Thursday, March 13, 2014

Video Games and Consent

Some talk about making choices within a script, and about consensual violence. 


  1. Interesting article, though I think it is a little selective. There are a number of hit video games that involve the main character having a choice on selective violence, and have been for a decade.

    Thief series? Violence was the character's last recourse. Sneaking, hiding, and spying were usually the best ways forward. The SIMS series were wildly popular and could be played with little violence. The later games of the Civilization series could be won without firing a single bullet, through cultural, diplomatic, and economic victories.

    My favorite is probably the Fallout series. Throughout the story line, the player can raise various skills (such as Medicine, Science, Hacking, Stealth, etc.) and accomplish the same goals, by shutting down a berserk robot instead of destroying it, or curing a clan chiefs daughter to get an artifact instead of killing them all. Often, the non-violent is easier and cleaner, since shooting the character in the face may cut off game options and rewards later, and characters that kill with abandon are shunned by other characters, or even hunted down by various factions. There are consequences to every violent thing the character does, and the player will see them.

    I agree that having choice and dealing with the consequences of making those decisions should be apparent. The article mentioned Bioshock. Indeed, it is basically a shooting and killing platform. But actions have consequences. In the game, the player encounters little girls who have been made receptacles for mutagenic powers. The player can free the girls, to little benefit to themselves, or kill the girls and gain greater power. It is not until later that a player may learn that saving the girls leads to greater rewards, from a benefactor of said children, which is not available if the player has been slaying them, which is no easy task; the girls are perhaps five years old, sobbing, and squirming in your grip. It is certainly a visceral situation, that tests not the character, but the human behind the controller (I could not do it and freed them).

    I guess my point is that while there are a number of games where the character is basically channeled into violence as their only course of action, there are other popular games where that isn't the case. I don't see this going away. I and other players I correspond with enjoy having these games with options.

    And for the record, I'd check out the bondage/beating game, but frankly, it sounds boring. Violence for violence's sake usually is. And the GTA series sucks.

    Wake up, Lesli. This is where you tell me I missed the point.

  2. Sorry I'm getting in here late- I'd typed up a long rambly post but it got eaten and I didn't come back to it as quickly as I should.

    The short version:

    I can't tell you definitively you're wrong or you've missed the point, because I'm not actually that "widely read" in video games.

    I liked the article because it touched on two things I'm really interested in.

    The first is video games as a medium. I'm really interested, in a basic structural sense, in how the player participation changes what you can do with the medium vs. passive audience art forms like two dimensional art, writing, and film, and this article talks a fair bit about how that participation is constrained along a traditional set of lines, but that might be different in future games (and, of course, as you mentioned, it's different in some games the article doesn't cite, including say, dating sims, building and management games, fishing games, pet care games- there are a fair few games where you get asked to nurture something to its best state, though these often get shoved outside the conversation of games and gaming culture). And of course you've got better and better AI coming into games, which gives them the possibility to be less rigidly scripted. I don't know if the sandbox games are still as big as they were a couple years ago, but there is that aspect as well.

    And then there's the fictional violence question, which is something I keep coming back to. How to do that both responsibly and entertainingly.

    But yeah, I agree with you, and it sounds like you mostly agree with what I took from the article. That violence for its own sake, without consequences, is really pretty hollow.