Killing Is Harmless
April 14, 2013 11:59 PM   Subscribe

We have made the act of killing and shooting so fun, but we’ve also taken the importance out of it by piling so much of it in. You don’t ever have to think about the concept of pulling a trigger, because even if you run out of bullets, we’re going to give you so many more bullets! So many more people to shoot! In fact, even if all the people in the game aren’t enough, we’re gonna give you Horde mode! You can kill people until you can’t kill them anymore!
The writers of the controversial Far Cry 3 and Spec Ops: The Line discuss the past, present and future of FPS's. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3
posted by empath (78 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
 
Is The Decision To Buy 'Call Of Duty' Or 'Battlefield' A Moral Choice? "Many (not 'most'; not 'all') shooter video games feature licensed, real-world firearms. Gunmakers are compensated for the appearance of their brands as much as the NFL Players Association is paid for its members appearing in Madden. Does this present a moral choice to a video gamer?"
posted by kliuless at 12:12 AM on April 15, 2013 [6 favorites]


Spec Ops: The Line is a great game, narrative wise, and if you have a PLaystation PLus account, it's free.

The white phosphorus scene made me physically ill.
posted by ShawnStruck at 12:15 AM on April 15, 2013


I just miss being able to play FPSs. They've become so twitch based and non stop that I can't play them due to the problems with my hands. Anything to slow down game play, make us think and work for the game and the win.

And while the guns may look real, they never sound real except in a very few instances.
posted by strixus at 12:15 AM on April 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


Sorry for the doublepost, but this got cut off somehow.

I don't think Far Cry 3 was as successful with what they were going for-- it came off as hella racist.
posted by ShawnStruck at 12:17 AM on April 15, 2013 [4 favorites]


Gunmakers are compensated for the appearance of their brands as much as the NFL Players Association is paid for its members appearing in Madden. Does this present a moral choice to a video gamer?"
What if gunmakers found that they could make more money from brand licensing and developing their own games in-house? What if in-game shooting became more interesting and attractive than real-life gun ownership?

(a program of gun licensing that becomes gradually more restrictive over time would help)
posted by b1tr0t at 12:18 AM on April 15, 2013


Yeah, sometimes there is a fine line between commenting on racism by using racist tropes and plain ol' using racist tropes. Sometimes the line is so fine it doesn't exist as, I think, in the case of FC3.

And Battlefield is hugely better than Modern Warfare. Which is for meth addicted sharks who die if they stop moving forward for more than a fraction of a second.
posted by Justinian at 12:20 AM on April 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


From the Psychology of Video Games Blog there is an interesting recent post about The Psychological Appeal of Violent Shooters.

The TLDR version of the article is that the appeal is based on:

1. Competence - progressing in skill and power.
2. Autonomy - being able to choose from multiple, meaningful options.
3. Relatedness - feeling important to others.
posted by sien at 12:22 AM on April 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


The post doesn't actually link correctly to #3 in the series.

Here's the correct link: Part 3: Spec Ops, FC3 Writers on What's Next, Futurism, BioShock.
posted by barnacles at 12:23 AM on April 15, 2013


strixus: Anything to slow down game play, make us think and work for the game and the win.

That's one of the reasons I enjoyed Portal so much.
posted by robcorr at 12:25 AM on April 15, 2013 [8 favorites]


Thanks, barnacles. I was looking for that.
posted by Justinian at 12:27 AM on April 15, 2013


[Fixed Part 3 link; thanks, barnacles.]
posted by taz at 12:27 AM on April 15, 2013


Little known factoid: One of the best predictors of arthroscopic surgical skill is amount of time spent playing and skill at first person shooters. So you don't want the old distinguished surgeon who has been practicing surgery for 25 years, you want the Red Bull'd up twenty something resident who plays twelve hour CoD marathons.
posted by Justinian at 12:30 AM on April 15, 2013 [11 favorites]


We talked about Spec Ops previously.

There were some enjoyable parts in Far Cry 3, such as the scene where you torch the big bad's grow ops and about anything involving Vaas, but it was somewhat disappointing. I could see hints that the writers were trying to say something, but it never went anywhere coherent.

That said, I'm looking forward to Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon - they can definitely pull off 80s nostalgia. The trailer is a kick.
posted by dragoon at 12:55 AM on April 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


The Story of Linda and Steve
or: an illustrative example of why 'moral choice' in games is silly

Steve and Linda are cancer researchers, at the top of their field. Their love for each other and humanity spurs them on to greater and greater discoveries each year, which they release into the public domain for the benefit of people all over the world. In their spare time, Linda studies philosophy and Steve rehabilitates injured wildlife.

Now then, if you, Reader, continue reading forward in this thread, something bad will happen to Linda and Steve. If you walk away now, they'll definitely go on to cure cancer in their fictional world. Seriously, go to the tabs at the top of the screen, close this one, and read another thread.

.

.

.

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.

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Ok, I've warned you! But you have another chance. You can still stop! You don't have to let your curiosity and lust for power destroy two wonderful lives! Because I'll be blunt, Steve and Linda will die if you continue to read forward.

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.

.

.

.

Steve and Linda die in a car crash. Their last moments are filled with incredible agony as they, and the school bus full of children they hit, burn to death in a terrible conflagration. And it's all your fault, yes you, Reader, for continuing to read this thread. You could have stopped at any time! I told you something bad would happen, that you would destroy their lives. Now fictional cancer will never be cured, because you were just oh so curious.

Oh, don't point your finger at me, the Author. Ok, sure, I wrote all those words, but I didn't kill Steve and Linda-- you did, by choosing to read the words. It didn't actually happen until you read them, ontologically speaking. Don't try to lecture me about philosophy and what 'ontologically' means, because it's just too painful to think about Linda's favorite hobby now that she is dead forever because of you. You, Reader, are a truly horrible person, and I hope you've learned a valuable lesson about how far you're willing to go, who you're willing to hurt, in the pursuit of knowledge. Next time, try considering the consequences of your actions, you borderline sociopath.
posted by Pyry at 1:05 AM on April 15, 2013 [57 favorites]


Does anyone else think the Far Cry 3 writer comes off as incredibly vapid and shallow in this? Having played both games, Spec Ops is undoubtedly flawed but has a clear message it's trying to convey from beginning to end; FC3 seems like it had a bigger realization that got cut at some point during development (n.b. there are some early sequences when Jason is all "WOO YEAH THIS IS AWESOME" when murdering mercs with a grenade launcher, while your yuppie buddy escort just freaks out about "wait, what? What are you talking about?")

My gut says that Far Cry 3 was intended to have the same sort of "look what a monster you are" gut-check that Spec Ops pulls, but the teeth were pulled from that narrative. Everything about that game just seems to say there was more planned, that just got fleshed out with the shitty guy-who-isn't-Vaas second half.
posted by Soultron at 1:12 AM on April 15, 2013 [6 favorites]


Hmm, I don't enjoy shooters like Modern Combat and Far Cry 3, but I really liked putting my sword through the throats of unsuspecting guards in Dishonored. Oh, the look on their faces....

Does that make me a psychopath ?
posted by Pendragon at 1:42 AM on April 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


The animal skinning collect-em-all mechanic in Far Cry 3 is so ludicrously tasteless and politically incorrect that it probably should have made me realize that the game is taking the piss out of some well-loved video game tropes, but instead I just assumed the creators were simply tone deaf and out of touch. (Didn't stop me playing it, though, whatever that says about me.)

It's reassuring to hear about their intentions, but they failed in conveying them, IMHO. I'll admit I'm maybe only a third of the way through the main plot, having spent more time dicking around in the sandbox world, so it may become more obvious later on.

With this knowledge, in retrospect a lot of the elements and mechanics in FC3 are "obviously" silly, but it speaks volumes about the current state of gaming that it's almost impossible to do genre satire in a subtle way so that people would get it. It's similar to how a competent troll is nearly impossible to tell apart from an actual blithering idiot.

To frame this another way, consider scantily clad, large-breasted women in games. They are so prevalent that if you should try and satirize their use in a new game of the appropriate genre (e.g. a fighting game or pretty much anything from Japan) without making it completely finger-pointingly obvious that you are doing so, you'll fail and the majority of people will just think that you're one more game going for cheap titillation.
posted by jklaiho at 1:43 AM on April 15, 2013 [4 favorites]


Soultron: "Does anyone else think the Far Cry 3 writer comes off as incredibly vapid and shallow in this?"

I agree with you, Soultron but (goes back and skims a few of Yohalem's quotes) I'm not exactly sure why. I just had this impression throughout the whole thing that he was a bit douchey and I just wanted him to shut up and let the other guy talk. And in skimming some of him, there's nothing there I could necessarily put my finger on but ... yeah.

I don't think the entire 3-part series reached the sorts of heights that they were aiming for, though I appreciate the three of them tried. Perhaps the shallowness you point out was coloring my impressions, because the whole thing wasn't as good as I was expecting.
posted by barnacles at 1:44 AM on April 15, 2013


@klaiho

I don't want to ruin your experience, but personally I felt that everything in the first half was telegraphing a really hard narrative swerve, which then never arrived.
posted by Soultron at 1:57 AM on April 15, 2013


I'll admit I'm maybe only a third of the way through the main plot, having spent more time dicking around in the sandbox world, so it may become more obvious later on.

I think they mostly failed to get their point across. I think largely because they seem to have contempt for their audience. The writer hates shooters and hates you for playing them, and that seems to come through. The game is a condemnation of the genre, but also the people that play it. I think the ending would have been more interesting if choosing the 'bad' ending was the only way to stay and keep playing. The 'good' ending should have just locked your save game.
posted by empath at 2:11 AM on April 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


It kinda seems like the FC3 guy wrote a trashy story then tried to ret-con that it was a clever commentary on trashy stories
posted by ham at 2:11 AM on April 15, 2013 [3 favorites]




or: an illustrative example of why 'moral choice' in games is silly

Moral choices do tend to be poorly implemented, but this has nothing to do with why.

The problem in most real world situations is that there are gray areas and sometimes, what might look like a moral choice to one person will look like no choice at all to another. In gaming, they've figured out a super-mega-happy solution that, yeah, might be the most good guy of all possible approaches to the situation if you can figure it out and if you have the skill to make the shot that isn't just going to cause the bad guy to kill all the hostages or some such. And then, in the end, if you didn't work out or have the reflexes to achieve the obscure super-mega-happy solution you get saddled with "the absolute shit middle of the road ending".

Fallout: New Vegas was a step in the right direction with its faction system - do good things for certain groups, they tend to wuv you. Piss in other group's cheerios? They tend to welcome you with bullets. Want to be everyone's friend? All well and good but sooner or later you're going to find yourself stuck in the middle and have to choose. It was far and away the exception, not the rule.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 2:31 AM on April 15, 2013 [5 favorites]


Overthinking it on Grand Theft Auto and the Problem of Evil: a world in which it is impossible to do horrifying things is also a world in which it is impossible to choose otherwise, therefore games which offer disturbing options are the most moral games. I'm not endorsing the argument, I just find the use of theodicy to defend video game developers hilarious.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 2:46 AM on April 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


Isn't it impossible to complete GTA without doing horrible things though? Sure you can not murder the prostitutes but there are many many people the game does require you to murder. I think there are better examples: in games like Metal Gear or Thief, you have the option of completing the game without killing (though obviously you are still doing morally questionable things) and in the Fallout/Bioware RPGs there are usually multiple ways of dealing with a situation with varying moral outcomes.

Also many many indie games deal with the what to do if you are not shooting things all the time problem. Its practiaclly Frictional Games' (Amnesia) mission statement (surprisingly relevant Frictional Blog Post)
posted by ham at 2:56 AM on April 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


The fundamental problem with moral choice in games is that games do not have jurisdiction (so to speak) to pass moral judgment on the player, only on the characters. The player sits in a privileged position both outside and above the game's morality, and the player knows it. This makes open world games the worst candidate for trying to convey moral ideas, because the main characters in such games tend to be simple proxies for the player, whose actions are morally un-indictable from within the game.

Fallout: New Vegas was a step in the right direction with its faction system - do good things for certain groups, they tend to wuv you. Piss in other group's cheerios? They tend to welcome you with bullets. Want to be everyone's friend? All well and good but sooner or later you're going to find yourself stuck in the middle and have to choose.

Except choosing your alliances according to a personal cost/benefit analysis isn't morality at all. Having to put carrots in front of the player to coax them into doing moral things undermines the very idea of morality.
posted by Pyry at 3:10 AM on April 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


And it's all your fault, yes you, Reader, for continuing to read this thread. You could have stopped at any time! I told you something bad would happen, that you would destroy their lives. Now fictional cancer will never be cured, because you were just oh so curious.

I actually like the idea that the narrative fuckery (specifically - of Spec Ops: The Line) isn't demanding you stop playing, but rather is meant to make you ask yourself why you keep playing.

Some combination of 'to find out what happens next' and 'we are so far steep'd in blood that to go o'er were as easy as going back' seems to be a decent median, plus (for me) a profound appreciation of the craft involved.

I mean hell, art is basically just a machine for making emotions, seems weird to get grumpy when the emotions being made are new ones. Isn't that the point?
posted by Sebmojo at 3:23 AM on April 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


you know who else thought art was obligated to be moral
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 4:04 AM on April 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


I don't think Far Cry 3 was as successful with what they were going for-- it came off as hella racist.
;) I think you are on to something there.

As far as post-modern game structures go; sometimes they work and sometimes they don't. I stopped playing Bioshock way before the payoff because it pissed me off that my game character jabbed a giant hyperdermic needle full of glowing juice straight into his arm at the earliest opportunity; without even giving me a choice. I was expecting more of an RPG experience with choices ala System Shock but that's not what Bioshock was delivering. It didn't matter to me that I was going to get a payoff because I didn't feel like taking the journey.

Portal is post-modern experience that actually worked for me; I loved it. It seems like FC3 is one that didn't work for many people who find flaws with it. It seems like tone is pretty important in games, I didn't like the tone in Bioshock but plenty of other people did.
posted by vicx at 4:14 AM on April 15, 2013


you know who else thought art was obligated to be moral
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 11:04 PM on April 15 [+] [!]


Me?

I thought this was a good article. The idea of getting beyond irony to something that can be comfortable with what it is has been fairly close to my heart of late. Judging from other comments (I haven't actually played the games in question myself) it doesn't seem like they've succeeded here; but it's the right sort of effort.
posted by solarion at 4:17 AM on April 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Killing people?

I thought FPS were about taking on a virtual avatar.
posted by JJ86 at 4:22 AM on April 15, 2013


I think there are better examples: in games like Metal Gear or Thief, you have the option of completing the game without killing (though obviously you are still doing morally questionable things) and in the Fallout/Bioware RPGs there are usually multiple ways of dealing with a situation with varying moral outcomes.

You can win Fallout 2 by (indirectly) killing a single mutant in self-defense or Fallout 3 by killing a huge roach.

Pacifist Run (TVtropes).
posted by ersatz at 4:42 AM on April 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


Thanks for posting this. I'm in the weird position of loving that Spec Ops: The Line exists, while being completely unable to play it myself, but I love hearing more about this guy. Far Cry 3 I'm not sure I understand what's going on though - and in the link you post, he seems kind of over-justifying. "Ha-HA! It has been like this all along!"
posted by corb at 5:21 AM on April 15, 2013


There really is, in FC3, a moral tale about what the mechanics of shooters do to your personality. Jason's arc is really about a guy who, as he masters the mechanics of killing, starts to enjoy it, to the point where he is just a killer, and everything else in his life-- his girlfriend, his brother, his friends, start to fade away behind his quest to be a 'hero'. That's an interesting story, and that part of it was handled well.

The problem is that they tacked on a couple of other stories, involving rape and race that were handled really badly, and it muddled the whole thing. I think that more triple a games should tackle those issues, but I think maybe that should not be written by middle class white guys writing FPS's.
posted by empath at 5:35 AM on April 15, 2013


And it's all your fault, yes you, Reader, for continuing to read this thread. You could have stopped at any time! I told you something bad would happen, that you would destroy their lives. Now fictional cancer will never be cured, because you were just oh so curious.

I reject your reality and substitute my own alt-universe fanfiction!

Steve and Linda almost die in a car crash, but they swerve at the last moment. The two researchers continue on to their lab where they cure cancer forever, and the children are safely delivered to the school. THE END.

You're welcome.
posted by RonButNotStupid at 5:37 AM on April 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


Except choosing your alliances according to a personal cost/benefit analysis isn't morality at all. Having to put carrots in front of the player to coax them into doing moral things undermines the very idea of morality.

But it's not trying to coax you into doing moral things. I'm not even sure what the moral thing in FNV is apart from not siding with the slavers. Which is most moral, giving New Vegas to the NCR or setting up an independent Vegas under a mad AI or a corpsicle?

And I'm really REALLY not sure what the "right" faction to pick from a personal cost/benefit is.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:44 AM on April 15, 2013


What if in-game shooting became more interesting and attractive than real-life gun ownership?

At least in my experience, although there is some overlap between the Venn Diagram circles of "plays FPS video games" and "owns, shoots actual guns" it is not as big as you would think, perhaps because the experiences have little to do with each other. Although it's possible that there's also a generational gap that will close in time.

I don't really like the real-world licensing stuff much, because I think it leads people who've only "used" a firearm in a video game to have a false sense of familiarity or confidence with it. When I used to do basic firearms instruction you could easily spot the guys (and they were almost always guys) who thought they were experts on firearms, having never actually touched one. That sort of faux-confidence tends to lead to unsafe behaviors, at least in my experience, if not carefully watched.

Also generally those guys had a really high dropout rate from the course, I presume because they'd realize pretty quickly that target shooting wasn't the real-world analogue to whatever they were doing in games.
posted by Kadin2048 at 6:13 AM on April 15, 2013


There's something satisfying (in a primal, millions-of-years-of-evolution-shaped-me-to-do-this kinda way) about hurling a thing at a moving thing, but it does seem past time that we did stuff with games besides play tag.

But all the shooty shooty has resulted in a set of tools that are really good at simulating movement through an artificial space. Maybe we should make more interesting spaces, in which people can do things besides shooty shooty.

Far Cry 3 was a success despite its story, because it gave players an interesting place to interact with - via shooty shooty, natch. But it was pretty, and the mechanics were great, and it was stuffed with shiny baubles to fetch, and there was juuuust enough item & skill management to invest the player in progressing.

And with a few design decisions, they could've made the same game with an interesting story about a wildlife photographer who drinks crazy island magic berry juice and can, say, turn invisible, or posses people. Without guns.

Or something.

Anyway, my point is that video games rely on a limited number of verbs: run shoot aim look move jump crouch duck climb roll dodge etc. Take and give. But now that we've pretty much nailed that stuff down, it's time to add some new verbs.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 6:14 AM on April 15, 2013 [6 favorites]


I think it's an open/interesting question whether morality can exist at all in an entirely simulated universe, and under which conditions it genuinely exists. I think it's clear that choosing to kill pigs in angry birds is not a moral choice. It's maybe an open question whether any behavior in GTA is a moral choice, and I think in a MMORPG like Eve, for example, that stealing from your corporation is probably actually immoral.
posted by empath at 6:20 AM on April 15, 2013


Eponysterical?
posted by symbioid at 6:35 AM on April 15, 2013


ham: "Its practiaclly Frictional Games' (Amnesia) mission statement (surprisingly relevant Frictional Blog Post)."

Holy crap, ham, you sent me down a long rabbit hole of awesome links related to Bioshock Infinite criticism, none of which I'd seen before. Many many thanks!
posted by barnacles at 6:44 AM on April 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


Next time, try considering the consequences of your actions, you borderline sociopath.

That was an effective illustration of a certain point, as far as it goes, but I thought the point here was not that there are potentially vague moral problems with causing fictional harm to fictional people, but the fact that playing FPS often puts real money in the hands of real gun manufacturers who have licensed the real likenesses of their real guns for use in games, thereby putting more real money in the pockets of those real gun manufacturers.

The question is more like, did you know you're kind of helping to make and sell real guns when you play certain shooters, and are you cool with that? Not so much, is it immoral to take pleasure in pretending to kill masses of simulated people. I think, anyway.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:49 AM on April 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


You, Reader, are a truly horrible person, and I hope you've learned a valuable lesson about how far you're willing to go, who you're willing to hurt, in the pursuit of knowledge. Next time, try considering the consequences of your actions, you borderline sociopath.

Curiously this post reads like a great plot summary of DA2 in either ending, or ME3 in some of the endings.

This makes open world games the worst candidate for trying to convey moral ideas, because the main characters in such games tend to be simple proxies for the player, whose actions are morally un-indictable from within the game.

That's also true of fiction and storytelling, which has been one of the primary methods of talking about morality in our culture, as well as quite a few others. In fact, I'd say that imposing moral censure on the person engaging in the literary thought experiment undermines the value of the experiment.

Most of us when we criticize morality in games are looking at it in terms of "this is interesting, let's talk about it" and not "it's bad, and you're a bad person for liking it." Unless the issue centers on economic issues of moral divestment. Then it's reasonable to consider personal moral choices to pay for this product over that product.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 6:56 AM on April 15, 2013


That frictional post about bioshock is brilliant. It's probably better than the game.
posted by empath at 6:58 AM on April 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


What if in-game shooting became more interesting and attractive than real-life gun ownership?

63% of the American population report playing video games and 32% report having a gun in their home so this is probably already true
posted by titus n. owl at 7:00 AM on April 15, 2013


Except choosing your alliances according to a personal cost/benefit analysis isn't morality at all.

Look Jeremy Bentham in the face and say that. "Personal cost/benefit analysis" can be determined on any number of bases, including "my greatest utility (i.e. benefit) will be produced by alliances that produce the greatest utility overall in the world." It doesn't have to mean "short-sighted selfishness." And in fact many Fallout players consider a "good" ending to be one that produces the largest number of positive per-faction "sub-endings."

Having to put carrots in front of the player to coax them into doing moral things undermines the very idea of morality.

But we put carrots in front of people in real life in order to coax them into doing moral things. Is that immoral? What about using sticks to punish immoral behavior? Is your argument that the only legitimate moral game would be a judgment-free sandbox in which the player did as they liked and then decided for themselves what their actions meant, if anything? Isn't that just called "using your imagination plus introspection?"

And ultimately, some amount of carrot or stick is inevitable if you want the player to interact with a world in a meaningful way. If the world is populated with (simulated) intelligent actors, then they will necessarily react to the player's behavior, and their reactions will embody some kind of morality. For example, if the player commits an unjustified murder in front of a character, does the character react with shock? Condemn the player's actions? Cheer the player on?

Even in a world without intelligent non-player characters (e.g. early versions of Minecraft), there can still be an implicit morality. For example, are there scarce resources? How does the game reward or punish a player for managing those resources? In Minecraft, a player will very quickly learn the lesson of The Ant and the Grasshopper if the player does not build or find a shelter and a source of light before the sun sets on the first day. That's a simple moral lesson, but it is one nonetheless.
posted by jedicus at 7:26 AM on April 15, 2013


Look Jeremy Bentham in the face and say that.

Haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa
posted by ominous_paws at 7:33 AM on April 15, 2013


I haven't played Far Cry 3 because I'm not much for shooters (although, in a way, the decisions I make blithely in strategy games are even more horrific- peasant uprising in Crusader Kings 2? Slaughter them all! Enemy beating me in the space race in Civ? Nuke the fuckers!) but I did get to borrow Spec Ops for a while (didn't get to the White Phosphorus scene though) and also got to play Call of Duty: Black Ops (my roommate owns it, don't look at me like that).

There was a mission in CoD that disturbed me than anything else: an assault on the Baikonur launch facility. The end of the mission had you blowing up a rocket as it took cosmonauts into space. And it made me dream up a game that I want to see, although I am really not sure I could play.

The game starts with a former American SEAL or other special forces soldier and a former Soviet Spetsnaz soldier facing off against each other in a small building next to Gorbachev's dacha in the Crimea. Both are old, grizzled and obviously . Flash back, the missions alternate between the two of them. The American is part of Operation Ajax (Iran), the Russian is part of Operation Whirlwind (Hungary), the American is the person who shoots Allende in the back during Operation Condor, the Russian help massacre Hmong tribesmen during the Laotian civil war, etc. I think they are in the Crimea for different reasons- the American to assassinate Gorbachev, the Russian to kidnap him as part of the coup - I'm not exactly sure why the American is attempting the assassination, but that can be worked on. Each one sees the other on his missions, building something of a rivalry between the two.

The basic idea with this would be that you would be partaking in the worst of the actions on both sides of the Cold War - I am not looking for a statement of "both sides are just as bad as each other," but instead historical look at just how horrible the operations each side took during it.

That or (and this has been hinted at in a couple of games, but none have really stuck with it) a game where you haven't killed before and have a nervous breakdown after every action sequence, eventually becoming completely fried, with a vomit slicked shirt and shaking hands. I kind of think the closest I've ever seen was Eternal Darkness, with the sanity meter dropping as you saw more horrific things.

I know ideas are a dime a dozen with video games, but I am sick (literally occasionally, the Baikonur mission twisted my stomach) of even when you have a descent into madness, there is no examination of how fucked up the original mission orders must have been.

That or a mod that allows me to shoot Robert McNamara and Henry Kissinger during CoD: Black Ops and thus kill half the top-level support structure of the Vietnam War (as much as you'd then be gunned down and the war would not stop).
posted by Hactar at 7:49 AM on April 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Play an FPS and shoot a few dozen people in the face in gory detail and people wring their hands. Play a scifi strategy game and order the destruction of a planet with population in the billions and nobody cares. I guess they're just numbers; one death is a tragedy, a million is a statistic.
posted by Zalzidrax at 7:52 AM on April 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


Look Jeremy Bentham in the face and say that.

but they locked him away because of student pranks
posted by mightygodking at 7:53 AM on April 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


As far as post-modern game structures go; sometimes they work and sometimes they don't. I stopped playing Bioshock way before the payoff because it pissed me off that my game character jabbed a giant hyperdermic needle full of glowing juice straight into his arm at the earliest opportunity; without even giving me a choice. I was expecting more of an RPG experience with choices ala System Shock but that's not what Bioshock was delivering. It didn't matter to me that I was going to get a payoff because I didn't feel like taking the journey.

I've seen someone else (or maybe it was you!) make this same complaint about BioShock before. What's funny is that the game actually does satisfactorily explain why your character would do this, later on.

(BioShock is not at all an RPG. It's a violent theme park ride, but a particularly interesting one.)
posted by neckro23 at 8:15 AM on April 15, 2013


That or (and this has been hinted at in a couple of games, but none have really stuck with it) a game where you haven't killed before and have a nervous breakdown after every action sequence, eventually becoming completely fried,
Hotline Miami.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:24 AM on April 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


I always compare these things to Deus Ex: Human Revolution, which (except for the boss battles) gave you all the trappings of a FPS shooter without requiring you to actually follow through. You mightn't get morally compromised by killing people, but then you mightn't kill people at all. While there was also some ways in which your action rippled out and changed the gameworld, I thought there was room for more of that sort of thing.

I also wished one of the endings could have been the noir ending, however. None of them quite matched what I actually wanted to do. But we still come up against technological limits that stop every possibility from being explored.
posted by gadge emeritus at 8:46 AM on April 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Next time, try considering the consequences of your actions, you borderline sociopath.

One of my favorite parts of "The Line" (which I just finished last night, thought it was very very good) was those little sentences of explanatory text that flash on the screen during load times, usually brief tutorial things or reminders about certain weapon features. As stuff starts to hit the fan late in the game, they start getting oddly personal:

"How many Americans have you killed today?"
"Do you feel like a hero yet?"

and then, jarringly:

"You are still a good person."
posted by jbickers at 8:46 AM on April 15, 2013 [5 favorites]


Play an FPS and shoot a few dozen people in the face in gory detail and people wring their hands. Play a scifi strategy game and order the destruction of a planet with population in the billions and nobody cares. I guess they're just numbers; one death is a tragedy, a million is a statistic.

There's definitely an issue of abstraction here. After all, calls to ban a game in which you willingly sacrifice people on your side in order to box your opponent into a hopeless situation are relatively rare in the West.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 9:07 AM on April 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


Gunmakers are compensated for the appearance of their brands as much as the NFL Players Association is paid for its members appearing in Madden.

Either gunmakers are being paid a lot more than I thought they were or NFL players are being paid a lot less.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 9:30 AM on April 15, 2013


CBrachyrhynchos: Curiously this post reads like a great plot summary of DA2 in either ending, or ME3 in some of the endings.

Funny you say that, because it made me think of Mass Effect 2 and some of the choices that you make in the game. [spoilers for ME2, and the entire game series, follow.] The game gives you choices throughout, mostly in what you say to other characters but also with actions, that are divided into Paragon, Renegade and neutral. (Roughly speaking, Paragon is being more like Captain America, and Renegade more like Wolverine, at least without the retcons and excuses.) Renegade isn't full-bore psychopathy--sometimes it's just being rude or somewhat blunt--but there are a few spots where you're making the choice, or inducing another character to choose, to kill someone.

When you're doing the loyalty mission (a mission which, if successfully completed, will in turn affect a particular character's chances of surviving the final mission) for Garrus, for example, you have the option of either (Paragon) talking Garrus out of taking revenge on someone who betrayed him (where the only thing separating the target from Garrus' sniper bullet is your head) , or (Renegade) letting him take the shot. When you're doing Jack's loyalty mission, again you have the option of either talking her down from killing someone who wants to revive the scientific program where she was tortured and abused for her entire childhood, or letting her take the shot. And, in the most extreme example, for Zaeed's loyalty mission, you either have to (again) decline to let him get his revenge against a betrayer in order to save a burning factory full of people, and then ensure his loyalty by appealing to the better angels of his nature, such as they are--which requires a high pre-existing Paragon score, meaning that you've been Space Captain America for the entire game up to that point--or you let him get his revenge, while in the meantime you can hear all the innocent civilians that you didn't save screaming while they burn to death.

And, in the end, the difference between having a high Paragon score and having a high Renegade score, in terms of keeping your team alive and successfully saving the galaxy (at least for a little while) is... exactly zero. Either one will let you get and keep your entire team's loyalty. It does make a difference when interacting with some of the minor NPCs (in particular, you have to treat the comic-relief character Conrad Verner nicely if you want him to remain alive through the final game, and in fact doing so does help him make a minor contribution toward the war effort), but at least in ME2 being a complete dick works just as well as being a complete boy/girl scout. It's waffling between the two that incurs the most penalties and will negatively affect your game the most. I love the game and have done several playthroughs, but only one as a total Renegade, because it disturbed me.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:33 AM on April 15, 2013


Does anyone else think the Far Cry 3 writer comes off as incredibly vapid and shallow in this? Having played both games,

I haven't played the game, but he sure comes across that way in this interview where he says things like "if the story functions correctly, like say Avatar" and "the people are called the Rakyat, which means “the people”. It’s the laziest name for a tribe ever, they’re not real, they’re a metaphor. People need to be looking at the names of these things."

And, "Do you know what the name of the island is?! It’s Rook Island! Which means to fraud people!...– it’s called Rook Island, it’s not called some other island – and the Alice quotes have an effect on you, and there’s a meaning behind all the Alice quotes."

It's no wonder game stories suck if their highest aspiration is to work almost as well as Avatar.
posted by straight at 9:49 AM on April 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


Hactar: The game starts with a former American SEAL or other special forces soldier and a former Soviet Spetsnaz soldier facing off against each other in a small building next to Gorbachev's dacha in the Crimea. Both are old, grizzled and obviously [?]. Flash back, the missions alternate between the two of them. The American is part of Operation Ajax (Iran), the Russian is part of Operation Whirlwind (Hungary).... Each one sees the other on his missions, building something of a rivalry between the two.

This is the first FPS idea that I've ever read on Metafilter that sounds like it could work as an actual game that would be played by actual people (who aren't looking for a probably-unplayable anti-FPS experiment), and still add some moral complexity.

Disclaimer: I'm not much of an FPS player (I've never touched Call of Duty, etc), but I don't react to them with automatic contempt, either.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 10:19 AM on April 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


jbickers: "You are still a good person."

There's also something a bit chilling to me about the line "I forgive you" coming from a homicidal robot that you've just battered to non-functionality with your magnetic portal gun. In context, it's just another aspect of how Big Bad is emotionally and physically abusive. Compared to other games though where you'd be engaged in mass murder/warfare, it's something different.

Haloween Jack: Yeah Renegade/Paragon end up mostly about the flavor text. My objection is that ME3 presents you with three different flavors of puppy-kicking, and then demands one of them as the final solution. (Refusing to choose in the EC gives you a cut-scene that refusing to kick the puppy is, in fact, kicking the puppy.) Bioware amended the ending to say that by kicking the puppy you gave the puppy a new golden age, but I don't think it survives more than trivial scrutiny. The ultimate moral is that non-consensual mucking with biology is bad, genocide is bad, and having god-like control over others is bad, except when the player is doing it.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 10:21 AM on April 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


If the whole point of what guys like this are doing is to produce something slightly deeper and smarter and with a little bit more moral nuance than Call of Duty, I probably just shouldn't pay any attention to this conversation.
posted by straight at 10:23 AM on April 15, 2013


The thing I find most interesting about violence in games is that if there's a way to solve a problem without death, I'll take it without ever even really thinking about it. I just played Skyrim for the first and probably last time this past month; I very quickly settled into the role of a thief with fabulous luck thanks to my constant save-scumming to avoid having to kill anything intelligent, or ever deal with a failed pickpocketing. I wasn't hardcore about it - my stats at the end of the game included like 150 re-deadened zombies wandering around the various tombs I raided, plus assorted animals that I couldn't get away from - but I was very conscious of the fact that while killing was certainly a solution I could choose, it wasn't the one I was interested in.

Of course, there are tons of people who wouldn't make that choice except maybe on their fourth playthrough or something. It seems to be seen as the harder path by most people, judging by the Internet. It felt like the only path to me.

I generally avoid first-person games, in part because they're so focused on SHOOT KILL. This series makes me kind of curious to play Spec Ops: The Line, but not at all curious to play Far Cry 3. But given that getting to the moral twists in Spec Ops seems to involve a lot of fairly straight first person murder, I think I'll stick to more absurd games that let me remain detached from the violence by both the choice of perspective and the way the violence is abstracted and cartoonified.
posted by egypturnash at 10:39 AM on April 15, 2013


Does anyone else think the Far Cry 3 writer comes off as incredibly vapid and shallow in this? Having played both games,

I just finished FC3 and the writing just made me angrier and angrier as the game progressed. It's as if they started playing a game of "Can You Top This?" with each successive plot point becoming more ridiculous than the previous. I also hate it when a game teaches me a "skill" for getting the job done (stealth killing) and then takes that option off the table to advance the story. The Hoyt boat mission made me want to punch a developer in the neck.

One of the more disturbing parts of FC3 and GTA IV are the NPC's treatment of each other. It seems there is no logic for NPCs to care about or for one another. In FC3, after sniping a guard, the others do not rush to help him. When an NPC gets hit by a car, nobody tries to see if he's ok. With that type or moral atmosphere pervading the game, it's easy for me as a player to not give a shit either.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 10:42 AM on April 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


There's definitely an issue of abstraction here. After all, calls to ban a game in which you willingly sacrifice people on your side in order to box your opponent into a hopeless situation are relatively rare in the West.

There's a much higher level of abstraction going on with chess, though. I mean the pieces are suggestively named, and ostensibly the thing is something about two armies fighting, but it's not like chess is actually trying to give you a sense of actually leading army, it's just a bunch of rules. The reason you take actions in a chess game is because you are trying to win a game, nothing more.

But computer games tend to put at least some sort of emphasis on simulation or immersion. For example, in game, the reason I was bombing a planet back to the stone age was as a disproportionate response to the deaths of a few thousand of my own civilians. This was due to stray fire in an unprovoked and unsuccessful attack against one of my colonies, but it was only by luck that so few of my own civilians died - my colony was lightly defended - the only reason the attack failed is because an allied fleet had retreated from a battle with an evil alien horde to repair and resupply, and so fortuitously took part in the defense. However, the only reason said colony was lightly defended in the first place was because I knew the warrior alien folks would try to test the defenses of weak seeming opponents, and so kept my large combat fleets out of detection range, in the hope that they would attack and provide a casus belli for me to counterattack and expand into their space.

So even in less story driven games, there's a lot of room for "moral" choice if you accept the premise of role the game puts you in. Of course if I were playing against humans rather than a computer, it would be a different story because, like chess, the game would be explicitly about winning.
posted by Zalzidrax at 11:01 AM on April 15, 2013


I just miss being able to play FPSs. They've become so twitch based and non stop that I can't play them due to the problems with my hands. Anything to slow down game play, make us think and work for the game and the win.

Really? My impression is that FPSes have slowed down and incorporated elements like cover instead of being the non-stop run/jump/shoot/strafe fests of the Doom days. Even iD's Rage was deliberately paced. I'm not sure that's a good thing, and it would be neat to see more hyperspeed shooters like Vanquish.

I don't like 'realistic' games, so I don't play COD. Give me absurd weapons and lots of targets.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 3:48 PM on April 15, 2013


Except choosing your alliances according to a personal cost/benefit analysis isn't morality at all. Having to put carrots in front of the player to coax them into doing moral things undermines the very idea of morality.

What carrots? Maybe it was different for you, but the idea of what they could do for me in the future pretty much never entered into my decisions regarding who I would fight, who I would attempt to turn and who I would support or protect.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 3:59 PM on April 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


I like games like Borderlands and Saints Row (and maybe Far Cry 3:Blood Dragon, which I haven't played) that admit the player is a sociopath and steers the narrative accordingly. As for choices, Fallout New Vegas is the only one that gives them real moral weight. I feel guilty about stuff I've done not out of an abstract sense of morality but because I've got to know the characters and factions.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 4:00 PM on April 15, 2013


What carrots? Maybe it was different for you, but the idea of what they could do for me in the future pretty much never entered into my decisions regarding who I would fight, who I would attempt to turn and who I would support or protect.

Yeah same here. My choices in New Vegas are more based on personal philosophy.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 4:01 PM on April 15, 2013


Me?
armond white
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 6:06 PM on April 15, 2013


In FC3, after sniping a guard, the others do not rush to help him

You know the reason for that is to stop players from following up snipes with RPG shots to take out the whole base.

Of course, another solution would be to not give players RPGs and sniper rifles, but then that would kind of negate the whole point of the game.
posted by empath at 7:25 PM on April 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


You could just have one guy go over to help his wounded friend while shouting at his colleagues to fan out and find the sniper.

In Deus Ex Human Revolution, guards will go over and revive other guards that you've hit with the sniper rifle that shoots tranquilizer darts.
posted by straight at 8:33 PM on April 15, 2013


You know the reason for that is to stop players from following up snipes with RPG shots to take out the whole base.

Another pertinent reason is that not doing so makes the AI a lot easier to program. If NPCs have to react to each other as well as to the player, that massively increases the complexity of potential responses and processing power needed. An army of NPCs, each of whom is acting as if he/she is the only NPC in existence and whose only tactic is to run straight at the player screaming bloody murder until they get mown down, is a lot easier to simulate than a small squad of NPCs acting together using tactics and awareness of each others' movements, each taking seperate cooperative roles to flank, heal, cover each other, revive fallen friends, remember if they've seen their companions fall and to remember to be appropriately suspicious even after their friend's body has been conveniently evaporated to reduce strain on the game engine.

Besides, if the sniper+RPG tactic would work in real life, then it ought to be allowable within the game. If you really don't want your players to use it, then decrease the range on your RPG or decrease its accuracy until using it no longer becomes practical. Emergent strategies that the game designers didn't anticipate are one of the things that make games fun for a significant proportion of people. It's the shooter equivalent of putting buckets on the Skyrim merchants' heads.
posted by talitha_kumi at 5:32 AM on April 16, 2013 [2 favorites]




The vapidness of Far Cry 3's plot is probably why Blood Dragon's plot is an intentional joke, but the base capturing mechanic (probably the best part of FC3) is more or less intact.

I just hope Blood Dragon doesn't have any weirdly lit knife fights.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 3:09 AM on April 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


If they really want to improve this situation, they need to find a way to recapture the kind of problem-solving and interacting with the environment that old school Sierra and LucasArts adventure games had. I'm not saying to go back to carrying around tons of items in your pocket and combining them in implausible ways, but the limitations of game UIs and AIs as they exist now make it so that your options are basically "make games all about shooting things and choosing from lists." There's got to be a better way. (Stuff like Heavy Rain's "let's make it a rhythm game only with lots of blood" is interesting, but I doubt that it's the wave of the future.)
posted by LukeLockhart at 4:52 PM on April 17, 2013


I enjoyed parts of FC3, but I feel completely opposite of the developer here. The story doesn't pave over potholes in the mechanic for me (unless it's a great story, which FC3 isn't), the mechanics let me ignore the really crass, tone-deaf, racist/sexist shit that pervades most games. Fallout and Dishonored are about the only two games that I loved the world and story enough to pay attention to the dialogue and really felt 'in the world'. FC3 was some amazing scenery, and nice mechanics. From the opening montage through every dialogue and cutscene I tried my best to ignore pretty much all the characters in the game (with the exception of the doctor who's performance blew me away).

I kept playing and making decision based on being able to see more of the islands. I kept finding huts and lookouts and thinking "I'd totally live here, and go fishing over there, and plant a little garden there"

I assumed all the weirdness about hunting animals when you should be trying to save your friends, was just clunky story-teliing, and the sex and rape as ways to be as audacious and shocking as COD or BlackOPs or whatever.

I think Deus-Ex 1 and 3 did a good job of allowing you to really choose what kind of character you were going to be.

I guess I gravitate to open-world games to really play the same game I've been playing since GTA Vice City: Extremely violent, stealthy house hunter.
posted by gofargogo at 5:54 PM on April 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Extremely violent, stealthy house hunter.

Coming Fall 2013 to TLC.
posted by empath at 7:35 PM on April 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Awkward Handshake: The Game
posted by homunculus at 10:44 PM on April 19, 2013


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