ENGL 255B: Video Games and/as Literature
February 15, 2017
The Player Will Be Watching, Too
The game Gods Will Be Watching makes use of explicit textual and visual cues as well as the omission of information to reinforce a sense of individualistic superiority within the player, based on submission to religiously moral behaviour and an active detachment from the portrayed characters.
From the first encounter with the game, a certain moral policy is being established. By carrying a title directly alluding to religion, Gods Will Be Watching encourages a very specific type of morally good behaviour and mindset from the player. At no point in the game is the issue of religion or gods addressed, leaving the title to stand not as part of the lore of the game, but instead as a direct threat of moral judgement to the player that prompts them to abide more strictly to the given rules. The allusion to an authorial holy gaze calls from them a sense of autosurveillance, since it also brings forth with it the embedded religious morality and the “good” ways of conduct taught through it. Matt Garite states that “when the player ‘willing’ subjects [themselves] to the rules of the game, these rules become internalized or embodied by the player, to the effect that the player learns to behave in accordance within the commandments of the game” (Garite 10). In this manner, the objectives of keeping the various members of the crew alive, of repairing the radio and of successfully transmitting the signal before the 40th day become almost unquestioned tasks. Despite the options to kill your teammates and the felt annoyance at their nervous breakdowns, diverging from the established goal is not seen as a viable choice because we’ve been told how to behave by the game rules, by the alluded omnipresent god figure, and by our own internalized sense of religious morality.
In the same manner that Claudia Lo explores gender politics in RimWorld through the absence of specific characteristics within the lines of code, Gods Will Be Watching sets up the ground for a further sense of individualistic superiority via the exclusion of relevant pieces of information. The player is made to take on the role of Sgt. Burden, leader of the surviving crew and, more importantly, the only outright named character in the game. Although, further in the game, you’re rewarded tidbits of information on the crew if you’ve talked with them enough, such as their relationships to one another and names you try to guess who they belong to, their main value remains in the role they occupy and the usefulness their unique actions hold in the gameplay. Their health is important, not because you’ve grown to care for them as companions, but because their well-being is directly associated with action points. The higher number of healthy and remaining crew members the player has, the more actions they can execute within a given day. The motivation to keep your crew safe is then actually fed by the motivation to progress within the game. Perhaps the intention was not to disconnect the player from the non-player characters (NPCs) and to only value them as objects, as tools to achieve a goal, but it remains the message that is communicated. “Code is never neutral” (Claudia Lo) and, although this specific context doesn’t call upon the examination of the structural code, the argument remains that developers’ choices on the building foundation of the game, whether they are made intentionally or not, operate and feed into specific conventions that directly affect the relationship players have towards the game.
By asking the player to behave in a dignified, morally noble way, while also reducing NPCs to mere tools to the completion of the game, Gods Will Be Watching encourages an individualistic mentality. The player is made to feel superior through the role they occupy as the protector and the ultimate authority figure over themselves, as well as over the game’s characters. In that manner, their sense of worth can be elevated as an individual because despite being detached from the other characters, the player doesn’t kill them. They chose not to kill because they are responsible, they are noble, they are good and because after all, gods will be watching.
Garite, Matt. “The Ideology of Interactivity (or Video Games and Taylorization of Leisure).” Level Up Conference Proceedings, Utrecht: University of Utrecht, November, 2003.
Lo, Claudia. “How RimWorld’s Code Defines Strict Gender Roles.” Rock Paper Shotgun. November 2nd, 2016. https://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2016/11/02/rimworld-code-analysis/
Gods Will Be Watching. Deconstructeam. 2014. Video game.