Polemical Games

  1. In this article, the author talks at length about the ways in which games are like documentaries. They start off by describing documentary films, taking apart what about the film experience is real, or at least what makes us believe that it is. The problem with film is that we are always seeing something through a lens. Even if the creators do their best to be completely objective, we will always be seeing the content through a perspective because of the nature of the medium. Perhaps this is the reason why when documentaries are made about controversial topics the documentaries themselves are not as controversial as a game being made about a controversial topic. It is possible that we have a deep understanding of games as a medium, even though people continue to explore the medium and push its boundaries. However, documentary games as a genre are not so understood. There is clearly great potential to tell a story by experiencing it and going through the motions of participating in an event, for example the shooting of JFK. Yet, unlike film, this experience is much less curated and left to be understood in the “wrong” way. For example, perhaps there are people who are excited or proud of shooting JFK, or even worse, inspired by it to do something worse. In this way, documentary games are much more controversial than documentary films. That lens, although arguably not letting you experience the entire scope of the story, plays a huge role in guiding how you think about it, in educating you. When the lens is left to your own devices, so is the interpretation and the opinion. So the question is ultimately not can games be real? It is pretty clear that we have the ability to simulate powerful experiences, or at least aspects of them. This is why people react so strongly to games especially when they are made about controversial things. The question that matters becomes, what is the best way to tell a story through a game? There is still a lot of experimenting and understanding to be done.
  2. In Super Columbine Massacre RPG, you play as the shooters themselves. The whole game becomes an experience of understanding how these two boys committed such heinous crimes, and also gaining some insight into why they did this. I think that the creators want us to understand that these tragedies are far more complicated than they appear. In a way, they are asking for sympathy for the shooters from the player, or at least they are posing the story from a perspective that is emotionally complex. Of course, this is itself is controversial. Not because it’s a game, although it does have entertainment value in the way that the puzzles are made. While I was playing it I did not feel like this was for fun or that the creators had in any way simplified the issue at hand by creating a game out if it. I was more challenged by the idea that we are focusing on the shooters instead of the victims. I get uncomfortable giving them so much attention to even play through the motions of what they did without ever turning to look at the victims – which did not even have individual character designs.
    The other game I played was the McDonalds Videogame. In this game, you play as the corporation. By doing this and having to manage all the branches of such a large and controversial company, the player is forced to understand the difficulties of running such a business and why certain decisions are made. I found this game to be a bit more balanced because of the presence of the “opponent.” In this case, environmentalists, ethicists, etc. keep you in check as you are playing. Indeed the game proves to be hard to play for a long period of time. I tried playing it a few times and I don’t think I ever even lasted 5 minutes. I definitely understand now why this kind of model exists. If there is demand for cheap food in a society, then this is one way to achieve it. Of course, it doesn’t seem possible to win without doing questionable things, and the game never challenges the business model of McDonalds as a whole. It just helps you understand why certain decisions are made and allows you to see it from a side that we never have access to (and it’s no wonder why the corporations never really want us to see it from their side).
  3. I do believe that everyone’s experience of “fun” is different. I really enjoyed playing the polemical games even though they were challenging (both emotionally and in the gameplay). I also spoke with people who thought that too much of the “game” aspect was sacrificed in order to make the point. I think that if your goal is to make a game with a point of view, it can still be fun even if you sacrifices some of the gameplay – it just depends on your audience. Overall, I definitely believe that games have great potential to communicate strong messages and help us understand things from different perspectives. At times, it seems to me that the ethics are compromised, and perhaps this is something that we as artists need to continue exploring in order to discover what is the best way to make these kinds of games successfully – how do we communicate strong controversial points of view without compromising the ethics?
  4. I feel that documentary games invoke your emotions far more than documentary film. When people talk about ‘walking in someone else’s shoes’ this medium has tremendous potential for getting as close to that as we can without actually embodying someone else. It is very clear, however, has film has been an established medium for a while now and most of the main controversial aspects have already been experimented and resolved. Games are not quite there yet. I believe that documentary films have much more ability to teach and inspire people, while games are better suited to experience, understand, and challenge ones beliefs. The emotional range of a game seems to be much larger because the investment is so much greater. In that, I think that games are capable, and will one day take a very strong hold in society, especially in terms of how we understand events that happen around us in a globalized world. They are moving away from just being for fun and towards having a more critical purpose – in this classification I find them to be very similar to documentary film.