This is an expansion on a comment I left on the blog of Eskil Steenberg, a game designer whose outlook has a lot in common with mine. The topic of the discussion was how violence in media is almost always cast as the solution to a problem, whereas in reality it's recognized as a problem in and of itself. He wondered how one might go about designing a game that would convey this concept: I had a few ideas.
It strikes me that the first step in expanding player's awareness would be empathy. Violence in media stops being enjoyable when you start putting yourself in another's shoes and feeling their pain; this is usually done by being more explicit than normal in depicting physical and mental trauma, but games provide an interesting opportunity for a different approach because of how they place us in the roles of other people.
It would be interesting if, as you hit somebody, the game (in the case of a video game) or GM (in the case of a tabletop RPG) rewound time for a few seconds and switched your perspective with that of the person you were about to strike; and then you actually had a choice as the victim, the ability to strike "yourself" (now A.I./GM controlled and still attacking) back or turn the other cheek. Maybe the perspective switches would be permanent and constant; when you would strike someone, you then become that person right before the strike connects. The result is that you are always a victim of the violence you would inflict, and that killing someone means game over.
To give an example of how this concept could be put into practice: You could do a game about some sort of spirit/deity of violence- someone/thing who can possess a person and make them into a mighty warrior who feels no pain, then move onto another person when that one dies; in other words, an entity that can conduct themselves like a video game player in what amounts to a less-than subtle metaphor. Then, after an initial section that would likely have much in common with God of War, you change to the system given above. Reaching the end of the game/achieving the overarching goal from there doesn't have to be a one-life affair (you could still transfer to someone else's body if someone kills "you"), but the more violence that occurs, the more violent the game gets in general (with npcs being more inclined to use it rather than talking with you and so on), hampering your efforts.
Of course, if you did this you'd also likely want to avoid rewarding body-swapping in this manner (i.e. make it a viable solution to a problem). Again, the violence escalation mechanic would help here but some players might miss the point.
Thursday, May 8, 2008
Labels: Game Design Philosophy