohemia is too white’. Absolutely did not mean games having inherently political themes in their fiction. Hell, TB does some cultural style commentary himself – watch his recent video on Battlefield Hardline were he critiques the game for the way it portray law enforcement as some kind of paramilitary warfare. He just is, like many people, tired of the ‘critical theory 101’ types and their shallow propagandising based on long out-of-date neomarxist theories.

            • RobF says:

              I saw it in context and it’s every bit as stupid nestled amongst a load of tweets as it is taken away from them. And, y’know, the context doesn’t change the meaning/implication of the tweet any so…

            • pepperfez says:

              TB’s opinions[…]: holier-than-thou sophomoric soapboxing
              This is as good a read on it as any I’ve seen. Well done.

        • PancakeWizard says:

          Yep this exactly. Some comments in the article by A-bob-omb say much the same thing.

      • RARARA says:

        Telling people to keep politics out of a conversation is inherently a political statement itself. The status quo serves me well, so please, I don’t want anything disruptive.

        Everything is politics. Even your favorite dumbest action movies.

        • Gap Gen says:

          Games where you kill Nazis are intensely political. That sentence even includes the name of a political party. The idea that games containing gun violence are non-political is pretty stupid. I imagine that what people mean when they say “I don’t want politics in games” mean “I don’t want to feel uncomfortable or have to challenge my worldview,” (or more charitably “I don’t like the politics in this game”) which is a shame, but eh.

      • Consumatopia says:

        “That’s is why you chose something remote enough , so that distance help alleviate this. But far more importantly even if controversial, it is no chip off the shoulder of people *AND* there is far more likely with the hindsight and distance that a “side” is far clearer to agree with (like the above with the nazi – another reason why them and the USSR cold war enemy were often used as target). ”

        This is nonsense, but if you really believe it, you’d better oppose games and movies that glorify American militarism. No, whether it’s “physically remote” doesn’t matter, not just because the games are sold globally, but because even within America they are politically contentious subjects. If you want to get politics out of games, start with Call of Duty. And if you want it out of movies, start with American Sniper. But actually, don’t do either of those, because keeping politics out of art and entertainment is an incredibly stupid and destructive goal.

        • Consumatopia says:

          Oh, I just noticed that the post mentioned This War of Mine. No reasonable person could say that Call of Duty or American Sniper are more “remote” to Western middle class audiences than This War of Mine.

      • simontifik says:

        Tying the above comment threads together, I’d love to see an RPG where instead of making “good guy” / “bad guy” choices the player made “left-wing” / “right wing” choices.

    3. Premium User Badge

      Earl-Grey says:

      That Neptune’s Pride diary is absolutely magnificent!
      That and the Solium Infernum diary are my two most favourite pieces of writing on RPS, stupendously splendid.
      Please, take the time, read them both. Go on, it’s sunday.

      • Robert Post's Child says:

        Indeed. Coincidentally, there’s a game of Neptune’s Pride currently being set up on the Giantbomb forums, and they’re having a little trouble filling all the player slots, so maybe if some RPSer’s wanted to join in? I don’t spend as much time on that site as I used to but the last time they set up a game it was pretty fun.

    4. Ejia says:

      I do feel guilt. I don’t like being an evil bastard. I want to be a paragon of goodness and justice and light and niceness and bunnies. I started a new playthrough of Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning just to see how the “evil” paths would work out and I felt so bad about killing an entire village I abandoned that endeavor rather quickly.

      I would actually welcome situations where the evil choice is the easy one, and trying to make everything work out well would actually take more effort.

      • aoanla says:

        This, entirely : I’ve been unable to complete the evil (or, at least, morally incompatible with my worldview) endings of games before, due to something very like guilt. Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey ‘s Law and Chaos threads, for example (the Neutral thread is the only one where you don’t feel like a sociopath for pursuing it).

        But even in games where you have no choice, I’ve definitely felt guilt for the actions the game required me to take – killimg the Strogg food processor in a particularly horrible way in Quake 4, for example. I think you’re supposed to be channelling 90s Action Hero, but I just hated what the game was expecting me to cheer for.

        So, yes, the original article confuses me a little.

      • Det. Bullock says:

        I feel the same, the first and only game I completed as an evil character was Jedi Knight, even with the fact that most “evil” actions were committed in cutscenes it felt awful, I felt awful.

        • pepperfez says:

          I’ve gotta admit that I felt pretty good about offing the smarmy legless guy.

          • Det. Bullock says:

            That happens regardless of what you choose, the point is that at that point Katarn is an emotional wreck and if he steeped too much in the dark side in the previous levels (by killing bystanders and using points in dark powers) the dark side starts influencing him and that leads him to murder his pilot/business partner/friend/comrade in arms soon afterwards and the ending in which he essentially denies the same memory of his father was just the icing on the cake, of course apart from that is only an evil vs evil kind of thing so it doesn’t pop out like in the KOTOR series.

            • pepperfez says:

              Huh, I didn’t remember that you killed him either way. That takes away any incentive at all to be evil.

      • Gap Gen says:

        I think part of the issue is how a lot of games (Star Wars in general is a good example) view good/evil as a binary thing with clear outcomes. “Do you kill children for stuff?” is a fairly facile choice, even if it was rendered impotent in Bioshock by the fact that the consequences for the game were fairly limited (unless this was somehow the point? Dunno.) Evil and harm in society are much subtler things, and often cuts right to the heart of what makes us human. Human civilisations are often built on the ruins of ones that were destroyed to make room for them, and seemingly moral decisions can have brutal consequences for people hundreds or thousands of miles from the places they were made because of a lack of understanding or because of the way power works in human society. The decision to help a small girl find her puppy or rob her isn’t particularly interesting, and doesn’t really force you to ask difficult questions. That societies can cause misery to millions or kill hundreds of thousands of people because of well-meaning ignorance and simple greed is a meatier and more relevant one, but it’s less easy to represent in a videogame where you run around in spaceports and alien swamps.

    5. leeder krenon says:

      “contact information for a suicide hotline as the jumping off point.”

      i would consider re-wording that…

    6. Baffle Mint says:

      Here’s the thing: I never felt a single lick of guilt when I played Papers, Please.

      Because the only alternative to being a tiny cog in the machine of oppression is to stop playing the game. The game I paid money for because I wanted to play it.

      You can let more people into the country and get fired, or give up on your job in the hopes of landing a less oppressive one, but these are game overs. The only way to continue to actually play the game I bought is to keep on manning the customs station. I have the same problem with Hotline Miami; the story criticizes the main character’s unquestioning violence, but it doesn’t allow the player any choice in whether to participate in the violence.

      I don’t feel guilty for doing the only thing the game designer has allowed me to do; if you don’t think I should be manning a customs post in an oppressive dictatorship or mowing down hordes of russian gangsters based on vague phone messages, then, well, don’t force me to do it.

      The other main kind of morality system/attempt to introduce guilt tends to be the really stark and ham-handed moral choice. I played the first two levels of Bioshock and the only moral choice I was presented with is whether I should murder small children for personal gain.

      Yeah, that’s a real conundrum. A real philosophical puzzler.

      And the game dodges all the interesting questions, like “Should I be murdering the Splicers, who are clearly mentally ill?” or “Should I be splicing myself up so much when doing that clearly didn’t do the Splicers any favors?” or “Why do I have to kill Big Daddy? He seems like a nice guy?”

      Again, you have to kill splicers, you have to get bio powers, you have to murder Big Daddy. So if the game tries to guilt me over doing any of that shit later on, I’m sure not going to buy it.

      Even subtle moral choices where there aren’t any perfect options, or seemingly moral choices that have unforeseen consequences don’t make me feel guilty, because they were designed to be no-win situations.

      The only games that have made me feel guilty are ones where I realized that, in hindsight, I could’ve handled a situation in a better way, that in fact the better solution was staring me in the face but I didn’t take it.

      So basically Jostle Bastard and to a lesser extent Analog: A Hate Story and nothing else ever.

      • LionsPhil says:

        Not even venturing into the ladies’ in Unatco HQ?

      • Blackcompany says:

        This is the exact same problem I had with Spec Ops: The Line. While I actually did enjoy the story, the game sets you on a very dark path. And then forces you down that path. If you want to keep playing the game, you are forced to experience every remarkably poor, deadly decision the protagonist makes.

        But you dont make those choices. The writers made them for you and forced you to follow along.

        And as a consequence I felt nothing. Not a thing. Well, except relief. On the recommendation of others I played the entire game, start to finish, in one sitting – a day and into the evening. Something about being as weary by the end as the main character, which for better or worse worked well. By the time it was over I was as relieved as the protagonist.

        But i still didnt feel a thing. Because they werent my choices, they were someone else’s. I know we often joke about it, but Spec Ops was one game that would have been better as a movie. Worlds better.

        • Premium User Badge

          gritz says:

          But even if it’s just another character’s guilt, you should still be able to feel it (or appreciate it) thanks to a human trait called empathy.

          • Sin Vega says:

            In theory this is so, but in practice, the characters in Spec Ops Colon The Line were so utterly moronic that I was far too busy wishing I could twat them one to empathise with their stupid, lunatic decisions.

            • Gap Gen says:

              (mild spoilers) I think that like its inspiration in film and literature yes, many/all of the characters in the game were supposed to have gone insane.

        • Gap Gen says:

          Well, the movie of Spec Ops: The Line already exists and is called Apocalypse Now (and if you want to read the Book of the Game try Heart of Darkness).

          (Thematic spoilers for the game hereonin, btw) Given that it’s making a not very subtle comment about third person shooters, it works best as a game, just as Apocalypse Now works as a foil to other more jingoistic war films. That it subverts the trope of moral choice in games is part of the point – it’s making a point both about the use of violence and the way games are made. It knows that it doesn’t offer real choices, and deliberately offers fake ones as part of its message. (Incidentally, does a novel lose its power because you as the reader are a passive observer?) Yes, the game tricks you into doing certain things and yes, the only real choice in the game that opposes its ending (of which it has three, granted) is to stop playing, but I think that as long as you can read it as a piece of fiction with subtext and goals beyond immediate player agency then it works as a piece of criticism. Just be aware that it’s not trying to directly attack *you* as a person, but rather the genre and your place in it. When the game tells you in the later stages that you’re a bad person, you don’t have to see it as a personal criticism with your name attached. It’s more subtle than that, even if it is very overt in trying to get across a message.

          • Geebs says:

            False equivalence, I think. Interactivity is the difference between a game and a novel. Try to straddle that gap and you end up with the degenerate and worthless art-form of the Chose Your Own Adventure.

            • Gap Gen says:

              Yes, but the game is trying to make a point about that interactivity and the meaning of choice. It’s very deliberately a game *about* other games. I agree that as a shooter in its own right it’s middling, but again, this is somewhat the point. I’m kinda amazed it even got made/released by a mainstream publisher.

            • subedii says:

              I don’t actually consider choose your own adventure to be degenerate. I like choose your own adventure (heck most games follow this to greater and lesser degrees in what freedoms they allow the player. If we include gameplay discussion, even more-so). I mean The Walking Dead was basically one of my favourite games. The story could only ever go one way, but the point was to try and make the player feel involved in the proceedings.

              Doesn’t work for everyone naturally, but I don’t see how it’s worthless as such.

            • malkav11 says:

              It isn’t. Geebs is just using (deliberately?) inflammatory terms, perhaps for emphasis.

            • Geebs says:

              I’m just still cross about the days when my pocket money was 20p a week :-D

              I don’t buy it, though: railroading doesn’t play to the medium’s strengths, and books don’t play sad music at you and yell about how you’re such a terrible person for the crime of spending a significant lump of change on a bit of escapist stress relief which the average person is perfectly well able to separate from reality.

      • Eight Rooks says:

        While basically I think your worldview is bad and you should feel bad, I find it interesting that you bring to mind another reason I felt Bioshock 2 was a vastly superior game, where even though it was frequently presenting you with binary choices the game was not specifically about those binary choices (plus the flipside of those binary choices was not so obviously out of character – it’s not such a stretch to decide you don’t care about saving all those little girls, just one in particular). Also where the things you were doing as part of the game were much more obviously a necessary evil – you’ve already been forced down that road before the game even begins, and you plainly have no other choice beyond sitting down and waiting to die (I mean, hell, you’re a Big Daddy, you can’t even speak).

      • Urthman says:

        Yeah, any time you’re choosing between scripted options, I don’t feel any more “guilt” than I do reading a character in a book or watching a movie. It’s more, “Let’s read/watch this version of the story and see what happens.” It’s only in the little things that are completely player-driven, like stealing from a poor family in an RPG, that seem to trigger any personal sense of guilt.

      • DrollRemark says:

        You can let more people into the country and get fired, or give up on your job in the hopes of landing a less oppressive one, but these are game overs. The only way to continue to actually play the game I bought is to keep on manning the customs station.

        But isn’t that the point? If you quit the job/get fired in Papers Please, nothing changes in the country, you’re just not in the job any more. So the game ends, because the point of the game is “immigration official simulator” not “citizen of fictional eastern European despotic country simulator”. There’s no magic win state, you just either keep your job, or you don’t.

    7. Merus says:

      “I will remove the space from every “video games” till I win.”

      Would you do the same for “computer games” as well to complete the project that was begun by late 90s critical embarrassment over how the public don’t take seriously things that are games? “Videogames” is a rather silly term.

      • RobF says:

        Naw, there’s a space in computer games but videogames is entirely one word, as is boardgames. Not that anyone under the age of OLD uses “computer games” anyway.

        I was proper gutted when a recent piece I wrote edited spaces into my videogames. Gutted, I tell you.

        • Geebs says:

          Unless you’re a government minister or BBC reporter, in which case it’s “cyber-games”

          • April March says:

            Clearly the superior wording which I shall now proceed to adopt.

        • Urthman says:

          Have fun on the Idle Thumbs forums.

          (Their forum software auto-corrects videogames to video games. It’s an in-joke.)

        • Premium User Badge

          Ninja Dodo says:

          I always feel like video games with a space is something involving VHS.

      • drygear says:

        It’s never occurred to me before but I like it better without the space and am going to type it like that from now on. It reminds me of how the Spanish word is videojuegos.

    8. Michael Fogg says:

      I think the guilt piece omits the fact that the vast majority of games operates within established genre convention, such as adventure, thriller, horror etc. Nathan Drake feels no guilt for the people he kills for pretty much the same reason Indiana Jones doesn’t. Every work of fiction is not a 1:1 representation of realtiy but rather a carefully curated selection of what should be represented and what left over. The artist makes that choice keeping in mind the aesthetics and intent of the work. Having, say, D’Artagnan mope over each poor sod he runs through with his rapier would simply add nothing to a swashbuckling cape-n-dagger romance. Of course many people like to point out that they are ‘tired of tropes’ and genre conventions, and that makes for sophisticated-sounding think-pieces, but in reality the existence of ‘poetics’ and historically derived literary traditions is important to every creative work in history.

      • April March says:

        Yeah, but there are not hour-long sections of the Indiana Jones movies in which he stalks through the jungle meticulously murdering dozens of enemies. Of course it’s the same concept, but because cybergames depend on constant conflict so much more than movies with a similar thematic content, the discrepancy is much more visible.

    9. Bull0 says:

      Why do people let themselves be taken like that in DayZ? They’re going to take all your stuff, why not make them pay for it? I don’t understand.

    10. CookPassBabtridge says:

      To Mr Cobbett: Thankyou, thankyou, thankyou for that article on depression. Well written and sorely needed.

    11. Horg says:

      In other news, head teachers in Cheshire have released a statement claiming that they will report parents to the authorities for neglect (CPS presumably) if they allow children to play games rated 18. They explain that they are concerned about exposure to unsuitable levels of violence, and are concerned about a link between gaming and increased sexualised behavior, which may leave children vulnerable to grooming. The article also references the conservative proposal to threaten ‘figures of authority’ with prison sentences of up to 5 years if they fail to report alleged ‘abuse’ to the authorities.

      link to bbc.co.uk

      Now this article is pretty brief, more or less just a re-post of the head teachers statement, but i’m already concerned by the total lack of scientific justification for this decision. We all know that gaming has been the media whipping boy for years, despite the overwhelming lack of evidence to suggest gaming has any serious negative behavioral impact, and very little has come of it other than standardising the age classifications with other media. But this article raises a new problem; flagging something as ‘abuse’ without any justification in order to cover an organisation or individual against government prosecution.

      It sickens me somewhat to think that my awesome parents would have been considered ‘neglectful’ by this group for letting me have Rebellions Alien vs Predator back in the 90s. In the current generation, this would flag anyone who lets their children play CoD or Mass Effect as ‘neglectful’. The threat of a 5 year jail term is more than enough to promote over reaction in any organisation that works with children, and if this trend continues we are likely to see more examples of relatively benign behavior being reported as ‘abuse’. Gaming is the low hanging fruit whenever a scape goat is needed, and as long as authorities continue to blame our hobby for all the ills prevalent in modern society, the more serious but difficult to identify / solve problems will go under reported.

      • ScottTFrazer says:

        We get a similar “think of the children” idiocy over here in the states where parents who allow their teenagers to drink alcohol in well-supervised conditions can still end up in jail.

        My parents allowed my sister and I to drink during dinner starting at about 13. Thinking that kids will simply abstain from alcohol until they are 21 is quaint at best and outright dangerous at worst. Best to give them the experience under conditions you can control.

      • RobF says:

        The BBC neglected to mention that the schools represented by the board are primary schools, mind. So mayyybe not quite so unreasonable a stance considering we’re talking kids from the age of 5.

        • Horg says:

          For this behavior to constitute neglect, the school would have to be able to demonstrate a direct negative impact on the behavior or well being of the children. In this case, I don’t think age is relevant, because this decision was taken without any scientific justification to back it up. To put it into perspective, this would put parents in the same category as those who don’t properly feed or clothe children, who forget to give essential medication, who regularly don’t get their children into school, who partake in substance abuse within the child’s home, etc. Neglect is serious, and this decision is a massive over reaction no matter how it’s framed.

    12. Premium User Badge

      gritz says:

      The best Videogame Thing I Read this week was the Shadow of the Colossus visual essay over at the AV Club.

      link to avclub.com

      Go check it out, it’s gorgeous.

    13. Synesthesia says:

      RE:Guilt in videogames, introversion guys just added executions to prison architect. It looks they nailed it, and really gave it a lot of thought. Maybe it deserves it’s own post?

      I felt a crushing regret just watching the tiny cartoon guy walking towards the death they had arranged in a demo video.

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    15. BreadBitten says:

      If you want warmth and guitars, I highly recommend Local H’s new single …

      link to soundcloud.com

      • drygear says:

        I’d have to recommend Wussy myself, out of all the newish guitar bands they’re the one I’m most excited about. Their song “To the Lightning” is what got me hooked on them and it sounds *so much* like early R.E.M. link to youtube.com

    16. Distec says:

      The Kotaku piece about politics in games seems like it’s addressing a pretty large straw man. I’ve not seen any large outcry against having political themes or content in a title, or anybody criticizing or shaming developers for it. No, they’re more likely to get a twitter storm for drawing a boob slightly too large.

      Why the author namedrops GG is beyond me; they dislike you, the gaming media. They’re not going after Bioware or Lucas Pope for their political views. They may dislike Gone Home, but they’ve never argued that it shouldn’t have been made. Why do I feel like this article is just an embellished response to some dumb comment TB made?

      • malkav11 says:

        Oh, it’s a much more generalized hate than that. Remember that the whole kerfuffle kicked off around attacks on an indie developer (among other things). They want to sell it as about “ethics in game journalism” and all, but that’s at best a small part of it.

    17. Neutrino says:

      “What’s the true imperative behind moral behaviour? Perhaps morality is just a rule system.”

      Anyone who doesn’t know the answer to this needs to read “The Selfish Gene”, which should be required reading at every secondary school, (and those in ‘faith’ schools should be made to read it twice).

      • Ryuuga says:

        It’s not a bad starting point, but there’s a lot more to humans, and to evolution, than that. I’d say if your understanding stops at the selfish gene, you’d be sorely lacking.

        Huge subject, tho. I’d recommend picking up “Evolution in four dimensions” by Jablonka and Lamb. If it gets too technical, skip to the third & fourth parts, behavioral and symbolic transmission of traits. They do much to make more evolutionary sense of the parts of humanity and human society that get severely simplified by the selfish gene.

        That said, the selfish gene is not a bad starting point for understanding nonsocial animals.

        • Neutrino says:

          Looks pretty technical but I’ll give it a go.

          If I were going to recommend something to complement the mechanics explained in ‘The Selfish Gene’ with something that explores humans philosophically and culturally I’d follow it up with “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”. Obviously neither book covers genetics or philosophy exhausively but both are an excellent readable intro and a good jumping off point into a whole range of other useful stuff.

          • Ryuuga says:

            The sectors on genetic and epigenetic transfer of traits are indeed fairly technical, but the sections on behavioral and symbolic transfer are a lot more accessible. They’re also the ones that sort of open evolution up and make it encompass more of what makes humanity humanity – philosophy, society, etc, and how that could work in an evolutionary context. Applying just the selfish gene’s thinking on evolution to humanity gives such a reductionist, almost “blind” feel – it misses so much of what makes us unique!

            Haven’t read zen & the art of motocycle maintenance, might just give it a go! Did read “Zen according to Pooh” some years back. Have read a smattering of philosophy in a basic uni course, but never really went deep into any single one. Zen does sound like one of the more sympathetic ones (I’ll stay far away from Wittgenstein..)