In the previous Knights of Pen and Paper log, I mentioned how this mobile game is a sort of metagame in itself. My definition of metagame is similar to metatheatre where a game comments on itself or other cultural phenomena. I also brought up the Magic Circle, but there is an element of reverence that … Continue reading The Magic Circle of Reverence →
In the previous Knights of Pen and Paper log, I mentioned how this mobile game is a sort of metagame in itself. My definition of metagame is similar to metatheatre where a game comments on itself or other cultural phenomena. I also brought up the Magic Circle, but there is an element of reverence that I should discuss that explores how Knights of Pen and Paper is a metagame. The question I answer to the best of my ability is this: how does the Magic Circle and reverence combine in Knights of Pen and Paper to make a mobile metagame?
An understanding of the Magic Circle is necessary to see how this applies in Knights of Pen and Paper. The Magic Circle, as we discussed in class, comes from Johan Huizinga and his discussion of play and playgrounds (magic circles). With regard to this game, the Magic Circle is something similar to a sacred ground or ritual that gamers partake in while playing games, especially tabletop games. I thought the game would aim for a realistic story, but it seems broken as the Game Master and other characters make comments that point to the recognition of imaginary and real realms.
So how does reverence come into play? As Ian Bogost talks about reverence in his chapter “Reverance” in How to Do Things with Vidoegames, he explains how a videogame uses a church in a setting for Resistance: Fall of Man. Though people were outraged at the thought of using a real church as a setting, Bogost argues that the game shows people the significance of the church. In Knight of Pen and Paper, the game occasionally pokes fun at lame monsters or overused settings, but there is praise in its many jokes. With the little items that can be bought to customize the room, the buffs (upgrades) respond to cultural gags for those who identify as nerds.
Knights of Pen and Paper is undoubtedly a metagame. Not only does it break the Magic Circle, but it also breaks the Fourth Wall (basically the threshold separating performers and audience). And by making jokes about Dungeons and Dragons and other nerdy stereotypes, the game comments on its rules and other cultural topics. This form of metagaming expands itself to an audience that might be learning about tabletop games or to those who are veterans from the days before videogames.
Telltale’s The Walking Dead is not a game that overtly discusses racial issues throughout the course of its narrative. While the game’s main protagonist, Lee, is African-American, this is a fact that largely goes unmentioned by the other characters he interacts with in his story. Racial undertones are on display in The Walking Dead from its opening moments, however, … Continue reading Game Log #6 (The Walking Dead): Race and Expectations →
Telltale’s The Walking Dead is not a game that overtly discusses racial issues throughout the course of its narrative. While the game’s main protagonist, Lee, is African-American, this is a fact that largely goes unmentioned by the other characters he interacts with in his story. Racial undertones are on display in The Walking Dead from its opening moments, however, and are largely utilized by the game’s developers in order to subvert the player’s expectations.
As the game begins, the player is introduced to Lee as he sits in the back of a police cruiser on the way to jail. Though it is not revealed until later in the story that he is being hauled away for the murder of a man that was sleeping with his wife, The Walking Dead still situates Lee in a position that fits with the sort of stereotypical position one would find an African-American character in modern media. Running immediately counter to this, however, the player can learn through conversation that Lee previously held a job as a professor at the University of Georgia, a position in life that runs counter to the standard, base criminality the player intially expects of Lee. From these opening moments, The Walking Dead exploits the player’s expectations about race and directly subverts them, foreshadowing the unexpected nature of events to come. As if to answer this calling for the unforeseen, moments later the police car hits a zombie and runs off the road, setting the game’s story in motion. Ultimately, The Walking Dead relies on these unspoken racial themes and biases in order to establish its tone.
Lee’s backstory as a murderer is not one that I personally have a problem with. In fact, I would guess that the developers gave Lee this portion of his backstory as a way to make his transition into zombie-slaying survivor a bit more believable (Lee does, after all, shoot a zombie in the head with a shotgun shortly after the police car crashes). His role as a murderer also has the potential to cause narrative conflict as Lee is forced to defend his relationship with Clementine, a young girl that he takes under his wing at the story’s outset. In this way, Lee’s murderer backstory creates a reason for the player to lie to other characters, causing tensions later on as more life-and-death situations present themselves. Furthermore, the murder that Lee commits is “sympathetic” in a way, fueled by a relatable passionate hatred for a man sleeping with his wife. As far as murders go, Lee’s is on the more understandable side, which prevents him avoid complete alienation from the player.
I cannot help but think, however, of the class discussion we had concerning race in video games. Specifically, I am reminded of the piece we read on race and video games by Anna Everett and S. Craig Watkins that discusses the ability of games to express racial bias. The article puts forth the idea that games can act as learning spaces, and so they have the potential to perpetuate ideas of racial bias and otherness through the regular utilization of stereotypes. While Everett and Watkins heavily rely on examples like Grand Theft Auto that include overt racial themes, I do see some parallels between the argument posited by the article and the racial undertones of The Walking Dead. While Lee may be a college professor, of course he is also a murderer. It is as if this typical racial trope was unavoidable given his African-American identity. As I have expressed above, I do think that Lee’s violent backstory is incredibly important to the game’s narrative and I do not consider it to be a poor choice on the part of the developers. However, I do think that it warrants consideration that Lee is characterized as a murderer despite all of the elements of his character that run counter to stereotypes. While I certainly do not think that this was done by the developers with any sort of ill intent, it is interesting that the game’s attempt to give Lee depth ultimately falls in with racial cliches that accomplish the opposite.