Reading Note #4

1. In the article “Can Games Get Real?”, Bogost and Poremba analyze the genre of games called “documentary games”. Documentary games are games that seek to make a connection to the real world by representing a real subject in the context of a game. Some critics like Tracy Fullerton say that this genre is merely aspirational and only exists because people speak of it as if it exists. However, I believe that Bogost and Poremba make convincing arguments that this genre exists. They define a documentary of any medium as an ordinary non-fiction account of the real world with an emphasis on transparency. This transparency plays the crucial role of closing any separation between the subject and the image. Their definition of a documentary game is continuous with John Grierson’s definition of documentary as “the creative treatment of actuality”. A game that is a constructed work that is geared towards the real rather than the imagined fits this definition. In order for a game to qualify as documentary it must articulate actuality. This is difficult in a constructed space of a game. It must also demonstrate constraints that produce actual events and implement limitations of the human experience. It must hold the intention to provide insight to a player. In order to create the illusion of realism it may utilize “real materials” such as audio from real interviews, and real maps, letters, and photos. Documentary games are categorized into five categories: (1) Procedural; the rules are the authoritarian observer, creating the illusion of freedom; (2) Interactive; players are participant or first-hand observer; (3) Reflexive; both documentary and a critique of the form; (4) Generative; driven by real-world data; and (5) Poetic; evokes a mood or loose association. The connection between documentary films and games is evident and presents a new way to approach documentary media.


2. Super Columbine Massacre RPG! is a documentary game that is based off of the Columbine Shooting of 1999. The player is positioned in the roles of the two shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. It is a chilling experience to go through the actions and conversations that may have led up to the devastating shooting. The player is forced to take time to know the shooters. Rather than only seeing them as brutal monsters, the player must face them in a personal way. As the player, one almost enables them to murder. The game designer creates a unique experience of the Columbine Massacre; the controversy surrounding this game does not surprise me at all. The player is disturbed by the subject itself and the dark psychology clouding the event. As if that were not enough, the player must intimately engage with the disturbing material.

The McDonalds Videogame is a documentary game that is based on the fast food chain McDonalds. The player is positioned in the role of operator and must juggle the decisions and obstacles of running a large corporation with questionable morals. As the player, you must make conscious decisions to deforest the land, use chemicals in the food, and treat employees unfairly. It was an interesting experience to step inside the heart of a corporation and consider the moral implications that we so easily ignore.



3. I think that games are an incredibly effective medium of expression. Games are unique in their highly interactive quality. My experience engaging in polemical games was extremely unique because I had the responsibility to propel the game forward, even to places that made me uncomfortable. I think that game designers must create polemical games with the expectation that their game may fall into the wrong hands. For example, a few walkthroughs of SCMRPG posted on YouTube contained very disappointing commentary on the game. While many might play the game and understand its purpose of education, it is clear that others do not see this. Instead, some players may get pleasure out of the game for what it is and not for its polemical value. This is the risk of creating polemical games. A documentary game may capture a complicated issue in an interesting way, but anyone with a closed mind or even a violent mind may misuse the game. I think the first priority of any polemical game is not to have fun, but rather to seek understanding. Players must use the game as a single facet in their experience and research of the subject. If a game is to be seen only as enjoyment, then many polemical games completely lose their significance.


4. Documentary games and documentary films are closely related. They both seek to creatively portray real events with realistic obstacles and limitations. Games, however, invite the viewer into the story in an interactive way. The interactive with the subject may be more personal and therefore more uncomfortable. In film, the filmmaker has complete control over the linear experience of the narrative. A game, by contrast, is dependent on decisions and actions taken by the player. There is therefore less control over the specific narrative, but rather a closer personal investment in the material. The choices become your own.