Reading #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..)

  • Game documentaries create an environment whereby a player can explore a non-fiction topic and in turn question our understanding of this idea of cinematic transparency. This style of game is either rooted in an existing historical / cultural subject or created in a way so that the connection to reality is evident. Digital games particularly present the capacity to show new but equally valid realities by specifying the underlying logical structure of a system. This is necessary as audiences view educational documentaries to either learn something new, or reinforce knowledge and ideas that already exists. Therefore I think games can be real in the sense that they provide a different method of exploring a narrative while remaining rooted in the reality of the player.

2. 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.

  • Super Columbine Massacre RPG tells the story of the 2 killers from a 1st person perspective- shedding light on the personal lives and emotions of the killers in an attempt to understand them as humans. The plot of the game was highly controversial as it involved the massacre of an entire high school, which through the lens of the protagonists of the game was justice. Through the game’s dialogue we learn about how the massacre itself was executed as well as the influences in the lives of the teens that led them to it. Ledonne effectively humanizes the protagonists by including flashbacks of their lives that show the pain they have suffered- at one point one of the characters talks about how he was an unpopular kid who sat alone in high school.
  • JFK reloaded is an example of a “documentary type” polemical game- where the goal is to shoot JFK as similarly as he was shot in real life. The simulation uses a FPS perspective where the player is hiding in a building overlooking the presidential party. After the attempt is completed an analysis of the bullet trajectory and statistics shows up, comparing the player’s performance to the real details of the shooting. Although the game-play window itself is very short, the content of the game is much more focused on aspects pertaining to realism and the experience of the shooter. Several mechanics of the game are interesting such as how the car drives faster after hitting it, as well as the decoys that misguide the player into shooting the wrong person.

3. 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?

  • Bogost presents some interesting examples of how alternate outcomes to a historical event have a reality to them, and how these possibilities can be explored differently as documentary games by simulating the conditions and general scope of the event while allowing users to “freely choose” their approach in the game. I think polemical games have potential as mediums of expression but have many more cultural and ethical design considerations to take into account- Super Columbine Massacre RPG is an example of a game I think illustrates this point. The designer certainly has an unpopular perspective in creating a game that encourages audiences to sympathize with the shooters, but in doing so raises issues that may have been overlooked in the aftermath of the shooting such as mental health awareness. Similar to how one would not necessarily describe watching a documentary as a “fun experience”, I think polemical games fall within the same category in that the primary purpose of the game is not to entertain its players, but to provide a meaningful enriching experience that both encourages player exploration and critical thinking of the larger issues and ideologies being represented.

4. 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 provide different methods of understanding a given narrative. Whereas documentary games provide a direct experience of events that lead the player to think they have a role in the unfolding of events, in film, the narrative is strictly linear and therefore the audience is confined to passively digesting the information. Documentary games allow players build their own experiences- each player reaches the same milestones in the story but using different processes- ultimately creates a subjective sense of understanding. The creator designs a system that perpetuates a narrative, while leaving the ultimate control of the experience to the user. I believe documentary games have the ability to expand our cultural understanding of the past beyond the chronology of events that actually took place.

Although documentary films on the other hand lacks an interactive element, I think they are more suited to illustrating complex narratives as cinematic transparency is the most direct and efficient way of evoking ideas. Films have the ability to incorporate different materials and mediums (e.g. photographs, animations) which is useful when looking into a broad subject as visual connections between each component can immediately be made. Due to the fixed structure of the film, a more objective experience is shared by its audience in comparison to documentary game where systems and rules guide individual learning.