Saturday, May 9, 2009

Six Days in Fallujah

Wait a minute you say, wasn't this was supposed to be a post about picking a project? Well, yes, it was, but I realized some important things, to wit:
  1. Nobody is reading this anyway
  2. Everything original I had to say on the subject, was said in the previous article
  3. If I'm writing stuff that nobody is going to read anyway, I may as well be writing stuff I get excited about
Right, so now I'm going instead to talk briefly about Six Days in Fallujah. The short of it, as I understand it, is this: Some veterans from Iraq decided they wanted a game made of their experiences, so they approached a developer, the developer started work and got with Konami to publish it. When news of the game got out, lots of people got upset, and Konami pulled their support for the project.

That's all I know about the project, but it's enough for what I want to talk about. I don't want to argue the merits of this individual game, or whether or not it should continue, or whatever. What I do want to talk about is how people got all riled up about this being made into a game, where they probably wouldn't have been nearly upset if a movie were being made on the subject.

I think the problem here is not only in how games are viewed, but also in how we've been making games. Games right now are viewed, and not unfairly, primarily as amusing entertainment at best, and toys for children at worst. Games are only ever made in order to provide a 'fun' experience. That's always been the number one rule of game design, whatever else happens the game has to stay fun.

Movies on the other hand, come in many different varieties, some are fun, and some aren't. And it's because not all movies are fun, that they are allowed to treat more serious subject matter. A piece of media treating something as harrowing and recent as the Iraq war shouldn't be fun, it's just too soon for it to be fun. Some might argue that there is never a time when a depiction of war should be fun, and there might be some merit to that, but I don't want to get into that discussion here.

So would it be possible to make a game that wasn't fun, but was still compelling? Absolutely, most of the efforts on this front have been made by indie developers. I think a great example of this is Judith, a relatively short little game that is absolutely worth playing. I would almost call it more of an interactive experience than a game. There wasn't a lot of room to play in, there wasn't any freedom in the narrative, there wasn't any way to lose, or die, you just move through the story. And yet I think that it was much better than a non-interactive telling of the same story could have been. Somehow, being the one to guide the characters around on the screen forged a connection with them for me, more than I could have felt through another media form.

This is the power of games, but I think we might need to come up with another name for them. Game brings to mind fun, and that's as it should be. But when interactive media seeks to respectfully address difficult topics and issues, we need something to call it that doesn't instantly make people think that we are taking those sensitive issues and making them fun.

But I have no idea what that label might be.



At June 3, 2009 at 6:02 PM , Blogger Shelley K said...

In education a lot of people are calling interactive media 'serious games' but that still hearkens back to the consideration that they are just games.


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