Friday, January 4, 2013

Re: How To Play Video Games Peacefully

Normally, when you find someone who is wrong on the Internet you ignore it. Odds are, that person thing is either trolling or a 12-year-old. I know this person isn't a trolling 12 year old. I know this because I read it on psychology today and he's a PhD who uses his real name. Michael Chorost might have written the dumbest thing I've ever read about videogames.

Persona 4
All of these offer substance beyond dangling some shiny keys in the player's face.
 For those of you who are too lazy to read the piece, he said that he was bothered by killing people in Half-Life 2. To Chorost the average combine (humanoid) soldier as a family to go home to, a wife and kids who look forward to seeing him and maybe hobby on the side. Instead of having suspension of disbelief for a sense of role-play Chorost instead opted to clear his conscience by using the "no target" command in the debug console. Then, despite clearly having not played anything made in the past eight years, suggested that all future action games should provide a name for every person you kill and who there "family" is. All this adds up to so much stupid that Psychology Today's comments form can provide me enough space to rebuttal it.

First off, Michael Chorost decided the best way to experience one of the greatest action games ever made was to turn it into the world's most boring theme park ride. Half-life two had better pacing and mission design in any first-person shooter before it (unless you're a diehard fan of Doom or Painkiller.) There's a rid him of helplessness and empowerment. Within a few minutes of starting, you are being chased through an apartment building, unarmed. It's only then your saved by the first friendly person to show up, Alyx Vance. Your commonly threatened with something way to retaliate before you give it away to fight back. This is best exemplified by a helicopter that menaces you early in the game. For much of your journey to Black Mesa East this attack helicopter is searching for you. You have no way to fight it. At all. All he can do is run from cover to cover and even continues his pursuit when you try to pick up the pace on a hovercraft. When you get closer destination, however, the same type of weapon the helicopter uses against you is mounted on your hovercraft. After being threatened by for so long to finally given a way to defend yourself from and even defeat it. One of the best things about Half-Life 2 has moments of of weakness in contrast your triumphs.

Second, Michael's proposal is ludicrous and he shows ignorance about videogames in general. Showing a message about the name, spouse and children of every enemy character “killed” by the player would be feature creep at best. First, you're saying that valuable screen real estate should be wasted on nonessential information. Second, not only is this unnecessary information that risks confusing the player but in most settings it wouldn't make any sense (unless you think every first-person shooters shouldn't hunger games.) Third, this useless feature would waste everyone's time programming, bug checking and debugging it. However, I suspect that this isn't a sincere recommendation to game designers. This is the sort of bleeding heart liberal drivel I encounter on psychology today time to time. This is someone who knows close to nothing about video games (he was impressed by the technology of an eight-year-old game) and describes them with political spooky talk like “kill-fest games.” This, of course to say nothing of his (most likely deliberate) ignorance of the game's own storyline. (Even if those combine soldiers were fully human I have a hard time imagining that they could stay married or be a loving father/husband.)

He also had this to say, which is probably all he needed to write to discredit himself.
But now that I'm 48, I'm less interested in adrenaline and machofantasies of power and destruction. My focus has changed. What I now most enjoy about games like Half-Life 2 is that they are spectacularly beautiful and immersive. They are fully rendered, photorealistic worlds in which you can walk around and peer in all directions, enjoying the way water is rendered in flowing brooks and the play of sunlight off of rock and wood.
 If you're reading this, Michael Chorost, here is a somewhat thrown together list of some of my favorite games that I love that i don't think of as power fantasies.

Gravity Rush

Silent Hill 2
Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
Deus Ex: Human Revolution
Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride
Tales of the Abyss

 Any of these would offer substance beyond flashing some shiny keys in your face.

1 comment:

  1. All your points are well taken. If you're a serious player of first-person shooter games, which I'm not, you won't agree with my posting. But really, it was more of a poetic musing ("bleeding heart liberal drivel," as you put it) in the wake of Newtown than a serious suggestion for changing first-person shooters. I know it's like suggesting that roller coasters should only go at 10 miles per hour. And I know perfectly well that it's a fantasy, a thrill experience. It's superb at that. But that wasn't my point. I was making a larger point: games that depict living beings as fodder for killing trouble me.

    You write, "Even if those combine soldiers were fully human I have a hard time imagining that they could stay married or be a loving father/husband." Do you really? I just read a memoir of the moon race co-written by Dave Scott, commander of Apollo 15, and Alexei Leonov, a Soviet who made the first spacewalk. They spend quite a lot of time talking about how little each side knew of the other, and how easy that made it to dehumanize the other side and feel casual about killing them. Scott and Leonov both flew military jets in Europe during the tensest times of the Cold War, where they could very well have shot each other down. It is fascinating to read their descriptions of what it was like to travel to the other side and meet their counterparts. When I was growing up the Soviets were the Other Side, the Unknown, the Sinister. The Enemy. And now, you know, I know that Leonov paints watercolors and adores his dad. The book is "Two Sides of the Moon." I suggest you read it. It might put your head in a different space for a while.

    Mike Chorost