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Recommended Reading: When games can’t contemplate life’s intricacies

Not without my daughter: Silent Hill's Harry Mason can't catch a break

Joel Goodwin is not too sure a video game can simulate some of life’s complexities. In his recent “Parenting Is Not an Escort Mission”—an indirect response to a thing I wrote in January about Creatures—he warns against using games to reify life events that are not so simple. Parenting, for instance, is not so simple.

In the same way that I used Creatures to think about parenthood, Goodwin worries that game designers, too, are guilty of the same abstractions. He catalogues some games about parenthood, and almost every single game he names is an “escort mission,” one that reduces love and caregiving to something as banal as “safely haul this potato from point A to point B.” Ehm, my words, not Goodwin’s.

Next he suggests subtler or alternative game mechanics that might go further in reproducing (NO PUN INTENDED) real-life experiences. He poses the possibility of games that, if developed, might represent parenthood in a happier, healthier, more intricate way. (In the comments, some readers name games that do just that.)

It’s a fascinating read, and I wholly recommend it.

6 responses to “Recommended Reading: When games can’t contemplate life’s intricacies” »

  1. Hi Jenn, thanks for the kind words! Your original article on Creatures was a wonderful read (caught it via Critical Distance) and I’m always appropriating other people’s fine work and trying to make it my own. =) I was reminded me of Laura Michet’s take, a couple of years back, on the fascinating brutality of Creatures versus something perhaps more sterile like The Sims.

    “Why soccer games?” was also a great read, which is a shoe-in whenever I get round to doing my own next highly irregular link roundup.

    Ah, you just posted over on mine as I was typing this…

    • Jenn Frank says:

      Oh, ha! As you posted here, I was just over there, where I was picking on you a little (unjustly!). No, the article is great! I loved it.

      I’ve just finished reading Anna Anthropy’s Rise of the Videogame Zinesters, which calls for games on the whole to have a greater depth and breadth in terms of “authorship” and “experience.” So your article—about games that could explore parenthood more fully—dovetailed really perfectly with my enthusiasm for that book.

      I do think there would be a way to create a game about love and caregiving—probably IF, maybe not?—and I’d be really excited to play it.

      • And I think we got that small misunderstanding ironed out too!

        I do have a broad concern about abstractions in games (many others have raised the point that military FPSes are abstracting away a proper understanding of war and there was fabulous article on Brindle Brothers a few months back which said RTSes also ignored the real problems of command, e.g. lines of communication and confusion) but I hope as all the tired old tropes and mechanics get exhausted, we’ll see an increasing innovation in what games try to model. And not just innovation as in try-my-free-flash-game but innovation as in buy-it-you’ll-like-it, such as Cart Life which is one of the most important game purchases I’ve made. I cannot stop recommending that game to everyone I meet, as I have now just proved.

        But I guess I should try Octodad one of these days…

      • Jenn Frank says:

        Again! It happened again! I was just over there posting again! I’m sorry for becoming so chatty all of a sudden!

        And oh, yes. I fundamentally agree with the scope of your broader concern—about reductiveness, especially in terms of something as hellish and complicated and all-or-nothing as “warfare”—and I look forward to a game that examines something beyond “grey” and “guns” and wins and losses. Because, yeah, no, war is not binary. There is always loss.

        Gah, anyway! Yes! I will check out Cart Life!

  2. Jenn, you’re fortunate, then, that I really had to go to bed. That said, I did leave late for my train this morning! I am thinking of blaming you publicly for this on Twitter. At the very least it’ll be done behind your back.

    I am one of Cart Life’s biggest fans and wrote a glowing non-spoilery piece about it. A few weeks later I persuaded Adam Smith of RPS to take a look and he was similarly impressed.

    I told the author, Richard Hofmeier, that I would be referring to it for years in terms of what had achieved and how it had been done.

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