Reading Notes #4

  1. Summarize the arguments made in the paper re the main question posed (You know the one that is the title of the article..)


Can games get “real”?  Can games represent reality, despite the fact that they are fun, focused, and take place “outside” of present time and space?  Absolutely.  This paper is comparing film documentaries to “documentary games” and arguing that despite the two having different mediums and form of expressions, they both can still represent reality.  Games are known for being fun and entertaining, but games can be engaging as well as informative about a serious issue in reality.  It can represent serious issues such as the terrorist attacks on 9/11 or less-serious realistic stories such as a character going to McDonalds everyday to purchase the same lunch.  Games can represent reality in a way that film documentaries can’t – ie. from the perspective of the victim, attacker, observer.  It can bring in an audience’s input and ideas to change reality.  Documentary games can educate the audience through interactivity and a drive to change reality.  However, documentary games and documentaries are still not completely “real”.  They represent reality from a certain perspective or bias, or are based loosely on reality.  Documentary games can take aspects of reality and add some aspects of fiction or fantasy to emphasize the deeper meaning.


  1. Play Super Columbine Massacre RPG! AND one of the short games listed below, then describe each game’s polemical point of view. Specifically how the game designers positioned the player’s role to make an effective point.

I had some trouble installing Super Columbine Massacre RPG.  I followed all the instructions but couldn’t find the final .exe file on my computer to run it, so I instead watched the full gameplay video that they posted on their website.  This reminds me of the airport level in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 that stirred up a huge amount of controversy because the main character was ordered to shoot civilians as part of a Russian terrorist attack.  The main character didn’t even have to shoot their gun if they didn’t want to, and the level was also optional.  The Columbine massacre game also reminds me of the basic gameplay of GTAV.  I mean, you could go around in a race-car and run over civilians, shoot them in drive-bys, or walk up to civilians and shoot them point blank just for the hell of it.  I have played both GTAV and Modern Warfare 2 and done all of these horrible things to NPCs, but because there was no real context or “realistic event” it was based on, I was desensitized.  The Super Columbine Massacre game is completely different.  You are going around shooting kids point blank, and you then realize, the Columbine massacre actually happened.  Kids were actually shot point blank.  It’s mind-blowing, and (if the game ran on my computer) I would feel incredibly guilty, but at the same time, completely immersed and engaged with the story.  When horrible events like this happen, people are constantly asking, “Why did this happen?  Why did these two kids do such a horrible thing?  What was going on in their heads?”, and a polemical game like this is an opportunity to answer these questions.   Also, The fact that they included real, violent photos from the event was the worst.  I had never seen those photos, and they were so shocking that I felt physically sick.  Games like Columbine Massacre RPG make you realize how true to reality games like GTAV and Call of Duty are.  It makes me feel guilty for enjoying violent video games.  The whole experience was an emotional rollercoaster for me, and I think that was the game designer’s goal.


Papers Please is such a fascinating game.  I played a bit of it last year when it first came out, and it surprised me with how brutal it was.  My mother was an immigrant to America and had to fill out tons of paperwork, wait in long lines, and be treated unfairly by government officials in order to become a citizen here, so this game hits close to home.  When you play a game like this you get an idea of what it feels like to be in a situation where you have to choose the health and safety of your family over the live’s of others.  A lot of people complain about the government and authority in our country, but games like Papers Please make you realize that those people in positions of power – such as workers at the DMV, border patrol, cops, are doing their jobs because they have a family to feed, bills to pay, and a life to live.


Another polemical game that I enjoy that was not listed here is “The Beginner’s Guide.”  If you haven’t heard of it you should definitely pick it up and play it, it only takes about a few hours to go through.  It is a game that covers the theme of mental health and self-awareness, and beautifully tells the story of how one character copes with a emotional problems such as anxiety, depression, and suicide, and how they come to acceptance of these issues.  You play as a character going through various “games” that the narrator describes.  Each game level was apparently designed by a “friend” of the narrator.  Each level starts to develop into a metaphor of the narrator’s friend’s life.  The narrator takes you through each level and starts becoming concerned about his friend’s health as the game levels become more and more drastic.   I was emotionally engaged in this game because it related to issues that I had personally experienced, and I had an urge to try to find a way to help this “friend” of the narrator.

I absolutely love polemical games and I could probably write a whole book on all of my favorites and my personal interpretations of them.


  1. You’ve played some “polemical games” – whats is your opinion of the potential (or lack there of) of games as a medium for expression a point of view? does this “get in the way of the fun” ? is it possible/helpful to play and be critical at the same time?

Polemical games have huge potential.  Story-based games are incredibly popular nowadays – especially “butterfly-effect” style games in which the choices the player makes in the story somehow affects the outcome (having multiple good or bad endings, and etc.)   I personally love polemical games, and play them often.  Games are a great medium for expressing a point of view or making a statement in society, especially in this day and age where “Let’s Play’s” on Youtube and Twitch streams are so popular.  Pewdiepie, the top subscribed YouTuber, become famous because of his Let’s Play videos.  His videos have over 1 million views each on average.  If he plays a polemical game such as Columbine Massacre RPG, he is sure to make an impact on his viewers and stir up controversy.  I believe an expression or point of view can get in the way of the fun in some cases, but in others, it can make a game more engaging and give the player a purpose.  For example, I felt the topic of the Columbine Massacre game ruined the fun simply because there was a point in the game for me that just felt too realistic and too much for me to handle emotionally.  But in other cases, such as with Paper’s Please, the realism never seems to cross a line where it becomes too serious or too emotional to keep playing.  The fact that the game is fun and challenging also provides an incentive to keep playing despite the realism and harsh topics the game brings up (such as the part where you accidentally let in a suicide bomber into your country that attacks your security guards).  It is possible and helpful to be critical  while you play.  I mean, games like this that cover sensitive topics are made to not only educate players about real events in history (or possible dystopian futures based on current realities), but to push players to create a better future and learn to cope with reality.  Learning from games such as these require the players to look at it in a critical way.  The whole time I was watching the gameplay of the Columbine Massacre game, I was thinking to myself what could the government, authority, human society have done to prevent these events from happening?  And if I was playing, I constantly would be trying to find ways to prevent the inevitable from happening – ie. seeing if there is a way to change the main character’s mind, not bring the duffle  bag to school, not plant any bombs, or not kill any students.  Games provide an opportunity for players  to make more meaningful choices and question reality.


  1. How do you see the relationship between “documentary game” and “documentary film” ? what are the limitations / advantages of each medium in this context?

Documentary games and films are connected because they both serve to educate the public and make statements about realistic events.  However, a documentary film is obviously limited by the fact that a movie or TV show is on a preset timeline with no interaction between the audience other than the distribution of preset information.  It is one-sided.  The audience interprets what they hear and see and have no way of changing or manipulating what they want to hear and see.  Documentary films are great if you want to see a 100% accurate adaptation of an event, but you are subject to the bias of the director, producer, and writer.  With documentary games, you may still be subject to the bias of the game designer, however, the game designer has more opportunity to offer more information to the audience, and the audience may have the opportunity to pick and choose what they want to hear.  Documentary films usually tell you facts word for word and explain everything for you, while documentary games can have mystery, suspense, and allow the player to learn and reveal things at their own pace.  Documentary games also have an opportunity for the player to become emotionally involved with the game because they have invested time and thought into the process of the game.  With a documentary film, sure you invest time and thought into attempting to understand what is being shown and said, but it is less emotional because the choices and decisions are not your own.