Month: February 2012

Words of Love

I wanted Dogmeat to live. During a single fight, at near the same moment every time, he would die. I would reload the game, try again and would inevitably be standing over this corpse.

This went on for seven different tries until I finally decided to load a save that was in a time before I met him. I went into the same area, accomplished the quest and then went back to find him. He never knew the difference.

Wait. Let me start over.

The damn dog kept dying. I didn’t know what to do about it. He just kept jumping in front of the Super Mutant and then getting killed. I had to keep reloading files over and over to save him until I had finally had enough and did the quest without him. After collecting my reward, I went back to get the dog and hoped that it wouldn’t happen again.

No. That didn’t happen.

Was it my fault? Did I train him wrong? Was I using the wrong settings? He just kept dying! I tried to stop it. I was using various weapons and even a grenade that one time. What could I do? Should I go back to an earlier save? Would that fix this? I thought about it and decided to reload again.

***

It’s easy to think it’s right to do that for a AI companion or a virtual pet. I do it all the time. I want to save certain people or creatures and so, armed with my previous experiences playing game, I know that if I just try it enough times I can figure it out. Brute forcing the problem will allow me to get the outcome I want. All I need to do is keep trying.

That is what worries me about the future of relationships in games. Rachel Helps and I have talked about it some already (read: I wrote some soliloquies) over in the comment section of her blog.

What’s to stop the determined player from getting to the sex scene or seducing the guy they want? What’s to stop them from using save states to “game” the relationship? What is to stop some players, to put it more bluntly, from getting exactly what they want when they want it from the characters? And, to throw more questions into this mix, is any of that right? Is it ethical?

I’m single and it influences how I see relationships in games. To me, they often feel cheap. If I can use presents to dissuade any opinion, in what way do I not have complete control over my partners? That one character didn’t like that I murdered everyone? Why, give them some presents! It will make it all better again. As long as I balance my outrageous evil with constant gifts, I’m fine.

Relationships though don’t work like that. At least, in my experiences they don’t.

“Obviously,” I can hear you saying, “you are talking about isolated incidents. Serious players wouldn’t do this.” Oh? Is that so? I was lurking on Twitter last night and I saw some very disturbing comments that I am now going to paraphrase.

“Ugh. I need to get the right romance.”
“Thank god [Y] is dead. I hate him.”
“I arranged it so [Z] would die. I’m ready for the sequel now.”
“I slept with and then broke up with everyone. Gotta play it again.”

To get ready for Mass Effect 3, I was watching some players causally arrange murders and romances for their own amusement. If they are given the power to do this, and they exercise it, is that wrong or are they just playing the game?

If you can pick the equipment, which missions they are on and arrange their lives, in what way are the companions, party members or even just virtual pets not dolls? Sure, it’s reducing these actions to the most base level, but is that it works out to be. And, in case you think I am being pejorative here, I’m not. This might be a good thing.

Those who have been following my blog for a long time know that I really liked Critical Play by Mary Flanagan. In the early chapters of the book, Flanagan talks about doll culture during the Victorian times and how some children would hold mock funerals for their dolls. This gave the children something they lacked in their own life, says Flanagan: control and a sense of closure about death.

For some players, the ability to manipulate characters in a video game is great. They can use the safety of the game to express themselves and perform actions they may not be able to do outside the game. That relationship that never worked out for them can be remade and that resolution can finally come.

Yet, there is a dark side. Choice should bring consequence and video games often lack that permanence. That is what worries me. I’m probably a pessimist at heart, but I start think of players logging hundreds of hours trying to get Lara Croft naked in Tomb Raider and how often I get Google Search result hits for the phrases “demon sex” or “demonic lady naked.”

I begin to wonder if, when we yell for more maturity in games, we aren’t just, on some level, enabling some players to abuse in-game characters.

I don’t know. Maybe I’m wrong.

Wait. Let me start over.