Monthly Archives: June 2007
Apparently I do. Richard Evans (working on the AI for Sims 3) has an interesting response to the uncanny valley AI article on Gamasutra (c’mon, it’s got a Hegel reference and everything). I’ve also been working on a post on that, as well as some recent (er, more than a month now, that’s recent by my own blog-clock I guess) articles on GTxA by Andrew on transparency & depth in NPC behavior. But it’s long, convoluted, and this is nice and tidbit-sized, so I will proactively procrastinate by starting with this.
In the letter, Evans argues that in order to empathize with someone (as an interactive character), the character has to be able to empathize with them. Of course he spells it empathise, naturally, since he’s English.
But that’s not entirely accurate, is it? His point, not the spelling. If a character emapthized with you, that would cause you to empathize with them, but it’s not a minimum requirement - loads of non-interactive characters provoke empathy.
Maybe there’s a finer point there? If your internal model of a character (interactive or non-interactive) says they would empathize with you, then you’ll empathize with them.
Nah, that’s not really the case either, there’s tons of villains people empathize with and you know they wouldn’t really empathize with you. Not just the you love to hate ‘em villians, but the ones you really identify with. Vampires often fall under this category. Or say, Tony Montana.
But they (the player, viewer, reader… ah just the fucking user for lack of a holistic term) have to be able to understand the characters actions and find them believable in the context. They don’t have to identify with it, though, thinking they would feel that way in that same circumstance (empathy). And they don’t have to actually feel the same thing (sympathy). Which gets to why a certain level of transparency is necessary in NPC behavior. Which gets back to me procrastinating. Or gets me back to procrastinating, maybe.
Of course, I should actually read the Hegel reference I suppose, but the focus does seem to be empathy towards people, instead of empathy towards fictional characters. Do we want to make people, or characters?
Now, I hate to be the one to break the bad news, but the general public misunderstanding of games and violence in games is only going to get worse before it gets better. This past couple weeks it’s been the Church of England lambasting Sony for supposedly promoting gun violence in Manchester by using Manchester Cathedral in its sci-fi alternate history game Resistance: Fall of Man. (The church is on to our evil plans, my friends!) To which Sony’s response was basically, ”wtf?”
Then Manhunt 2 getting effectively banned by getting rated AO (since no console manufacturers will publish an AO game). This is meanwhile, as Patrick Dugan points out, Eli Roth’s Hostel 2 is playing in theaters. The first Hostel was easily one of the most graphically disturbing movies I’ve seen, but that perhaps was in part to watching it a week before I went to Europe for the first time last year (never have my planning skills failed me so).
The term being applied to Manhunt 2 is “gratuitiously violent”. That’s kind of like pointing to a shelf full of slasher movies and saying “Let’s ban that one!” Gratuitous compared to what? Seeing as how the Manhunt 2′s plot involves you trying to escape an insane asylum filled with murderous psychopaths, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that it probably contains a level of violence that is reasonable in that situation.
The stand out thing about the original Manhunt to me was that it uniquely captured that (sub?)genre of film, like no other game really has. And, like all of Rockstar North’s work, it was exquisitely constructed. I can’t recall any other studio that switched game genres (from GTA to a linear stealth game) and nail it so well the first time out. Combine their sensibility for the narrative genre they were in, and I really enjoyed it. Yeah, you do some horrible things in that game, but you do them to very, very horrible people. You may play an escaped convict, but by the end of the game you actually do feel for all the shit James Earl Cash has gone through, character depth unlike any other previous Rockstar Games’ main characters. It repeatedly captures the game equivalent of the cinematic moment when the bad guy in the slasher movie is injured or killed, with almost every combat. The enemies in that game… well, they’re fucking crazy. Now that’s survival horror.
So regardless of the fact that my Wii purchase is also now “indefinitely postponed” with Manhunt 2′s suspended production (I believe the term is ”shitcanned”), or until I get 40 free hours to play Zelda, these also show this trend is only getting bigger. Sure, we all know the general truism that as a new medium is introduced there’s backlash, and then slow acceptance in the next generation. But that’s a while aways – how many other religious organizations are going to start being more vocal at looser portrayals of their faith? Maybe the supposedly apolitical Assassin’s Creed will get in hot water despite Ubi’s seeming desire to keep it decidedly vanilla in that regard. Rockstar’s an easy target and in the public spotlight – when the spotlight turns off them, where will it go next?
And it’s not like these games are completely tasteless blights on the media landscape (like, I dunno, the game based on the Virginia Tech shootings), these are fully formed creative works with appropriate, if simplistic themes. Even if games can and should be deeper and more complex, these games have every right to exist on their own. But there is little to no existing support network for propogating these ideas to the the very wide audience now necessary – we’re victims of our own popularity as an industry, really. It really is network of sytems that need to come together to get us over the hump – from consistent fines & punishments for retailers distributing games and other media to inappropriate ages, to a wide range of communication (the ESRB’s work with Good Housekeeping is a good start, but really only one tiny piece of the puzzle).
Now, finally, you can fulfill all your gerrymandering dreams with The ReDistricting Game. An intern on our team worked on it - thanks for the link Max!
It’s actually pretty cool. They do a good job of conveying the conflicting goals that turn the process into a machine designed to remove any meaning and weight out of your individual vote. But it’s also fun, which is a rare thing for a game like this. I think I spent half an hour last night trying to optimally solve mission 4 - trying to not only meet the mission goal of creating a new 65% black district and balance the populations of all the districts, keep them contiguous, etc. but also trying to skew existing Republican districts Democratic (muahaha), which was nigh impossible so eventually I settled on just getting everyone to agree on the new district. Good stuff!
Finished reading The Lucifer Effect this week – by Philip Zimbardo, researcher behind the Standford Prison Experiment, it covers the details of the SPE, similar research, and a look at what went on at Abu Ghraib as it discusses how people rapidly (in the case of the SPE, within days) change between performing acts of good and evil and the factors that affect such shifts in “personality”.
To anyone who’s even remotely up on their psychological research, it won’t really tell you anything you don’t already know (and if you’re a game designer, and not up on your psychological research, ya probably should be). But it’s the first detailed account of the SPE written by Zimbardo so the detailed story & analysis behind it is fascinating in and of itself. And in any case the overall analysis is a thoughtful read. The main crux is the “banality of evil” – that any normal individual can perform horrible acts given the structures of their interactions with those around them. Almost too many applications to games to even contain in one post (but I bravely soldier onward).
This is the really annoying thing I find about most video game legislation.
Not the usual broken first ammendment language and other vagaries (Greg Costikyan breaks down the crappiness recent NY bill well) – I mean, that sucks and it’s retarded, sure. But the frustrating thing is that I think there is a goal both parties, the game industry & state legislators, share, and that’s to keep adult content out of the hands of kids.
There seems to be two general categories of politicians that sign that sort of bill: the grandstanders, wanting to get press for their “family values” image, and the people actually concerned with how we raise our kids in our society. Most of the game industry just recoils in horror, naturally, at the first ammendment violations. But those are counter purpose to what the second category of legislator’s real underlying goal is.
And so it makes me wish we could do more to work with them to avoid the language that we don’t like that inevitably gets struck down time and again, and put reasonable punishments in place for retailers & others that don’t properly guard against kids buying age-appropriate content. Instead there are lawsuits, the legislation gets struck down, and meanwhile no actual progress gets made towards proper safeguards/penalties.
Ok, sure, you can write your congress person, but is that really an effective means of having a dialogue? Vicarious Visions editorial in the Albany Times Union is a good start, and hopeully legislators in Albany will take notice, but in then in each state we have to have this battle/debate/dialogue separately, over and over. Until we manage to convince all of them and then probably have to go back to first and reconvince them… Sigh.