With all due respect to my fellow Moving Pixels contributor Nick Dinicola, regarding his Quest for Infamy review, I must disagree. He recognizes that Quest for Infamy is a throwback to the classic adventure games of the ‘80s and ‘90s. However, it feels like he doesn’t appreciate the specifics of the game’s design legacy, calling it “a purposefully poorly designed adventure game.” I don’t think Quest for Infamy is poorly designed at all. I think it’s a rather solidly designed game hampered by a few execution hiccups that hold it back from being a really great game.
Latest Blog Posts
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.
Choices in video games are often given to us in a moment. The game slows down, highlighting that what is being presented to us right now is a choice. Most games effectively pause during these moments to give the player the chance to consider the scenario. Some, like The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us, up the pressure to choose by adding a timer. Still, though, the event is highlighted as a choice.
For choices to matter, they need consequences. But within the safe boundaries of a video game, creating a consequence by external means is an ineffective measure of making them matter, as the rewards in terms of the game itself often end up being considered more than the moral or narrative implications of the choice. Last week, I left off by asking if the player’s own emotional state should be the measure by which we understand a game’s consequences. Yet, such an attempt would have to be outside of those special moments. The player’s emotional state is a continuous thing that is affected by the moment to moment play of the game. One game that was mentioned in response to the original post, in what has now become a series, that has created a real sense of emotional consequence to the player’s action was Papers, Please.
Morality is conditional. There is no way to determine ahead of time what the appropriate moral decision is for a given situation. A truly complex decision is woven with so many thread and contains so many competing needs that a truly right path may be too difficult to follow through or may not even exist. When we go through life, we are confronted by thousands if not millions of choices every day. Most end up being choices of no consequence. For instance, walking down the sidewalk and observing an insect on the path, the choice to step on it or not presents itself. So small is the choice that it probably doesn’t even enter the person’s mind.
Generally when we call something a choice, we speak of those moments that seem to possess potential consequences and that require conscious thought when considering it. They may be small things, like what to order off the menu or (along the same lines) what car to buy. What we call a choice are things that we stop and think about, weighing whatever considerations we feel necessary and then picking an option that seems reasonable.
Up until very recently, one of the ideas that was getting all the buzz in video games was the concept of offering “moral choices” to players. Games built around such offerings nearly always boiled down to whether you wanted to play a good, traditionally heroic character or one who was a bit of a prick. Those who tried to play as a character with some amount of complexity were summarily punished because the game system required the player to maximize one side or the other in order to get access to the best items, abilities, or what have you. In fact, most games boiled down to a single choice that the player was forced to make over and over. These weren’t moral choices at all, but mathematical problems hidden behind a thin veil of fiction.
// Short Ends and Leader
"What a time they had, Charlie and Rosie. They'll never lack for stories to tell their grandchildren. And what a time we had at Double Take discussing the spiritual and romantic journey of the African Queen.READ the article