Yet another attempt at a sensationalist title. (How’d I do?) It comes today in the form of a weird thought I had on this morning’s train ride, dating back to a very old gamedev.net thread. That thread made a call to the community of game developers at large. A request.
End goblin genocide.
“When it gets to that point, it’s a little irresponsible when we fail to consider the ecology or culture of the creatures we mindlessly slay. Don’t these goblins have families? They tend to have money of some kind, does that mean they have a culture? An economy? Ever stop to think about *why* it is they attack our towns?”
There have been other threads (on gamedev and elsewhere) over the years that either hit the same riffs or directly cite that very post. (The thread was removed by some dev on the site – bit of a conspiracy there – so it’s only accessible via web archives now.) There was also this epic Gamasutra article in a very similar vein…hitting Diablo and it’s entire progeny pretty hard:
“The beings who live here… what shall I say of them? Firstly, that they are uniformly hostile. We have released a few prisoners, who always flee without offering to assist us… a shabby, ungracious way to treat one’s benefactors. Yet apart from these churlish wretches, all others that we have encountered have attacked without challenge or parley of any kind. And so we kill them.
Oh, God, how we kill them.”
Experience systems which are based on unjustified murder have been around a very, very long time. Violence made it to video games early as it was the easiest part of exciting stories to model, at least in the beginning. Reading reams of text on an amber monitor isn’t always what you’re in for (Zork was great but it wasn’t for everybody) and so games like Nethack/Moria were much more popular.
But what about now? I see Diablo 3, TERA, and Modern Call of Wuty coming out with some new mechanics and textures, but the same basic mechanic at play.
Violence as a mechanic.
Don’t get me wrong. There are times in life where lines are drawn and violence becomes necessary; in the defense of one self or one another; this isn’t a post on ethics anyway. Violence is a scary resort; it’s the point in a story when two sides are pushed to their limits, with somebody’s survival often in the balance. This is exciting stuff and the easier stuff to model in a game. Easier than negotiation (which is better modeled in a book or on screen).
But that’s no longer true, is it? We now have the means and the experience to add new dimensions to our games, and a lot of people are already doing it.
Cinematic presentation as a precursor to violence is one thing (and a good thing) which Bioware has been excelling at of late…but what it also does is that it allows you to talk your way out of fights. You can’t talk your way out of every fight, but it’s not an impossibility in all cases. How many cases wasn’t clear to me until now as I’m leveling a second consular as pure Dark Side…and she’s fighting a LOT more during dialog sequences. Not only can you talk your way out of fights, but you can pick them. This is a good start, in my mind. I want to see more.
EVE has a special place in this line up as the content is people. Numeric experience gain is a non-issue here as your skills train over time and not only by doing or killing. (I specify “numeric experience” because real in-game combat experience is universal across these titles, so I’m eschewing it for this discussion.) And because much of the content is other people, your ability to talk your way out of a fight is as good as your real-life negotiating skills. And also, how scary your ship and/or your friends appear.
I’m not a fan of experience gain that’s effectively not interactive. (Training Rank X of Skill That Adds No More Than 5% to This Confusing Characteristic does not appeal to me.) However, violence is not a prerequisite to advancing in EVE: that’s my point.
The Secret World
TSW is half going the Bioware route in that you’ll be given lots of narrative justification for violent conflict, and there may be alternate reality game stuff that involves rather EVE-like negotiation between factions…but the real new thing here are the so-called Investigation Missions. There are quests in this game that require you to use real world information sources (like actually do some real world research) and learn about ancient history, folklore, and myth to solve a puzzle in the game. Follow a trail of clues in the game with no Map Markers to guide you. It’s a bold move and I hope that it’s both 1. as good in practice as it’s been presented and 2. as fun as it seems.
Honorable Mention that I snuck in: Minecraft
That’s right. Minecraft. Gather your resources, build your shelters, and survive. This game is a lot of fun co-op and – given how trivial it is to punch through structures as a player – PVP is kind of silly. But it’s a game where there is no real “experience” (your “levels” are little green balls gained from killing monsters that you use to enchant weapons and tools…while this is nice, it’s not a requirement). Your skill with the game is what counts here; there’s really no number attached to it at all.
I’m not saying that I want the removal of violence from video games; far from it. I enjoy digital combat and I really appreciate how far it’s come. Consider fighting the dragon in Adventure, running and gunning through Contra or Doom, and fighting through God of War. What I am saying is that I want to see more alternative paths presented for advancement. We have the means now. Let’s see it.