Press X to Be A Dick


Dante’s Inferno is out and plumbing the depths of mediocrity essentially as expected. I’m going to use Dante’s pointless redemption/damnation system as a jumping-off point/excuse to bring up an issue that’s been sloshing around in the back of my gamer consciousness for a while now: games are not depicting morality properly.

Moral choice in games seems to have devolved into either a  tedious form of stat allocation (a la Dante’s Inferno and Infamous), or a way to pad out playing time by offering two sort-of-but-not-really different versions of the story to play through (as perfected by Bioware). Morality is offered as a way to tailor the story to the player’s ideal – “play your way” etc. – but so what? There rarely seem to be any lasting effects as a result of the player’s “moral choices”, so where does morality come into things?

Without any consequences, you don’t have choices to decide between, you merely have selections to make. In which case, who gives a fuck? That’s just a skill tree, they’ve had that forever. Whether you put points into your “be a douchbag” skill by using a menu screen or by shooting 50 babies doesn’t really matter; you’re still using a resource (skill points or choices) to purchase an upgrade. When games like Infamous make you chose between acting bad or good, they aren’t creating a dynamic story with depth and replayability. They’re just creating a skill point allocation system with an incredibly tedious and burdensome UI.

Part of what I think I’m bumping up against here is that there’s a chasm between story and gameplay when it comes to consequences. The story consequences can be completely different from the gameplay consequences; if the story is telling you that doing something would be bad, but the actual rules of the game don’t punish you for being bad, or even treat you the same as if you had made the “good” choice, you get a disconnect between what these two sets of moral systems are telling you. If I were a pointy-headed movie lover who studied film for three years at the University of California, I might call these two sets diegetic morality and mechanical morality. But I won’t.

On the off chance that I’m not explaining myself well, here’s an example. In a Star Wars movie, staying true to the Force and not going over to the Dark Side is a constant struggle with temptation, the failure of which essentially risks both a poisonous addiction and eternal damnation. In a Star Wars game, you stay on the light side if you want telekinesis and you go over to the dark side if you want force lightning.

Continue reading Press X to Be A Dick

Sonic Fyre Episode 4

Someday we really need to find a way to turn one of these podcasts around in less than a month. This podcast was originally recorded in the second week of December 2009. It was then burned to a series of wax records, placed in a steamer trunk and covered in concrete, thrown from the Golden Gate Bridge, buried in Pacific sediment, fossilized, left to sit for a geographic age, excavated by paleontologists, exhibited in the National Museum, and then stolen and placed on the Internet for your amusement. Enjoy.

>> 00:30 Benediction and movies talk. Fantastic Mr Fox. Sherlock Holmes pre-watching jitters. Everyone hates Avatar without ever seeing it.
>> 08:17 Books. Fyre talks about the Cannonball Read. Rob saw Twilight, which was based on a book.
>> 13:14 Recapping events at Ümloud.
>> 20:14 Games of the month. We talk TF2 and the Dante’s Inferno demo. Fyre tries to be Hater of the Week. Analog gaming is briefly mentioned.
>> 43:25 Rob talks about Madden NFL 2010 for ten Goddamned minutes straight. Rob earns the Hater and Lover of the Week titles simultaneously.
>> Music for this episode is “Fakeout” by Derek K. Miller

SonicFyre-Episode-4 MP3 57:52 70.4 MB