Reading Notes #4

The article poses the question – “can games get real?” It touches on the topic of “documentary games” and whether games can represent reality and realism. Film documentaries leverage transparency, and games can do the same. Games can be defined as “creative treatment of actuality.” This perception is also related to the intent of the producer. Digital games can maintain a documentary quality, reframing as procedural, interactive, and generative modes.

Super Columbine Massacre RPG walks you through the Columbine massacre, and you play from the point of view of the attackers. The polemical commentary of the game speaks to the attackers’ motivations, framing them as victims rather than monsters. It is an interesting point of view because it is extremely divisive and absolutely subjective, but nonetheless takes an intense, disturbing, take on reality. It attempts to humanize these attackers, forcing you to take on their mentality and execute their violent actions in a game-like, maniacal way, similar to what they must have felt. It is radical, mixing their real life with cartoon representations. While you are playing them, you also view the event as sort of an outsider, but have no choice but to conform to their actions.

In Dys4ia, you play as a character experiencing a gender transition. The game forces the player to experience the nightmares associated with hormone replacement therapy, being misgendered and experiencing a variety of health problems. Dys4ia puts you in the shoes of a marginalized person, and the everyday struggles of this person become a game, creating a dark narrative which eventually becomes optimistic, speaking to constant struggles and daily rituals of shaming and problems which eventually become worth it and provide the “player” with a sense of fulfillment and happiness. While the visuals and game mechanics within the narrative are simple, I think it does a good job in humanizing the person the player plays from the point of view from (a position in life not many of us can directly relate to), peppering the game with more mini-games which are often tedious, but which perfectly speak to the number of hurdles that must be jumped over just by existing as a transgendered person.

Aside from puzzle games, Polemical Games are some of my favorite games to play. I love games, films, and any form of media that is persuasive, divisive, or jarring. Rather than getting in the way of fun, I feel that the polemical aspect of games adds to the fun and immersion for me. In being interactive, games provide one additional aspect of immersion that films and novels cannot, and can truly engross one in a certain world/mindset that you may otherwise not be able to experience, playing with your biases and reflexes. Through these types of games, you not only learn about the subject matter, but you learn more about yourself, which I find fascinating.

The relationship between “documentary game” and “documentary film” is that a documentary film places a reality in front of you, while the game gets to not only do that, but expand upon the experience in a way that provides a give and take. The limitations of a documentary film are that it is non-interactive, and can only present a specific reality, whereas the limitations of a documentary game are that it is interactive and the player gets to forge a version of his/her own reality within an established one. This is also a benefit of documentary because the reality can become more visceral in an interactive setting and easier to relate to, while a documentary film can distance the subject from the viewer. For instance, Hunger in Los Angeles puts the “player” at the point of view of a bystander of an actual event. The player cannot really do anything in the disastrous situation that ensues, the player feels helpless, anxious, and uncomfortable, which is probably similar to what it would have felt like in actuality.