Thursday 19 April, 2012
Kill count: 5
I've been talking about my gameplay experiences with my wife, who's a fellow gamer and game scholar. I told her my thesis from yesterday's entry (that the game really has no internal morality, because consequences aren't permanent and logic doesn't always apply). This was her reply (paraphrasing):
The game *does* have a moral system in it--the police and the wanted level system. It's just that the police only exist as an obstacle to the player.
In other words, the only entity in the game that provides moral judgement on your actions isn't there to provoke self-reflection in the player. It's there so that the missions become less boring, since you have at least something to chase you. Hence some have compared GTA to Pac-Man,* with the pedestrians as dots and the police as the ghosts (I'm guessing the rocket launcher is the power pellet).
Maybe that's why GTA seems so amoral to me. For all the window dressing of drive-bys and high-speed chases, it's easy to see through to the abstracted gameplay: navigate a maze, don't get caught. The weird things I noticed before (the amnesiac police department, the NPCs who return to life the same day they die) only reinforce the "gameiness" of San Andreas.
I remember listening to Diane Rhiem on NPR when the topic of the day was violence in video games. She and her guests seemed outraged that gamers could sit at home and recreate killing sprees without remorse. The reason we don't feel remorse for running over that cop is because we've been constantly reminded by the game that what we're seeing isn't real. The constant reinforcement of "gameiness" is the best thing Rockstar has in defense of its critics.
That reinforcement is a double-edged sword. If nothing seems consequential to me, and I have no emotional investment in what happens on-screen, then GTA becomes less a game and more a way to waste time. I think it's telling that the entire gameworld is not available at a new game load. It's almost an admission on the part of the developers that the real enjoyment factor is playing in the sandbox, not experiencing a narrative or exploring moral choices; they have to hold the former hostage to the latter.
For my part, my last play session consisted of toying with the physics engine, modding car handling attributes,** and driving around aimlessly. I actually found the process of breaking the game (try giving police cars negative mass!) more interesting then exploring the game in the context of it's formal rules.
I really don't see myself spending any more time in San Andreas.
Good point! The meaning we make of what we experience in a game is always mediated by the fact that it's a game: for some, the chase sequences in GTA are equivalent to Pac-Man running away from the ghosts, while others might experience them completely differently.
Monday 23 April, 2012 by jp