Reading Notes 4

1. According to Bogost and Poremba, a documentary game is not just a non-fictional account of the world, but also a specific way of communicating ideas (a grammar) that’s unique to the medium. Documentary games are primarily concerned with informing the audience through an accurate representation of events (or a spin-off of events). Thus, they argue, the language of a documentary game must be unbiased and fact-driven. Additionally, Bogost and Poremba argue that whereas a film excels at specific instances of an event, a documentary game excels at working with multiple “virtualities”, or non-specific scenarios based on real events. Without the inherent limitations of films, players can explore the outcomes of an event in a more active, meaningful way by seeing how their actions play out in real time.

2. The polemic point of view for Super Columbine Massacre RPG is taking control of the shooter(s), Dylan and Eric, and seeing how they think, interact, consume, and generally live their lives. Through the events of the game and the dialogue between characters, the player unfolds/uncovers some of the motives of the shooters and how they ended up justifying these motives.

3. The second game I played, McDonald’s Video Game, has the polemic point of view of a CEO, or all-controlling executive, of McDonald’s. Unlike Super Columbine Massacre RPG, this game has less emphasis on exposition and more on simulation. By positioning the player as the all-controlling executive of a major corporation, it gives insight into the kind of sacrifices and ethical decisions (environmental, economic, political) that need to be made to run a profit-driven organization. As the player progresses through the game they are forced to make these difficult decisions and, in doing so, (hopefully) come out with a better understanding of the outcomes/inevitabilities of resource scarcity.

I think polemic games have a lot of potential as a genre. In particular, I think documentary games are capable of conveying ideas that documentary films can’t. Some of those ideas come from the element of choice. When players are confronted with choices for how a story proceeds, they immediately become invested in the outcome of the story. If the choices are meaningful enough, players will be forced to think through their decisions in a way that film wouldn’t be able to force the viewer to. It’s also worth noting that, the same way documentary films don’t focus on “entertainment value”, documentary games don’t focus on being “fun”.

4. Documentary games and films are similar in the goals they’re trying to achieve—that is, presenting information through an unfiltered lens. The real differences between documentary film and games is how they interact with the viewer. While documentary films are static, documentary films are dynamic and constantly reacting to the choices of the player. On the same lines, documentary films are a passive medium, meaning it doesn’t require any participation from the viewer (which is generally disadvantage for learning), while documentary film is active and requires constant attention and participation from the viewer (which is generally advantageous for learning). Regarding public perception, documentary games have far less mainstream appeal and are far less in number than documentary films. This is probably due to the fact that documentary games are a much younger genre and need more time to fully mature.