“Why can’t I use magic to explore a beautiful world?"
July 3, 2015 3:40 PM   Subscribe

 
A really excellent read. I've been thinking a lot about whether there's room in the major AAA marketplace for a story-driven game where the dilemmas you typically solve with your fists/guns are solved through conversation, making deals, exploration etc... I'm glad to see at least I'm not alone in thinking about that.

Basically, sometimes I want to be Batman, but sometimes I want to be Josh from The West Wing. And not by being an omniscient faceless city manager or civilization's emperor but by being an actual person whose story involves real game mechanics and not just branching dialog trees.

I want to play Fallout 4. But I also want to play a Fallout-type game where the gun is the last resort and not the go-to instrument for XP-collection. Sure, you can play fallout games with less violence than most people employ, but it's incredibly hard because the games aren't really designed to make travelling the wastelands or a given plot-related building all that easy without just murdering everything with a red name over its head.
posted by shmegegge at 4:03 PM on July 3, 2015 [10 favorites]


The fact that my player character is often slaughtering thousands upon thousands of humanoids throughout the game really does take me out of the moment - especially if executing someone is a big thing elsewhere in the game mechanics.

I think this is more true of AAA games than indie ones, though - AAA games are such a small portion of the number of games put out each year, and they're a hell of a lot less diverse than the indie game market.
posted by dinty_moore at 4:04 PM on July 3, 2015 [4 favorites]


This supersaturation lends itself to illustrating the greater problem: violence lacks nuance. It’s hard to tell a wide variety of stories by utilizing violence as the only way by which the audience can interact with the narrative. In real life, people have a variety of mechanisms they use in response to the actions of others. But in video games, the solution is often singular: shoot/punch/kick/kill the obstacle. It’s hard to tell an emotionally evocative story when violence is a player’s only option to progress.

That's an interesting point, and I think there's definitely room for more complex/open-ended interactions in video games. The author's argument seems to be directed primarily at first person shooter type things, but as they point out (e.g. Minecraft), there are some other game styles that don't center around violence. (Alpha Centauri is one of my favorites, in part because military conquest is only one of many strategies that can lead to victory.) It would be neat to see more FPS games that bring negotiating/strategizing/alliances into the mix.
posted by Vic Morrow's Personal Vietnam at 4:08 PM on July 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


This being mostly about AAA games doesn't make the question any less relevant, though - what about big budgets and $50 price tags means that there should involve huge amounts of violence, especially since people have proven that they're willing to play indie games that don't involve huge amounts of fighting?

(ugh, and now I'm trying to remember the name of the cell phone game I was playing that involved trying to keep one's barbarian tribe afloat and it was mostly sacrificing the right animals and sending the right people out to do trade negotiations, and sending warriors out on quests, like a barbarian Josh Lyman)
posted by dinty_moore at 4:10 PM on July 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


As someone who spends WAY. TOO. MUCH. TIME. angsting about Dragon Age, it does really really really bother me that you can't just Sleep spell the warring Templars and Mages in the Hinterlands, disarm and restrain them while they're knocked out, and then talk them down once they come to again.

(Those motherfucking bears, though. I'm totes fine with Cassandra massacring those fuckers.)
posted by Jacqueline at 4:11 PM on July 3, 2015 [7 favorites]


I agree 110% with the dream of this article, but I think it misses something. Violence as the driving force in games is easier, technologically speaking. It's basically rendering masses of objects and doing collision detection and physics, plus simple AI. Computers were basically created for this purpose. It's not that it's trivial to make an AAA video game, it's just that it's clear how to solve it --- like building the Hoover Dam vs. building a nuclear fusion facility.

On the other hand, nobody really knows how to accurately deal with the complex interplay between different factions, or even individual relationships. Either you come up with some system that doesn't really work (see: Fallout:NV, Mass Effect, w/e) or you force everything to be scripted, making it basically an interactive movie rather than a game. This is the way it's going to be until someone comes up with HAL-9000-level AI. It's just an insanely hard problem.

I'm glad there are lots of indie developers imagining new kinds of games that are technologically feasible and have more interesting motivating forces than violence. But I think even going into the future, a lot of them will necessarily be about violence or at least physical conflict of some form. The best we can hope for is that they won't be actively sexist and horrible.
posted by vogon_poet at 4:13 PM on July 3, 2015 [41 favorites]


A great essay that makes you think about a lot the current state of gaming in general.

A really excellent read. I've been thinking a lot about whether there's room in the major AAA marketplace for a story-driven game where the dilemmas you typically solve with your fists/guns are solved through conversation, making deals, exploration etc... I'm glad to see at least I'm not alone in thinking about that.

Life is Strange which is a Tell-Tale game has this kind of mechanic but I do know many people who have described the game more as a visual novel/story and less an actual game itself. I disagree because the game does require puzzle solving, and the choices you make do impact game play and story-endings.

It's one reason why I've enjoyed Life is Strange. I have tons and tons of games where violence is the main idea (be it avoiding violence or inflicting it). This game is more about the choices I make as the character I inhabit. It's about her decision to answer a phone call instead of meeting someone for coffee and what happens with those choices. It's also a world that is beautiful and open to exploration. A game where you're rewarded for doing so too.
posted by Fizz at 4:13 PM on July 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


Not defending it, but the main reason is: violence is easy to program. Once you have the code for random monster #1 hitting you, you pretty much have it for random monsters 2 through 20,000. Trying to "fully customize [the player's] experience and to explore new and different play styles" is not an easy problem, and is so vague as to be meaningless to game design.
posted by festivus at 4:15 PM on July 3, 2015 [14 favorites]


YES Life Is Strange. It doesn't actually fix any of the problems with decision-tree-adventure-games, but it manages to turn them into something beautiful. Like a play in a black box theater or something.
posted by vogon_poet at 4:16 PM on July 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


If you're looking for something nonviolent, right now the Humble Weekly Bundle ("Leading Ladies 2") contains the artsy exploration game Lumino City, the stylish heist game The Marvellous Miss Take, the beautiful physics platformer Gravity Ghost, and Sunset, which I don't have a pithy two-word description of. It's about a woman working as an apartment cleaner during a South American revolution in 1972. The whole lot for $12.

(Also comes with Trine 2, Hack and Slash, and A City Sleeps, but if it's violent games you're after, the current Humble Bundle of "All of Borderlands 1&2 for $15" is probably more interesting to you.)

I would also like to recommend that anybody with an interest in the content of their media check out Common Sense Media. It's aimed at parents, but it's great for seeing what's in a game (or movie, or book, or TV show) that might be objectionable, and unlike other such sites it's not run by a bunch of Christian bluenoses (CAPAlert, I'm looking at you)- recommendations are "probably appropriate for this age" rather than "BAN THIS SICK FILTH" and content categories include Consumerism as well as the familiar violence, sex, and drugs.
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:19 PM on July 3, 2015 [14 favorites]


I've probably played less than an hour of modern video games, so I'm no expert. But I found the pew-pew-pew shooting to be really boring and not at all compelling, even though I'm happy to watch movies depicting graphic violence. I do hope that the gaming industry grows in the way this article describes, because the kinds of games imagined are ones that I might actually be interested in.
posted by Dip Flash at 4:21 PM on July 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


Portal is another game without violence. The new Mirror's Edge removes all shooting, which most players felt marred the previous game. There's also quirky things like Viscera Cleanup Detail, which is about a rampage by a space marine in a space station-- and the player is the not the marine, but the janitor who has to clean up afterward.

I never finished Skyrim because it felt like every quest, for every faction, was some form of "go into a dungeon, kill everything, and grab the McGuffin."

I think one of the main problems is just that no one's found a really satisfying mechanic for dialog. In almost every game with dialog options, you get a choice of 3 options (if there's more, it's almost always pure exposition/lore). In Bioware and Bethesda games the 3 options are usually "be nice", "be mean", or "opt out". That's a really low amount of player choice. Shooting, by contrast, involves much more choice and skill.

Plus, even if the dialog is enjoyable, that just means the writing is good; it's still poor as gameplay. I enjoyed Mordin singing Gilbert & Sullivan. But games are most involving when the player helps create the story, not when you just click to advance the story the devs had in mind.

I wish I had a good solution for this. Really, 'cos I've been working on a game, I'd like it to be dialog-focused, and I'm not sure how to make it fun. More options, maybe, but that means an awful lot of writing.
posted by zompist at 4:26 PM on July 3, 2015 [7 favorites]


People have been talking about conversation systems on rec.games.int-fiction since before I was alive, and no one has really progressed past conversation trees. I think emergent storytelling without conversation is going to be how this happens, if it does.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 4:33 PM on July 3, 2015 [12 favorites]


I agree 110% with the dream of this article, but I think it misses something. Violence as the driving force in games is easier, technologically speaking. It's basically rendering masses of objects and doing collision detection and physics, plus simple AI. Computers were basically created for this purpose. It's not that it's trivial to make an AAA video game, it's just that it's clear how to solve it --- like building the Hoover Dam vs. building a nuclear fusion facility.

On the other hand, nobody really knows how to accurately deal with the complex interplay between different factions, or even individual relationships. Either you come up with some system that doesn't really work (see: Fallout:NV, Mass Effect, w/e) or you force everything to be scripted, making it basically an interactive movie rather than a game. This is the way it's going to be until someone comes up with HAL-9000-level AI. It's just an insanely hard problem.


The way game engines have evolved over the last few decades, this is true. On the other hand, there's an underlying assumption begging to be challenged. I can't find the article right now, but there was a great piece of satire a while back bemoaning the current state of video games as driven primarily by non-violent video games, and how games like Wolfenstein 3D were so few and far between because of how difficult it was to accurately model ballistic physics, arm controls for aiming and firing, and the various other gameplay systems you'd "need" to make a realistic shooting game.

The point was that we see technological and mechanical challenges where we want to see them (at least to an extent), and that our underlying biases may be guiding the development of games in ways that make violence seem like the natural game mechanic when it doesn't have to be. I think there was also another secondary point that suggests what we see in video game violence now is itself an abstraction we've all come to accept, and that the same could easily be true for non-violent game mechanics—in other words, we don't need AI characters that can carry on an entire unguided conversation with you in order to feel like we've succeeded with non-violent mechanics in the same way we have with violent ones.

Of course, that doesn't change where we are now, with very elaborate forms of digital carnage at our disposal. But it does imply that creating involving game mechanics centered on dialogue, diplomacy, and other non-violent forms of interaction is not necessarily out of reach, and not inherently more difficult. Perhaps it's just a matter of not spending nearly as much time and effort iterating on the kinds of game systems that work well in non-violent games.

I just finished Wolfenstein: The Old Blood and liked it a great deal, but besides that game pretty much every other game I loved from this year has involved barely any violence, never used as a primary game mechanic: Life Is Strange, Cities: Skylines, A-Train 3D, Her Story and DiRT Rally.
posted by chrominance at 4:34 PM on July 3, 2015 [25 favorites]


I think it was mentioned in the essay but I too have found ways to play certain violence prone games in non-traditional ways. I know that I often found myself picking and choosing quests in Skyrim that were more focused on helping individuals with smaller tasks, like running this message to that person or so forth. I always enjoyed that game more when I was just wandering around and exploring the various settings and parts of the country.
posted by Fizz at 4:35 PM on July 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


(Those motherfucking bears, though. I'm totes fine with Cassandra massacring those fuckers.)

The bears actually really bother me!! There's this weird thing in fantasy games where ALL THE PREDATORY WILDLIFE ATTACKS YOU ALL THE TIME. The Dragon Age series isn't the worst offender-- the wolves in the Elder Scrolls are pretty ridiculous, and the ones in Inquisition at least seem to have SOME kind of AI that does something other than CONSTANT ATTACKS ON EVERYTHING; they do seem to at least occasionally, like, go after the big herbavores instead of the HEAVILY ARMORED ADVENTURERS, TWO OF WHICH ARE LIKE 8 FEET TALL NOT EVEN INCLUDING THE HORNS. But it jolts me out of the worldbuilding sometimes, because I spend a lot of time wondering how the bears survive living on the Storm Coast and why there are SO MANY of them. There's the weird knife-that-killed-the-Jesus-analogue-worshipping-raider-cult living there; surely they'd have thinned out the population a bit by the time the Inquisitor gets there? It's especially ridiculous considering that there are quests for stuff like "the wolves got cursed and all went crazy and are attacking the herds" and "please kill this wyvern, to motivate you I will tell you in detail how he killed some dude, thx Inquisitor", but then the apparently non-cursed-to-be-crazy wildlife has decided that clearly the best route toward survival is attacking everything that moves. Even when the thing that is moving is THE FUCKING IRON BULL. It's just bad life plans all around!!

Not defending it, but the main reason is: violence is easy to program. Once you have the code for random monster #1 hitting you, you pretty much have it for random monsters 2 through 20,000. Trying to "fully customize [the player's] experience and to explore new and different play styles" is not an easy problem, and is so vague as to be meaningless to game design.

I think it's less that it's easy to program and more that it's easy to conceptualize. It's easy to write. It's supported by the engines. But there are lots of game mechanics that don't seem like they're a lot harder to do than violence that people seem REALLY INTO that aren't really used with particular depth; a lot of these are already there! Here, I'll spitball some things using prexisting mechanics that would be a lot more interesting games than STABBY TIME:
  • Imagine if you could take a more mercantile approach to running the Inquisition or being whatever Chosen One in the Elder Scrolls game and actually open up a shop to sell all those alchemical potions and hire people to do the dirty work for you using the ridiculous amounts of money you can make from that.
  • Diplomatic relations involving attitudes and clothes where you have to really balance what you're doing, what you're wearing, and your approach. Imagine if the gear you wore off the battlefield had as much effect as what you wore on it. You have to figure out what to wear in what places in order to impress the right people and not upset others. Diplomacy via red carpet.
There are parts where it feels like games are starting to get this and include variations in gameplay, but it doesn't always work very well. The quest Wicked Eyes, Wicked Hearts in DA:I was a really interesting idea, but in actual gameplay it was pretty tedious and repetitive, because there's just not as many variations of the non-combat activities programmed into the game as there are for combat. I'm replaying Mass Effect 3, and I think I probably spend an equal amount of time running around talking to people as I do shooting them, and I really enjoy that.
posted by NoraReed at 4:36 PM on July 3, 2015 [23 favorites]


There's this weird thing in fantasy games where ALL THE PREDATORY WILDLIFE ATTACKS YOU ALL THE TIME.

What's even weirder is that there are some animals in DA:I that won't attack you unless you attack first (the Brontos, and the Dogfisher(?) in Jaws of Hakkon), so it's not like they didn't program that possibility in, they just decided that BEARS ATTACK EVERYTHING ALL THE TIME BECAUSE BEARS.

This is especially ridiculous because I ended up attacking the brontos like, 70% of the time anyway because they'd be hanging out when I'd be trying to kill some red templars and I'd hit them with an AoE attack. So we still would have been attacked by bears!
posted by dinty_moore at 4:43 PM on July 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


Imagine if you could take a more mercantile approach to running the Inquisition or being whatever Chosen One in the Elder Scrolls game and actually open up a shop to sell all those alchemical potions and hire people to do the dirty work for you using the ridiculous amounts of money you can make from that.

That's a game! And actually a fun one.
posted by festivus at 4:43 PM on July 3, 2015 [11 favorites]


This essay is exactly why I'm so excited about feminist critique about video games. Not just the feminist agenda, although it's important and I support it. But because thoughtful critique can make games better. It really is tedious how "kill the thing" is the primary verb in so many video games. And it absolutely is tied up with gender issues. The fixation on violence significantly limits the narrative and emotional possibilities of games.

But I do find it a bit weird the author talks so much about Minecraft being a non-violent game. The primary survival mode is remarkably full of conflict, albeit cartoonish conflict. Survival is all about surviving zombie attacks by building a safe base or killing the zombies. Your primary goal in survival mode is to acquire enough power to go slaughter the big end boss.

Now not many people play Minecraft for the combat. The fun part of Minecraft is the mining and the crafting, the creative part of the game. And there's various game modes that avoid the combat. But I think it's telling that the violence loop is still so central to the original primary game design. Notch was either brilliant or lucky in building such a fun creative game. But even he wasn't innovative enough to see beyond desiging the game around a slaughter RPG.
posted by Nelson at 4:43 PM on July 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


Diplomatic relations involving attitudes and clothes where you have to really balance what you're doing, what you're wearing, and your approach. Imagine if the gear you wore off the battlefield had as much effect as what you wore on it. You have to figure out what to wear in what places in order to impress the right people and not upset others. Diplomacy via red carpet.

Also, they were talking about doing this for Wicked Eyes/Wicked Hearts in DA:I and I'm still sad that you couldn't help save the world by wearing the most awesome outfit.

Plus, imagine what would happen if it got out that the Inquisitor just wears their drab pajamas all over skyhold...
posted by dinty_moore at 4:45 PM on July 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


I was hooked on violence in video games since I first typed the words "Kill troll with sword" as a critical mechanic / bottleneck.
posted by Nanukthedog at 4:50 PM on July 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


(Those motherfucking bears, though. I'm totes fine with Cassandra massacring those fuckers.)


I actually feel bad about the bears. Half the time, I try to avoid them, but then we wind up fighting random bandits or mages or whatever, and my party keeps on going and tries to jump a damn great bear. Then it's like, "OK, I guess we have to kill this bear now."

I would much rather kill some Red Templars. At least their motives are relatively transparent. Plus, I've got all kinds of cleansing runes on my weapons, and I will cleanse the fuck out of those guys.

And the fucking giant spiders. As Varric puts it, "Just for once, I'd like to go into a cave and find regular-sized spiders."
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 4:51 PM on July 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


Also, for the people complaining about dialogue trees being pretty simplistic - most fighting in videogames has around the same number of options as a dialogue tree - (kick, punch, block, maybe two or three special attacks that are variations of kick/punch/block - or hand to hand/close range/far range weapons). The ones you have available depend on choices you make during the game, but there's no reason why that couldn't work for dialogue, too - leveling up in sarcasm, for example, or becoming better at choosing the more diplomatic answer.
posted by dinty_moore at 4:52 PM on July 3, 2015 [5 favorites]


those pajamas are the bane of my fucking existence i swear to fucking god

they make a fucking great as hell armor customization thing with interchangeable parts; they could've reused a ton of those for non-fighty outfits and maybe made some of the ballgown parts tintable and interchangable and then it wouldn't look like the entire Orlesian nobility got their outfits at the same store. like, seriously, you're gonna make a special ninja outfit for an optional boss at the end of that mission, but the most stylish and pretentious people in the game only have 3 skirt patterns and they aren't even different colors? and you can't just wear the goddamn dress uniform with customized colors in Skyhold after that? i actually started using Cheat Engine just so I could avoid the goddamn pajamas and it was 100% worth it even though it makes your weapons hover behind you all the time, which is a little weird when you're laying around naked talking about poetry with Cassandra and there's just a BIG ASS STAFF FLOATING A COUPLE INCHES OFF YOUR BACK but at least you had to look at less fucking beige beforehand
posted by NoraReed at 4:53 PM on July 3, 2015 [6 favorites]


Also, they were talking about doing this for Wicked Eyes/Wicked Hearts in DA:I and I'm still sad that you couldn't help save the world by wearing the most awesome outfit.


Oh, yeah- I did sort of murder the cousin of the Empress of Orlais because she had the same haircut as my Inquisitor, so I'm probably not the best exemplar of alternative dispute resolution in DA:I...
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 4:54 PM on July 3, 2015 [7 favorites]


Also, for the people complaining about dialogue trees being pretty simplistic - most fighting in videogames has around the same number of options as a dialogue tree

And you do the fighting things OVER AND OVER the SAME WAY for the WHOLE GAME! At least dialog wheels generally have different things on them when you talk to different people, at least in modern games.
posted by NoraReed at 4:55 PM on July 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


There are lots and lots of things mascuilne fragility is responsible for in this world, things that should be fought and challenged. The non-gendered human aesthetic preference for twitch gameplay, artifical danger, and scaling reward in videogames is not one of them.

Not defending it, but the main reason is: violence is easy to program. Once you have the code for random monster #1 hitting you, you pretty much have it for random monsters 2 through 20,000.

This is a vast and very silly oversimplification. Even something as simple as Minecraft is more complex than you seem to think. I mean, most of the difficulty is ultimately in the tuning and not the implementation per se, but that's still a ridiculous statement. Pathing alone is and always will be a fucking nightmare. Social monsters. Any kind of AI, especially if it's reactive or even predictive, and not just a set list of attacks with static timing. Status effects and other modifiers. Any kind of swing/attack timers, especially if you're setting up parrying and blocking to go with it. Skill shots. Infection vectors for spells that work like diseases. Most ~violent~ games these days involve some kind of physics or interactivity with the world, like destructables.

The reason most games have all the aspects this article oversimplifies as "violence" are because most people who play games enjoy that kind of gameplay on a number of aesthetic levels, and because the kind of people who don't enjoy them but essentially want Second Life with Dragon Age graphics aren't actually a very profitable or self-supporting market. Programming difficulty isn't the big issue here, even if you're just considering the question of "why hasn't anyone given these people the kind of games they say they'd pay for?"

Now not many people play Minecraft for the combat. The fun part of Minecraft is the mining and the crafting, the creative part of the game. And there's various game modes that avoid the combat. But I think it's telling that the violence loop is still so central to the original primary game design. Notch was either brilliant or lucky in building such a fun creative game. But even he wasn't innovative enough to see beyond desiging the game around a slaughter RPG.

No, but lots of people play Minecraft for the difficulty of survival and the challenge of protecting yourself from creepers blowing all your stuff up. UHC wouldn't be such a huge thing if that wasn't a draw for many, or all the people who play regular HC, or the large segment of people who really enjoy the early stages of the game before you're no longer in any danger, and scrap their worlds and start over once they've hit that point. It's a big point of discussion amongst the community, even, how the difficulty stops in vanilla MC once you have access to iron, basically. It's not just people building things on creative servers. The reason the creeper is so iconic is because "creeper blew my house up :(" is a pretty universal experience. Most private and public servers I see out there are SMP, not creative.

Yeah, Minecraft's particular implementation the combat of a slaughter RPG is terrible, all are in agreement that it is a very bad implementation of "hit monster with sword". There are tons of mods for combat, more and deadlier monsters, magic and spells, more combat craftables, longer tech trees, better block/dodging, etc. That's very different from no one actually liking that aspect of the game or Notch "lacking innovation". I'll go as far as to say that I think Survival being the default new player experience when most of the userbase started out is a lot of what actually contributed to MC's popularity, and it wouldn't have had the same traction if the default had been Creative.
posted by The Master and Margarita Mix at 5:02 PM on July 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


I could ramble about this at length, but I'll just put this out there:

I want to be able to CHOOSE to be violent, but I also want to be able to choose NOT to be violent. I want both of those choices to be perfectly viable and nuanced. I want to be able to change my mind and my play style at any time.

Like many folks, I played and enjoyed the hell out of Skyrim. After I'd played through the questline a couple of times, and gotten bored, I decided to try playing as a conflict-avoidant tradesman / merchant. (This was partly inspired by the hilarious Living in Oblivion blog.)

My basic rules: I would avoid combat whenever possible, I would avoid (deliberately) developing any combat-related skills (except as a side effect of hunting), and I wouldn't equip myself with anything heavier than a hunter would have (hide armor, a dagger, and a simple bow). If attacked by a skeever or a wolf, I was allowed to fight back. If attacked by a more threatening animal (such as a bear), a humanoid, or anything monstrous or supernatural, I would run like fuck (probably toward the nearest guard).

I couldn't loot containers or harvest plants which looked like they belonged to somebody (even if they were technically unowned)—no filching potatoes from the barrels in front of the inn. And if I came across a corpse, I would respond the way a non-psychopath would—by walking away and letting the authorities deal with it, instead of rummaging through their pockets and taking their clothes for myself. Basically, I was gonna make myself earn every coin, thus scaling the scope of the drama down from "saving the world from ancient magical beasts" to "ordinary dude trying to make a dollar out of fifteen cents". My problems weren't "how am I going to murder this giant so I can loot his treasure chest?"; they were "how am I going to pay for the inn tonight and still save up enough cash to afford a pair of real shoes and some arrows to hunt with?".

It took some discipline—the game really, really tries to draw you into slicing up monsters—but it was fun! The game is surprisingly well balanced with this playstyle. I hunted deer, foxes, rabbits, elk, and mudcrabs for meat, hides, and other useful bits. I mined ore, chopped wood, and harvested crops to earn pocket change. I collected wild herbs and learned a bit of alchemy. A dude taught me how to smith and tan leather, so that was another way to make money. I accepted minor side quests to deliver letters and whatnot.

It did get boring after a while, but it made me wonder what the game would be like if they'd put as much effort into developing this experience as they did the stab-monsters-in-the-face experience.

On the other hand, I don't think it would have been as compelling if there hadn't been the threat of violence (this is why I quoted the bit above). Every time I wandered out of town to look for wild game or ingredients, there was the risk that I'd be set upon by bears or bandits. (Notable: the game doesn't even give you the option to hand your stuff over to bandits. It just assumes you're going to fight them to the death.) Games lose interest if there's no loss condition.

Oops; I rambled anyway. Sorry. I'd better stop myself here :)
posted by escape from the potato planet at 5:03 PM on July 3, 2015 [42 favorites]


Oh, yeah- I did sort of murder the cousin of the Empress of Orlais because she had the same haircut as my Inquisitor, so I'm probably not the best exemplar of alternative dispute resolution in DA:I...


Eh, I killed her because ROLEPLAYING (Cadash's main joys in life are murdering her enemies, alternating between horrifying and flirting with Josephine, and falling off mountains), but I do like that there was a choice and there's consequences for it. More oomph to the war table missions (like, animations and maybe voice acting) would have also been awesome.
posted by dinty_moore at 5:03 PM on July 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


The bears actually really bother me!! There's this weird thing in fantasy games where ALL THE PREDATORY WILDLIFE ATTACKS YOU ALL THE TIME.

My favorite fanon about this is the reason there are so many bears and they are so fucking aggressive in the Hinterlands is because that there used to be a reasonable number of them but now they are overpopulated and desperate because their population has swelled since the Hero of Ferelden and party disarmed all those fucking bear traps during random wilderness encounters 10 years ago.
posted by Jacqueline at 5:04 PM on July 3, 2015 [13 favorites]


I actually feel bad about the bears.

My personal headcanon is that after every bear kill, my Inquisitor's party takes the time to skin them, tan their hides, and then bring their furs to the refugees at the crossroads who need blankets to keep from freezing to death.
posted by Jacqueline at 5:06 PM on July 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


The reason most games have all the aspects this article oversimplifies as "violence" are because most people who play games enjoy that kind of gameplay on a number of aesthetic levels, and because the kind of people who don't enjoy them but essentially want Second Life with Dragon Age graphics aren't actually a very profitable or self-supporting market. Programming difficulty isn't the big issue here, even if you're just considering the question of "why hasn't anyone given these people the kind of games they say they'd pay for?"


1. Dating sims are popular in Japan for a reason - and I'm not convinced that a (non-skeevy) version of a Dating Sim couldn't make the crossover.
2. People totally do play Second Life with Dragon Age graphics and everything else is an AI, it's called the Sims.
posted by dinty_moore at 5:16 PM on July 3, 2015 [4 favorites]


Oh, I got issues with the refugees- actually, I didn't mind finding them all those blankets, but when an actual hunter is asking you to kill a bunch of rams to feed the hungry, you do kind of want to ask him what his job really is.

NOT TO MENTION the requisitions officer. "Oh sure, I've just got to kill these darkspawn or giants or whatever, but I can totally do your shopping for you as well, no problem." It would be cool if you had the option of actually defeating Corifypuss by crafting really awesome items for the Inquisition, but no- you have to do that and still fight a bunch of random dudes. I've basically started avoiding her when I'm at camp now.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 5:17 PM on July 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


And oh my god so many people would play Dragon Age: The Dating Sim. So many.

(Myself included, NGL)
posted by dinty_moore at 5:17 PM on July 3, 2015 [13 favorites]


I think it is sort of an uncanny valley thing with the samey combat versus samey dialogue thing. I have been replaying Arkham City and Batman only has a half-dozen verbs (all of which are really "Hit that thing") but they flow together so well, and there are enough variations for each one that it doesn't feel as samey to me as a billion Skyrim guards talking about arrows in their knees.

I do like conversation systems where you can pick moods or stances and then what your character says is more involved. Emily Short's Galatea is sort of an extreme example of this I think.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 5:19 PM on July 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


And oh my god so many people would play Dragon Age: The Dating Sim. So many.


Considering how hilariously bad my first (female) inquisitor's attempts to romance Cassandra went...yes, I think I would probably play that.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 5:19 PM on July 3, 2015


i just want to stab everything in my path and maybe set it on fire

i have 900 wyvern scales
posted by poffin boffin at 5:26 PM on July 3, 2015 [5 favorites]


1. Dating sims are popular in Japan for a reason - and I'm not convinced that a (non-skeevy) version of a Dating Sim couldn't make the crossover.

I recently paid $1 for Hatoful Boyfriend, in which you are normal everyday girl at a Japanese high school and everyone else are talking pigeons. I got suckered in by a let's-play where inside of five minutes one of the pigeons was complaining about kulaks. Still haven't played it though so maybe it's skeevy.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:27 PM on July 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


I do think that part of the reason violence is so popular in games is simply that it's an apt metaphor for some very basic, very common mechanics. Many, many games have some notion of a loss condition, of obstacles and challenges that stand between the player and victory, and of obstacles being removed from play as they are overcome.

Early on, developers had to figure out how to make abstract games about moving rectangles intelligible to the player. And the death metaphor turned out to be useful for that purpose. If an obstacle forced the player into a loss condition, we said that s/he "died". If the player overcame an obstacle and removed it from the game, we said that s/he had "killed" it. Games gave players a limited number of chances, and each one was called a "life". It's a natural analogy; there's no clearer way to communicate"GAME OVER" than "you are dead", and no clearer way to communicate "you have nullified this challenge" than "you killed it". Even Frogger's loss condition was "you just got squished by an 18-wheeler bro".

I mean, is chess a violent game because it's framed as a battle between two opposing armies? What about checkers? What about Pac-Man (I mean, he's eating those guys alive)?

I'm partly playing devil's advocate. I agree with much of the article, and although I'm not ideologically opposed to violence in games, I do think that games which offer only violence (and especially those which extol LUDICROUS GIBS and place the player in the avatar of a hulking, scowling dealer of death) are tedious and limiting. I'm just saying...it's not so clear-cut. I welcome more thematic and mechanical variety in games, but I don't necessarily feel a need to eliminate violence from games. (Not that anyone is suggesting that.)
posted by escape from the potato planet at 5:28 PM on July 3, 2015 [12 favorites]


(ugh, and now I'm trying to remember the name of the cell phone game I was playing that involved trying to keep one's barbarian tribe afloat and it was mostly sacrificing the right animals and sending the right people out to do trade negotiations, and sending warriors out on quests, like a barbarian Josh Lyman)

King of Dragon Pass?

(Barbarian Josh Lyman would be a great sockpuppet/novelty account.)
posted by kagredon at 5:30 PM on July 3, 2015 [5 favorites]


I am fully aware of how difficult it can be to write pathing, AI, game physics, etc. My point stands that once you've done it for a particular monster, you can repeat it throughout the course of a game without reproducing that effort. You can spawn 100 clones of that monster with a single line of code. Doing the same thing with believable conversation involves actual people writing a hell of a lot of canned scripts, and those run out.

My point also stands for early games where 3D was in the distant future. Pac-man levels 2-256 involve exactly the same ghost AI as level 1.
posted by festivus at 5:32 PM on July 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


i wish i could do dw rogue w/reaver and just freak out and hack everything to bits with two giant fucking swords

why can't i be the arishok this is my question, why is there no playable MONSTER ROGUE
posted by poffin boffin at 5:32 PM on July 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


King of Dragon Pass! Yes, that one
posted by dinty_moore at 5:33 PM on July 3, 2015


I love it when we can play a game in our own way. It can be really fun to subvert the expectations of the game and playing non-lethally can be great challenge. But sometimes the non-violent aspects of a game become boring. What is great about a good non-linear game is that you can do the non-violent activities until you get bored, then go do some fighting, then go back to crafting or conversations or whatever. I like the challenge and drama of combat; it is fun and exciting. I don't want a game without any combat, I just want to choose when to do it.
posted by conrad53 at 5:35 PM on July 3, 2015


1. Dating sims are popular in Japan for a reason - and I'm not convinced that a (non-skeevy) version of a Dating Sim couldn't make the crossover.
2. People totally do play Second Life with Dragon Age graphics and everything else is an AI, it's called the Sims.


1) It's called Dragon Age. /obligatory
2) That's not what the people in the article seem to be interested in. The Sims franchise may have overcorrected, but when they made The Sims 3 more "open world", exploring-based, etc, people rebelled and didn't like it. Now, again, you could argue that it's partially an implementation issue, there are a lot of reasons that The Sims 3 wasn't particularly very good and the open world stuff might have been more popular if they'd "got it right" the first go round, but a very large segment of that particular playerbase cared first and foremost about the "people simulator" part, not the "I want to interact with a huge open world in a non-violent way" part. The core gameplay of the franchise is the dollhouse model, they messed up when they lost sight of that. You can't use The Sims as an argument for why non-violent Skyrim or Dragon Age would like, totally sell a a zillion copies if people weren't so toxically masculine. They tried, and it was a resounding critical failure with their own audience. People were actually really, really mad about it.
posted by The Master and Margarita Mix at 5:37 PM on July 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


i hate the sims, i can't ever figure out how to woohoo; also there is no stabbing.
posted by poffin boffin at 5:39 PM on July 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


Death in the Sims is more of a Cask of Amontillado sort of thing.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 5:40 PM on July 3, 2015 [9 favorites]


You could probably build a house shaped like a Wicker Man and start an electrical fire if that's your thing, though.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 5:40 PM on July 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


yay

how do i get a lot of people into the house first
posted by poffin boffin at 5:43 PM on July 3, 2015 [4 favorites]


Of course, that doesn't change where we are now, with very elaborate forms of digital carnage at our disposal. But it does imply that creating involving game mechanics centered on dialogue, diplomacy, and other non-violent forms of interaction is not necessarily out of reach, and not inherently more difficult. Perhaps it's just a matter of not spending nearly as much time and effort iterating on the kinds of game systems that work well in non-violent games.

I agree that coming up with new, better game mechanics is not out of reach. (And, as people say, taking the existing mechanics and cloaking them in new metaphors.) I think it is happening now, and that momentum is only going to get stronger. This will mean that games at least aren't just male power fantasies.

But the bigger dream -- making actually convincing dialogue-and-relationship-based games that are also interactive and also test your skill and work on a huge AAA scale --- nobody even knows how you would do that. It would require like solving dozens of open problems with huge implications way beyond video games.

The point that this is an uncanny valley issue is really true: clunky animation and combat is way more tolerable than bad or confusing dialogue.
posted by vogon_poet at 5:45 PM on July 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


how do i get a lot of people into the house first

It doesn't really matter, since it won't bring back your damned apples.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:51 PM on July 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


Life is Strange which is a Tell-Tale game

Life is Strange is not a TellTale game. It is developed by Dontnod Entertainment.
posted by ymgve at 5:55 PM on July 3, 2015 [7 favorites]


I agree with everything in this article.

And yet I really enjoy combat in story-driven games. I've joked that Dragon Age has become a game about me killing things so I can have sex, and now the Witcher 3 is about me killing things so I can play more gwent. In general, I prefer story-driven RPGs. But there is a certain pleasure I get in killing things before they kill me that I think I would really miss if I played for the story alone. One of the problems I have with the Orlais quest (besides because fuck the Orleasians) is that there is there isn't enough combat in between the dialogue choices and the "don't do anything embarrassing, but scaling that trellis nine times is totally ok" clue searching. After I bit, I want to see how well my mastercrafted dual-bladed daggers can cut through some of those fancy-ass masks.

And that reaction might very well point to a failure of imagination on my part. I don't enjoy violence in sports or books, and rarely in movies, but there is something about the mix of narrative curiosity and adrenaline-fueled button mashing that makes me love video games way more that I should. But I don't know if it's because I've been conditioned to enjoy "masculine" violence or because I can't think of a better way to get me viscerally* engaged in a game.

*Anything that involves swimming or heights makes me panic because my body is too stupid to realize that I'm not actually going to drown or fall to my death, so violence it is then.
posted by bibliowench at 6:01 PM on July 3, 2015 [5 favorites]


I think there was also another secondary point that suggests what we see in video game violence now is itself an abstraction we've all come to accept, and that the same could easily be true for non-violent game mechanics—in other words, we don't need AI characters that can carry on an entire unguided conversation with you in order to feel like we've succeeded with non-violent mechanics in the same way we have with violent ones.
chrominance

I think this is the fundamental error people in this thread are making when they ask why you can't just swap out the repetitive violence mechanics for similar non-violent ones: you can't abstract these two things in the same way.

The vast, vast majority of gamers have never experienced violence and combat in the way they see in games. Abstraction of the idea of violence and combat is therefore much easier. It doesn't have to be realistic, it has to match the idea of what people who have only seen combat or violence in the media think it should look like.

This is emphatically not the case with social interaction. Everyone, everywhere knows what conversations and social interaction is like. If humans have evolved to do anything it's to be good at being social. So it's very, very hard to abstract that because we instinctively know when conversations or situations feel wrong.

Elementary Penguin is right above when they call this an Uncanny Valley situation. Since we're so attuned to social interaction, fake interaction is glaringly obvious in a way that fake fighting isn't.

As others have said, people have been trying for decades now to find a way to create natural-feeling dialogue and social interaction, and have so far failed. It's a very hard problem, and can't be handled the way violence is in games. Until we can get away from branching trees and simplistic rock-paper-scissors stuff like the above proposal for a game where clothing choices and poses affect diplomatic outcomes, interaction is always going to feel stilted and false.
posted by Sangermaine at 6:04 PM on July 3, 2015 [29 favorites]


Huh, I'd never thought of it that way! (Um, because the Internet handles tone poorly, I'm 100% serious)
posted by aramaic at 6:13 PM on July 3, 2015


This is the way it's going to be until someone comes up with HAL-9000-level AI. It's just an insanely hard problem.

I hate arguments like this. You don't need an AI to make a game that's more about exploration and sociology than violence. Yes, gunplay and punching is easier to program, but difficult things get written into code all the time, and that includes really interesting games where you don't attack anything. The author is talking about a Skyrim where the principal mechanic of attacking things isn't necessary or may not even be present. That's not a problem that's solved by technology, that's a problem that's solved by work.
posted by shmegegge at 6:16 PM on July 3, 2015 [6 favorites]


This article and discussion is very interesting in the context of a recent RPS post, Why are People Still Playing Ultima Online. (hint: not for the combat)
posted by ropeladder at 6:21 PM on July 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


Fantastic article. Really illustrates why tabletop RPGs are so great. In a good game system, there are enough social skills that you can take ALL KINDS of approaches to your problem solving. You don't have everything down to the GAME ENGINE telling you that violence is the only way to move the story forward. It's like when I stopped playing GTA V after the torture scene. In a tabletop RPG, there are infinite ways through a situation.

This is why I play Shadowrun. Most tabletop rpgs have had these kind of options for 20 years or so.
posted by butterstick at 7:16 PM on July 3, 2015 [5 favorites]


I am 100% surprised we've made it this long, and with this many comments, and nobody has once mentioned classic point-and-click adventure games, the predecessors to Telltale's current series of games (In fact, they made a whole season continuing a classic adventure franchise, Tales Of Monkey Island). Or even Myst!

I feel like this article had some decent points to make, but those same points could as easily be made of mass culture as a rule - movies are focused on violence, female characters in movies and comic books are too sexualized (even in rom-coms or movies ostensibly targeted at women), etc. If you've been seriously playing a variety of video games since the early 1990s, the article comes off as under-researched.

Since 1987 when Maniac Mansion was released, Ron Gilbert and LucasArts (of all companies) were making games that had conflict or exploration, without violence. When they made The Secret of Monkey Island a few years later, the game lampooned video game violence and violence itself as a means of resolving disputes with its now-famous insult sword fighting - where your efficacy in a battle was determined by witty comebacks, rather than combat ability, and when defeated, characters merely admire your repartee. Sure, games were white-male dominated back then, but Maniac Mansion had female characters.

Now for more modern examples, covering some of the comments about choice disputed here:

The original Deus Ex (released in 2000) allowed players to stealth and converse through the entire game, without killing any characters even though it was not explicitly designed to allow that. In more than one occasion, characters will comment on how violent or nonviolent you've been; the characters that are supposed to be "good" view nonviolence and stealth more fondly. All this in the backdrop of a world that predicted more terrorism and a people coming to terms with transhumanism and conflicts over ideology and government control. At one point, a doctor, commenting on anti-terrorism efforts, remarks that soldiers are being too zealous with the stun prods (this BEFORE the controversy over police over-use of Tasers)

Then when the franchise was revisited again more recently with Deus Ex: Human Revolution, enabling pacifist play was made a design goal, complete with achievements. At one point in the DLC, nonviolent takedowns are even viewed harshly when a character comments that a player has put a lot of people in comas. The game gives you opportunities to look down on violence, or use your augmentations to solve people's problems, nonviolently.

Spec Ops: The Line is a game all about deconstructing the masculine fragility, in which a character solves every problem with violence, and it breaks him completely, and the game accuses the player of wanting to be a hero. It's a kind of violence-is-bad story that could only be done with interactivity. And most people didn't experience it, for a variety of reasons.

These particular games and examples are popular best-sellers (and I'm 95% sure they've all had articles about them on the blue before), so it's odd to me that the writer didn't even reference them. I could go on for a couple more hours about indie games that have been doing this stuff since the mid-90s, but the larger point here is that movies and books that are less about conflict and more about exploring beautiful worlds are less popular than your generic action flicks. Just as first-person shooters have always sold more copies than Myst. But! Video games have had their nonviolent alternatives since 1987, and even earlier without being simple puzzle games. I just won't vouch for games I haven't played that were released before I was born.

I think what the article demonstrates more than anything else is that sex and violence and the privileged majority(ish) tend to be overrepresented in media, dating back to Greek epics. Because I didn't struggle hard to think of counterexamples that date back to 1987, and the indie games explosion has given us more options than ever before. But, you know, you'll never see a news story on CBS about Geneforge. And you're not likely to see articles on Papers, Please outside of the games media. If you think of video games as primarily being like Call of Duty, that's akin to thinking of movies as being primarily like Fast and Furious.

So is the truth that there's an actual lack of product and/or opportunities, or is the truth that those products that the author says she wants are available but unknown to the vast majority of the public? Given that even Journey wasn't the kind of success that caused it to make a huge profit, I would argue that it is the latter.

Sorry for the wall of text, folks.
posted by Strudel at 7:16 PM on July 3, 2015 [22 favorites]


Master and Margarita Mix, when you say "people who play games want combat" you're kind of ignoring the fact that at least some "people who play games" have actually said "I don't just want combat/I'd like non-combat." Do they not count?

Also perhaps the reason that most people who play games "want combat" is that if almost all games require combat, then only those people are going to play. Most people assume that a console game or big online game is about killing and if killing is not appealing, they don't even try them, much less search through piles of combat games to find the few that aren't. How many average folks are going to know anything about indie games, where to find them, or how to play them?

Combat play is great if you like it, but why does it have to be the only thing that counts?

(also I remember reading that the Sims failed for lots of reasons, so I don't know if that supports your theory that it was because people hated the open world thing. )

This is all theoretical for me, I don't have time to play anything these days. But if I had the time, I'd love to get into some indie mystery/puzzle games that let you explore at your own pace and reward you with surprises. I'm really attracted to the idea of finding the limitations of your virtual world; like the guy who's letting his Steve walk through Minecraft's universe to see how far he can go. I'm the kind of person who loves to figure out how a stage set is put together and how an effect is created. I will usually immediately try to do whatever I'm not supposed to, or act contrary to the game's directions, to see what happens.

Second Life is not actually the same thing as a game's world, because it's not one person's/group's vision but a collection of found/bought/constructed islands populated with the avatars of actual people who want to interact with you. That last part puts me off it because making virtual chitchat is irritating and putting up with virtual come-ons is worse.
posted by emjaybee at 7:26 PM on July 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


A big name in the early days of the video game industry (you'd recognize him) once told me a story about the old LucasArts days. One younger designer decided to make a non-violent game. He used the X-Wing tech to make a demo, and got a meeting with George Lucas himself.

Lucas sat down and started playing. After tapping around for a bit and not seeing the ship firing anything, he looked up and said, "The fucking keyboard is broken."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 7:31 PM on July 3, 2015 [5 favorites]


It's always bugged me that any game that features dinosaurs always involves killing them. With that in mind, let me pitch my game idea: dinosaur naturalist. Go back in time to observe, describe, tag and release dinosaurs. I want this game. Someone make it for me.

If you have to have violence, how about protecting the dinos from poachers?
posted by brundlefly at 7:36 PM on July 3, 2015 [9 favorites]


There was DinoPark Tycoon.
posted by eruonna at 7:58 PM on July 3, 2015 [4 favorites]


One of my best memories of Morrowind was watching the sun set over the river Odai from the dining table on the roof of my mansion, with a bottle of homemade comberry wine on the table.

I'd been playing a merchant character who I mostly levelled by making potions (and naming them various forms of booze) and selling them. And at some point my merchant skill got so high I could buy things for less than I could sell them. I still took them from town to town to keep up the role playing aspect though. And then I got in good with the merchant-themed house and worked my way up through the ranks and got my own mansion. I can't say I did no combat, but my character most certainly had little combat ability and had to run from anything much more dangerous than a mudcrab.
posted by Zalzidrax at 8:03 PM on July 3, 2015 [5 favorites]


I am painfully addicted to the realm of games known as "resource management," which includes city-builders and civ-builders (SimCity, Emperor: Rise of the Middle Kingdom), but a huge number of city-builders, castle-builders, village-builders, etc., still include "maintaining your army and attacking other things" as one of the major goals, often as the pinnacle goal you're building towards, which I have always found a bit odd. (I mean, I mostly don't mind because I like to kill pixels when I'm in a bad mood, but it's a bit odd. If I were running a medieval castle, my primary goal would be to increase farm productivity to increase my income, probably not to invade my neighbor every six days.) "Emperor: RotMK" stands out because you do things like build canals and the Great Wall and stuff as your pinnacle goals, and you rarely have to engage in combat if you don't want to.

I will basically play literally anything in the "road runner" subgenre of resource management (see, for example, "Roads of Rome", "Monument Builders," "My Kingdom for the Princess," "Rescue Team"), where the basic mechanic is you've got one helper-guy and he goes out and chops some wood and upgrades the tent and then you have two helper-guys and they go break stones and chop wood and farm things and you have to collect resources, upgrade buildings, fix broken things, clear the roads, and repair the roads. Sometimes you're building infrastructure in a new province in the Roman Empire; sometimes you're running an emergency response team after a hurricane comes through; sometimes you've been shipwrecked on an island and the natives will help you but only if you fix their roads first. They're about building rather than fighting or destroying, and you have to figure out how to optimize and balance all your resources in order to "solve" the level in the given amount of time. I love them as casual games and I'm happy to play them as casual games, but I have long thought this mechanic has enough depth to stand up to further development as a longer, story-based, immersive game.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:05 PM on July 3, 2015 [13 favorites]


My favorite fanon about this is the reason there are so many bears and they are so fucking aggressive in the Hinterlands is because that there used to be a reasonable number of them but now they are overpopulated and desperate because their population has swelled since the Hero of Ferelden and party disarmed all those fucking bear traps during random wilderness encounters 10 years ago.

this is amazing

when an actual hunter is asking you to kill a bunch of rams to feed the hungry, you do kind of want to ask him what his job really is.

this is 100% justified because people are busy using all the land he usually hunts in. THEY THREW A WAR AND EVERYONE'S INVITED

I recently paid $1 for Hatoful Boyfriend, in which you are normal everyday girl at a Japanese high school and everyone else are talking pigeons. I got suckered in by a let's-play where inside of five minutes one of the pigeons was complaining about kulaks. Still haven't played it though so maybe it's skeevy.

IT TOTALLY ISN'T AT ALL. It's SUPER WEIRD. Play through it a couple times; once you go through all the main love options you unlock the bonus "Hateful Boyfriend" which is like 5x longer than the rest of the game combined and actually explains why there are only birds and there is some horror? but mostly just psychologically so. it's certainly one of the most unexpected and strange games I've ever played, and it was surprisingly intense and affecting, considering that it is sold as "Odd Bird Dating Game Stories!!!11"

You can't use The Sims as an argument for why non-violent Skyrim or Dragon Age would like, totally sell a a zillion copies if people weren't so toxically masculine. They tried, and it was a resounding critical failure with their own audience.

The Sims 3 is the 6th best selling PC game of all time. It has an 86% on metacritic and released 11 full expansion packs and 9 "stuff" packs that do nothing but add items to the game

If I were running a medieval castle, my primary goal would be to increase farm productivity to increase my income, probably not to invade my neighbor every six days.

I think a big part of why this feels so weird is that war is sort of noble, or maybe sort of villainous, but either way it is BIG, and it's rarely, like, "yeah I mostly just send my warriors on cattle raids so they don't get uppity and overthrow me". Crusader Kings II's approach to this is pretty interesting, though, especially playing as the pagans.
posted by NoraReed at 8:19 PM on July 3, 2015 [5 favorites]


There was DinoPark Tycoon.

Oh god, the memories. That was such a hard game to succeed at.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:30 PM on July 3, 2015


It's SUPER WEIRD.

I had kinda sussed that out when the talking pigeons I might fall in love with starting making Leninist diatribes almost immediately upon meeting the player.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:30 PM on July 3, 2015 [12 favorites]


(But in all sincerity I am glad to know that it's just weird, not weird & skeevy, so molto grazie)
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:42 PM on July 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


I am painfully addicted to the realm of games known as "resource management,"

You should try Tropico!

(I apologize in advance for your future lack of productivity in real life and/or ragequits/ragedeletes of the game after you fail the Tropmina scenario for the 100th time in a row.)
posted by Jacqueline at 8:46 PM on July 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


Tropico has the weirdest combination of command economy and inability to actually force people to do anything.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:49 PM on July 3, 2015 [6 favorites]


Seconding Tropico. I was somehow prescribed adderall for a while, and yeah. I'd sit down to play and all of a sudden it's six or seven hours later.
posted by holybagel at 8:51 PM on July 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


So... speaking of non-violence-oriented games, who else is psyched for Unravel? poffin boffin's relentless enthusiasm for it ever since E3 was enough to get me to preorder it despite my only having the haziest of ideas of what it's actually about.

(Apparently there is a little dolly made of yarn who does things, and the guy who made the game is a total sweetheart and brought the dolly out on stage with him to talk about his game, and there are already 10 billion fanarts of it on Tumblr even though it won't be released until the end of 2016, and...?)

((poffin boffin has yet to steer me wrong in the world of video games or television so at this point I'm just throwing money at anything she likes enough to post about.))
posted by Jacqueline at 8:57 PM on July 3, 2015 [4 favorites]


> Go back in time to observe, describe, tag and release dinosaurs. I want this game. Someone make it for me.

hell yes Dinosaur Safari. Had it for Mac OS7 way back in the day.
posted by xbonesgt at 9:01 PM on July 3, 2015


I really like the games that are coming out these days that reward stealth more than violent means for progressing. This genre has existed for awhile and has a pretty rabid following (The Thief series, for example). Even if you are navigating a violent environment, there are games that wholly reward non-violent solutions, and sometimes are pretty punishing if you try. In the middle somewhere, the are some games that also mix it up so that although you can create a RPG warrior or whatnot, you can also be a thief, have sneaking skills, etc., so that it's more like problem solving than violence. This is a much more complicated way to design a game, though, so it's not too big of a surprise that it's taken the industry awhile to get it right, and has relied more often on easier programming solutions that revolve around shooting, dying, etc. I'm pretty sure that Deus Ex: HR now has the option to play through the entire thing now without ever taking a life (even boss fights), and it unlocks a particular achievement for doing so.

So, I think the industry is still built too much on expectations of violence, but there are some clear trends that new experiences are being developed with other creative game mechanics. Also, with games becoming so large and with so much detail, there's a lot of reward for exploration being built into a lot of games, with some indie games being nothing but exploration with some good story telling thrown in. It's an exciting time to be a gamer, primarily because games are starting to become so much more than just killing stuff. There's still too much of it at times to the point that it feels cliche, because it can be compared to other games often coming from indie efforts (again, games like Fez come to mind) that show that it can be so much more. These are the kinds of things that keep me playing games rather than having given them up in college when multiplayer killing was the main thing.

I think also as we move into the future, with things like Oculus Rift and Microsoft's new HoloLens (which will allow you to play with Minecraft in 3D environments that interact with objects in your room, for example), we'll see people playing to experience features that allow for construction and personal interaction and exploration on deeper levels, which can be incredibly compelling when done right. I'm excited to see what happens. There will always be a run-and-gun genre and an appeal to violence in games (even if it's too much, people find catharsis in this type of activity for it to ever go away), but the technology that is coming will allow for so much more in a way that can help move the industry away from just the simplified and overly-expected trope of violence in game-play to sell a concept. I think we'll see it happen in ways that are encouraging.
posted by SpacemanStix at 9:03 PM on July 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


This is the way it's going to be until someone comes up with HAL-9000-level AI. It's just an insanely hard problem.

OK so you know how hackers/spammers got humans to solve a bunch of captchas for them for free by reposting those same captchas as gateways to porn?

Someone should come up with a way to harness this porn-seeking problem-solving energy to use it as the engine behind more realistic NPC and faction interactions in RPGs.
posted by Jacqueline at 9:13 PM on July 3, 2015 [5 favorites]


Plus, imagine what would happen if it got out that the Inquisitor just wears their drab pajamas all over skyhold...

If you want less-drab pajamas, there are mods out there that let you change the texture to a print of little pink nugs and whatnot.
posted by Jacqueline at 9:25 PM on July 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


I collected wild herbs and learned a bit of alchemy. A dude taught me how to smith and tan leather, so that was another way to make money. I accepted minor side quests to deliver letters and whatnot.

It did get boring after a while, but it made me wonder what the game would be like if they'd put as much effort into developing this experience as they did the stab-monsters-in-the-face experience.


If you like this sort of thing, you should definitely try playing Outside. This experience has been developed in quite a lot of detail there -- I bet you'll be impressed by how realistic and immersive the gameplay is.
posted by Jacqueline at 9:35 PM on July 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


And oh my god so many people would play Dragon Age: The Dating Sim. So many.

I've heard the entire Dragon Age series described as "a dating sim with an advanced tactical combat engine."
posted by Jacqueline at 9:39 PM on July 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


What's the best (non wow) MMO out right now if pretty much all you want to do is heal? I really like the cooperative and competitive aspect of multiplayer gaming. Outside of highly cooperative games like Tribes I've kind of gotten sick of killing stuff. (And with Tribes CTF is really the goal more than killing. It feels more like a sport than combat.)

I don't really mind virtual killing, it's just gotten repetitive when you do it for decades and the visceral twitchy fun isn't really there anymore. You need something else to make it fun. Working with teammates does that for me. That might be the key to getting better stories, find a way to make RP fun. Let actions have long term consequences. Spontaneous human drama is better than anything you can program into an AI right now. EVE Online might have the best story of any video game ever made. Of course, you can't program humans not to be asshole jerkwads to each other and ruin the fun.
posted by Drinky Die at 9:39 PM on July 3, 2015


(Barbarian Josh Lyman would be a great sockpuppet/novelty account.)

I've been following this hot barbarian!Cullen Avaar AU Dragon Age fanfic and now I really want a barbarian!Josh AU West Wing fanfic too.
posted by Jacqueline at 9:45 PM on July 3, 2015


how do i get a lot of people into the house first

Throw a party, invite everyone your Sim has ever met, and then once everyone has gathered inside just switch from live mode to build mode and delete all the doors so they are trapped inside while they are burned. Having someone with 0 cooking skill attempt to cook on one of the cheaper stoves over and over is usually enough to get a fire started.

It might be simpler to create a Wicker Man shaped pool and delete the ladders to get out, though. Basically a variation on the classic money-making tactic of marrying someone, absorbing their wealth into your household, and then drowning them so you can then go on to marry someone else, rinse, repeat.
posted by Jacqueline at 9:52 PM on July 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


It's true that computers were created to solve physics problems, but there's so much more to physics than violence. Take my favorite game this year, so far: Grow Home. Instead of violence, Grow Home spends its physics budget on:

* physics-based animation for the character, rather than canned animations, so the character's movements respond to the environment and are charming and amusing.

* using that physics-based animation to create a fun, bouldering-style climbing mechanic

* creating strange new, even impossible, (but convincing because physics) worlds, in this case growing giant beanstalks up to reach islands floating in the sky

* for jumping, falling, parachuting, bouncing, catapulting, gliding, and rocketing around and exploring those neat worlds.
posted by straight at 9:54 PM on July 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


> What about Pac-Man (I mean, he's eating those guys alive)?

"Alive" might be overstating it, considering they're ghosts.
posted by cardioid at 9:54 PM on July 3, 2015 [6 favorites]


One of the problems I have with the Orlais quest (besides because fuck the Orleasians)

I often find myself absentmindedly humming "Do You Hear the People Sing" during Wicked Eyes and Wicked Hearts.

If I ever dip my toe into writing Dragon Age fanfic, it's probably going to end up being a French Revoluntionaresque political drama in which all those fuckers in their silly masks are sent to the guillotine...
posted by Jacqueline at 10:00 PM on July 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


Now not many people play Minecraft for the combat. The fun part of Minecraft is the mining and the crafting, the creative part of the game. And there's various game modes that avoid the combat. But I think it's telling that the violence loop is still so central to the original primary game design. Notch was either brilliant or lucky in building such a fun creative game. But even he wasn't innovative enough to see beyond desiging the game around a slaughter RPG.

Sure, you can run around whacking zombies with swords and arrows, but Minecraft pioneered some much more interesting, fun, non-violent ways of dealing with danger. You're safe by day, but monsters come out at night. Dark caves are dangerous, but monsters won't spawn anywhere you've lit with torches.

So the real mechanics of Minecraft involve cowering in terror in a tiny walled-off cave your first night, then slowly expanding a perimeter of safety through a combination of building fortresses and creeping through caves and placing torches to claim safe, explored territory. For a lot of people, armor and weapons are a last resort for when you've screwed something up in the main gameplay of digging, exploring, building, and illuminating.
posted by straight at 10:06 PM on July 3, 2015 [11 favorites]


So the real mechanics of Minecraft involve cowering in terror in a tiny walled-off cave your first night, then slowly expanding a perimeter of safety through a combination of building fortresses and creeping through caves and placing torches to claim safe, explored territory.

This is the first thing I've ever read about Minecraft that has actually piqued my interest in possibly playing it.
posted by Jacqueline at 10:21 PM on July 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


I made a Wicker Man on the Apork once, but was foiled by the fire propagation prevention mod.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:28 PM on July 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


games i have already preordered:

- ac syndicate
- horizon zero dawn
- dishonored II
- the last guardian


games that i want to preorder but the universe hates me and i can't yet:

- unravel
- no man's sky
- rise of the tomb raider
- MASS FUCKING EFFECT FUCKING ANDROMEDA


games i am replaying for the 15th time despite the fact that i still have not even opened skyrim:

- ac black flag
- katamari damacy
posted by poffin boffin at 10:29 PM on July 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


poffin boffin: I was able to preorder Unravel on Amazon.

And you really should play Skyrim already!!! if for no other reason that Ulfric Stormcloak's voice acting is a total panty dropper.
posted by Jacqueline at 10:33 PM on July 3, 2015


i played skyrim for like an hour and then returned it to steam because no matter how much i hope and no matter how many chances i give them there is not ever gonna be another game like morrowind. i do not know how you can get a world in which there are enormous bug-creatures that you use like a train system, architecture that looks like the unholy lovechild of dr seuss and dune and so many lava flows everywhere that they use them as roads and then be like "well that was fun, let's just set all the future ones in various versions of Generic Fantasy Europe, maybe throw in some literal hellscapes that are repetitive, awful, and mandatory for the main quest", but THEY MANAGED IT

in related news, i am replaying morrowind
posted by NoraReed at 10:41 PM on July 3, 2015 [10 favorites]


But... but... you love Dragon Age and that's one of the most Generic Fantasy Europe settings ever!!!
posted by Jacqueline at 10:45 PM on July 3, 2015


The worldbuilding of Dragon Age has little things in it that pull me in, though-- the particular things they do with the elves and the dwarves, the mysterious origin of the Qunari, the vagueries and mysteries of the religions, the origins of the magical, enormous wheels of cheese that appear with surprising frequency at some distance from civilization, even with an apparent lack of regional dairy production, etc. Plus, they also start more Generic 'Gritty' European with Ferelden and then slowly reveal that the rest of the world thinks it's a backwater, provincial shithole that smells like wet dogs.

Also, people follow you around and talk to you until you care about them, which isn't as much of an Elder Scrolls thing.
posted by NoraReed at 10:55 PM on July 3, 2015 [6 favorites]


How can you not care about that poor guy that took an arrow to the knee?
posted by bibliowench at 11:11 PM on July 3, 2015 [4 favorites]


Everyone, everywhere knows what conversations and social interaction is like. If humans have evolved to do anything it's to be good at being social. So it's very, very hard to abstract that because we instinctively know when conversations or situations feel wrong.

This is primarily an artistic problem, not a technical one. People in real life do not act anything like people in books or movies. They don't talk like them either. Early silent movies had dialogue cards inserted between the action, which I can assure you is a very rare form of communication. Yet people flocked to see them. We are prepared to forgive enormous amounts of unreality, and do tremendous amounts of work, for satisfying artistic and entertainment experiences.

The role of the artist is to take the limitations of the medium and adapt to them in a manner which transmutes the content into something interesting or entertaining and, on rare occasions, produce an experience which is transcendent of that provided by a less limited reality. Saying that the medium is too limited strikes me as a complete cop-out.
posted by howfar at 11:33 PM on July 3, 2015 [9 favorites]


The role of the artist is to take the limitations of the medium and adapt to them in a manner which transmutes the content into something interesting or entertaining and, on rare occasions, produce an experience which is transcendent of that provided by a less limited reality.

Yes. And people like me, who love playing games but are bored by punch/kick/block/parry, would be willing to cut a game some slack just for being inventive even if it turns out less than perfect.

I have disposable time and income, but I spend it on Neko Atsume and Sudoku (and recently Her Story omigod love it!) because space-shooting and faux-medieval-stabbing aren't my cup of tea. My only complaint about Monument Valley is that it's not long enough, but I'd rather have a short unusual game than push creative developers into releasing mediocre levels.
posted by harriet vane at 12:17 AM on July 4, 2015


Personally I don't really play many games any more because they are all fight fight fight, kill kill kill. I started the irst Dragon Age game years ago and was really enjoying it at first, but then it just became a go here fight that, go there, fight that cycle and I wasn't really interested in doing that.

Back when I used to play Civilisation-style games I love them up until you had to start going to war. Then I'd get bored and give up.
So yes, I'd be totally up for more non violence driven games, which isn't to say that I object to all violence in a game, just it doesn't have to be the only focus of the game.

I'll have to investigate some of the recommendations made here.
posted by Fence at 4:39 AM on July 4, 2015


Back when I used to play Civilisation-style games I love them up until you had to start going to war. Then I'd get bored and give up.

Ooh. This is why I hated Civ IV so much. It was that the game gave so little advantage on defense that you basically had to have an army the same size as the person attacking you or you would lose. I tried to play pacifist so many times only to have someone invade me and defeat me even despite the technology advantage that I'd gotten from being all growth oriented, and only got angrier and angrier until I decided to play the Mongols and violently destroyed all the other empires to show that I could and never played the game again.
posted by Zalzidrax at 5:00 AM on July 4, 2015 [3 favorites]


I wonder how much the emergence of multiplayer as a must-have feature has affected storytelling. AAA publishers don't want you engaged in a solitary experience, they want you competing with your friends and shaming them into buying the new consoles and games and DLC, then posting videos of it on YouTube. Killing stuff seems to be the lowest-common-denominator way to implement competition right now.

But man, that back-catalog of great games. There are so many on GoG.com, and the App Store is full of wildly innovative titles that are not even being updated for the latest iOS anymore. The question shouldn't be "where are all the great games" but "why am I not playing those games right now?" (I know the answer, I'm too busy posting comments about meta-games...)
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 5:44 AM on July 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


This is also a peeve of mine, but I'd go even further and say that the default mechanic is not only violence but domination. I find it harder and harder to come away satisfied with it as I grow older. I want more nuance. I want games where pacifism is as much fun as violence, rather than a tedious work-around. I want diplomacy to be rewarding.

The games I gravitate towards nowadays tend to be complex webs of dynamic, emergent storytelling, such as Crusader Kings (1300+ hrs played, oh god) or Europa Universalis IV, but it's basically impossible to be a decent human being in either game. They generate incredible stories and situations, but at the end of the day, they are still World of Feudal Oppression and Colonial Atrocity Simulator 2015, respectively. It's hard to feel good about anything you "achieve", but at least they make you feel, and think.

So I switch to something like Cities: Skylines or Civilisation, playing peacefully only to eventually be turned off by the sense of domination over nature that pervades such games. Even something so outside-the-mould as Minecraft can be construed as violence against nature when you've played it for long enough. But Minecraft is still probably the closest I've come to feeling pride rather than shame at my actions within the game world.

Obviously I'm being deliberately obtuse and difficult to please here, but I have an itch that wants scratching, and though I've come close, I still don't think I've found it. I'm not sure it even exists yet. It's sewn too deep into the fabric of what games are expected to be; anything lacking that threat of conflict comes off as "not a game", or something for children or girls. But you know what? #Notallmen want to dominate and destroy their opponents until only they remain, victorious. Some, like me, kind of enjoy adventure and exploration; complexity and emergent stories. Combat is too often boring, stale, and repetitive.

It's also too real, sometimes. I play games to escape that world, not to have it forced down my throat.
posted by Acey at 6:07 AM on July 4, 2015 [4 favorites]


'ctrl-fs Planescape'

Seriously, for one brief, glorious moment we had this figured out in the 90s. Planescape: Torment not only has violence be almost entirely optional (I think there are less than a half dozen encounters in the entire game that can't be talked through or snuck past), violence is actually the least satisfying way to make it through the game by far - by resorting to violence instead of intellect or charisma you miss huge chunks of story and worldbuilding (not to mention XP). Shame it didn't really last.
posted by Itaxpica at 7:07 AM on July 4, 2015 [6 favorites]


I think the article has some very good points, but also missed a few. For one thing violence is inherently easy to gameify. Most efforts at including negotiation or diplomacy have resulted in the slew of dialog trees the author complained of. With guns or swords or whatever the game aspects are easy to envision. With other stuff, it's more difficult on the individual level.

Most games that aren't violence centric are godsims of one variety or another, and I'd argue that's for the reason that it's the easiest way to gameify non-violent things. Being an omniscient being dictating a city can be gameified (cash flow management, etc) fairly easily. Being a passport inspector is harder to gameify, which is why SimCity came out a long time before Paper Please did.

Given a choice, most people tend to take easy well established options and the path to gameifying violence is already extremely well charted and known. Gameifying non-violent interaction is a harder project with vastly fewer well established and known solutions.

I'd argue that in large part that's why we mostly see indy games exploring non-violent gaming, the big studios don't want to risk money on it. I think as we see more indy games succeeding with non-violent models of gaming, as the non-violent gaming model is more thoroughly mapped and understood, we'll see more non-violent gaming coming from the big developers.

That said, I do think toxic masculinity has a large role to play as well. Why is the violence aspect of gaming so well mapped? Because, as others mentioned upthread, it's easy. Why is it easy? Because we've already got that mapped so well in our culture. And then we get to the gamergate types who have decided that any attempt to take a non-violent path to gaming is a covert way to steal their gaming guns, which is further toxic masculinity of course. I wonder what the overlap is between real world people panicking over the idea of someone taking their guns away and gamers panicking over the idea of someone taking their (game) guns away? And the toxic masculinity involved in those panics is pretty easy to spot.
posted by sotonohito at 8:26 AM on July 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


My problem with this sort of thing is less the violence, and more that games which institute a karma/alignment system don't really seem to let you actually play that way. FO3, if you try to play an evil character you lose a bunch of worldbuilding. I started a new playthrough of Skyrim recently that I had to abandon, because I mistakenly stole something in Riverwood and out of nowhere there were guards from Whiterun trying to kill me at every turn. I actually had to abandon and start over.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:32 AM on July 4, 2015


Skyrim has a whole game system and quest line about allowing you to successfully play a thief. It's one of the best parts of the game IMHO.
posted by Nelson at 8:35 AM on July 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


Yeah and it's also the worst, stupidest, least consistent quest in the whole game. What I mean is you can't start out by going "hey, maybe there is a reason the Imperials picked me up, and that reason is I'm a thievin' murderin' dirtbag." Because if you do, you're dead before you can get to Whiterun.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:44 AM on July 4, 2015


I've never been able to enjoy a thieving mechanic since way old school UO. Ripping off an NPC just does not compare to ruining somebody's dream by stealing their house key or true black dye tub. But then, UO is a nice example of a game that did try to be truly open world let people do what they want.


It was to murder and steal from the peaceful wood choppers and miners. Why didn't this work out long term again?
posted by Drinky Die at 8:59 AM on July 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


Itaxpica - they've already kickstarted a Torment game set in Numenera. They already delivered Wasteland 2, so it's definitely happening. The question is, did they make combat as optional? Let's hope so.
posted by Strudel at 9:46 AM on July 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


This came at a good time -- just last weekend I'd started playing Shadowrun: Dragonfall and got bored and stepped away from it despite loving the environment, models, UI etc. There's a complete lack of non-combat options to finish runs which is absolutely ridiculous for what amounts to fill-in-your-character-personality-here interactive fiction.

Games like Invisible, Inc. demonstrate that there are alternatives available within a comparable system.
posted by Matt Oneiros at 9:51 AM on July 4, 2015


I mistakenly stole something in Riverwood and out of nowhere there were guards from Whiterun trying to kill me at every turn.

IIRC, you can let the guards arrest you and take you to prison (during which you lose some of your accumulated skills) instead of fighting them and then they'll do that instead of trying to kill you. But if you resist arrest that goes over about as well as it does in real life.

That you'd get into such trouble for going into people's houses and taking their stuff was one of my favorite parts of Skyrim. In so many other games, you can just walk into people's houses and rob them right in front of them and no one gives a shit. (Although this improvement to verisimilitude is somewhat reduced by the ability to just put a basket over someone's head and then rob them without consequence because now they can't see you.)
posted by Jacqueline at 9:56 AM on July 4, 2015 [3 favorites]


Nope, they were just straight up attacking me. Also people from Riverwood were chasing me and attacking me. And I was like, I have some leather armour and an iron sword, I am now a human pincushion.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:59 AM on July 4, 2015


*Ctrl-f Catherine*
*No results*

I enjoy talking about DA: Inquisition as much as anybody, but let's give credit to the folks who actually have managed to create a fun, innovative game without fighting.
posted by tdismukes at 10:10 AM on July 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


In Skyrim, Simple theft gets met with arrest and jail. Resisting arrest, attacking the guards back, or accidentally killing a chicken will all get you attacked by guards. Even when attacked you can surrender and be arrested, although it's not easy to figure that out. Going to jail isn't an end either; interesting things happen in jail.

I hate to be that nerd who tells people they're wrong about videogames but, well, Skyrim has a complex system for handling crime and a variety of game play systems that allow you to act like a criminal or a law biding citizen in interesting ways. And if you want to play a thievin' murderin' dirtbag why, that's possible too, but it tends to end quickly in your death if you're low level. That seems like a realistic enough outcome. There's a lot of interesting content for being a murderer (spoilers) btw.

Back on topic, Skyrim does not strike me as a particularly good example of a game free of fragile masculinity and violence. To me it's another example of how violence RPG mechanics just make a game boring. The combat systems aren't particularly good. What's fun for me about Skyrim is the exploring the rich back story and environment. There should be some danger (a la Minecraft), but I do think the game would be even better if they put less effort in the murder systems and more in the dialog and puzzles.
posted by Nelson at 10:13 AM on July 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


Oh. Maybe I killed a chicken?

And yeah, it doesn't take Skyrim long to become really samey samey--go here, kill everyone, bring me back the Sacred Underpants.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:16 AM on July 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think fragile masculinity certainly can be a part of it, especially when the game comes loaded with sexist dogwhistles as well.

And I think there's a real narrative limitation. Lots of games (but especially DA2 and Old Republic) have lost me because the narratives of cultural conflict, safety, and community serve no real purpose beyond providing a motivation why dozens of faceless mooks need to die.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 10:32 AM on July 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


This is also a peeve of mine, but I'd go even further and say that the default mechanic is not only violence but domination.


On the other hand, my Dalish Inquisitor is now in a consensual D/s relationship with The Iron Bull, so... well played, Dragon Age: Inquisition.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 11:26 AM on July 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


The problems of merging gameplay and narrative remind of this old article from Kotatku: A Gripping, Lusty Excerpt From My Witcher 2 Novel

I have to say, for all its toxic masculinity and violent chest-thumping, the most recent Witcher has come a long way since the Binders Full of Women of the first games (and still has a long way to go). I've learned very quickly that the choices do not fall along clear moral divisions, and you often can't tell the consequences of your actions until much later. Combined with certain choices that the game makes you select in a few seconds, I feel much more like I'm reacting to the story events instead of constructing a "good"or "bad" hero, and I like that. There's still a lot of dismemberment, but I've already said that I get a certain sick enjoyment out of carnage. There's also a lot of boobs and strumpets, which annoy me.

I'm not sure it's always helpful to separate gameplay responses into either violent or non-violent reactions, especially when we get out of story-driven games.. I was thinking of on of my favorite indie games of the past, Bastion, and how it revolved around combat, but the tension it created felt similar to other non-violent games. Both operate around a balance between managing your surroundings and being overwhelmed by them. I felt the same sense of urgency managing my health in Bastion as I did managing my brewery in Fiz. But I think the battles in Bastion tie into a more culturally familiar narrative than that of running a small business. Violence in stories signifies that the stakes are really, really high. But at the same time, violence in video games is part of the everyday routine, so its narrative justifications and its prevalence don't make much sense. Hopefully, we'll see more narratives that try to redefine tension in games that move beyond the unshaven man who was pushed too far.

I think a lot of the problem does come back to money as well. All of the Bioware games have great world building and fun characters, but they offer more illusion of narrative choice than reality because it's not feasible to voice and illustrate that many diverging storylines. Right now, it's easier to tie gameplay progress through combat difficulty and loot than it is through conversation and/or innovation because it's easier to predict all possible outcomes and reduce them to only a few scenes.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go win a gwent card from a kid in Midcopse.
posted by bibliowench at 11:43 AM on July 4, 2015


sotonohito: "Most games that aren't violence centric are godsims of one variety or another,"

Most games that aren't violence-centric are puzzle games, sports games, or godsims.

But I think the reason why certain genres tend to get ignored in this discussion is shown in these quotes:

"Why can’t I use magic to explore a beautiful world?"
"... it renders it impossible to interact with the world in a non-violent way."
"It breeds enmity between a player and the world they live in ..."


This stems from a conflict between this game being about the world of Skyrim, Fallout's wasteland, Thedas, whatever, and the game being about killing monsters and taking their stuff.

You wouldn't say NBA 2K15 is about the world in which basketball is played. You'd say it's about basketball. And it's set in the real world. If you're feeling restricted because you're only allowed to play basketball, go play a different game that's not about basketball. If you're feeling restricted by Skyrim's gameplay, but still enjoying Skyrim's world, you're placed in a dilemma where the two go hand-in-hand.
posted by RobotHero at 12:28 PM on July 4, 2015 [3 favorites]


Nailed it, RobotHero. In FO3, it more or less makes sense that it's a fighty-shooty kind of game--the entire world is hostile, more or less. Skyrim is mainly not that way, and it would have been super interesting to actually be able to play the entire game through, including the whole Dragonborn thing, without having to be all stabby about it. Maybe there's a back way into that bandit lair where you get the Daedric Nail Polish, e.g.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 12:52 PM on July 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


Back when I used to play Civilisation-style games I love them up until you had to start going to war. Then I'd get bored and give up.

Whenever I play Civ IV I always try to go for a cultural victory without fighting anyone except the barbarians.
posted by Jacqueline at 1:31 PM on July 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


Combined with certain choices that the game makes you select in a few seconds, I feel much more like I'm reacting to the story events instead of constructing a "good"or "bad" hero, and I like that

This is what grabbed me about the game so much. Even in a game I loved like DA:O I would often be thinking "which of the options will give me the result I want" rather than reacting organically. In W3 I'm simply living in the world and making the choices the character would make and living with the consequences, many of which cannot be completely forseen.

I also feel terrible about hurting either Yennefer or Triss. Which is something I can't say about most other games.

But, yes, there's an awful lot of limb-hewing and head-chopping going on as well. Given the source material and subject matter that's probably to be expected. I wouldn't mind a less STAB STAB STABby game with a similar reactivity and feel, though, because there should be room for all sorts of games.
posted by Justinian at 1:32 PM on July 4, 2015


Oh. Maybe I killed a chicken?

That was almost certainly it. Nords are very loyal to their chickens and will go to great lengths to avenge their deaths.
posted by Jacqueline at 1:33 PM on July 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


Also I would totally buy a Gwent deck. And they exist! But they are so expensive on eBay...
posted by Justinian at 1:38 PM on July 4, 2015


Whenever I play Civ IV I always try to go for a cultural victory without fighting anyone except the barbarians.

I never got into IV or V, but in I -- III the problem I run into is that the other nations are organized so badly. I just can't stand watching the AI plunk down cities in stupid nonoptimal places and make do with shitty half-assed road/rail networks and such. So they've gotta go.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:55 PM on July 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


Technically in Civs I-III if you're placing your cities "optimally" you are actually placing them non-optimally. Because the best strategy is Infinite City Spawn where you plunk down cities in a repeating pattern regardless of the terrain or resources.

This was nerfed to hell in Civ IV. Thankfully.
posted by Justinian at 2:01 PM on July 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


Also the title reminded me of the Fight Club video game which kind of exemplifies something or other on this same theme.
posted by RobotHero at 2:19 PM on July 4, 2015


Has anybody else played Cook, Serve, Delicious!? I got it for a buck on the Steam sale, and it's fun, but damned if I know what genre this is.
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:48 PM on July 4, 2015


GTA V is proof that there's all sorts of ways to make a fun game without violence. I mean, yeah it's an extremely violent game, but there's all this other non-violent stuff in there that's fun as well. The game has a yoga level. And skydiving, and bike racing, and helicopters and planes, and general exploration , and sneaking around and finding rare cars... I do realize that for a majority of their audience, the ultraviolence is the selling point. But it seems like it wouldn't be hard to release the same game with a "guns and crime story off" setting for those of us who just like exploring the toys and the sandbox and playing darts in the tavern.

Full disclosure, I do enjoy punching the occasional random pedestrian, because sometimes they run away, but sometimes they get hilariously angry and want to fight you back, and if you don't resort to shooting them, sometimes they win. And it makes perverse sense to me that life as a GTA NPC must be really stressful and tense, what with the crazy gangsters driving around like madmen all the time.
posted by billyfleetwood at 4:06 PM on July 4, 2015 [5 favorites]


ROU_Xenophobe: "the problem I run into is that the other nations are organized so badly. I just can't stand watching the AI plunk down cities in stupid nonoptimal places and make do with shitty half-assed road/rail networks and such. So they've gotta go."

And this is why we don't put ROUs in charge of Contact.
posted by langtonsant at 7:52 PM on July 4, 2015 [14 favorites]


Seriously, for one brief, glorious moment we had this figured out in the 90s. Planescape: Torment not only has violence be almost entirely optional (I think there are less than a half dozen encounters in the entire game that can't be talked through or snuck past), violence is actually the least satisfying way to make it through the game by far - by resorting to violence instead of intellect or charisma you miss huge chunks of story and worldbuilding (not to mention XP). Shame it didn't really last.

Oh man, I came here to extol my love for Planescape, I have not yet met this game's equal in modern games. The very first time I played it I did the standard butch fighter and things were so bizzarely difficult in places that I started over with a focus on charisma and wisdom, I was amazed to see I'd basically been missing half the game. Planescape tricks you by making itself out to be a standard RPG, when the real goal is to discover who you used to be and recover your memories. This is fairly impossible if you try to punch all your problems away. So many aspects of that game I adore, I should play it again sometime.

I also really enjoyed The Longest Journey and Grim Fandango, even though they were linear point and click games, the storytelling and the worlds stuck with me for a very long time. I miss games where the focus is on the story and the characters, I don't give a shit if I'm being railroaded as long as it takes me somewhere interesting...
posted by Feyala at 3:38 AM on July 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


(In fact, they made a whole season continuing a classic adventure franchise, Tales Of Monkey Island).

What is Sam & Max, chopped liver? ;)

Exploration, tackling randomization, puzzles and resource management are other verbs (nouns in this case) with a long history in gaming.
posted by ersatz at 10:33 AM on July 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


Catherine ... a fun, innovative game without fighting.

Yeah, but I never finished that one because it hurt my thumbs so damn much I had to stop playing, and I never picked it back up again.

Though I'm now playing Persona Q, and am approaching what I'm pretty sure will be a Catherine-themed section, and considering going back to play it again and try to actually complete the game.

But my thumbs! Owww. I don't necessarily have a problem with action sequences in my visual novels, but timed action sequences as in Catherine are probably right out.

At least Hatoful Boyfriend doesn't annoy me with any of that crap (but I really wish it were using a more vanilla Ren'Py platform so it would have the usual set of autoplay/log viewing options.)

In conclusion, Hanako's latest, Black Closet, is amazing, and if you ever wanted to solve mysteries and find romance or friendship as the president of an absurdly-powerful student council at an elite private girls' high school, this is the game for you.
posted by asperity at 12:42 PM on July 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think this essay worked for me because I'm feeling a bit burned out on the core mechanic of beating up dozens of mobs to reach a quest objective, plot point, or checkpoint.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 12:15 PM on July 7, 2015


This thread has got me so excited about what may happen in the future of gaming.

It's also caused me horrible pains reading about all of the games that I cannot play right now because I'm working full-time and most every spare moment is spent working towards a career/life change.

I made a huge mistake just over a week ago. I had one week of a bit of free time and thought hey I'll buy a game , it's been a while. I read some reviews and decided on Witcher 3 because stupid me didn't clue in to how much of a time sink that game is. I didn't get DAO:I because I figured I couldn't finish it during that time. Ha! Jokes on me.

And now all I want to do is finish and see what happens and I have no time. And now I have a list of MORE games.

I really need to avoid interesting game talk threads on Mefi. I lurvs them so much.
posted by Jalliah at 1:34 PM on July 7, 2015


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