Keyboard Geniuses is our weekly glance at a few intriguing, witty, or otherwise notable posts from the Gameological discussion threads. Comments have been excerpted and edited here for grammar, length, and/or clarity. You can follow the links to see the full threads.
Game designer Charles Amis introduced us to the “Uncanny Valley Of Choice,” a place where the freedom that you thought you had in a game suddenly falls apart, and you’re disappointed by the limitations. Asinus used a great metaphor to explain this phenomenon and relate it to a personal gaming memory:
It was personally interesting to see him specifically cite Final Fantasy VII. Though I do still love the story and characters in that game, it was my first real experience of playing through a Japanese role-playing game more or less on my own. I’d watched friends play them before, but never found them to be particularly interesting in the snippets I’d seen. What was kind of remarkable on my second playthrough was how that illusion of choice and free will completely disintegrated.
When I was a kid, we used to go to this theme park at least once per year. When I was in about sixth grade, I took a flashlight onto one of the indoor rides and illuminated all of the artifice that made the ride work. The fire was obviously a colored sheet flapping with a light behind it (not that I believed it was fire, but it was very well done), side tracks became visible, the mechanics, and basically all of the strings that I always knew were there, were made completely apparent.
That’s what the second playthrough of my first JRPG was like. These lines that I had read with some emotional weight were obvious scrips. I guess my disbelief’s suspension blew out, and the shock pushed through the floor of the trunk, making for a rough, noisy ride. I still like that game, but it’s just not possible to really capture that illusion of choice in Final Fantasy VII or any other highly scripted game. I suppose if I had to pick a game to introduce me to and destroy my illusion of JRPGs, I chose pretty well.
In response, trilobiter pulled back to look at the big picture:
The plot of a real life, such as it is, is always determined by two things: the decisions you make and external forces over which you have little control. Their relative importance is a question for the ages, but everybody has surely experienced an important, life-altering event that simply happened to them, without their having planned it or been able to avoid it.
I think it’s a secret of the appeal of games that they model that aspect of life so well: They tie your hands in arbitrary ways and make you move via prescribed methods, but life does so too, in a broader sense. We like choices, because we like feeling as if we have the upper hand over life. But a scenario where we have truly absolute choice couldn’t help but feel uncanny, because it’s completely outside our experience.
Elsewhere, Alkaron brought up a lack of games that turn the spotlight on the player:
I think there’s another aspect of choice in games that is criminally underexplored: the player as accomplice in the unfolding of the game narrative. Most games frame all their big decision-making moments as having consequences only for the game world: What does it mean for this Spec Ops character to be forced into the role of executioner? However, I think the more interesting question is, what does it mean for the player to be forced into the role of executioner? I can count on one hand the games that have the balls to turn the spotlight on the person holding the controller and ask him or her, “Why are you choosing to keep playing?” If you have to choose between two evils to progress in the game, why wouldn’t you just quit?
Of course, you don’t quit because games exist to be played. If you quit, you’re not fully engaging with the work as a whole. And there’s a tension there. The designers want you to feel the agony of a tough decision—it’s part of the game. But if you’re so engaged that you sincerely feel that agony, then that means that the choice has meaning for you and not just for your character. And if the choice has meaning for you personally, doesn’t that add a moral dimension to it?
In The Year 2000
Don’t forget Klax. It kept insisting “It is the nineties and there is time for Klax,” but there was never time for Klax.
And as pointed out by Kyle O’Reilly, there might be signs that Future No. 14 on our list, “U.S. president is a secret terrorist,” is coming true right before our eyes:
I’m not so sure No. 14 won’t come true soon. Why else would Barry Obama try and take our guns unless he was planning world domination through a series of giant Metal Gears on top of an even bigger Metal Gear that controls the internet, I think…Thanks a lot, OBAMACARE! *Fires gun into the air*
Heinous De Milo
This week, the image of a gory promotional statuette for the game Dead Island Riptide caused a stir. John Teti gave us his take on the work of art in a For Our Consideration. The comment thread that followed was full of thoughtful, insightful, and, of course, humorous takes on this atrocity and what it says about “gaming culture.” Effigy Power provided an impassioned response:
Between articles about male geeks insulting female geeks as camera-bait for wearing skimpy costumes other male geeks designed and “limbless titty torsos” (thanks, Fluka), it feels really shitty to always have to be addressed as a gamer with the qualifier of being female.
There is a good, sad reason why so many female gamers remain gender-neutral online out of fear of recrimination and lewd insults. A large part of the gaming community doesn’t appear to find this an issue and I’ve heard plenty of male gamers say that if I didn’t want the abuse, I should just not tell anyone I am a woman. For someone who has heard the same statement regarding her sexuality for almost 20 years now, this is a proposal that’s beyond demeaning and has to stop.
I am aware that gaming isn’t the only entertainment branch that behaves like a “He-Man Woman-Hater” boys’ club, but it is definitely the one that has the least issue about taking our money and then calling us a slut or attention whore for enjoying those games. It is a hard pill to swallow and even for someone with a hefty dose of egocentrism it can be overwhelming at times to the point where to me personally the word “multiplayer” for the longest time was synonymous with “abuse.”
Fluka talked about why it was things like this that drove her away from games for a spell:
I’m someone who recently came back to games, after years of not paying any attention to the industry whatsoever and giving them none of my money. I played lots of stuff when I was a kid, but as I got older I started associating “big” games with stuff that I didn’t want to be involved with. First-person shooters starring big burly dudes blowing up piñatas of alien viscera. Antigravity tit physics simulations. Marketing targeted at guys pretending to be bigger guys (or said anti-gravity tit girls) shooting other guys. A lot of it came from marketing—“Gaming culture.”
At some point, I got slowly reintroduced to gaming. I realized that I had been wrong, and some of these games were awesome. Things like Oblivion, Portal, Dragon Age. There were games, and more importantly there was a culture around those games, where it didn’t feel weird to play as a woman, or hell, as a functioning member of society. In the years since then, the games industry has gotten my fandom. More importantly, it has gotten my money.
Shit like this bust, and its defenders, brings me back to that old “gaming culture” feeling, and makes me sometimes ask myself: Why am I wasting my time with this? Game industry: why do you not want my MONEY?
HobbesMkii was ready with a pragmatic answer to that last question:
Because you’re not as easily won over by sex appeal.
Marketing generally goes after the easiest and most readily available consumer dollar. Being a luxury, entertainment already has to fight an uphill battle for your buck. It’s not something you have to pay for, like food or medical care or your abode. Consequently, it’s generally (or should be) the smallest portion of any given person’s budget and subject to frequent change from month to month. You see a fair number of gamers (including this one) who make trade-offs in their purchases. (If I pick up a game when it comes out, I have to wait until the price drops by a third on the next couple of games that are released.)
Luckily, there’s this wonderful demographic called the Male 18-34 demographic that makes more impulse buys per capita than any other demo. Because they’re men, they earn 30 cents on the dollar more than their female counterparts, they’re often single and without children, and they have more disposable income than other segments of the population. And if they’re white, well, *SPLOOSH* is what I believe the term is. That disposable income just went up again.
Elsewhere, Cornell_University provided a different take on the bloody bust:
I actually sort of like this. In the way that I sort of like [the film] Funny Games. Maybe “like” would get me on some watch lists. Appreciate? To my eyes, at least, it’s a big wet middle finger raspberry of “OH YOU LIKE SEX AND VIOLENCE? HERE YA GO FREAKS! ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?” I see a lot of self-awareness in it and no small amount of self-indictment. Though if I’m misinterpreting it and it has zero amount of those things, well, someone needs to get hit with a barrel.
And Spacemonkey Mafia gave us a lovely alternate history of the piece:
I recall when Marcel Duchamp was preparing, with great fanfare, to reveal his piece Violated Woman’s Torso with Nationalist Lingerie in the 1913 Armory Exhibit of Modern Art.
When he unveiled a modest portrait of a fully clothed and non-eaten woman quietly reading a novel in the Solar, critics were outraged.
It took a hundred years, but we’ve finally achieved the aesthetic clarity long denied by that Dadaist prank.
Break Out The Cigars
Join us in congratulating Gameological regular Aurora Boreanaz on the birth of Baby Girl Boreanaz!
Baby Girl Boreanaz was born last Wednesday morning, and is doing well. Her parents are totally exhausted, but slowly getting used to catching a couple hours of sleep when we can, and it’s totally worth it when she’s sleeping in my arms, or staring up at me with one eyebrow raised.
Well, that was an exciting week. Each of these closes with a thank you, but, especially after this week’s discussions, I just want to emphasize that we appreciate how much intelligence, civility, and wit you all bring to the comments. We’ll see you all next week!