Reading Note 4

1. Bogost and Poremba’s article “Can Games Get Real?” explores the appropriateness of using the term “documentary” to describe socially conscious and controversial video games, and whether gameplay as a medium should be used in this context. It is asked if games call for this purpose, or if it is simply “an attempt to reconstruct a genre in another media form without sufficient regard to the properties of that medium”. However, the multi-perspective and immersive nature of video games opens up an opportunity to explore a situation is ways that couldn’t be achieved in film or print. Video games have an opportunity to break free from documentary genre conventions, but whether this is a good thing is unclear. Games highlight experience over information, and requires the player to make their own connections and conclusions instead of them being fed through a one way stream of dialogue and images. Many documentary games also break the boundaries of what happened in history, and explore alternate histories and scenarios, altering cultural memory. The evolution of this genre confronts the reception of game media as a whole, and whether it is considered “low” culture in comparison to more formalised media.

2. Super Columbine Massacre was incredibly difficult to sit through. If the point of the game was to make the player uncomfortable then it was very effective. I took issue with the playfulness of the skin. It was so reminiscent of an old Mario game that it was very difficult to separate the feelings of empathy, and stop from rooting for your character, knowing the horrors that are about to ensue. The format was unsettling, and I fear that the message is too easily muddled, especially depending on who the player is, and if they are in fact “mature” as the rating suggests. The mixture of documentary photographs was particularly striking, and overall I found the game disturbing and inappropriate in ridiculousness, and I am left unsure of my final opinions on its existence.

The second game I played was Ute, where your female character is advised to sleep with as many men as possible without getting caught by other men. This came comments on the double standard of female sexuality. Women are often viewed as objects of sexual pleasure, and are prudes if they refuse to sleep with men. However there is also an enormous stigma against a sexually liberated woman, and without “virginity” or “purity” they are seen as a slut. When a man and woman are caught sleeping together, she is viewed as a sexual deviant with no self respect, and the man is just “doing what men do”. The narrative is very humorous but slightly underdeveloped due to its simplicity. But the ridiculousness of the game and the rules highlight the ridiculous nature of the social standard in the first place.

3. I think polemical games are wildly effective when the point is to highlight the ridiculousness of a situation. For example, showing how humorously crazy “slut shaming” or an opposition to female body hair is can effectively be translated in a game. Games can take something that is so negatively opposed to for no reason and show it in a different light. However taking something that is serious, and showing it in a playful light, I find to be problematic. There is a very delicate way in which this could be achieved successfully, but I think intentions need to be crystal clear. It needs to be clear the message that is trying to be sent. You cannot assume a humorous angle will make the player uncomfortable, which is where I find these games to be the weakest. Is an uncomfortable game still meant to be fun? Should this experience be enjoyable or enlightening? The message needs to be explicit, so not to be misconstrued and used as propaganda by a player with a different world view than the creator.

4. Documentary game has the advantage of immersion and alternate scenarios. While a film is linear, and tends to tell one story in a specifically choreographed sequence, gameplay has the opportunity to be different every time it is played by a different person. Each of these faces different challenges. Film has a clearer method of telling a story and conveying an opinion the way the storyteller intends. A film is less likely to be misinterpreted, but also may be less effective in giving the viewer a chance to connect and create their own ideas. Games allow for a much more broad range of experiences. Interaction may strike the player in a more intimate way, but the effect is difficult to control. Film genre fits into much clearer boxes, where game genre typically will always be associated with fun. I think film is more versatile and able to adopt to any narrative, where game play, while it had the capacity to be effective, works in only a select range of contexts.