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Wednesday, Jul 16, 2014
The questions asked by the behavior in a game are limited in comparison to those asked by choices. They are always about violence.

I’ve spent the last few weeks on PopMatters talking about moral choices and how they can be an effective tool in our understanding of and our engagement with a game. I started by discussing an example of a directed choice, moved on to a more fundamental understanding of why many supposed moral choices in games don’t work, and finally by looking at a different presentation of choices in games like Papers, Please. After publishing all three posts, fellow PopMatters contributor Jorge Albor briefly asked about my focus on consequences regarding moral choices.

It’s true, both the games and my writing highlighted what he called a “consequentialist ethic” whereby the outcome was more important than virtues or values. This has been a bugbear of video games for a long time. How does one get a player to concern themselves with what they are doing instead of what they will get out of it? How does one get that player to not just focus on items or experience, but on story content and so forth? In talking about recentering moral decision making on moral values instead of moral consequences, I want to talk about something that I previously left alone in my discussion: behavior.

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Friday, Jul 11, 2014
The kinds of choices that force us to define what we value and how a game is about what we value are best implemented at the end of that game.

A couple of weeks ago here at PopMatters, Eric Swain wrote about a more complex form of moral choice in games.

It’s not a question of right or wrong, but a question of priorities. The player is offered up two rights and asked to make a choice between them ... The morality here isn’t based on abstract rules, but on the individual player—what they would do and why is up to them” (Eric Swain, “More Thoughts on a More Complex Form of Moral Choice in Video Games”, 24 June 2014)

I agree with everything Swain has written, but I’d also like to add an important caveat to the conversation. These kinds of complex moral choices, the kind that force us to choose between two philosophical truths that will go on to define who we are, what we value, and how the game is about what we value, these kinds of choices are best implemented at the end of a game.

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Thursday, Jul 10, 2014
Public radio, abandoned houses, and the search for mystery in video games.

As an insufferable coastal faux-intellectual, I am pretty much obligated to listen to This American Life.  Each week, the show picks a theme (such as “A Call for Help” or “I Was So High”) and presents a few stories on the theme.  It’s nice nice way to learn a few things about politics, science, and culture while also wrapping my voyeurism in the guise of journalism.  It’s a good way to hear dramatic or embarrassing stories without feeling like I’m prying.  I recently caught an old episode that helped me realize that my interest in certain types of video games stems from the same place.

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Wednesday, Jul 9, 2014
In A Dark Room, the player begins with a sense only of the immediacy of the self and its own needs, before becoming aware of a small corner of the world around that self, before then becoming aware of how that corner fits into a larger and larger universe.

This post contains spoilers for A Dark Room.

In A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and while still a young boy, the novel’s protagonist, Stephen Dedalus, writes on the flyleaf of his geography book:

Stephen Dedalus
Class of Elements
Clongowes Wood College
County Kildare
The World
The Universe
(James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Dover, pg. 7-8)

As an exmple of a bildungsroman, a novel about human development, maturation, and growing up, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man uses this moment to emphasize Stephen’s burgeoning awareness of himself and his relationship to and awareness of the world around that self. Indeed, all human deveopment is marked by this exponentially growing sense of the self in relationship to a larger world. We all begin life with a sense only of the immediacy of the self and its own needs, before becoming aware of a small corner of the world around ourselves, before then becoming aware of how that corner fits into a larger and larger universe.

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Tuesday, Jul 8, 2014
By regularly releasing new characters, MOBAs like League of Legends reshape expectations about how a character class must look and play.

I respect subtle design. In general, videogames are not subtle in storytelling—which often enough works for them—but I appreciate the visual and sound work that goes into communicating a game’s systems and themes. For instance, if you were to look at the character design of a mage and a tank, it’s easy to tell which is which. Even those without much gaming experience can probably rely on cultural shorthands for “mage” (aged, slender person in robes) or “tank” (massively built person dressed in as much metal as an actual tank), provided they come from a culture with the background to make the association. This is important because many games require different strategic behavior to navigate as or against either a mage or a tank, and subtly indicating which is which without relying on direct communication is a tricky bit of design that (like most things that only work when they aren’t noticed_ often goes unappreciated. That said, once a pattern is made, it doesn’t take long before it gets stale.

It’s easy to fall into old habits. The support class rarely changes between RPGs or shooters, functionally or aesthetically. Again, most players know what a support does, and they know how they act just by looking. It’s a problem if they don’t. However, by regularly releasing new characters, MOBAs like League of Legends reshape expectations about how a class must look and play. There are just five roles split between two five member teams in a game of League of Legends and over a hundred characters to fill them. Naturally, with so many characters and plans to continue releasing them, characters blur lines and deviate from expectations in unique ways. Janna is a slim, elf-eared nudist with shielding and healing powers, but she’s equally viable as the AP carry, a team’s central source of magic damage. Meanwhile, Morgana, a witch shrouded in a dark purple aura and Annie, a prodigal pyromancer, have been popular support characters among professional teams. Even though their designs seem to imply certain roles for them, they’re able to cross barriers into different territories.

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