Friday, June 22, 2012

only you have seen such storming in my life

Back on the 14th, I covered the now-with-added-rapey-content Lara Croft reboot. Two things have come up which I think are worth mentioning since then.

First, Extra Credits did a feature on the "hard-boiling" of franchises--their main game for explaining this is Max Payne 3, which was pretty much a complete departure from the first two games. As they explain:
"The old Max Payne had something he was fighting for. He didn't spend the entire game wanting to die, or talking about how nothing mattered. Sure, he was a little cynical, but his perserverence and underlying faith in what he was doing belied his cynicism, and gave him some character. He was interesting because he was a fundamentally good guy trying to do the right thing, under that veneer of wry cynicism.

"But with the new Max Payne, you are going to spend the first two hours of the game saying to yourself,
All right, I get it--he drinks."
And this is never the realization that game designers want, or even should create, for their players. Essentially, even survival horror games are supposed to be just that--games. They're supposed to be what-if explorations of some pretty basic themes, and this is a core truth of any game, from Angry Birds to Skyrim.

The Lara Croft reboot falls squarely into this debate. Making games "mature", that can tackle important philosophical/emotional points, that's not the bad thing. Making games that can tell us new and interesting things about our own lives through the media of those games, that's not a bad thing. Those are actually really good things, and we've got games that are doing that. The problem comes in when we equate addictive behavior with maturity, when we equate sexual content (because, even though I profoundly agree that rape is NOT sex, it adds back the sexual component when programming characters for game display) with maturity, when we equate gore and violence with maturity. These, separated out, are not mature concepts on their own if the story being told in the game doesn't support them as part of that tale, not the tale in and of themselves.

Let's be honest, here--there's just as much violence in Team Fortress 2 at times as there is in something like Dead Space. The difference is in the emotional tone. In Team Fortress 2, while everyone dies--and usually in terrible ways--we understand that's just what happens. It's not desensitizing--we still get upset when whichever character we're playing expires--but we are told through the art style that some will win, and some will lose, and all that matters at the end of the day is helping our teams the best ways we can.

Conversely, with something like Dead Space--or a hundred other games in similar genres--we're told explicitly to care for our character, and try to keep him (nearly always a him) from dying in terrible ways. The game itself feeds us horror and gore in heaping portions, and we learn as we go that that's just how this world works. This, conversely, is desensitizing, because there's just so much blood, pain, damage, and terror that we become overwhelmed. Add to this a young, attractive woman who's forced to crawl through hell--with hell occasionally being other people--just to survive...that's really stacking the deck. Moreover, it's an artificial choice--"forcing" us as players both to be complicit in her abuse, and conversely to care about her and want to protect her. These are two profoundly dissimilar emotional states.

Continuing in this vein, on the Dork Tower blog, John Kovalic is taking on the concept of adding "maturity" and depth from another direction:
"Rule of Thumb: If your plot point seems arbitrary, awful, lazy and/or just plain dumb as fuck when applied to a male character, just assume it'll be kinda the same with a female one."
Exactly. Which, to be honest, is a position any game designer should memorize. If you wouldn't do it to a man, don't do it to a woman. Ever.

And in other news, the Marketplace JIRA still has the wrong description. Has no one noticed? Seriously? Because I'd be questioning why the JIRA itself is corrupting.

Guess I'm not a Linden. Obviously they have bigger problems...

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