THE TROUBLE WITH VIDEO GAMES ISN’T THAT CHARACTERS ARE DICKS: IT’S THAT THEY ARE EASY SCAPEGOATS

The inappropriate laugh that came out of my work cubicle pierced the office silence and brought stares of disapproval from my way-too-serious coworkers. I ignored my colleagues who were driving business results through PowerPoint presentations and returned to Charlie Brooker’s hilariously written blog “The trouble with video games isn’t the violence. It’s that most of the characters are dicks.” I was so amused by the blog, I shared it with all my friends and posted it on the GamesInc Facebook page.

A few days later, as I was doing the level in Modern Warfare 3 that brought Charlie’s sudden flash of introspection and moral righteousness, the same sense of moral righteousness overcame me. I was not disturbed that I had to slit a guard’s throat in a cold and professional way. I was outraged at Charlie’s affront. How dare he judge these characters?

Video Game Characters Live In A Crazy World - Picture From Modern Warfare 3 Where The Russians Decide That Invading New York Is A Good Idea.

Your characters (Yuri, Price of the moustache, and Soap of the bathhouse) are infiltrating a military compound in Sierra Leone where soldiers are busy executing civilians, and to make a bit of extra cash, are also selling chemical gas to terrorists planning to deploy it throughout Western Europe. And instead of taking out the guard silently to ensure silent infiltration, Charlie would have you ask the guard, nicely, to leave. Now, admittedly, I’m not a psychologist and my lack of emotional intelligence is only matched by my inability to find my car keys every morning.  However, I would assume that suggesting to the heavily armed guard that butchering innocent civilians is probably not as fulfilling as a career in HR or customer service may not be the right move…you might end with a knife in your throat possibly?

Charlie Borker argues that violence is not the issue, he is desensitised. No kidding! Just turn on the news or live in a wartorn country and you’re all good on that front.  The issue according to him is that the characters are dicks. These guys are special forces operatives trying to save the world, and they are being judged as dicks for slitting the throats of terrorists. A bit harsh maybe.  What Charlie missed in his post is that the worlds they live in, not the characters, are the problem. Your characters live in a world where a terrorist has destroyed half of Europe swiftly followed by a Russian ground invasion (poor Europe, an economic crisis and now the Russians invading—how far the continent has fallen since its heyday of world domination).  Are we really surprised your characters need to use brutal measures to stop a crazy terrorist? The world they live in has made them do unthinkable actions, but despite it all, they keep their sense of purpose and camaraderie.  They are not dicks, they are heroes!

And this is similar in most video games, characters mostly (emphasis on mostly) have admirable characteristics in the often harsh, immoral, crazy, or even evil worlds they live in. Take the Grand Theft Auto series for example. In all of these, you are a thug with little opportunities in life due to a difficult upbringing in a dog-eat-dog environment.  You go around the city stealing cars, beating up people, and even killing people. And what for? To survive and succeed. Now, take the business world. The most successful business men/women get to the top by not always being nice. They deal with difficult situations and overcome them through often tough and sometimes downright unpleasant actions. What is the difference between that person and your GTA street thug? The GTA thug is an exaggerated projection of a modern businessman merged with a petty thief.

Charlie Brooker has got it wrong. The trouble with most (again, emphasis on most) video games is that the characters are too good. They have courage, moral values, and determination which make the rest of us look petty, weak, and immoral. And some of them such as Batman, Prince of Persia, and Zelda are downright Saints!

Iraq Bombing

Is The Real World Less Crazy? - The Coalition Of The Willing Looking For Weapons Of Mass Destruction In Baghdad (No Irony There).

The world they live in forces them to take actions which sometime offend our moral sensitivities. These worlds are a projection of our world and morale values through the lense and imagination of a storywriter/producer. And how different is that from Hollywood?  It’s not – we should judge games as we judge movies.  Some have great storylines and characters, some have terrible storylines and characters (and that can ruin the game as we blogged before) .  But it remains entertainment – let’s not forget that.

Now, back to the real world of my company and my PowerPoint presentations that make a difference. Tonight I will return to the crazy world of Modern Warfare 3 where I’ve just lost a close friend, and I need to storm a fortified castle in the Czech Republic. But if I turn the real news on, I would see stories of the Syrian Regime massacring its population, NATO trying to figure out what the hell to do in Afghanistan, and undoubtedly some successful or unsuccessful terrorist attack somewhere in the world (pick your country, you’re not short on candidates). It’s a strange world we live in…

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HOW TO RUIN A VIDEO GAME IN FIVE SIMPLE STEPS

As my chainsaw was splattering the entrails of an Ork all over the floor in Space Marines, I was left with a hollow feeling. I’m a big Warhammer 40k fan, I love action games, and the action and violence in Space Marines is a lot of fun. So why this hollow feeling? Why the urge to put the mighty chainsaw and bolter away, and swap to Deus Ex or LA Noire? Surely killing orks and fighting the forces of chaos were better than wandering the streets of Detroit or looking for clues in the dark alleyways of 1940’s LA. Then it hit me, the story in Space Marines is absolutely rubbish! The Warhammer 40k world is so rich in potential stories of betrayal, mighty fights between legions of space marines and conquests of alien worlds (plagiarizing the horus heresy could make for an amazing story line), and you end up having to rescue a manufacturing plant. Seriously? A bloody manufacturing plant? What next, space marines save the local chai walla from the evil forces of Chaos?

And this is is the first of my top 5 ways to ruin a video game in 5 simple steps. I’m not going to bother with some of the basics such as poor gameplay, terrible visuals as these are so blindingly obvious. Games that don’t get the basics right are worth less than a broken clay pot from the Roman empire.

1. Rubbish Story Line
There’s nothing like a terrible story line to ruin a potentially great game. The Space Marines example is typical, you end up running

Illogical actions and loose storyline encourage you to give Space Marines a wide miss.

through a manufacturing plant pressing buttons to activate different boring options, and when you do hit the button, you have to go find another button to make the previous button work. Another great game ruined by the lack of a story is Modern Warfare 2 – MW 1 is one of my favorite games ever, so I felt like an alcoholic in a whiskey factory when I got my hands on the next installment. However, the terrible and incomprehensible story line just ruined it. A mid-level American officer partners with a low life terrorist to destroy the world. And you’re a UK special forces op working for the Americans? Come on guys – make a bit more of an effort with the 3rd installment or you’re going to ruin all the great work you did with all the previous installments of the series. It doesn’t need to be complicated (although scenarios full of suspense like Deus Ex are great), it just has to make sense and have some variety. There’s nothing more irritating than when you get to the objective and you are awaiting the next part of the story, that you find out you need to go and do something else before you move on.

2. Nothing New
I would like to tip my hat off to games such as LA Noire, GTA (when it first came out), Metal Gear Solid, Mario Kart, Prince of Persia, Final Fantasy and all the other games that brought innovation to our consoles. I’m a big fan of shoot ’em ups but how many third party shooters are coming soon or have been released recently? They’re a lot of fun and give me good mileage for my PS3. But there’s no feeling like getting immersed into something completely different. All my favorite games have brought innovation in story lines, graphics, playability and pushed the boundaries of gaming forward (Prince of Persia, MW, MGS, Mario Kart, Red Dead, Halo, etc.).

3. Multiplayer Options Only On-line

FIFA always ensures long hours of fun when you are playing with friends.

Why, oh why, do I have to log online to play multiplayer games? I’m chilling at home with friends, whack in a Crysis 2 or a Space Marine, and all we want to do is kill the living daylights out of each other. But no, we have to log-in online to play, and some games you can’t even split screens!!!! I know that online gaming brings the money in, but it doesn’t mean I like it. That’s why I prefer the PS3 to the Xbox. So what happens to me and my friends? Well, it generally ends up being a FIFA session which is no bad thing – and that’s why I always get my hands on the latest FIFA or PES (but that’s another argument).

4. Short Game Play
Picture the scenario. You’ve just bought you’re latest game. You’ve decided to save some money and you’re spending Friday night at home (come on, it happens to do the best of us), you’ve got your delivery guy on speed dial, your fridge is stocked with your favorite tipple, and your phone is off so the world cannot reach you. And 4 hours later, the game is finished…what???? I ruined my Friday night and spend more than 2000 bucks for that! The latest Prince of Persia is the classic example of that. I know this has happened to me way too many times (yeah, cool quotient down the drain). As I was writing this, I was trying to remember the name of the games where this happened. I couldn’t. Nuff said.

5. No Bugs Please
I do feel bad writing this as I know it’s nearly impossible for a games developer to eliminate bugs completely, but there are some bugs that just drive you crazy. Enemies stuck in walls you can’t kill and have to commit suicide before starting again, I can live with. But pressing the button to enter my car in LA Noire and getting run over, or being stuck at a level of Black Ops and not being able to get through because the screen went dark – drives me crazy! I know developers already doing a better job with Beta launches of filtering for bugs, but what about an option to report a bug in the game directly (and maybe even skipping the place you’re stuck at). Too much to ask?

You’ll have noticed that some of the great games of our time make one of these 5 basic errors. Making one isn’t going to completely ruin the game, but steering away from this can transform a good game into a fantastic one. I know some of you might be reading this saying “What about x? How about y?” These are the 5 things that irritate me the most. But feel free to add yours, I’ll most likely agree or learn something new. So put your money where your, err, keyboard is….

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