essay, video games

Programming Glitches

As is increasingly becoming the case as soon as I make a strong statement about something video game related, I’m put into a situation where I have to question if my original opinion on the topic was indeed the correct one. First there was my case for authorial control of content and then the space cleared for player’s participation in the equation. Now, of course, I am in that situation again. I should have known that as soon as I accused a friend of cheating in a game, I would be put into a situation where I was given a choice and could make the same decision he continuously does. It all started with reputation.

In my work in the world of Cyrodiil, I’ve put time into making a name for myself. My character is a Mage and I thought, given that there is a guild dedicated to that class, I should do all I can for them in order that I be given some respect by others in the world. And that was going alright for awhile. I had visited each Guild Hall and got recommendations from each of them in turn. Some had required leg work, various fetch quests and one even wanted me to pull a prank, but each, in turn, eventually passed me on until it made it to the Arcane University, the place where all serious study of magic goes on and where the Council themselves meet.  Once I got there, it was all very exciting. Everything was magical, there were new spells to learn and interesting portals to try. Things were new.

That excitement didn’t last long though as they too wanted me to do all their dirty work for them, to do all the fetch quests. I did them at first though. I wanted the advancement, so I did them. They wanted me to kill some necromancers, I did that too. Open some ancient tomb and go investigate the area? Sure, I ‘ll go. I was their tool. But that too grew old. As time went by, quest by quest, I was growing tired of the various loop holes that I had to go through, the various people I had to meet with and either kill or convince them to give me information. As luck would have it, I was sent to see a vampire about some information where I decided I had to act.

The Mage’s Guild has a thing about Necromancers: they don’t like them. No real reasons — other than that they raise the dead — has been given as far as I can tell but the people running the Guild are on a crusade to root out and kill all Necromancers. It is within this mission that they have come to be allied with a vampire. Now, don’t get my wrong, I like vampires. But that is as a player. As a character… I’m not big on them. They’re bad. Diseased. Wrong. So, when I had to go speak with Janus Hassildor, I was not happy to learn that he was one of these… creatures. However, I was able to put my… aversions aside because he had information I needed.

To get this information, I had to do two things: get rid of the vampires and get ride of the vampire hunters. If people started asking questions about vampires in Skingrad, the Janus’s secret could get found out and then he would be hunted. My job was to find a way to get ride of both problems to lessen the chance of questions. Naturally, I went to the hunter’s first. If I wanted to get ride of the vampires, and not get infected, I would need their help. They easily agreed, after I used a charm on their leader, to take out the vampire nest. I waited a day for them to do that, which they did, and then went looking for the leader again. His job was done, right? He should be leaving town now.

No. He was not leaving. Unbeknownst to me, one of their crew died in the process of killing the vampires. That I only learned because I went to the cave where the vampires were supposed to be hiding out and investigated. I checked first to see if all the vampires were dead. They were. They I came across the body of the vampire hunter. I pickpocket him and saw that he still held the vampire dust that would be used as evidence that the quest was over. Without that, the vampire hunters would be remaining in town. Obviously, I had to find a way to get the dust to them.

I tried placing it in pockets. The game wouldn’t allow me. I tried leaving it in front of them. They ignored it. Then I thought I would break into their room and leave it for them, sort of a present from an anonymous source. Turns out that breaking into a hunter’s room while they are in it was not a good idea. They attacked me. I defended myself. I summoned a Daedroth. The creature killed them. And the guard that came running. And the next guard. And the bartender. Then the spell ran out. As soon as I exited the building, I was confronted by another guard. I chose jail. I was not happy as a player with this turn of events, with the glitch that caused me to murder a bunch of people, but I would deal with it and continue to play the game as my character. This would just be the story she would tell after a few drinks about the time she killed a bunch of people in an inn that one time. It would be hilarious later.

If my troubles just ended there, I would just have an interesting tale to tell other players. But they didn’t. An hour later, I got trapped in cave. I was searching a crate and they my character got caught on some geometry within the world. I had to reload from a previous save to escape and repeat an hour of playing. But that too was, while rather annoying, not entirely without some predictability. The world of Oblivion is vast and troubles happen. No, what finally got me to reconsider the idea of modifications to the game was when I got locked out of a shop. Permanently.

If you install the Fighter’s Stronghold and The Wizard’s Tower downloadable content on the Xbox 360 version of the game, there is a very good chance that the door to the Mystic Emporium will be locked. With this, it voids the entire purpose of even getting Frostcrag Spire, the wizard’s tower, in the first place. If the character cannot buy the upgrades from the Emporium, the tower has no real worth other than a landmark and the couple of dollars I spent on it have gone to waste for this playthrough of the game. It was in considering this bug that I thought back to my friend and his changes.

In Suits’ framework from Grasshopper, his assumption is that the game will be fair, that all obstacles created by the developer of the system was done so that all experiences would be on equal footing. However, if a glitch occurs, how does that fit into the framework? If some failure of the mechanics prevents me from the means of the rules, am I allowed to reject the attitude while still in pursuit of the goal? At what point should the rules be broken in order that play continue as planned, as designed? Because, as is the case for my friend, the intended design of the system is hard to nail down when the design breaks the experience, the attitude, itself. He chooses to interpret that the game structure, the goal, be maintained at all cost, even voiding or adding to the means in pursuit of this. Should I also follow this example? I’m not sure. And, thankfully, I don’t have to make the choice this time. Playing the game via the Xbox 360 means I cannot change the files. Glitches and all, I have to play as the game is written, even if that means dealing with a system that will break from time to time.