In case you think this is Too Long; Didn’t Read, or if you take nothing else away from this ridiculously long post: If you like games, or are even vaguely curious, check out Consolevania. You can download them all here.
On wednesday BBC4 showed some programs dedicated to the history of microcomputing (Micromen, Charlie Brooker’s Gameswipe, Games Britannia) which was pretty interesting I thought – I didn’t watch Micromen but Gameswipe (which I’d seen already) and Games Britannia were good.
Well, I say good. Gameswipe was as great as Screenwipe and Newswipe, that is, ridiculously great. They are all on youtube, organised by a user called xthemusic into handly playlists, so you can conveniently spend an entire week watching them all in one go. In case you misunderstood, thats a hint. In fact, stop reading this and watch them now.
Games Britannia, however, was a mixed bag. It had some interesting bits and it definitely highlighted an area of gaming (and computing in general) which most gaming media neglect (and are too idiotic to even comprehend) – the history and magic (ugh) of the homegrown microcomputer gaming scene. The segments on the classic Commodore and Spectrum games were genuinely interesting, although if I hear one more reverential discourse on the “python-esque” game-over screen in Manic Miner, I’m going to have a brain haemorrage. Where the show started to lose the plot was when the inevitable discussion about the morality of video games and their effect on the impressionable minds of todays youth came up.
The presenter of the documentary, Benjamin Wooley, did so with what appeared to be genuine innocence and naivety to the content of games and approached the issue by on one hand interviewing industry people and on the other drawing his own conclusions from playing the games. This is where the problems arose. Apparently he was genuinely shocked by the content of famously controversial games like Grand Theft Auto. In that segment, he played the game alongside a particularly vacuous fashion student who initially discussed how, when playing sandbox games about gang-violence, he would immediately go to the nearest clothes shop and spend a large amount of time making sure his characters outfit was properly co-ordinated. He then proceeded to murder innocents in-game and make depressingly idiotic comments about how ‘if I want something, I’ll take it’, which made him sound like a dim-witted sociopath.
However, I started to feel sorry for him after seeing the disturbed look on Wooleys face. It seemed that he, like much of the mass media, missed the most obvious reason for that sort of behaviour in sandbox games – that its all about economics. There is no cost either morally (in-game or out) or financially (or what passes for finance in these games, lets say Resources – money, ammo, opportunity, etc…) to stop you murdering bystanders. In fact, if you provoke a powerful enough police response, provided you have any skill in the game whatsoever, the SWAT teams and National Guard are effectively just transporting a lot of heavy artillery and ammunition to your location, which will soon make you a very well-armed dim-witted sociopath. There is no connection between your actions in-game and any structure of morality or belief systems in the real world, at least for people who aren’t already mentalists.
It reminds me of conversations I’ve had with Mat about RPG’s, probably the only genre of game to directly label moral choices (and the only ones to hinge the story arc’s based on moral decisions). I always play games as a goodie. Mat always plays them as a baddie. Usually I’m a reasonably rubbish goodie, but Mat is a virtuoso villian. He’s the only person I know who didn’t reload a previous save after getting the Child-Killer rating in Fallout 1 (not that I blame him, little bastards in the Den.). When I’ve asked him about why he’s always a bad-guy, he said that it’s just easier – you get better weapons (combat is ALWAYS one of the main focus of these games afterall, even well-designed multi-path RPG’s like Fallout 1 and 2), more money than you can spend, often hilarious dialogue options and decision trees (getting Zaalbar to kill his best friend Mission in Knights of the Old Republic springs instantly to mind).
I had never considered this approach before, I had always been a good-guy simply because the games are always written to suggest you be that way – for instance, in Mass Effect, even if you are the most reprehensible character ever, always picking the most morally dubious choices, you still end up saving the galaxy by the end. That just makes you a jerk, not evil. So the options are really: Be a pious goody-two-shoes and get a satisfying hollywood story experience and some rewards, be a morally grey hero who has a really hard time of it and none of the fun of the extremes, or be a not-exactly-evil jerk with lots of money and a big gun.
So really, watching peoples behaviour and even the content of violent videogames doesn’t show you the real picture. Ultimately, it’s all about the game-mechanics and what is expected of the player to suceed rather than a reflection of the moral degeneration of society. Remember: you can’t complete Manhunt if you don’t suffocate a few blokes with a plastic bag (so, did you buy it to murder people horribly or just to pass the time, have a bit of a challenge and ultimately enjoy the warm fuzzy feeling you get when the credits start to roll?).
^ 882 words. Why wasn’t writing papers for Uni this easy?
Anyway, after watching Gameswipe, I did a quick google on 2 of the guests in the segment on retro gaming – the guys from Consolevania. Consolevania is amazing. I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to discover it. In a nutshell, it’s a games review show made with no budget whatsoever by 2 blokes from Glasgow. After getting thoroughly fedup with the depressingly simpleminded coverage games get from places like The Escapist, Consolevania actually held my attention for more than 10 seconds. It is extremely funny, its format and style directly mirrors what I hold personally dear about games – that usually they are shite, but they still endear themselves to you in a weird love/hate way (think of all the bitter tears shed over Hidden and Dangerous). The HTTP mirror for all the episodes is here.
I’m strongly contemplating breaking out my dads old Tandy TRS-80 right now…