Tarik Abou-Saddik (27518722)
17 February 2017
As a form of entertainment, the one distinction that video games have always held is in their ability to construct experiences through player interaction. Arguably, interactivity is the main focal point that is naturally drawn out when comparing video games to any other entertainment medium. Why is that? Because apart from being the most obvious difference, it is also the most tantalizing feature. One that creates the illusion of player freedom and of the ability to build out a path that, though possibly scripted by the game’s creators, nonetheless belongs to the player embarking upon it. However,the design methodology behind a video game is not crafted within a vacuum. That sense of player freedom and of choice will always be limited by the overarching design of the game, which will inevitably twist and manipulate the player’s perspective.
An example of this can be found in God’s Will Be Watching (Deconstructeam, 2014), a 2D point-and-click resource management game where you take on the role of the leader of a group of survivors in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Tasked primarily with repairing the group’s radio equipment before 40 days elapse, your character, aptly named Sergeant Burden, must also manage resources and keep the morale (and sanity) of the survivors intact. The weight of these responsibilities feeds into the player’s belief that they are in control and that the group’s survival solely lies in their hands. Of course, this is true to an extent; without input from the player, there is no progression and, more importantly, no resolution. That being said, the game is unforgiving to players who don’t abide by the survival methodology within the design. Given that the player only has a handful of choices to make throughout each day in-game (e.g. spare ammo to hunt for food, get a campfire started, talk to a specific group member to keep their morale up, etc.), the player soon learns that she/he must begin to treat each group member not as people, but more as means to an end. The identities of the other group members become forgotten and the game codifies within the player the need to simply achieve the requested goal before resources (human or otherwise) are no more.
The interaction that the game provides thus forces the player to adopt a specific mindset in order to progress and finally win, which is something that is discussed in The Ideology of Interactivity (Matt Garite, 2003). In this essay, the author Matt Garite argues that interactivity within a game can be described as a “relentless series of instructions and demands” which essentially help incubate a particular response from the player. During a playthrough of a game, the level of interaction the player is provided is essentially a way for the developer to re-shape our mindset into one that is appropriate for immersion within the game world. For example, Rockstar Games’ Grand Theft Auto franchise, infamous for its portrayal of sex and violence, seemingly grants an enormous amount of freedom to players within a giant virtual sandbox. This feeling of being able to do anything with little to no disregard for non-playable characters (NPCs) or even story progression fosters an aura of invincibility around the player, which follows them through the game. The other side of this, however, is the fact that the player is chained to this satirical, hyperbolized take on reality. Trying to play Grand Theft Auto straight is an impossibility (i.e. driving appropriately, avoiding at all costs to kill or maim an NPC). Like any game, it has a specific gameplay purpose to fulfill. It can’t adapt to our every whim and will only let us veer off the beaten path ever so slightly. As Garrite puts it, the “game seemingly permits us to wander while it chains us to our seats” (Garrite, 2003, p. 7).
Clearly, interactivity within games is more than just a concept that explains player progression and narrative building, but also one that explains how developers inscribe within players the ideology required to immerse themselves within the game they are playing.
Deconstructeam. (2014). Gods Will Be Watching [Video game]. Austin: Devolver Digital.
Garrite, Matt. (2003). “The Ideology of Interactivity (or Video Games and Taylorization of Leisure).” Level Up Conference Proceedings. Utrecht: University of Utrecht.