Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Morality of Gaming

I enjoyed this article at Gamasutra. It's basically a transcript of a speech given by Jonathan Blow about the present state of the video game industry. I've come to many of the same conclusions that Blow expresses in the speech. Most notably--game designers and publishers haven't acknowledged their major role in American, and worldwide, culture, and the unavoidable moral responsibility that comes with it. And no, I'm not talking about violence in Mortal Kombat, Manhunt 2, or their ilk. Check out the article; I think I'll write more about my thoughts later.


Little Earl said...

I like this guy:

"The thing I want to get at is – I’m not trying to blame players here – what I am saying is, if you’re the CEO of McDonald's, you should not feel good about your job, you should feel ashamed. We don’t have that in the games business -- we don’t have that sense, because we feel like they’re 'just entertainment.' We don’t feel like we can do things we can be ashamed of yet."

"I say this kind of thing, and everybody’s like, 'whatever dude – you’re smoking something.' I want to frame this; it’s a matter of scale. What I see as a primary challenge for mankind in this century is to understand and deal with the fact that despite these good enterprises -- human rights, safety, leisure time -- we do these at such a scale that we cannot help but have them affect the world, as with global warming, ozone holes, pollutants – we haven’t dealt with it yet."

"We don’t intend to harm players but we might be harming them. When tens of millions of people buy our game, we are pumping a mental substance into the mental environment – it’s a public mental health issue – it’s kind of scary, but it’s kind of cool because we have the power to shape humanity."

"What I see right now is that we’re cultivating this style of gamer that just says 'I want more of that because it tastes delicious, and that’s all I know.'"

He's got my vote.

herr zrbo said...

It's an interesting article. My only problem was that I felt he was a bit too vague. I'm still not sure what kind of game he's envisioning that would be 'good architecture'.

I agree with his critique of Bioshock (as have many other reviewers). It would have been more interesting if your moral decisions (kill or save the little sisters) meant more. I read an interview with the director of the game, Ken Levine, where he mentioned the morality-decisions in the game didn't turn out quite how he wanted. In the end the game arrives at a black-or-white conclusion - did you save everyone or kill them all? He expressed he wanted to have the full moral spectrum included, hopefully in the sequel.

I just finished a fantastic game, Dreamfall: The Longest Journey. There's no instant gratification/treadmill awards, you have no stats to manage, and it's really more about telling a story. And in the end you don't even fight an 'evil boss' and win, it's really just the story of a girl trying to find her place in the world. The only problem the author of this article might have is that it borrows heavily from cinema, you're basically watching loooong sessions of dialogue. So it's not really creating it's own style. Otherwise I highly recommend it!

yoggoth said...

Yep Zrbo these sorts of articles always break down when you get to the details. And then you go look at the author's own game and you think, 'hey, this is just Mario without the coins.' But we don't demand a new genre for every movie that comes out either; 'hey this is just another movie where the hero overcomes obstacles to succeed (or not) in the end.'

I haven't played Bioshock yet but I'm going to try to over my winter break. I just finished Portal, which was fun.

herr zrbo said...

Hey, there's an article over at Slate right now called 'The Gaming Club' talking about the best video games of the year (but not in a 'top 10 list' kind of way) and the state of VG's in general. There's lots of talk of Jonathan Blow's speech here.

The first entry by Chris Suellentrop praises Bioshock, and addresses some issues that Mr. Blow brought up. Problem is that it's very spoiler ridden, so Yoggoth might not want to read it (in fact I would highly recommend not doing so if you intend to get any enjoyment out of the game).

Err. I wish I could mention more about what he says, but his main point, dealing with the issue of moral choices in the game which Mr. Blow criticized, addresses the 'big reveal' of the game and why Mr. Blow might not have understood the concept of what was trying to be done. Honestly I felt the same way during the big reveal, a sense that not the characters in the game had deceived me, but that the actual developers of the game had deceived me by toying with my expectations of what to expect from a VG. It was an experience I've never felt before in video gaming which I thought was absolutely brilliant. Anyways, it's an interesting read, but Yoggoth should bookmark it and come back to it in a month.

yoggoth said...

I read that gaming article as well Zerbo. Overall I like what they're saying-better than average commentary about the subject. I skipped all the Bioshock spoilers, although I didn't know about the stuff you mentioned until I read that piece.