Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Games as Propaganda

Koster posted an interesting blog the other day called "Games as propoganda, games as statement" (http://www.raphkoster.com/2006/09/18/games-as-propaganda-games-as-statement/#comments). I'd like to add two further thoughts to that conversation:

First, while my own preference is usually for universal accessibility of stories (verbal or non), I believe it's foolish to fear making one's design lean noticeably toward a particular conclusion (propoganda). Designers often consider niche appeal only in terms of "I'm closing the door on these potential parties", but we should also consider the increased degree of appeal among those potential parties already included.

In other words, a universal story might attract both my interest and the interest of my antagonist, but not enough for either of us to purchase it (0 sales); while a story biased to my liking might have a stronger attraction for me (1 sale). So a niche story may occasionally have as much marketing advantage, ultimately, as a univeral one (a roughly equal number of people purchase the product).

Second, other media do involve some level of interaction comparable to games: the audience empathizes with the protagonists (and sometimes even the antagonists), often subconsciously bending the characters to its own interpretive preferences. For that and other reasons, even stories which are thematically antagonistic to the audience can sometimes win them over.

For one example, Bram Stoker's "Dracula" appeals not only to audiences who relish in gothic decadence, but also to those who perceive the character as a truly detestable being rightfully conquered. The novel's many assaults on Dracula's character and his ultimate defeat do not prevent many readers from imagining Dracula the hero and loving the story; and the plethora of perverse imagery does not prevent many readers from appreciating the novel's didactic value.


  1. There is also a major concern between saturation and guerilla marketing. The more universal story can do better if it has appropriately strong marketing behind it. However, for a game that depends on blog posts and such to garner downloads, its better to have a distinct niche that can be targeted specifically.

    You're echoing what I wrote about "punk games" on monday. I dig it.

    I'm curious, you're a game designer and a (I'm assuming relatively devout) Catholic; what would you make of a game that deals with religous themology?

  2. Actually, it has always been my intention to eventually create a game that is "profoundly Catholic" (as Tolkien described LOTR in one of his letters). Considering there are over 75 million Catholics in the U.S. alone, the main difficulty in getting such a game published (assuming the design is good) would be finding a publisher willing to associate itself with that worldview, rather than proving the viability of such a game. And since Catholics are rarely catered to directly by any division of the fiction industry, that creates a stronger niche appeal. My intention has always been to make its appeal as universal as possible, though, while staying true to my worldview ("catholic", afterall, means essentially "universal").

    The design will probably go the route of LOTR, relying strongly on allegory (Jesus Himself placed high value on parables). But whereas Tolkien did not consciously devote his story toward Catholic views until the revision stage, I will make Catholic philosophy pervasive from the beginning and will attempt to incorporate apologetics in a fluid and interactive way.

    A didactic game needn't force the player into actions which accord to its worldview. It just needs to have sanctions (positive and negative) and encouragements/discouragements which agree with that worldview.

    Such a game is not something I anticipate being able to realize anytime soon, but there are ample opportunities to be "covertly" didactic in current games without players thinking of those lessons as necessarily religious or political. RPGs have always based their characters' dialogue and actions on certain moral precepts...usually the Christian precepts assumed in stories of Romantic chivalry.

  3. When I was in my second year of religion class back in high school I had an idea for a Dante's infeno-esque game, but in rendering hell, take an unrelenting look into the human spirit using post-modern tropes. The player would be a fledgling demon seemingly harmless but evolving as you gain experience in hell; then you and some key characters get to the bottom of hell and its just void. The whole time angles are tracking you and trying to destroy you, and you end up infiltrating heaven and going for the source. As you approach this infintesimal source of light at the center of these concentric planes of paradise, this climactic battle is forced and the nothing you took from the bottom of hell envealops the source of the light. The third part involves you wandering through a fragmented dreamscape, with content drawn from your "soul" as evident in your play style and strategies. Eventually you encounter God as this immaculate child who answers all your questions with "I love you." and eventually lets off the big bang, and the whole history of the universe is unfolding with intense heat and hallelujah all around, weakening the defenses of your soul. You can either kill God or let yourself be envealoped by the energy. If you kill God everything fades back to nothing, and this buddy character, one of the two main supporting characters, comes out, and its fairly obvious he's Satan at this point, and he's like "you're here too, huh? Damn." If you give in to god the blackness shatters and you're just another human soul in purgatory, and you ascend into heaven with Beethoven's 9th, 4th movement playing, to live in innocence with God, and the source of light expands to consume all of heaven and hell, and even the void beyond that, raptured in a perfect gasp of existence synched with the end of the main chorus.

    I suspect that could appeal to the Christian audience, because you basically have free liscence to have subversive content and you're still affirming a Catholic worldview.

  4. Oh, and you could market and publish a Christian friendly game as a $20 download via a lot of portals or your own site, using cheap online community penetration tactics to gain demo players and buyers.

    The catch is, you can't do Heaven and Hell justive on a 50K or lower budget. The game I described would cost at least 20 million to do right.

  5. Many Catholic concepts would be extremely difficult to translate into attractive gameplay. The one that probably presents the greatest challenge was touched on in your climax scene: that evil is a corruption of good and ultimately hopeless, rather than an equally powerful opposition. The challenge is relaying that through physical events and player abilities, rather than merely through dialogue.

    I believe almost any message can be relayed without much dialogue, but it's definitely trickier in some areas than others.

  6. Yeah, language is hard to make robustly interactive. However, conceptual advances in game design related to "interactive drama" and "interactive storytelling" are coupling with innovating AI approaches, and its possible we can get a bit of both in the future.

    BTW, you should upgrade to Blogger 2.0


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.