Reading Notes 4 – Charlotte Hayden

Game Design 157 Reading Notes #4 – Charlotte Hayden ID#604146270

  1. There is still much debate surrounding the term “documentary game”. Bogost and Poremba discuss how much of the legitimacy of documentary games relies on the players themselves. Some players will feel that in order to be considered a documentary game, a game must be historically accurate, which puts pressure on the game maker to get every fact and date correct; there is no room for creative expansion or interpretation (this may be more accepted in film form). If a game portrays alternate histories, it will not really be considered a documentary game, because the game maker has taken creative liberties, and created a string of events that is not real. Bogost and Poremba also acknowledge the fact that games themselves are not typically taken seriously, so a game portraying a historical event, for example, will face obstacles before it will even be taken seriously (an unfair blockade, in my opinion). It is undeniable, however, that the medium of a game immediately makes the subject matter interactive and immersive, fictional or non-fictional. A documentary game certainly has potential to be a powerful learning tool, because it would be a far more hands on experience than reading about a historical event in a textbook. Bogost and Poremba finish by reiterating that the idea of a documentary game could become something incredible, but it still has a ways to go; the first challenge is to break the notions of a game not being a serious or factual thing.
  2. I politely refuse to play Super Columbine Massacre RPG. I this it is an outrage that someone made a game from this tragedy, and will not take part in playing it. I have watched the trailers and read the artist’s statement.                                                                                              I played Unmanned. Your character is a man who goes through different challenges (pertaining to his role as a father, a soldier, and a husband). Each “challenge” is your character in a certain situation, having to answer questions. Your answers will dictate different parts of your personality, and map out your morals and priorities. After each category, you are awarded badges depending on the answers you’ve given. I did not particularly enjoy this game – it was very slow and not much happened. It didn’t feel like I was really able to dictate my character’s next actions or personality, and the screen was divided into two parts which was extremely challenging when you were required to complete tasks in both. I feel this game could have been much more interesting and engaging, for it made you think about your values and ethical beliefs, but still failed to leave me thinking about the decisions I’ve made, and a better understanding of my own thoughts and morals.
  1. I believe that these games have an incredible amount of potential, but I have not experienced or heard of a game yet that has done a very good job at realising this potential. It’s true that it is a very difficult task to take on, and medium itself makes it even more challenging, but I feel like these games still have a long way to go before they can be considered a kind of documentary. I feel that my problem with the term “documentary game” as well, lies within the fact that in a documentary game, you’d be able to make your own decisions which will affect events and change things, which then takes away from the factual accuracy of the event the game is portraying. Otherwise, if the narrative strictly follows a linear string of events, there is not much agency as a player and the game will become boring. I do feel that games are a way of distracting your brain from stress and real events, and just letting yourself relax and become immersed in a beautiful, alternate world, so a documentary game does not appeal to me personally as a fun activity, or something I would want to do in my spare time. It is certainly possible to have fun and be critical, but it is relaxing and more fun to not have to worry about being critical when you just want to relax and play a game.
  2. I feel that both genres face similar challenges, but the documentary game faces a much stricter criteria. A documentary film can be easily accepted as something informative, educational, or accurate, whereas a documentary game must first overcome people’s initial conceptions that games are solely made for the purpose of having fun, and therefore are unable to support something that is meant to portray a real event or contain real material. Both genres depend on audience acceptance, and both are immersive. The medium of a game, however, is far more engaging than watching a film, because players are able to actually take part in the events or material being presented, and have more of a first-person’s POV and greater experience, than watching images flicker on a screen (though documentary films can still be very interesting and captivating – I myself love watching documentaries in my spare time). I feel that a documentary film has a far greater chance of being accepted if it includes creative takes or historical inconsistencies because the medium of film is most associated with telling stories. Of course, if the film is described as being a fully accurate piece, it will of course face criticism for portraying inaccurate things. A game, I feel, is expected to not be completely accurate, and while that makes it easier on the narrative aspect, it makes it more difficult to be taken seriously and seen as an actual documentary.