Wednesday, 21 December 2011

The Good, the Bad, and the Gamer Week 3 - Experience Machine as Endgame?

 There will come a day when a game will place a perfect simulation of the entire world at your fingertips. The question is, do we really want that to happen?

Just telling you now that this might be a little less about morals and a little more about weird crap. Just to warn you.

You still with me? Good, then let's continue.

Now, I know that the experience machine is more of a thought experiment than anything else, but in this case I'm going to go off topic on it and rather than focus on the morality of the situation (yes I'm aware of the irony), I'm going to try and speculate on whether basically being able to play around in your own personal rendition of The Matrix is something that could be the actual final plateau for games and gaming in general. To this end I do change the crux of the experience machine somewhat: rather than being able to give you a pleasurable experience, it is extended to having literally an entire virtual world at your fingertips, where you can choose to do -- or not do -- whatever the hell you want.

I've mentioned a couple of times the concept of a game that just drops you somewhere and says go. I honestly believe that the closest model we have to something like that at the moment would be Minecraft, where it is the player's drive to create that compels any progress and forward action. There is no narrative, no story, there is simply the world, and the person (or people) that  inhabit it. The main thrust is to see just what you can do with the world, and to that end there's a somewhat minimalist approach taken, and that's why Minecraft works.

Can you imagine if you were dropped into something ultra realistic and told "do whatever you wish". It might prove overwhelming to some. There has to be some goal in mind, and to that some distinction between game and reality. You could certainly be put into that world and told "cause as much damage as you want" or "save as many people as you can" and people would be fine with that, but there must be some structure.

To that end, I don't believe that a game with ultimate freedom would be something that is the pinnacle of gaming. There must always be some driving force, even if it comes from the player themselves, there needs to be a set of parameters by which success, failure, or even persistence can be judged.

I know it's kind of hard to see how this connects to morality, but I believe that it helps prove that while having a constrained morality is something that players don't want, having freedom and completely realistic morality is hardly any better. With that in mind some games have actually been doing a good job (for the most part) which is why tomorrow I'll be concluding with some examples of better than average implementation of morality in games.

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