Ju_Peter_Reading Notes #2

Peter Ju


Winter 2017


Reading Notes #2



The main argument of the article focuses on the controversy of emerging game genre “documentary game,” which is a contemporary video game that relates to human’s actual documented history. Such kind of games may inspire or enlighten, either intentionally or unintentionally, the players about the insight and knowledge of the certain actual events in the past. Thus, the documentary game somehow serves the similar purpose as documentary films, regarding documenting and informing the players or audiences about a certain event or knowledge. However, there are some major differences between a documentary game and documentary film. As it straightforwardly implies, the documentary game is a video game, a simulation of reality. The user experience is run by code rather than the camera. Therefore, the media content of documentary game can transcend the limit of the lens of the camera. In other words, it can generate much more afilmic content which cannot be delivered in the film. No matter how “non-fictional” the documentary film is intended, there is always a limitation of the film to fully demonstrate what actually happened in certain event. As the author claims in the article, “What you see in a documentary is not the subject itself, but a representation of the way the subject is constituted, the experiences available and foreclosed to the subject. Even if the end product is presented as nonfictional, the subject of a documentary is nevertheless different from the actual referent being documented.” In a contrary to the film, a game can simulate alternative representations of the subject, creating a relatively comprehensive and objective experience to the user. The JKF assassination game is an example. It serves a similar mission for proposing conspiracy of the actual event as another documentary film; however, the game provides looser scope and subjectivity of the story for the user to explore alternative storylines which a documentary film cannot achieve. However, the controversy arouses at this point: Does the actuality of the game have to overpower other objectives of itself, including the sheer entertainment? Especially when the game’s topic is highly sensitive and controversial, in this case, the JFK game, for example, the documentary value of the game simultaneously diverges to the controversiality of itself. Deviating from this point, another question is: how much should game designers balance the playfulness of the game and the documentary values to acquire the acceptance of public?



I have a Mac system, therefore I cannot play Super Columbine Massacre RPG. Instead, I played McDonalds Videogame and Unmanned. Respectively, McDonald’s game reveals the underground manipulation and conspiracy of McDonald’s industry in profit making. The player is assigned as the omniscient boss in controlling the entire functionality of the industry including animal and crop husbandry, slaughter assembly line, local restaurant administration, and public relation/strategy office. With the goal of avoiding bankruptcy and gaining profit, player undertakes virtual experiences of how real fast food franchise runs, which entails a series of untold and controversial acts by the business, government, or even larger societal institutions. In Unmanned, the player is embodied as military personnel. The nonlinear storytelling of the game fosters the dilemmas of the American military men between their duty of the service and their responsibility and caring of their family. Owning-the-medal-with-different-titles mechanism realizes the inner but realistic struggles of a military man’s daily life.



I personally really enjoy playing polemic games. It is an entirely new experience in understanding or familiarizing with a polemic. There is a major advantage of video game compared to other existing media. Different from any other medium, including books, website, films, music, etc. which are all passive receptions of information to the spectator, video games generate the interactive virtual simulation of reality that creates an illusive experience to the spectator that they are participating in the polemical event, rather than being informed about it. Consequentially, player results in a more engaging and embracive experience of the polemical view, and subsequently receive a solid understanding of it. This is similar to the point when the teacher of elementary school likes to play games with the students to demonstrate knowledge or points. Children, and adults, in general, prefer engaging activities, such as games, to receive information than passively receiving information, such as reading books, watching clips, listening to audios, etc. However, there is a balance between the delivery of the polemic views and playfulness of the game. The game can always be fun if the mechanics of the game is well designed, but if the polemic color overpowers the game, it may degenerate the playfulness and acceptance of the game, as players might consider it too serious or too controversial. Ultimately, there is a fine line between how much the game designer intends to promote polemical views and how much they intend to make it fun and just a game. Polemical games are just like polemical books or movies, they can be fun to play, read, and watch, but how much tensions or controversies are too aroused are completely in the control of the authors.



In a very short term, documentary film is just a point of view of a historical reality by the author, whereas a documentary game is a simulation of historical reality which incorporates multiple points of view by the author. The difference is the limitation of the particular medium. As I quoted from the article in the first question, what we see in the documentary is not the subject itself, but rather the representation of the subject due to the way it is constituted by in the camera lens, audio, and narration. The film is a temporal art, which can only linearly inform the spectator certain information in a limited timeline. It can never reveal an entire spectrum of an event. On the contrary, a video game has potential in generating unlimited time and space for the spectator to explore by simulating the realistic events. In this sense, documentary game defeats documentary film in informing more actual and wholesome experiences to the audience. In the article, Fullerton claims that “…we may someday embrace the possibility of simulations which not only visually model, but behaviorally model aspects of history so that they may constitute ‘evidence’ by that same ‘social, semiotic process’ that gives us the concept of the documentary image.” However, there is a cautious side in developing the documentary game to how entirely of the original historical event the game intends to realize. As the author concludes in the end, “Exposing the underlying systems at play, revealing alternate histories and embedding participants in these experiences is an entirely new model for preserving cultural memory, and not necessarily one willing to uphold the status quo.” The paradox in maintaining polemical views of certain historical events and limiting serious considerations and critiques by the audience will be an ongoing and inevitable element of the documentary game.