Showing posts with label video games. Show all posts
Showing posts with label video games. Show all posts

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Waiting for the World to Load

I purchased Watch_Dogs 2 this past week and I’ve been blown away by its attention to detail, which, I suppose, invokes a greater design concept inherent in “open-world sandbox” games. (I say this in quotes because, typically, the most exhilarating moments of playing these games comes when the player is constrained and limited, which seems antithetical to the core philosophy of in-game freedom.) In order for these environments to feel lived in, they require elements of immersion to trick the player into thinking that the non-playable characters are “real,” as if every character interaction is a form of Turing Test. The representative populace of San Francisco, in my opinion, seems to be the most true to life distillation, especially when taking into consideration the carefully kept balance between technology (ie. in-game rendering of the world) and iconography (ie. contents of the world). One little detail, to those who are listening, I will share regarding my next book is that the setting is the San Francisco Bay Area. And, having spent a good portion of my childhood visiting and experiencing the Bay Area first hand, Watch_Dogs 2 will be instrumental in my approach of gaining a better visual frame of reference. Because, up until this point, I’ve used Google Maps and the street view to encounter and better understand the environment. The former is, at the very least, three dimensional. That helps.

As much as I hate to admit it... this is too fucking real.

When I saw the early screening of Shazam! the weekend I was in town to attend my grandmother’s memorial service, I was a little disappointed of the lack of an appearance by Black Adam (played by Dwayne Johnson), who is by far one of the most interesting anti-heroes/villains in comics today. Villains, much like the environment that a story takes place in, are critical in building the world, specifically because villains are foils to both the physical appearance and ethical constitution of the hero. In the case of Billy Batson (ie. Captain Marvel/Shazam!), his personal desire to aide those systematically disenfranchised (foster children, the terminally ill, victims of child abuse, et al.) contrasts with Black Adam’s autocratic characterization, and how this influences his view on Justice and the role of the fate of the “oppressed” in society. Whereas Billy is forgiving and patient, Black Adam (born as a slave in Egypt) consolidates power via the brutal suppression of his opponents (up to, and including, summary public executions). Both arrived to the wizard Shazam from similar circumstances, but their responses are black and white. And this ultimately builds the world, its ethics, its ultimate purpose as a theater for thought experiments on Justice, Rehabilitation, Consequence, and Fairness under the definition of Natural Law.

Villains, in general, have such potential for story-telling. It’s strange to me that there have only been small attempts to develop villain centric properties. I would love to see a series on Solomon Grundy, who, despite being an undead abomination, has displayed lots of depth throughout his character history. Likewise, a Vertigo-esque character study—similar to Neil Gaiman’s run on The Sandman—for Darkseid could have momentous potential. Other than the Joker (via The Killing Joke), this hasn’t been attempted with critical acclaim (at least to my knowledge).

Simply put, the above is easy to conceive on a purely theoretical level. Actually writing it down is another thing altogether. Consider what has already been done. The formula to creating a villain is nothing new. So creating these characters is almost like building another piece of the world. The opposition requires a narrative that is equally as credible as the hero, as well as symbolize stasis. Being the catalyst for change, the hero interacts with the opposition, not the other way around. Bringing it all back to where we began, the setting of all narrative is like wallpaper, and the hero is pushing through it into the moldy drywall.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Video Games are Racist, Bruh

I have a sneaking suspicion that RPG games are inherently racist.

Hear me out.

I’ve thought about this for a while, and I don’t think it’s intentional at all. Or maybe I just read too deeply into things like this. If you’ve ever read Umberto Eco’s Inventing the Enemy you’ll know that we seem to naturally, throughout history, create enemies to propel our societies forward. We rely on differences (physical, political, religions, social, and economic) to separate the undesirables out. All this hinges on a lack of empathy toward this “other,” because once we feel empathy for the other, these differences can no longer be superficial.

From birth we are trained to recognize and pick out classes, like being a young kid and seeing a homeless person, and then—in the same day sometimes—going to a neighbor’s house of moderate wealth. Then, while still being kids, we encounter as we get a little older videogames of varying complexity that implement progression and class based forms of entertainment. Not only are they competitive, but each class’s specialization locks you into a certain path of gameplay. Fantasy roleplaying games take this concept further and suggest perks and disadvantages for playing a certain race. Elves may have bonuses to stealth and intelligence, or charisma even, evoking the image of an elite member of society, connected to social and political strongholds. Conversely, orcs may have penalties to intelligence and charisma, but they have proficiencies that boost strength and traits that are integral to physical combat. To add insult to injury, at least in the Dungeons and Dragons game system, orcs are also typically evil in alignment. (I once played a game as an orc paladin, and the whole time I was reminded by the dugeon master that orcs could not be paladins because they were evil and having a good, or even neutral alignment, was tantamount to breaking the rules!)

Race is an artificial term already, as there is no genetic difference between a human from Africa and a human from North Africa. While there are physical differences between someone from Africa, who has extra skin pigment after exposure to blistering, equatorial sunlight, and a North American person, there is no degree of separation that would deny procreation between the two. Race, if anything is an artificial moniker that human beings have employed to categorically separate individuals from each other whom hail from a variety of geographical regions on the planet. Yet there are stereotypes, not unlike the class based systems in role playing games and other video games that implement class and skill progression trees, which entertain the idea of “racial traits” (I.e. Asians are intelligent, Blacks are lazy (yet exceedingly strong), Caucasians are politically cunning). These racial stereotypes supplant the familiarity we all share as human beings with a veil of obscuring unfamiliarity and suspicion. This is how “others” are created.

So imagine the reality that as children, while we are still building a conceptual framework of the work through our observations and experiences, we are encountering the ideas, suggestions, that certain people are better at some things and others are not. Not only that, we are doing battle with, struggling for resources with, engendering a “race” based competitive ecosystem with complete strangers. The entire premise is literally Darwinian in nature.

Obviously, this is all introspective speculation and the strength of this argument depends on how willing you are to look into it. But I could easily write a book on my experiences, incorporating trolling, anonymity, death threats against female developers, and Varg Vikernes’ roleplaying game MYFAROG. The latter is funny, because on my way to Norway a few years ago I sat right next to a personal friend of Varg who told me that certain, less desirable races, were meant to specifically emulate the stereotypes of people of color (specifically blacks).

Anyways, food for thought.