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07/14/2006

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bowler

I was going to joke that Doom III disturbed me, but not in any way other than disappointment and crap just jumping out from behind doors.

I think you're right in your final assesment though. I wouldn't want to partake in Hotel Rwanda. Watching someone else commit atrocities (or try and survive them) is hard enough. I only prefer to shoot unarmed scientists when I know that it's pure fiction and that, hey, they DID help make weapons for the enemy, after all.

I think we all want to be the justified glorious conquering hero in our games. Selling a game as a "you're going to be a victim, and you have to surivive" is a tough sell. And no, "survival horror" obviously doesn't count (or we wouldn't be having this discussion).

squidtronic

Check out Pax Warrior - it is an educational game that deals with the incidents in Rwanda. It is disturbing and thought provoking. http://www.paxwarrior.com

tyleulen

I find it facinating to juxtapose your call for more external reference to this report from yesterday ( http://gamepolitics.livejournal.com/323342.html ). Where Las Vegas is protesting being included in a game. A move I am fairly sure they have never made about being incuded in a movie. The fact is that the world just does not yet consider video games to be art. If it ever will only time will tell. Come back in 100 years or so I guess.

Ancalime

When the whole gaming industry revolves around keeping a game under the rating of M so it gets stocked in Wal-Mart, it seems to me that there's no incentive for companies to make disturbing games.

Tablesaw

Other forms of media can rely on a passive audience and a distance between the viewer and the work to push the envelope. Videogames do not have that luxury. If a game is too disturbing to its player, it ends, because the player just stops pushing buttons. I know this happened to me when playing Silent Hill 2, when I decided that the anxiety the game was causing wasn't worth it. It happened to a friend when playing Vice City when he couldn't stomach the inevitable death toll of innocents involved in a particular mission.

But if these examples were widespread, the game wouldn't be successful. Games are meant to be played; doing something to make the player stop playing are not acceptable.

Johnny Pi

I suggest the computer game version of Harlan Ellison's "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream."

DMBdesign

The majority of games that seek to disturb you use the 'horror-flick' style of presentation. They're good for a scare or cringe, but beyond that they have no lasting emotional impact. There are a select few games that are truly disturbing/thought provoking but they generally don't see the light of day in terms of ratings.

One game that manages to deliver a disturbing story and fun gameplay is F.E.A.R. Sure, it has some of the Doom-esqe 'bump in the night' type of fare, but I found the underlying story of the game to be quite disturbing. As a horror-type game, it dosn't have the truly deep emotional impact of a movie like City of God, but I think at this time it's the most you can get and still have a fun/successful game.

Anomalous Coward

The first game I played that truly disturbed me was "Harvester". The game has two endings, but if you want to see the proper one, you have to do something really despicable. If you played it, you'll know that the game has some pretty cheesy production values, but still, it was the first time a game made me feel completely disgusted with myself.

matt

I think what I was trying to say (or maybe I'm just being revisionist ;) ) is that there's a place games have yet to go that may not be "fun" but you may still want to play because something about the game makes it essential. It's that same place that Hotel Rawanda went; seminal and powerful enough that I never want to see it again. Even the memory of that film hurts.

The first notion that must be thrown out, I believe, is the idea of "replayability." Not in gaming entirely, just in the aspect of the kind of game we're talking about. I would tell everyone they should see Hotel Rawanda, but I would never tell them to watch it over and over. What if a game design was approached in a similar fashion? Take a topic that is so important that it only needs to be said once, and then adapt it to game as opposed to film. Much easier said than done, but I'd argue that (almost) no one is even trying. There's no money in it. It takes something like the non-profit efforts of PaxWarrior or the United Nations World Food Programme's Food Force in order to take gaming to this space.

I don't beleive gaming will ever reach adulthood and be respected as art-with-a-capital-a until it progresses beyond tits, ass and guns.

I wish adventure gaming hadn't gone largely the way of the dodo, it's the primary vehicle by which you could tell these kinds of stories.

Club

I think the game that comes the closest to your description is killer7. That's a game that was disturbing and not exactly fun to play a large portion of the time, but still I felt I had to finish it. Well sometimes it was fun, and the atmosphere and everything was incredible.
It didn't really make me feel bad though. But then neither did City of God.

straightgeek

Movies and news media (and reality TV *shudders*) will always be at the forefront of what is "disturbing". With these mediums desensitizing us a game will never truely be able to disturb us.

Take a look at some current, popular, games; Condemned: Criminal Origins and the Grand Theft Auto series. 10 years ago either of these would have freaked even the most hardcore of gamers out. Now the're mainstream, selling thousands (if not millions) of copies.

Why do games where you bash prostitutes' skulls in and beat people to death w/ paper cutters not disturb? Because movies with graphic depictions of genocide and rape got to us first.

NippBit

There's a lot of info here that game designers could use, but you've got to understand something... Games are risky!

I work in the games industry and I see this every day, err, well, every other day. Some company releases game X. Publisher dumped big $$$ into X to make it something "next-gen". Game X sales are below forecast and so the title gets pulled and publisher no longer works with the creators of game X.

The facts are that the publishers don't take risks! A movie costs ~15 bucks. A game costs ~45 bucks. A movie can be watched once and then put away, whereas a video game must entertain continously (average game must include 15 hours of playback).

However, there's a new trend here. Episodic gaming! The concept of "buy this game, play it through, then play the different episodes." Sounds like the place to start implementing this idea of getting games to play with our emotions.

I remember a game called X-Com. At the time it came out I was just a boy. I remember playing it until the wee hours of the morning and jumping out of my seat when an alien attacked me from out of nowhere! Doom, quake, wolfenstien, all the old classics never made me jump, but because of the fact that I had grown attached to my hero, my ultimate soldier, and then I watched him die because of a simple oversight on my part... well, as an 11 year old, I was crushed!

I've never seen a game do that since!

-Ken Noland

PhilM

I think the key point here is not "disturbing" but "challenging". Manhunt is deeply disturbing, but it is not intended to make players question their own values or change their behaviour for the better. (I do wonder in general about experiences which distress the humane and gratify the psychotic... but that's for elsewhere.)

The difference between that and a Hotel Rwanda is that Hotel Rwanda aims directly to challenge the viewer's complacency. Hotel Rwanda is in large part about the way in which the wider world let the genocide happen; it is explicitly intended to make it harder for the viewer to fail to resist such things happening ever again - and it does not let us couch potatoes at home off the hook, because the hero of the piece is not a man with command of armies or political clout, but a hotel manager who somehow manages to protect hundreds of innocents without the easy fallback of superior force of arms, and the influence of the outside world for both good and bad is right there in front of us. As a viewer, you are inspired (and shamed) to be a better human being, because you are shown both how much an apparently powerless person can actually do and how much it matters that you do so. (And by implication, how much vileness is allowed to prosper when ordinary people like us are not chipping in a little to denounce, impede and prevent it.) Hotel Rwanda is made by people who have seen the real world go badly wrong and are using their art to try and stop it happening again.

And I'm sorry, straightgeek, but there is a world of difference between the way Hotel Rwanda depicts genocide and rape, and the airbrushed, candified, cheerleadered carnage of the kinds of games (movies, TV shows... etc) you refer to. The difference is simple: in Hotel Rwanda, while suffering is not wallowed in, the humanity of the victims is never glossed over and the viewer is never given an excuse to detach their sympathy or to refocus attention on either pro- or antagonist. By contrast, brutality-based entertainment such as Manhunt (and a range of other stuff across many media - of course not just games) only works, indeed is only bearable, if you treat characters other than the one with whom the audience is encouraged to identify as empty virtual-meat puppets not worthy of respect or consideration except purely in terms of how they affect your entertainment. Of course this is not an inaccurate way of looking at such a game (or movie, or whatever) - but it's a terrible frame of mind to be practising, and it hardly makes the world any better for anyone beyond whatever diversion the experience itself provides.

jane's second example, House of Sand and Fog, is an interesting one - I came out of that film thinking that finally the modern world had an answer to Oedipus The King, which as a classics/lit/history graduate was something I never expected to see. It was a perfect tragedy in the classical sense - character-driven calamity, with all of the protagonists not quite realising how flawed they were, but none evil, and all making genuine efforts to extract themselves from their situation which only dug them in deeper. It was exhilarating, because it awoke the sense of mortal frailty and of sympathy for others which true tragedy does. But like Hotel Rwanda it is premised in the responsibilities and fallibilities of being human, and that is why it is great - because it confronts us afresh with how much our lives matter, how much our behaviour can affect those around, and how carelessness, shortsightedness and indifference to others' lives can be far more destructive than we would like to admit. (jane - kudos for two seriously good picks!)

One thing that occurs to me, though, is that tragedy is much more powerful (and was originally conceived) as a communal experience. Reconciling that with the single-player/small group medium of games is not going to be easy. Reconciling challenging (as opposed to "attention-grabbing"), thoughtful content with the lowest-common-denominator, maximum-sales culture of the games industry is going to be even harder.

P.S.
In the interests of living up in some small way to the challenge of Hotel Rwanda (and what kind of gamer would I be if I ignored an important challenge like THAT?), here are some links for organisations doing what they can to stop arms dealers flooding weapons into conflict zones like Rwanda and profiting from fanning the flames:
IANSA (takes you to a page specifically about the impact of small arms on women, just cos this is GGA).
Control Arms - speaking of fun & games, see also their million-seat online stadium
Amnesty International

Give them a little attention - they deserve it, and you will probably learn some interesting stuff.

undercoverrabbit

Sorry to sound smug but this is a load of crap. A game is made and it is rated by a board. If you don't want that rating then work with the esrb to find out what needs to be cut out or toned down. Personally, If I created a game I would go for an AO rating for extreme violence, extreme gore, gutter mouth language, drug use, and sex. Any other tabboo's I missed well throw them in. After all is said and done if it got less than an AO I would feel like it failed. Of course a signed copy sent to Jack Thompson free of charge:)

undercoverrabbit

Hey, why don't you ever talk about what is REALLY hurting gaming. The selective save and the auto save feature. Gamers are continually complaining that games are two short. Well if you can save every 5 seconds and never have the threat of going back to the start of a level then why even bother. That is the REAL PROBLEM WITH GAMING. THE GAY ASS SAVE FEATURE BEING EXPLOITED.

undercoverrabbit

Hey, why don't you ever talk about what is REALLY hurting gaming. The selective save and the auto save feature. Gamers are continually complaining that games are two short. Well if you can save every 5 seconds and never have the threat of going back to the start of a level then why even bother. That is the REAL PROBLEM WITH GAMING. THE GAY ASS SAVE FEATURE BEING EXPLOITED.

undercoverrabbit

Hey, why don't you ever talk about what is REALLY hurting gaming. The selective save and the auto save feature. Gamers are continually complaining that games are two short. Well if you can save every 5 seconds and never have the threat of going back to the start of a level then why even bother. That is the REAL PROBLEM WITH GAMING. THE GAY ASS SAVE FEATURE BEING EXPLOITED.

Chtulie

A previous game by the creator of Killer7 called 'Michigan' is very good game that disturbs.
Yeah it is a horror game, but there's another element to it.
It's about a reporter and crew (sound and video) doing reports & stuff, but you don't play the reporter, instead you play the camera guy. Throughout the game there's choices. Do you help someone, or do you let the guy who can't get back on the platform get run over by the subway train so you get the points for the gory footage. hen thefemale reporter picks up the key under the table, do you go for the upskirt shot for the points of the very much such desired footage by the media and it's audience.
It's very much like Manhunt, where you're tempted into going over your own ethical edge. Both having gameplay elements to actually make the choice between good and evil a practical one unlike rpg's with good/evil choices. Going for the gruesome kill in manhunt is riskier, beign a bastard in Michigan makes it more difficult to deal with the other characters.

Chtulie

A previous game by the creator of Killer7 called 'Michigan' is very good game that disturbs.
Yeah it is a horror game, but there's another element to it.
It's about a reporter and crew (sound and video) doing reports & stuff, but you don't play the reporter, instead you play the camera guy. Throughout the game there's choices. Do you help someone, or do you let the guy who can't get back on the platform get run over by the subway train so you get the points for the gory footage. hen thefemale reporter picks up the key under the table, do you go for the upskirt shot for the points of the very much such desired footage by the media and it's audience.
It's very much like Manhunt, where you're tempted into going over your own ethical edge. Both having gameplay elements to actually make the choice between good and evil a practical one unlike rpg's with good/evil choices. Going for the gruesome kill in manhunt is riskier, beign a bastard in Michigan makes it more difficult to deal with the other characters.

Chtulie

Sorry for the double post, connection had quite a bit of a hiccup.

mik

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