Little systems thinking in games either

Posted on August 17, 2008

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Nuke em til they glow! UT2004

"Nuke em til they glow!" UT2004

I’m still on the hunt for systems thinking in museums.   I still don’t know why museums tend to shy away from complexity in their interactive exhibits.  Martin suggests that it is the  complexity of making such games that dissuades museums – they don’t have the big budgets of the games industry.  Good point.   But, it seems the games people aren’t doing it either.  Sure there’s complexity and narratives on several layers, but Brett McCallon argues the video game industry does a poor job of offering insight on the real world.

The top level games, he says, “create highly realistic scenarios, especially with regard to combat” yet the they seriously consider contemporary issues.  The answer is not, he says, that the games are merely twitch speed escapism.  Indeed games have complex plots, detailed characterisations, advanced interactivity and call for elaborate strategies.   So why do they avoid real issues?  With the exception of some jingoistic attempts, there are few games that examine real problems:

it seems rather cowardly that games like “Call of Duty” tend to avoid naming real-life hotspots or enemies. Most of these games, in fact, either create imaginary, vaguely Middle-Eastern/Central Asian locales to play out their modern warfare scenarios, or they opt for real-world settings that are highly unlikely flashpoints.

The gaming industry, McCallon argues is risk averse and avoids alienating by having too challenging subject matter (rather than challenging gameplay).  Instead we get unidimensional boxing matches between presidential candidates.

McCallon does find one successful game that delivers a “fairly deep simulation of what it takes to actually win an American election”.  The Political Machine 2008 requires players to raise funds, build  campaign networks, give speeches, run ads, hire operatives and seek endorsements, all the time striving to undo the work of their competitors.   He describes how the Polictical Machine gameplay imitates real-life campaign tactics – including compromising whatever political integrity they might have harboured.   Much like we found when trying to play Electrocity (the only way to win is to nuke up heavily industrialisation), McCallon found himself “giving a speech insisting ‘my opponent is against improving the economy'”.

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