Sex!

Did I get your attention? Good.

Unfortunately, you’ve been had. This isn’t about sex. Or rather, this is not all about sex – I’m not that Freudian. This is about raising the discourse, in a way. Improving these games we play. Enriching the narrative.

The question is simple: Why is it that the vast majority of the games we play, and have played, are so thematically shallow? It seems to me that, sure, of course, games must have a clear mandate to entertain. There’s no escaping that, and it’s as it should be. But, should that be all? Here we have this medium, one of the most versatile ever created, but somehow we can’t seem to be able to look past its mere entertainment value. We do nothing else with it. What can we do with this, and why are we not doing it?

What can we do with electronic gaming? Do we even have to ask? We can do whatever we want.

It seems to me that every artistic expression, over any medium pretty much, is to a large degree an extension of the expression of its authors. That is, we have rightfully come to expect from our books and literary works, from our music and plastic arts, and even from some of our films and TV shows to have something of that author permeating it. We buy them and consume it because of their value to us, but also because of the author and the things he or she is trying to say – in a nutshell, art and the artist.

But games? They don’t seem to be created with any other purpose than to try and entertain. Most other art forms or communication mediums are happy to take on the author’s visions, feelings and ideas. They are vehicles to express anything. Art as such, an expression of sadness, joy, melancholy, thoughts, opinions, etc. Are we comfortable then with having games doing nothing but to entertain? Can’t they do anything else? How do we stop and change games, from mere entertainment products, to artistic expression? Do we even want to?

The reason I say all this is because, to put it bluntly, games are generally barren. I mean, they entertain, and that’s all they do. When a writer does his work and finishes his book, a piece of him is there. He’s trying to communicate his feelings and thoughts. His opinions on subjects, carefully disguised or not. Same with film – different directors and actors can take the same thing and manifest it differently. Same with music. But where is this kind of narrative in games? Where’s the intelligent stuff? Am I supposed to accept that the people who create all these games are not humans? That they don’t have feelings, thoughts or opinions that they want to integrate thematically with their creations?

Why aren’t there any games, clearly destined for adults of course, that treat and deal with adult subjects? For example, where are the MMOs that pit, not factions, but viewpoints against each other? Where are the clear explorations, in narrative if nothing else, into subjects like politics, war, sex, art, drugs, economy, ecology, etc.? Is that why most of these worlds we play ultimately end up feeling flat and barren?

My thought is that we’re not seeing all this, and we’re simply playing gamey games (to coin a phrase), for a lot of little reasons.

– Games are formulaic by definition, and it’s hard to deviate from what’s been proven to entertain in the past. If you’re a publisher, criticals against you are worth 3x when you’re hit with originality.

– Video games are (still, even after all these years) generally thought of as ‘something for the kids’, therefore not deserving or even considered to be able to incorporate heavier intellectual stuff. This is slowly changing, though, as gaming becomes broader.

– In the same vein, there’s the constant fear of creators and publishers of minors getting ahold of their content which is meant for adults. In our sue-happy society, why tempt fate like that?

– Many creators don’t see their creations as anything more than a vehicle to entertain. Many don’t feel they have any mandate to elevate the narrative, or to tackle other thematic subjects that are not directly relative to gaming or fun. One’s art is another’s trash.

– Games are a group effort, particularly these modern games of ours that take small armies to create. Collaborative works can be hit or miss, and individual expression gets inevitably drowned in group efforts. Is the solution to just empower the right designers with the right freedom of theme, then? Would we still listen to Mozart, or even know who he was, if he had only been Team Composer #23 in a few symphonies? No, I think designers need to take a lot more personal ownership of their creations, to imprint them with their own individuality. And we need to let them, for good or bad.

– Gamers don’t demand it. It’s not that gamers are not demanding (ha!). It’s just that they don’t demand this at all. Or at least, not massively enough for publishers and creators to take notice.

In the end, I don’t think that all games should be about important philosophical issues, vital matters of the day, deep views on life or things like that. Some games are just meant to be fun distractions, and sometimes all we need is that to unwind. Still, I’m one of those that remembers those games that left me with some things to think about after I was done with them. Not necessarily its graphics, gameplay or fun. Sure, wonderful if all that is there of course. But isn’t it much, much nicer when you realize you just played with art?

22 thoughts on “Sex!”

  1. Those games do exist. More on the indie front, and in singleplayer games, but they do exist.

    Some random examples from the top of my head:
    Indigo Prophecy – nice experiment in narration and changing viewpoints to convey a story (at least until they speeded up the last part of the story in order to yield a finished game)

    Various Interactive Fiction games (Slouching towards Bedlam was a great exercise in narrative choice, anything by Andrew Plotkin or Emily Short tends to be arty too.)

    Alas, games built through large companies tend to be crafted by committee, since the bottom line is money, and how many people they can attract and appeal to so that they can be parted from the cash in their wallets. And mass appeal to the lowest common denominator yields the most cash. So naturally, guess where a lot of the game designers go…

    MMO designers are especially guilty of this because of its subscription model. It points the game systems directly towards a) appealing to a huge variety of playstyles (be you achiever, explorer, socializer, etc) and b) maintaining this appeal through addiction/obsession/rat-racing/“just one more –whatever-” pull factors and minimizing push-away and turn-off factors.

    There’s also the possibility that making MMOs is more about creating a persistent world with content, rather than incorporating a linear narrative or anything art-y. The narrative and art are then created by players as they move through the world, both as an individual and as a community.

    Perhaps in time, as creating persistent worlds becomes cheaper and easier to do on a small scale, we will see more niche MMOs of a smaller size that care to experiment with artistic expression.

    I can think of parallels with both books and movies as mediums. Many books are paperback pulp ‘fun’ reads, but we have works of literature as well. There’s artistic communities of appreciation and criticism and creation that has had centuries to form. Movies are a more modern case. In your local theatre, most of the stuff are just summer Hollywood blockbusters (because they make teh big buckz $$$) but an artistic film community has had sufficient time to grow alongside.

    Gamewise, on the player side, it’s already happening with mods and player-created maps for FPS and RTS games, or even RPGs like Oblivion and Neverwinter Nights.

    There was a period of time when BBSes, then MUDs of different flavors and forms flourished as sysadmins and imms exercised their own artistic expression. Problem was, too many niche games led to diluted playerbase.

    Then the MMO giants sprang up and made persistent worlds easy to access and appealing to the lowest common denominator… then everyone rushed to them, creating a new massively multiplayer experience… and now, as people get tired of the same old systems, they start the hunt for more niche stuff… and so we’re retracing the path of the wheel again. For a while, anyhow.

  2. I think there is a fundamental problem with storytelling in games as opposed to books: The simple fact the player, not the author, is in control. The narrative possibilities in books are much broader than in games (or tv, for that matter). The games most similar to a book would be adventures, but those usually lack real freedom, which is something games should provide. Indigo Prophecy (or Fahrenheit, as it’s called in Europe) has been mentioned – I really liked the game, but there was no real choice involved in the actual gameplay. The alternatives you had in some parts of the game never really influenced the progression of the story. Make no mistake, I liked it; but it wasn’t so revolutionary as the creators claimed it to be.

    Have you played Max Payne? They did it pretty well – a dark, sinister story told in great cutscenes , but the actual gameplay was rather simple, or maybe: Unobtrusive. Those two games – especially the second part – really managed to make you play just a little bit longer than you wanted. I realize that’s not what you really want, but as far as storytelling is concerned, those two games belong to the best games out there.

    Another bunch of games with a great story are the Knight of the Old Republic titles; they stand out as the give you a great amount of freedom in your decisions. I admit, the whole story overall was kinda shallow, but then again, so is the story of Star Wars in general. Still, it created this fabulous atmosphere, especially since your could choose your own path of action and watch the consequences unfold.

  3. I play games because it gets me away form all the “politics, war, sex, art, drugs, economy, ecology, etc.”. Many days, I just want to “play”, and I really don’t want to “play” politics, or get home and log on to my job. Sure, deeper and more meaningful experiences are good, but keep it a game.

  4. There’s really only one reason that more mainstream games aren’t designed to be deep and serious: the culture of the industry’s people in power won’t make it a high priority. There’s nothing inherent in the medium that bars games that are analagous to Schindler’s List or Braveheart. It’s just that most of the people who decide which games get done aren’t interested or have been fooled into believing it wouldn’t be profitable.

    It’s not much different from the film industry. Most of the highest-grossing films in history have been didactic. Some may have leaned sharply toward drama, others toward horror, but a deep and serious message was integral to the storylines. Despite this proven success, few Hollywood execs push for deep and enlightening stories. They’re more comfortable with mere entertainment, and quantity’s easier than quality.

    Still, at least those of us who are not in power can remind people that games don’t have to be “fun” or “entertaining”. Few people would use either of those words to describe Schindler’s List, despite the film being produced from the “entertainment industry”. A game, like a movie, only has to be compelling.

  5. The issue is is something I’ve written about on my blog before: Legitimacy. Games are not seen as a “legitimate” medium like movies or books, so you we have to be careful what we put into them. The problem is that if we put meaningful sexual content into games, we’ll be accused of corrupting children by whichever politician is looking for easy “let’s protect the children!” points with the voting public.

    Until we achieve some measure of legitimacy, you won’t see any large games that tackle issues of sexuality in a meaningful way. You’ll find smaller, indie games, sure, but those tend to fly under the radar. And, without professional aesthetics, you tend to get relatively mediocre games.

    Some of my thoughts. I’m writing an article for a large site on this topic. Feel free to keep an eye on my blog; I’ll post a link when it gets posted.

  6. It may just be me, but I play games to have fun. I watch movies and read stories to have fun, yes, but also to be inspired or to think about deeper issues.

    A game is a GAME. It’s difficult to make, say, a board game that expresses the author’s views on controversial social subjects when it in the nature of a game just to have fun.

    But hey, that’s only my 2cents.

  7. I’d add Planescape: Torment to the list. It is a perfect example of a great game with a deep, engaging plot and meaningful themes that failed commercially. Really such a shame.

  8. In response I have a couple of games I liked in this vein.

    Indigo Prophecy: Interesting concept, but too linear for its original concept.

    EVE: hate to go into a game you previously pimped, but many play it for ideals, for politics. The 0.0 environment lives off of political confrontation. Even empire/Low-sec corps will fight over more than just the reason to fight. Also, if you dive into the dev-blogs, back story, etc. you will find that the developers are truly dedicated to their creation.

    Okami: Alright, a less serious game, but none the less engaging. I picked it up thinking I’d throw 20hrs tops into it and move on. The game grabbed me and didn’t let go for more than double that. Part of it was style but the story was still strong enough to command my attention (unlike many attempts to pick up FF games again).

    Frankly, it’s been a long time since I’ve played a real game that commanded my attention and immersed me. But if there are any more (other than the ones previously mentioned), please post them!
    ~Locke

  9. Legitimacy, as mentioned above, is a huge issue. Maybe the biggest one that’s preventing the enrichment of narrative all across the board.

    It will get better as gaming keeps getting out of the closet, so to speak, but if we’re still putting out games with shallow or simplistic themes then what are we getting out of the closet for?

    I think there’s a common misconception about games that treat serious subjects. That they somehow must be serious themselves, dry and ultimately boring. I don’t think this is the case. I think there are opportunities to inject serious views on serious subjects at every turn in most designs. The easiest way would be to do it in the narrative itself. Backdrop, world story, character stories, that area. but gameplay itself also offers a venue for this.

    One of the most recent opportunities like these that come to mind is the area of Splintertree in WoW. It was a perfect opportunity, largely missed (or chosen to be skipped) by the designers. There we had essentially a contested forest. For the Night Elves, it was part of their homeland, to be preserved even more fiercely because of their druidic background. And we had the neighboring Orcs who needed wood, and set up a logging camp.

    There we had an opportunity to have religion and politics clash. Environmental issues, such as conservation against consumption. Even a bit of class strife, if you wish, seeing as how the Elves were doing quite well without chopping those trees, yet in the neighboring area we had largely destitute Orcs starving for materials and resources. Of course in a situation like that conflict is more or less inevitable. Yet…

    … it was all distilled to a handful of quests in which the only clear motivation for players was to act upon the principles of old enmity, you killed us so we kill you now. Those subjects were there, because I certainly read them. I saw the scenario set up like that, but in game there was little reference to all that. Both factions involved were homogeneous: There were no Orcs willing to find a solution and go find lumber elsewhere, and no Elves willing to share some trees. There were no efforts towards diplomacy that involved the player, or even on the other end, hawk parties in each faction that would just set out to drive the other out. It was all low-intensity, bland, individual feud. Other than vague mentions of encroaching on each other, this and that, all those themes went unheeded.

    The opportunities are always there. Maybe some quests systems would not allow for player freedom like that, for a player to be involved and play his part in outcomes one way or another via choice. That’s fine. But those themes can still be made much more present via narrative. And sometimes we don’t even have that.

    Games don’t have to be about serious subjects, and we don’t have to beat players over the head with them. But when we inject serious subjects in the context of an ongoing game world, and game situations like those, it makes everything become more alive, vibrant and real.

    One of WoW’s greatest successes, in my opinion, was to paint a scenario where most factions and races were doing good and evil alike. Moral relativism at its finest. And one of the biggest crimes of its narrative and design was to not let players do anything with it.

  10. Serious subjects certainly don’t exclude fun, jokes, and general light-hearted entertainment. In fact, the most successful didactic stories are often those in which the meaning is never overtly outlined. As my creative writing teacher always said, “show, don’t tell.”

    A film that’s a great example of that is Groundhog Day, with Bill Murray. The moments in which the audience is expected to stop laughing or smiling are rare. But simultaneous with the jokes, serious messages are laid out in a way that most people will pick them up intuitively (like living every day as if it was the same, or living without seeing or appreciating what happens around you).

    Most great comedies have serious messsages. Office Space is another good example. It includes a protest against factory mentality of American business.

    By mentioning Schindler’s List, I didn’t mean to imply that serious games have to be deadly serious all the way through. Messages and considerations are often best internalized when they only slip into our consciousness to be chewed on at a later, quieter time.

  11. I think you could level the same criticism at mainstream media like television and films – why are the vast majority of them so thematically shallow. In fact, you could probably say the same about written literature as well – there are swathes upon swathes of shallow and derivative books out there; why else would a company like Mills & Boon still be going after all these years?

    There are many games out there which, in my opinion, can be considered art – on both their graphical and techincal merit as well as expression and how they make you, the player feel. Games like Planescape: Torment have already been mentioned but lets go further back. Eric Chahi’s 1991 classic “Another World” was largely story driven with some arcade elements. The game play was challenging and, at times, supremely frustrating. The story, however, was emotive and moving and the ending is a classic moment of gaming history.

    “Beneath a Steel Sky” was a very well written graphic adventure in a futuristic setting. With artwork inspired by the work of Dave Gibbons, a veteran comic book artist and a fantastic and gripping story. The modern spiritual successor to that game has to be Deus Ex, another involved storyline but with the subject matter of government corruption, conspiracies, terrorism, religion (to a certain extent) amongst others. Then there’s Half-Life 2 which might be a pretty straight forward FPS but the storyline it sets up and the world it crafts is stunning. Do I also need to mention the Grand Theft Auto series? Talk about games with an adult focus and compelling stories! On the surface they might appear to be nothing more than uber-violent driving games but there’s a hell of a lot more to it than that. They are the interactive equivalent of films like Scarface, Goodfellas, New Jack City, Training Day and so on.

    MMOs are a little more vague. Looking at World of Warcraft then it may seem there’s not a lot there but look at what does in terms of challenging perceptions: comments in one of my other posts already highlighted that Taurens, for example, are noble savages. The truth of it is that (with the exception of the Undead) the Horde are not actually Evil but have their own set of values and viewpoints – none of which can be described as cruel or evil. The notions of Good and Evil are thrown out of the window because nothing is quite what it seems.

    The problem with MMOs is, as has already been stated, the fact that a lot of them cater for all ages and attitudes, it’s difficult to know how to introduce serious, adult themes into them that will be acceptable and, above all else, fun to play. But that’s not to say that some aren’t trying to: Sociolotron proclaims itself as an adult only MMORPG featuring a variety of adult themes and includes such in game ideas as a legal system and so on.

    Good post though.

  12. Quite frankly, I think the reason why we aren’t getting A-class stories in our games, with deep themes and various other tensions, is that video games are, in the eyes of many, supposed to be a release from these themes in the real world.

    I think the problem with that view, is that nobody knows how to do it interestingly. Had Douglas Adams still been alive, we may not be having this issue, however that is neither here nor there. The video game industry to enlist A-class movie script and book writers. Face it, we have some pretty interesting stories already, but with a writer such as Terry Goodkind, most games would shrink away at the very depth of the universes and stories created.

  13. I feel quite the opposite. When I want to learn, I’ll read non fiction or watch a documentary. When I read fiction or a watch a movie or play a game, I only want entertainment.

    I roll my eyes whenever people try to beat me over the head with a message, even when I agree with the message (though obviously I mind it less, like all people). Battlestar Galactica was great the first season, but it quickly went downhill, now it may as well be Talkingheads Galactica since that’s all it is – a bunch of people standing around lecturing each other.

    The problem is, with non fiction I can read reviews and pick a book based on the reputation of the author or sources. With fiction it’s what some barely informed dilettante thinks about a problem. i.e., as if I were writing. After working in theater for a few years, I really am not interested in being lectured by hateful people who want to browbeat everyone into their opinion, which is basically a lot of people in the arts industry :)

    For instance, when I watch a “news magazine” show like 60 minutes, when it’s about something I know about like science, astronomy, physics, or even fitness, I cannot believe the errors that are made. The journalist is not even as knowledgeable as me, which is understandable, I have had years to study he’s had a few weeks. But if it’s this bad when it’s something I know about, I can’t imagine the misinformation being given to me when it’s something I don’t know about.

    Anyway, that’s my point. Non fiction is for learning, for me everything else is entertainment, and really even if people have a point, they need to remember it’s entertainment first if they want it to be any good.

  14. To the many respondents whose point is “A game is a game, stop trying to take away my fun by making games serious”.

    Yes, you want relief from politics, war, drugs, sex, social injustice, etcetera. You look towards games to get this – games like Bewjeweled, Tetris and Pong. Hand-eye-coordination games, that give you small adrenaline spikes and a few hours of fun. Perhaps you even play games like Super Mario, with a bit more complex gameplay and even a rudimentary storyline, but characters should be strictly two-dimensional (not talking graphics here) and morality black and white.

    There’s nothing wrong with that, and you can find many similar examples of this in static media as well – TV, film, not so much in books, but perhaps in some comics.

    But the very moment you introduce an adult theme in a video game – guns, politics, sex, drugs, whatever – you *do* enter into a contract with the audience to treat this subject as an adult matter, or face the consequences. If you give your protagonist a gun and tell him to kill all the Baby Koopas on the way to the Princess in order to rescue her, you have made the equivalent of an irresponsible Hollywood action flick where the thousands upon thousands of casualties on the way to the final big explosion in the end are not meant to be grieved by the audience – they were against the Good Guys and therefore not deserving of our pity. In my opinion, that’s highly irresponsible entertainment.

    Instead, you could have given Mario a gun, allowed him to use it to mow down everything in his path, and then shown him the other side of the story when Daddy Koopa is crying over the corpses of his dead kids. Perhaps Mario still needs to fight him to save the Princess, and in the end it leaves the player pondering whether there could have been a peaceful solution to the conflict, and if the Princess maybe wasn’t worth the lives of an entire kingdom. The game doesn’t tell a one-sided story, but rather sparks ideas – ideas which breed empathy and social aptitude. A game that leaves the player intellectually stimulated when he’s done playing, not just elevated on adrenaline from killing a ton of simulated mooks.

    On the other hand, Alien Hominid is a great game. The alien you control shoots, explodes, and decapitates hundreds of FBI agents on the first level alone. The game revels in this fact, and in reveling, reveals a message about the carnage: “This is just a game. If you like, turn off Blood in the game menu and the FBI agents turn into flowers upon their death. See, Blood is just these red pixels. Relax. We’re not telling you to kill FBI agents.” Grand Theft Auto does the same thing, in its own way. It is highly aware of its own outrageousness and has probably sparked more debates and viewpoints than most games can claim to be responsible for.

    So, you want to play a game for entertainment purposes only? Either you accept that the game has some sort of message about its adult subjects, or you avoid games with adult subjects in favour of pure hand-eye-coordination puzzles. All games teach lessons implicitly, and if a game has no message attached to its adult themes – for example, killing hordes upon hordes of Orcs just means you gain some XP and coins – then it *does* still teach the lesson that “some races are simply monsters that deserve to die, plus, they might make you stronger when you kill them”.

    No, I’m not going to go off on some Jack Thompson rant here. I’m not saying that the lessons these games teach are responsible for urban violence or youth delinquency. But I *will* say that if those lessons simply fall on deaf ears (as they should), that’s still a wasted lesson. You’d have been better off playing Bejeweled.

  15. Lachek, I completely agree. ( more or less ). Heh.

    I come to games looking for more. I want to jump into the skin of a character, run around in a game world where my actions have real consequences. I want to use my super powers for good or for awesome as I see fit, and I want to be challenged by repercussions.

    There are a lot of people out there looking for that, looking for a deeper game that challenges them to explore moral and ethical issues. Sadly, I think most of the market space is interested in blowing stuff up and escaping. Only time and dedicated companies making challenging and driving games is going to change that. Companies that hopefully have more maturity in their approach than has been seen with games like GTA.

  16. You can still blow up stuff. I like blowing stuff up. But I like it more when there’s a good, deep “why” behind what I’m doing. Something more engaging than we blow it up because “it’s there”, or “it will blow us up if we don’t blow it up first”.

  17. I am all for deeper issues. The problem is I’ve been disappointed by games like Deus Ex that promised this but delivered superficial choices. Other games like KOTOR offered a little more, but many of the “evil” interactions in that game were merely being a “jerk” more than being evil.

    I am just often disappointed by movies and TV where lecturing and talking heads are used to push an agenda, rather than compelling characters and stories. Will games be any better than modern media? It’s not like great literature authors will be writing.

    I guess you could say “yes that would be more fun” I am just cynical. I would like real choice, not a lecture, and doubt it will be delivered.

  18. Those are interesting points, yunk and Julian.

    I wonder if there’s a need for the good, deep ‘why’ to be in-built and scripted into the game (and thus coming from the mind and being influenced by the personal values of the game designers)?

    And how explicit and obvious should those reasons be?

    Should game designers aim more towards ‘sandbox’ type games where there is more freedom of choice and depict the consequences that follow from that choice, or towards a linear narrative that imposes meaninful ‘why’ and more mature themes? Are the two necessarily at different ends of the spectrum?

    Or should players already be taking the initiative to play (or modify) existing games in a deeper, more meaningful manner?

    Take City of Heroes/Villains: Some players craft an extensive background for their characters and make a mindful choice to restrict their play for the sake of staying true to character, or even to the player’s own personal moral code. They don’t take missions from certain contacts and so on.

    Westin Phipps is one such example. Quite a number find his missions too ‘evil.’ He appears to take a special interest in keeping the weak and downtrodden in their places, while cultivating an image that claims to be doing the best for them. Yet others think he’s not quite evil enough, or too much of a caricature.

    No matter what a game designer does, there’s going to be a subset of his players who don’t like the characterization he’s made or the choices he offers in the game.

    Does that mean we don’t attempt it at all? No, certainly not.

    But should the choice offered to players be all-or-nothing? Here’s a piece of game content (a quest, a contact, a story thread) with a certain moral value / issue attached to it. Take it or leave it, do it or not as you will…

    Or do we go down the road of multiple-choice answers and pick your dialogue option? That adds degrees of complexity to the game design, as you would need to trace all branching paths.

    Or leave it even more open, a command parser or its equivalent to interact with? Problem here is things could devolve into guess-the-verb in order to gain a response. (As the tech develops, we might see improvements in this area perhaps.)

    Or is there some other way of interacting with the said piece of game content that I’m missing?

  19. My favourite example right now is Defcon, from Introversion Software:

    http://www.everybody-dies.com

    They call it “the world’s first genocide-’em-up”. It is a game about intercontinental thermonuclear war. You get points for how many people you kill – 2 points for every million, by standard scoring rules – and points are subtracted for every million of yours are killed by your opponent.

    The interface, like all Introversion’s games, is very abstract and GUI-like. You don’t feel like you’re on the ground with the troops, you feel like you’re in a control room in a secure bunker, separated from the lives of your citizens, a cold and calculating general straight out of the worst Cold War scenarios.

    There is no explicit message in the game. It is strictly a nuclear holocaust simulation marketed as a game, with a clear method of scoring and determining a winner and a loser.

    Yet everything in the game drips with implicit lessons, from the intro credits which list the effects of radiation poisoning on the human body, to the soundless bright white light that illuminates the area where a major city once stood (with the accompanying floating text “5.8 million dead”), to the gloomy, plodding soundtrack interspersed with the sound of a sick woman coughing.

    After a game or two, you realize that, to quote the movie Wargames: “[t]he only winning move is not to play”. Once you’ve realized that, you can distance yourself from it and play it like a true strategy game, feeling secure in knowing that this game will not allow me to think that nuclear war is in any way “OK”, regardless of how “fun” the game is to play. Introversion takes a very grave subject matter, and treats it with as much severity as it deserves.

  20. I’d say the best game I can reference in this situation, making an effort towards immersion in issues, is ‘Peacemaker’. It’s a… turn-based strategy?… game, where you play either the prime minister of Israel or the president of Palestine. When you make bad decisions, you’re presented with news clippings, images, and sometimes video of violent action against civilians.

    The only acceptable winning condition is a peaceful solution, and it is one of the most difficult games I’ve ever played. One is forced to make critical decisions about who to please and when to do so, as nearly everything one does upsets someone (in particular the militants of one side or the other), and anything that doesn’t gets very little done. Meanwhile you’re forced to deal with the consequences of extremist factions who often show no deference to your position, whatsoever. I recommend taking a look at it as an example of no-nonsense gameplay.

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