Reading Notes 4

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

Bogost and Poremba’s article “Can Games Get Real?” tries to define and discusses documentary gamesa and whether or not they can/do exist. As a documentary is defined as “non-fictional accounts of the world […] Film documentary leverages one of the affordances of lens-based media: its transparency. Transparency closes the perceived distance between the subject and the recorded image” (Bogost and Poremba 2-3). A piece of film or TV that is considered documentary displays honest (or “honest) accounts of an event, story, culture, phenomenon, etc., so the question here is how a game can balance this honesty and truth while still giving players agency, choice, and the ability to make decisions. The article argues that games of documentary quality do exist, stating that “to claim that documentary games do exist — or at very least, games with a strong documentary quality — we necessarily conjure difficult questions regarding of responsibility, rights, and media literacy with regard to digital games. Documentary games also suggest similar issues that receiving less attention in traditional documentary works” (18). Games that portray true events and occurrences do obviously exist and that, even games of fiction, have elements that are based off of real-life events. What I found most interesting in this article was this quote: “defenders of the genre commend ways the medium can personalize and engage participants in these events, rather than reducing it” (19). This is interesting because, even in games that are very unsettling and/or politically charged, they do indeed engage players in a very unique way in which passively watching a film does and would not be able to.

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.

The nature of the topic of school/mass shootings (one that I feel is pretty universally agreed that they are so horrifyingly awful that it is and beyond words) Super Columbine Massacre RPG! seems like it should be a critique of mass shootings, but it does not feel at all like it is. As you play as the shooters, the creators seem to be empathizing with them, which is extremely worrisome especially if this game is played by someone in a similar frame of mind as these two were. The 8-bit style of this game seems to minimize the weight of the horror that was Columbine and all mass shootings thereafter as it makes it “cute” and “fun” to play. I think this game had the potential to be extremely powerful in a very unsettling way but that it was ultimately ineffective as it much too closely borders empathy rather than criticisms.

The other game I played was Anna Anthropy’s dys4ia. The narrative of this game is that of a transperson and their struggles as they go through the steps of physically transitioning. Anthrophy’s point of view is clearly written out at the beginning of the game, saying, “this is an autobiographical game about my experiences with hormone replacement therapy. My experience isn’t anyone else’s and is not meant to be representative of every trans person.” While trans* rights are a sort of hot button issue today, I find that this game some a really good job of normalizing and humanizing what it is like to be trans* while not diminishing their struggles. I found the game to be uncomfortable, humorous, endearing, etc., and I think it does a great job in conveying thoughts and feelings that the game creator felt during that stage in her transition.

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?

I find polemical games to be the most compelling of the games we have looked at and played this quarter. While I have thoroughly enjoyed the games that are fun and entertaining (like Settlers of Catan, Dungeons and Dragons, etc.) I have found polemical games to be the most intellectually compelling. Many of the games listed above are disturbing and/or upsetting, but I think that is where the strength lies with them: in their ability to create a strong visceral reaction, whether that be positive or negative. While, yes, it does get in the way of fun, I don’t think the intention of most of these games was to be “fun” anyway, thus the critical and political elements of these games takes center stage.

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

As written above, I find the dichotomy between documentary films and documentary games to be very interesting. Documentary films are pretty passive in that, once you choose which one(s) you are going to watch, you sit back and take in the information that it feeds you. You can think critically about the film and have discussions and write critiques, but the film that was watched was in its final form. Documentary games, on the other hand, can be seen as ever-evolving in the ways in which players interact with them. While a game may have finite options/choices with which you are able to play and make, the reception of said game can continue to grow and change as the political and social climate changes. I find this to be very compelling as, in a documentary game, the reception of the game equals, if not outweighs, the intention of it.