Existential nihilism in video games?

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Ben W.
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Existential nihilism in video games?

Postby Ben W. » Sat Feb 02, 2013 2:49 pm

Yeah, I know it's one hell of a goofy title for a thread, but bear with me.

I've recently finished two different video games: the MASS EFFECT trilogy, and THE WALKING DEAD. There are a few similarities in theme, if not content. (I'm about to go into spoilers here if you happen to play video games, although it's more than cool if you don't.Personally I wish I could make myself read more books.) Both games conclude with the player basically ending up in the same scenario, regardless of the other decisions he had made previously. In MASS EFFECT, you can either agree to an omnipotent deity's terms and agree to one of three different solutions to a problem, all with varying degrees of troubling moral ambiguity, or you can tell said deity to get bent, thus dooming the galaxy to oblivion. In THE WALKING DEAD, no matter what you do, you'll end up in the same place: Dying on a cold floor inside an abandoned building, asking a little girl who's grown to love you throughout the course of the game to kill you before you become a zombie or having her leave before she has to endure the sight of you turning into a zombie.

So...ultimately, none of your choices will change your own final fate. As much as I'd love to respect the game-makers for their hardcore attitudes or "artistic integrity", I can't deny my own genuine discontent whenever I think about what these games are basically telling you. If the game's objective is to leave you feeling sick, tired, and generally despondent, it's definitely successful in that department, but do I really want to give away dozens of hours of my time to an interactive experience that will only leave me feeling emotionally shitty? That asks me to ponder if all struggle is fundamentally pointless? What happened to the days when all a game expected of you was rescuing the princess from King Koopa's castle?

I like to play video games with the hope that I can actually change things for the better; if not in real life, at least in a virtual world. But now even that is being denied. I can't help but wonder what that says about our current zeitgeist.

...or maybe I just need to get out more. I mean, it's just a video game. Isn't it?

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Steve Evil
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Re: Existential nihilism in video games?

Postby Steve Evil » Sat Feb 02, 2013 3:08 pm

One thing I've been noticing about games for a while now is that they're not so much games as movies occasionally interrupted by gameplay. Sometimes the scenes you watch are deturmined by which actions you take in game, but often as not, the plot unfolds quite comfortably without you.

I remember feeling a great deal of annoyance with Warcraft III: Frozen Throne because I didn't like the scenario, but had no option but to fulfill it. A gamer friend of mine often showed me others where I couldn't help but think we weren't actually doing anything.

I guess in th old days, you could go through the motions - shoot the target or solve the puzzle whatever, and to the extent there was any linking narrative, you could take it or leave it. It woudl seem that programmers now have pretentions of filmmakers, but with a very limited frame of reference: mainly other games, and the occasional genre flick. Nihilism and cynicism would seem - alas - all the rage among such groups.

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Ben W.
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Re: Existential nihilism in video games?

Postby Ben W. » Sat Feb 02, 2013 8:28 pm

Steve Evil wrote:One thing I've been noticing about games for a while now is that they're not so much games as movies occasionally interrupted by gameplay. Sometimes the scenes you watch are deturmined by which actions you take in game, but often as not, the plot unfolds quite comfortably without you.


Indeed. This is hardly a new observation, but as the 21st century progresses, video games become more like movies, and movies become more like video games. The line is blurring to a dangerous extent. I remember playing RPGers on my ancient Playstation 1 that allowed for a wide variety of unique endings, some more offbeat than others - some depressing, some joyous, but the point is that you affected the final outcome. Nowadays, the general sentiment of game programmers appears to be, "This is the way our story ends, and if you don't like it, sod off."

I've got no beef with how Andrew Kevin Walker decided to end SEVEN, for example. To this day it remains powerful, harrowing stuff. As a movie, the conclusion should be left alone. But if I was playing SEVEN: THE VIDEO GAME, I'd like to at least have the option of saving Gwyneth Paltrow from decapitation. Call me a naive moron as much as you like, but damn it, maybe I just actually want to have a ridiculous happy ending in my zombie apocalypse game.

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Chuck Messer
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Re: Existential nihilism in video games?

Postby Chuck Messer » Sat Feb 02, 2013 9:56 pm

If some game designer has pretensions to filmic glory, how about going this route?:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BjMiDZIY1bM

Short films, to play after you reach a certain score.

Chuck
Some people are wedded to their ideology the way nuns are wed to God.

Mark Tiedemann
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Re: Existential nihilism in video games?

Postby Mark Tiedemann » Sun Feb 03, 2013 7:00 am

You validate my decision not to waste time on these things. I wrote a precis for a game once, for Wizards of the Coast. I was quite proud of it. One of the central ideas in it was to score points by effectively and beneficially developing an alien world for settlement. (Yes, there was conflict as well.) The final rejection came down to two things: 1, too intellectual (you had to learn about environmental mechanics along the way) and, 2, not a high enough bodycount. They thought people would be bored. Too much work.

Fuck that. You want people to "improve", challenge them. You can't shoot your way to enlightenment.

I play chess. Occasionally Scrabble. That's about it.


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