Game Log 3 – 3: Moral Sensitivity and The Witcher 3

The Witcher 3 is always praised for its immersive storytelling.  For me, part of what makes the game feel so compelling is that the narrative is dynamic.  In a dynamic narrative game, the story responds to the player’s actions. I have always loved games like this as they require you to really consider the choices before you and how they may impact the narrative as you play.  Some of my favorite examples of these types of games are Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, the Fable series, and Jade Empire, just to name a few.

RPG Classic, KOTOR (Knights of the Old Republic)

Despite playing numerous titles like these throughout the years, I never considered how a lot of times these games were, in a way, evaluating my morals.  In a journal article in Games & Culture titled ‘Training Moral Sensitivity Through Video Games’, the authors engage in a study of 20 different games and how well they encourage ‘Moral Sensitivity’ on the part of the player.  Basically, the authors see a game as excelling at employing MS when it successfully pushes the player to make decisions with regard for the moral implications of their character’s actions and how they align with their own values.  In the study, the authors point to a specific quest in The Witcher 3 where the player catches an arsonist who attempted to burn down a blacksmith’s forge in retaliation for his working with the invading army. The player is presented with the choice of turning him in, resulting in his execution, or letting him walk free.  The authors see this as a fine example of MS because the player is able to immediately see the results of their actions and the moral ambiguity of the arsonist’s motives encourage the player to evaluate the situation. An additional important thing that the authors failed to mention is that this quest takes place relatively early in the game, so in my mind it kind of the sets the stage for the rest of the game.

The arsonist, after being turned in

It’s interesting to think about how games can be bad at compelling moral sensitivity.  For me, a game like Grand Theft Auto doesn’t have great MS. When I play that game I act like a madman and absolutely do not consider the moral or ethical implications of my actions.  My goal is to just have fun. However, I think it’s important to recognize that Rockstar, the studio behind the GTA series, doesn’t seem too concerned with encouraging MS. Their games are filled with camp, such as cartoon characters and over the top storylines.   In my mind, this is all an effort to disconnect the player from reality so they can act uninhibited by their morals or values. This reveals a key distinction in the goals of TW3 and GTA. A game like the Witcher 3 wants to you to get into the mind of the character Geralt and make the character your own by making him act as you would.  A game like GTA wants to provide you with a total escape from reality and your own responsibilities.

A player escapes from reality by beating someone up as Princess Peach in GTA

Sources:

Playing Around With Morality: Introducing the Special Issue on “Morality Play”

Malcolm Ryan, Paul Formosa, Rowan Tulloch

Games and Culture  

First Published October 31, 2017
http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/1555412017719344#articleCitationDownloadContainer

Source: Game Log 3 – 3: Moral Sensitivity and The Witcher 3

Animal Crossing and Mobile Gaming as Anti-Escapist

Gordon Calleja’s article, Digital Games and Escapism, which challenges the validity of the suggestion that video games are a mostly negative form of escapism, caused me to further question the distinction between mobile and console games. Much of the article emphasizes the idea of the “magic circle” as a problematic binary that defines the “spatial, temporal, and psychological boundary” (340) separating games from reality. This is a concept that is used regularly when defining both physical and virtual games. However, in his video-game specific argument, he primarily situates these three worlds as being dependant on the physical placement of a human playing the game. His use of language asserts judgment over computer games or console games, which generally require a person to sit down for a distinct amount of time and focus their vision onto the screen until they’ve decided to stop. This physical necessity to play in a specific spot more clearly sets up a claim for his argument, which problematizes the suggestion that focusing attention onto a game is inherently “escapist”, but does not exactly explain what happens when playing a virtual game on one’s cell phone or otherwise portable device.

For example, when playing Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp on my iPhone, I can pretty much pull up the app whenever or wherever I choose, assuming I have sufficient wifi connection. What does this lack of real-life physical boundary add or take away to the game experience—or even to the way I experience life? In questioning the application of the magic circle concept to video games as opposed to socially-upheld boundaries of games requiring human interaction, Calleja quotes Juul as saying: “… in video games, the magic circle is quite well defined since a video game only takes place on the screen and using the input devices (mouse, keyboard, controllers) rather than in the rest of the world; hence there is no ‘‘ball’’ that can be out of bounds” (341). This quotation doesn’t quite suit the description of a mobile game, as I can carry my game with me when I go to get a snack, or talk to a friend, and continue playing. To test this theory I spent my 30 minutes of play for this round of logs playing Pocket Camp in the living room of my apartment while my housemates were around. In this “study”, for lack of a better word, I found that instead of Pocket Camp serving as an escape from reality, I was simply less invested in both my real and virtual surroundings. Some of this came with the fact that I could still receive text message and email notifications at the top of my screen: a constant reminder that life is going on around me and I am expected to interact with it. There is something I find inherently less escapist in the model of phone gaming because of this. Though cell phones get a lot of flack these days for supposedly distracting millennials from their real-world surroundings, unless you silence your phone and remove all notification systems from it and sit alone in a dark room (which, admittedly, as kind of nice to do sometimes), the purpose of a phone is often to remind someone of external obligations and interactions.

In Pocket Camp, specifically, there is also an element of real time that contributes to my assumption that the game makers purposely do not want their game serving as escapism. As I’ve mentioned in previous logs, there are 3-hour rotations in which animals come and go and give the player requests. The background animation in the game changes in these three-hour time slots as well (primarily daylight, to sunset, to night time), serving as a reminder of the time of day in the real world. The time that has passed while playing, and the time a player must wait for certain things to occur, is consistently in the forefront of the game’s design, as is visible in the screenshot below.

 At the bottom of the screen, you can see how much time is left until certain events happen.

Ultimately, I came to wonder what it does to a player’s investment in a game to know that they are ultimately reliant on real-world time to reach certain accomplishments. This is a model I’ve now realized occurs in most of the phone games typically in the Apple store top 20: games that are often dependant on limited stamina systems and real-time refresh loops of said stamina. It is almost as though mobile game designers have purposely inverted the assumption of the “magic circle”, by creating a game that constantly reminds you that you are choosing to play instead of tending to real world responsibilities by having an in-game clock as a central mechanic. Often, this system serves as a method of frustrating the player enough to make them want to spend real-world money on stamina so they can continue playing as much as they want, and is therefore takes on a transparent capitalist agenda, but it also makes the game—and others like it—less escapist.

 

Works Cited: 

Calleja, Gordon. “Digital Games and Escapism.” Games and Culture , vol. 5, no. 4, 7 May 2010, pp. 335–353., doi:https://doi.org/10.1177/1555412009360412.

Source: Animal Crossing and Mobile Gaming as Anti-Escapist