Games and limits

I was talking to LGW about GTA the other day. That game pushes boundaries, obviously, but the play discussed here takes that to its extreme, and I see that I have a line beyond which I no longer feel art trumps healthy social mores. It is pretty far down the hall, perhaps, but it exists. Apparently art, for me at least, has its limits.

I know the limitation could be of my imagination  – I don’t know how an experience like the one posited by the play would not damage someone. But no matter why I feel that way, it makes me wonder if perhaps I should examine my attitude towards other games.

I’m not unaware of the irony here – this artwork about a hypothetical game is doing what such a game would do much more immediately and with higher stakes – one’s investment in the game would almost certainly have to be discarded upon reaching this moment. And I have just finished playing a game in which I played a psychopath amongst psychopaths, and I do not feel worse for wear. Indeed, in the midst of that experience I had a moment of outsider perspective that made it impossible for me not to judge the actions of my character harshly.

And yet.

One of the first principles of my game design work is that violence is a lame way to raise stakes almost all of the time. It is also one of the tools games rely on most heavily. War, murder, horror – all inflicted readily by gamers because we feel we can separate ourselves from our games. I’m glad to have learned this lesson about myself. I hope it will help me be better at that other job.

The design challenge of softer tools is far steeper, but it needs climbing.