The King of Cutscenes

Console Game: Kingdom Hearts When cutscenes run longer than movies All of the cutscenes in Kingdom Hearts were compiled in this YouTube video: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BNdcyOLuZMs). The runtime of all of the cutscenes in Kingdom Hearts is 3 hours, 21 minutes and 32 seconds. This was the first video game I ever bought, but my brother played it since I was … Continue reading “The King of Cutscenes”

Console Game: Kingdom Hearts

When cutscenes run longer than movies

All of the cutscenes in Kingdom Hearts were compiled in this YouTube video: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BNdcyOLuZMs). The runtime of all of the cutscenes in Kingdom Hearts is 3 hours, 21 minutes and 32 seconds. This was the first video game I ever bought, but my brother played it since I was so terrible at defeating villains. Even though I did not play it all the way through on my own when I was younger, I remember watching all of the cutscenes in between. These scenes were so well made that I didn’t mind not playing. Even now, they still captivate me.

Still… being forced to rewatch all of those cutscenes and not being able to skip them made the game seem longer. I wasn’t able to finish the game in an hour and a half like other games, because I needed to watch all of the cut scenes and that extended the time from one and a half hours to five plus hours. The cutscenes are essential to the storyline and to the overall character development, and the cutscenes in Kingdom Hearts are very well made, however, not every gamer likes cutscenes. My brother, for instance, would rather play the game instead of getting to know the different characters and their motivations. Personally, I love cutscenes because I’m a terrible player and I get to take a break and just watch what happens. Also, I’m a total sucker for love stories as in the case of Kingdom Hearts. 

I was shocked by how long the cutscenes were. I was able to get up, make a snack, leave the room and come back with the cutscene still going on. Of course, I lost some valuable information in the meantime, but it’s hard to sit and watch a game for hours on end. Nevertheless, Disney and SquareEnix worked together to craft a reasonable storyline and intriguing new world. The opening scene of Kingdom Hearts and its sequels have been viewed millions of times, because they are so well developed. They are full of easter eggs and foreshadowing that don’t become clear unless you finish the game and trust me – they make you want to finish the game!

Gameplay in First and Third Person Perspectives in Skyrim

Skyrim allows the player to alternate between first person and third person perspectives almost instantaneously. Earlier in the semester we read Wolf’s article, Invented Space: Toward a Taxonomy of On- and Off-Screen Space in Video Games[1], which described the effect of a player’s perspective on the development of an interactive three-dimensional environment. In chapter 10, … Continue reading Gameplay in First and Third Person Perspectives in Skyrim

Skyrim allows the player to alternate between first person and third person perspectives almost instantaneously. Earlier in the semester we read Wolf’s article, Invented Space: Toward a Taxonomy of On- and Off-Screen Space in Video Games[1], which described the effect of a player’s perspective on the development of an interactive three-dimensional environment. In chapter 10, Wolf describes how “the first player perspective increases the importance of off-screen space” because the player is now “within the game”. Placing the player within the game, takes away the ‘objective’ perspective of the third person. The player may be less aware of what is going on off screen. However, this perspective forces the player to be more aware of the game’s diegetic environment, even the elements they can’t see.

While I haven’t played enough to develop a preference for first or third person perspective while playing Skyrim, I did a quick google search to find what most players preferred. In summary, most players varied in how they used the first vs. third person perspective in the game. Often, players prefer the third person when in combat or exploring their environment. This perspective gives the player the ability to ‘search’ and identify elements in the environment better than in first person. If in first person where you are within the game, and an enemy comes at you from behind, you may be caught off guard. Disadvantaging the player in this situation. While navigating the environment, third person can be advantageous when searching a room, or cave so that you can notice multiple elements in the environment all at once and you are not limited by what the player is directly facing.

A few players said they preferred the first person perspective because they felt more immersion in the game. Some of them never switched between first and third person because they prefer the immersive qualities of the perspective. In a way, they may feel that playing in third person breaks them out of the Magic Circle sense that they have developed while playing in the first person. First person is also preferred when interacting intimately with the environment. For example, picking up alchemy sets and other tedious tasks that require the player to look at the object closely, or even shooting an arrow, which requires some precision.

Shooting an arrow in First person in Skyrim.
Shooting an arrow in third person in Skyrim.

Overall, the ability for players to choose their preferred gameplay perspective in Skyrim is an example of distinguishing the differences between Wolf’s on and off screen gameplay. The choice also allows players to identify the advantages and disadvantages of the different perspectives in different forms of gameplay within the same game.

[1] Mark J. P. Wolf. “Inventing Space: Toward a Taxonomy of On- and Off-Screen Space in Video Games.” Film Quarterly 51, no. 1 (1997): 11-23. doi:10.2307/1213527.

The Growth of Female Sci-Fi Characters, as Seen in Broken Age

In, “No Business in Space? The Female Presence in Series Science Fiction for Children,” Karen Sands details the history of female characters in the science fiction genre from the 1940s to the mid-1990s. Though a bit dated now, the article … Continue reading

In, “No Business in Space? The Female Presence in Series Science Fiction for Children,” Karen Sands details the history of female characters in the science fiction genre from the 1940s to the mid-1990s. Though a bit dated now, the article serves as a great comparison for how far female characters have come in children’s science fiction stories in recent years. While the article focuses on literary female characters in the science fiction, I chose to use the article for insight on the female protagonist in the videogame Broken Age, which was released in 2014.

At its heart, Broken Age is a science fiction game. Broken Age tells the story of two teenage protagonists, a male named Shay and a female named Vella. While Vella’s narrative begins in a traditional fantasy world, Shay’s narrative is firmly rooted in science fiction, taking place in a spaceship as Shay is on a mission to help his home planet of Loruna. The two narratives seem to have no relation, as the player progresses through the game, Vella and Shay’s paths cross and Vella take up residence in the science fiction world. As such, Vella can be used to illustrate how improved the female character is in the science fiction genre.

Vella, seen here, is the female protagonist of Broken Age

Though Sanders mentions that females were beginning to receive better roles at the time of her publication (1997), she outlines two major problems associated with female science fiction characters. First, female characters in science fiction stories are always characterized by their communication skills (Sanders 22). Regardless of their intellect (as female super geniuses and ordinary girls were common tropes at this time), female characters were always highlighted for their ability to communicate than their male counterparts who had more central roles and solved problems with their intellect, ingenuity, or physical skills (Sanders 17). Sanders explains this trope by saying that females, “solve mysteries (without using scientific knowledge),” by helping “to bring people together through their power to communicate” (19). Secondly, Sanders discusses the problem of female character rarely having, “the opportunity to work alone to show off their capabilities; girls and women are still under the direction of men and boys” (22).

Fortunately for Broken Age, Vella’s storyline actively works against these tropes. Vella’s communication skills are not highlighted as her strongest asset. In fact, Vella is a poor communicator, as seen by the way Vella is unable to effectively convince anyone of the problems with the Maiden’s Feasts and the mogs. Vella never solves a problem through communication; Vella actively chooses which object in the environment and in her ability to solve any predicament she is faced with. Similarly, Vella always solves problems on her own. There is no male character to claim Vella’s success, or to give her orders. Thus, Vella does have the opportunity to work alone and proves the worth of female characters, even in a science fiction setting. A stark contrast to the characterizations Sands describes, Broken Age shows just how far female science fiction characters have come.

Even when she enters an unusual science fiction world, Vella is the one who solves her own problems

Works Cited

Sands, Karen. “No Business in Space? the Female Presence in Series Science Fiction for Children.” Foundation 0 (1997): 15-24. ProQuest. Web. 14 Dec. 2016.

Image Sources

  1. https://www.cosplay-it.com/en/cosplay/10332/vella-broken-age
  2. http://www.pocketgamer.co.uk/r/iPad/Broken+Age/feature.asp?c=65109

Breaking the Industry Model of Sexism

Sophie Prell writes about sexism in Skyrim and the failure of the developers of Skyrim to take advantage of the huge platform that the game had back in 2011[1]. Prell argues against tropes similar to the ones found in Anita Sarkesian’s Feminist Frequency videos we watched earlier in class. She finds the following tropes prominent … Continue reading Breaking the Industry Model of Sexism

Sophie Prell writes about sexism in Skyrim and the failure of the developers of Skyrim to take advantage of the huge platform that the game had back in 2011[1]. Prell argues against tropes similar to the ones found in Anita Sarkesian’s Feminist Frequency videos we watched earlier in class. She finds the following tropes prominent in the gaming industry that are featured in Skyrim:

  • Women are not the heroes. They are designed to highlight form over function. They are sidekicks and lovers, but not heroes.
  • Women are not to advertise games, even if the game features customizable player-characters. The predominantly male consumer can only identify with another of his sex, so women do not represent the games in the public eye.
  • Women do not lead the hero. Men can make demands of the hero or lead them, but a woman may only ask for help.
  • Women are not in a position of power or respect. If both king and queen sit before you, each with seemingly equal power over their citizens, it is to the king you will speak.

Many of these points are similar to the prominent damsel in distress storyline. While women are not directly in danger to be saved in most cases, they are given no agency in the game. The women in Skyrim do not play roles that contradict the traditional trope that women lack power and a vital role in the story.

While we have discussed many of these ideas previously, it is interesting how video games continue to disregard feminist progress occurring in society today. The sexist content is consistently challenged, but games continue to pump out the successful model games that disregard respect and proper portrayal of women in general. At some point the link between successful models and the embedded insulting tropes will need to break. Perhaps it will take another groundbreaking game such as Skyrim that challenges the traditional mold. It seems Prell was disappointed with how Skyrim did not take advantage of its position at the time, and she would agree that another game that reverses many of the traditional tropes would be needed to break the industry model.

[1] Prell, Sophie. “Studying Sexism in Skyrim.” Destructoid. January 17, 2012. https://www.destructoid.com/studying-sexism-with-skyrim-fus-ro-va-gina–219799.phtml.

Game Log #10 (Ratchet and Clank): Developing Expertise

First of all, I would like to acknowledge that I recognize the tendency of my previous Game Logs on Ratchet and Clank to reflect the game in a somewhat negative light. In truth, the game is actually of very high quality and I could tell throughout my playthrough that it was made with great care. While the game’s lack of … Continue reading Game Log #10 (Ratchet and Clank): Developing Expertise

First of all, I would like to acknowledge that I recognize the tendency of my previous Game Logs on Ratchet and Clank to reflect the game in a somewhat negative light. In truth, the game is actually of very high quality and I could tell throughout my playthrough that it was made with great care. While the game’s lack of a sense of self may have thrown me for a loop and caused me to reflect, I still found that my overall experience was positive. When the time came for me to research what has been written about Ratchet and Clank, I sought to investigate reasons behind why the game was still able to provide me with entertainment despite some of its narrative quirks.

I ended up finding the answer to this question in James Paul Gee’s piece “Learning by Design: Games as Learning Machines,” in which he reflects on how the fun nature of games can effectively teach players specific skills. Part of his investigation discusses the reasons behind why certain games are entertaining, and a previous installment of Ratchet and Clank, entitled Ratchet and Clank: Going Commando (2003), serves as one of his primary examples. Gee characterizes Ratchet and Clank as a game that is “pleasantly frustrating,” one that gives players a sense that they have the ability to overcome a game’s challenges with practice. As Gee writes, players of “pleasantly frustrating” games feel “at the outer edge of, but within, their ‘regime of competence.’ That is, these challenges feel hard, but doable. Furthermore, learners feel—and get evidence—that their effort is paying off in the sense that they can see, even when they fail, how and if they are making progress” (19). When I think back on my time playing Ratchet and Clank, I find that this sense of achievable progression served as both a source of enjoyment and the primary motivator behind why I continued to press on through the levels. In fact, I ended up playing Ratchet and Clank for double the amount of time I played Bioshock or The Walking Dead for these Game Logs, as I found myself constantly challenged by Ratchet and Clank in a way that pushed me forward. Eventually, I had to force myself put down the controller in order to take care of other work. 

Gee lists Halo as an example of another game that stands in the “pleasantly frustrating” category, an assessment that I fully agree with. The original Halo is one of a my favorite games, and my ability to play through it on Legendary difficulty is one of my proudest gaming achievements. What I loved about Halo was that each level was separated into a progression of rooms, with checkpoints situated between each section. With death after death, I would come to know exactly which enemies were in the room and which actions I needed to take in order to dispatch them. Eventually, I would develop an exact routine for how to deal with a room, one that involved a series of steps that needed to be performed in a precise order (throwing a grenade at a specific angle right before meleeing an unsuspecting elite and sprinting towards a rocket launcher, for instance). Like a videogame version of Bill Murray from Groundhog Day, repeated deaths would turn me into a master of the level, and this sense of absolute expertise was incredibly satisfying when it led to victory.

While Ratchet and Clank did not give me the extreme enjoyment that Halo did, it still managed to use the pursuit of expertise as one of its primary mechanics as a “pleasantly frustrating” game. Ratchet and Clank is not a hard game, but it does offer some challenging scenarios that require multiple attempts. In these moments, like in Halo, I was forced to use death as my ally as I developed a strategy for overcoming the challenge. I think this accounts for much of the enjoyment I felt while playing Ratchet and Clank, and why I was able to look past my initial grievances and play for much longer than I had anticipated.

 

Source:

Gee, James Paul. “Learning by Design: Games as Learning Machines.” Interactive Educational Multimedia 8 (2010): 15-23.

Game Log #9 (Ratchet and Clank): The Meta-Narrative

One of Ratchet and Clank’s defining characteristics is its self-referential nature and awareness that it is a video game. Ratchet and Clank regularly makes strides to make this clear to player, to a point that almost comes across as excessive. For instance, the game’s narrative is framed as a story of Ratchet and Clank’s exploits told by the character Captain … Continue reading Game Log #9 (Ratchet and Clank): The Meta-Narrative

One of Ratchet and Clank’s defining characteristics is its self-referential nature and awareness that it is a video game. Ratchet and Clank regularly makes strides to make this clear to player, to a point that almost comes across as excessive. For instance, the game’s narrative is framed as a story of Ratchet and Clank’s exploits told by the character Captain Qwark after the game’s events have already passed. The character he relates the story to, named Shiv Helix, professes that he is a “huge fan of Ratchet and Clank” and he “can’t wait to play the new video game” based on their heroic tale.  The game’s sense of cynicism that I discussed in my last Game Log ties directly into this attitude, as the game acknowledges its existence as a reboot by having several characters from past installments reflect on this out loud.

From its opening moments, Ratchet and Clank makes numerous similar winks and nods towards the player. I think this may be an effort on the part of the developers to give Ratchet and Clank a carefree and fun vibe. In all fairness, the game is a colorful platformer that rarely punishes a player’s failures and features weapons like a disco bomb that cause enemies to dance to their deaths. By instilling the game with an attitude of self-awareness, Insomniac strives to paint the Ratchet and Clank universe as one of adventure, fun and a lack of serious consequences.

However, while in-game remarks about the Ratchet and Clank’ series’ high quality can be read as meta, they also can reflect a sort of insecurity, as if the game is telling itself that it is good. I do not think that this was the primary or conscious intention of the developers, but it still was one of the first thoughts that occurred to me while playing the game. As a player that has never had a significant experience playing Ratchet and Clank before, I immediately questioned why the game felt the need pat itself on the back before I even had the chance to try it.

In the consideration of Ratchet and Clank’s meta-narrative, I am drawn to the discussions on meta games that we have had in our own class. Having played and seen some of the meta games created by my classmates, I am struck by the similarities that some of these game’s share with Ratchet and Clank. Like many of the class’ projects, Ratchet and Clank is aware that it is a video game, and therefore functions as a video game about games. Notability, however, none of the class’ games use this self-referential attitude in order to validate themselves as Ratchet and Clank does. Ratchet and Clank’s meta attitude ultimately serves to further the general uncomfortableness its seems to have with existing. While the game’s tendency to compliment itself runs counter to the cynicism and self-loathing that I have previously discussed in Game Log #8, it ultimately contributes to a general vibe of strangeness that becomes one of Ratchet and Clank’s defining characteristics. In the pursuit charm, Ratchet and Clank achieves a feeling quite the opposite. Like someone desperately fishing for compliments, Ratchet and Clank becomes defined by a disconcerting lack of self-assuredness.

 

Game Log #8 (Ratchet and Clank): Developer Cynicism

I’ll admit right off the bat that it was not my intention to play the 2016 reboot of Ratchet and Clank as my third game for these Game Logs. However, due to a series of technical difficulties, I found myself rummaging through a friend’s game collection looking for an alternative to Shadow of the Colossus. I stumbled upon Ratchet and … Continue reading Game Log #8 (Ratchet and Clank): Developer Cynicism

I’ll admit right off the bat that it was not my intention to play the 2016 reboot of Ratchet and Clank as my third game for these Game Logs. However, due to a series of technical difficulties, I found myself rummaging through a friend’s game collection looking for an alternative to Shadow of the Colossus. I stumbled upon Ratchet and Clank, and decided to go for it. I had heard of Ratchet and Clank previously and knew it to be a Playstation classic, though my only experience playing it came from a brief stint trying out one of the series’ spin-offs on a PSP many years ago. I figured playing through a reboot of a classic series could give me some unique points to consider.

My first impression of Ratchet and Clank was one that really surprised me: it seems to be a game that sort of detests its own existence. The game is rife with a sense of cynicism, constantly referencing the fact that it is retreading old material. Characters that have appeared in previous installments state phrases like “oh, you look familiar,” or “see you in the next reboot,” while other bits of dialogue express a detest for pre-order content, a practice that has recently become a big-budget game staple.

While I would have thought that the game’s developers would have been happy to create an edition of Ratchet and Clank fit for a new age of consoles, the game is full of a sense of angst toward the need to start everything from the beginning. The quips appear to be directed against the corporate interests that demanded Ratchet and Clank start its story over, with the game’s main villain being a disdainful corporate industrialist that cares little for the people that consume his products. The nature of the game to reflect a distain for itself causes me to think that the developers were annoyed at the idea of tossing out the relationship between Ratchet and Clank that they have developed over the course of the series’ numerous installments. I can understand how having to scrap everything and start from the beginning could be a trying experience for a veteran game studio like Insomniac that has spent years building the Ratchet and Clank story.

There is also a chance that I am misinterpreting interpreting Ratchet and Clank’s sarcasm for angry cynicism. Perhaps the game’s tendency to reference its reboot nature comes from  a sense of self assuredness that Insomniac has developed over the years as an experienced game studio. My reading of the game’s attitude, however, is one that I had never experienced playing a game before. Never before have I felt like a game was constantly trying to tell me about its feelings on the manner in which it was made, and the result left me feeling somewhat uncomfortable.

Classifying the Pointing of Broken Age

During my playing of Broken Age, I was interested in the way that the game’s format as a point-and-click game affected the game itself. As a point-and-click adventure game, Broken Age requires the player to use the computer mouse to interact … Continue reading

During my playing of Broken Age, I was interested in the way that the game’s format as a point-and-click game affected the game itself. As a point-and-click adventure game, Broken Age requires the player to use the computer mouse to interact with the world. I found this method of playing to provide a new element to the game itself, slightly altering the games classification when using Roger Caillois’ four classifications.

Using Roger Caillois’ classifications of games from his work, “The Classification of Games,” I noticed that Broken Age is clearly an agôn game. According to Caillois, agôn games are competitive games in which the player seeks to prove their superiority, be it superiority of speed, endurance, strength, memory, skill, or ingenuity (131). In Broken Age, the player seeks to prove their superior mind by solving the puzzles presented to them while progressing through Shay and Vella’s narratives. Solving the puzzles require the player to obtain objects and talk to various characters, all by clicking on them.

Broken Age does provide clues as to what objects to interact with and what non-player characters to talk to in order to gain the skills or objects needed to solve the current problem or puzzle. Through conversations with the non-player characters, Shay or Vella, and by extension the player, can hear helpful hints as to what type of objects they should be trying to find. While sometimes this is enough to aid the player, the game adds another layer of help.

This image show the gameplay of Broken Age. In this screenshot, Vella is attempting to obtain that golden egg, and must use the ladder she previously obtained that is in her inventory at the bottom of the screen.

As a point-and-click game, the cursor is an extremely important part of Broken Age as it leads to the completion of all the game’s actions. Typically the cursor looks like a normal mouse arrow. However, when the player hovers the cursor over an object that can be interacted with, the cursor changes into a starburst-type shape, cluing the player in to the fact that the object or character can be interacted with.

This image showcases the described cursor change in Broken Age. In the bottom left of the screen, the cursor can be seen in its starburst form, showcasing the ability of the covered dish to be interacted with.

This cursor changes provides the game with another of Caillois’ classifications: alea. According to Caillois, alea games are all about luck and chance, “winning is the result of fate rather than triumphing over an adversary” (133). Thanks to the ability of the cursor to change and clue the player in to what objects are interactive, the player can simply wave the cursor around until they see the cursor change into the necessary starburst. This alters Broken Age from an agôn game that requires skill to pass through the puzzles to an alea game that affords the player the opportunity to wildly wave their cursor around until a solution appears, all as a result of the game’s format.

Works Cited

Caillois, Roger. “The Classification of Games.” The Game Design Reader: A Rules of Play Anthology. Ed. Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2006. 129-47. Print.

Image Sources

  1. https://portforward.com/games/walkthroughs/Broken-Age-Act1/Broken-Age-Act1-73.htm
  2. http://www.gamezebo.com/2014/01/28/broken-age-act-1-walkthrough-cheats-strategy-guide/

Multiple Iterations of a Game Can Bring Unity

I have previously mentioned Star Wars Battlefront’s lack of division among race or gender, which makes is a unifying game. I am one of the gamers that not only appreciates the graphics in a game, but also is a fan of the community that the game can offer. Recently I was able to read an … Continue reading “Multiple Iterations of a Game Can Bring Unity”

I have previously mentioned Star Wars Battlefront’s lack of division among race or gender, which makes is a unifying game. I am one of the gamers that not only appreciates the graphics in a game, but also is a fan of the community that the game can offer. Recently I was able to read an article that discussed the success that the game had all over the world, but one fact stuck out to me the most. The game is now being translated into Arabic, after having already been translated into multiple other languages (Corless). While this may not be important to some people, it is a sign of a deeper unifying sense that videogames can bring.

In my lifetime it seems that the United States has always had issues with the middle east, a region where Arabic is mainly spoken. Ranging from 9/11 to the current Syrian crisis, there is a certain connotation that is associated with the language and its people. I believe that it is a step in the right direction where a game that was developed in the United States is being translated for Arabic speakers. These people will soon be able to enjoy the game that we are enjoying, and while it will certainly not solve our country’s issues with the Middle East, it brings us a little bit closer together. Arabic is spoken by 290 million people worldwide, so the decision to create this translation is not a small one (Corless).

Those who are not fanatics of videogames will claim that electronic digital narratives cannot impact society and do not have much value. I however, would like to bring up my formerly mentioned admiration for the community a game creates. While countries may be at war with each other, we still share similarities. These similarities may not be vast or wide in variety, but they exist. They can even be videogames that we laugh, cry, or get frustrated at, but they remind us that we are not always different from one another.

 

Source: https://e2f.com/5665/

It Takes a Village

In their article, “Playing with Sustainability: Using video games to simulate futures of scarcity” videogame scholars Shawna Kelly and Bonnie Nardi merge game studies and environmental studies to consider games that offer representations of “gradually increasing scarcity of resources, climate change, and other human-environment interactions which can be influenced by transitioning to sustainable practices.” They … Continue reading It Takes a Village

In their article, “Playing with Sustainability: Using video games to simulate futures of scarcity” videogame scholars Shawna Kelly and Bonnie Nardi merge game studies and environmental studies to consider games that offer representations of “gradually increasing scarcity of resources, climate change, and other human-environment interactions which can be influenced by transitioning to sustainable practices.” They first consider games like Civilization V, that “[mirror] common thinking about success in today’s world – that the viability of a civilization should be measured through [growth]” before moving on to titles like Fortnite and DayZ that “make visible the possibility of low/no growth as a challenging and achievable goal.” (Kelly and Nardi).

In Civ 5, “more” is the name of the game. (Source: http://vignette3.wikia.nocookie.net/civilization/images/1/13/Standard-Earth-map.jpg/revision/latest?cb=20101105112509)

Kelly and Nardi assert that just setting a game against an apocalyptic, low-resource environment doesn’t instantly make it a “global futures game.” Instead, games set in futures of scarcity should move beyond zombie-killing and toward asking players to “[think] strategically in new ways about the environment under conditions of stress” (Kelly and Nardi).

By their requirements, then, A Dark Room’s qualification as a “global futures game” stems only in part from its desolate and resource-scarce environment. A Dark Room leverages its dismal setting to justify a resource growth model that, unlike that found in most of its clicker-game brethren, isn’t linear or exponential, and which may stall or even decline without warning. Indeed, since opening a new tab and beginning to write this post, my village has suffered two fires and an attack by beasts, in total eliminating a fourth of the population.

Certainly, A Dark Room is not unique for implementing the ability to lose resources, nor does it become a global futures game for this feature alone. Where A Dark Room does innovate is through compounding its resource-decimating disasters with a system of interdependent currencies. While most clicker games feature a universal resource (be it gems, cookies, or cold, hard cash) A Dark Room forces players to juggle an assortment of supplies: wood, fur, leather, meat, bait, and torches, to name a few. The player can assign villagers to specific jobs, and each profession both produces and consumes certain resources. Thus every decision leaves behind a cookie-trail of costs – I can produce add a trapper to produce bait, but trappers need meat, and that means I need more tanners, and that means … and etc.

Disaster strikes in a Dark Room.

So, the aforementioned fires and beasts that took out a fourth of my villagers also spelled disaster for my village’s growth. I had designated two villagers as the local charcutiers, who demand ten units of meat every ten seconds – an amount far outstripping my just-reduced meat production rate of two units per second. Notably, A Dark Room does not warn the player who falls into an unbalanced economy; it just trusts that she will spot the asymmetry sooner or later, then set up and maintain an equilibrium on her own.

In my second post on A Dark Room, I reflected on how the game casts a veil over many of its mechanics in order to promote a feeling of mystery. And after this last play session, I stand by my observations on the game’s tight-lipped approach to the long-term implications of player decisions. However, as I dig deeper into the game’s nuanced approach to resource management, I am realizing that A Dark Room does ask players to form a vision for the future of the village – it just pulls in the horizon line a few hundred yards, reconfiguring the end-goal from long-term abundance to short-term maintenance.

Fully cognizant that “in a finite world … the concept of a linear pattern of ever-increasing growth is an unsustainable long-term goal,” (Kelly and Nardi) A Dark Room reminds players that managing a future of scarcity will not be an easy or mindless task, but one that demands constant recalibration, and whose realistic end goal is not an era of infinite prosperity, but a precarious equilibrium that takes a village to maintain.

 

Cited

Kelly, Shawna and Bonnie Nardi. “Playing with sustainability: Using video games to simulate futures of scarcity.” First Monday, 19.5 (2014): n. pag. Web. 11 Dec. 2016.

 

Images from:

A Dark Room. Browser. Developed by Doublespeak Games. Doublespeak Games, 2013.