Audiences & Experiences Week #13

For the final lecture within this unit, we explored Political and Documentary games, the content was as follows:

  • WATCH: Disruptors — critical conversations on videogames: playing with guns by Victoria & Albert Museum (YouTube video)
  • PLAY: Phone Story by Molleindustria
  • PLAY: Unmanned by Molleindustria
  • PLAY: Every Day The Same Dream by Molleindustria
  • Can Games get Real? A Closer Look at “Documentary” Digital Games by Ian Bogost and Cindy Poremba (Article, 2008)
  • Abstracting Evidence: Documentary Process in the Service of Fictional Gameworlds by Aaron Oldenburg (Article from Game Studies, 2017)

The first point made is that games have always had a long existing relationship with war with the example given with chess which is a representation of a battleground to an extent. Despite this being somewhat true, this is a very abstract take as I believe chess to be an extremely disciplined and calm game that is normally carried out within a quiet environment with little distractions as it requires a lot of concentration. Thus I feel that likening chess to a violent act such as war, feels obscene.

Another point proposed by Yang is that much like a grain of wood, video games are engrained to arc towards violence. Although I partially agree with this to an extent, as a lot of popular older video game examples such as Doom and Quake etc do involve a heavy amount of violence and gore. On the other hand, I feel that video games as a medium have migrated away from that aspect, particularly as the most common genre within the pandemic was “chilled” or casual games that were designed to be calm and uplifting for the user.

I found it interesting how the director argued that guns within video games are just an extension of gun culture — how different is shooting guns at a shooting range compared to playing a shooting game within your own home?

I found this piece by Poremba to pose interesting arguments. For the most part, the author discussed the key components to what can be considered a documentary game or docu-game.

For example, actuality is a key factor. This implies that the events taking place should either have or could happen within our real world. This is especially important as it contributes a lot as to how we relate to the content.

Another factor which I believe was an obvious one, is that it should be based on true events and not made up. This is especially important when exploring difficult controversial topics within video games like the JFK assassination.

Aside from describing the qualities of a documentary game, Poremba continued by covering the possibilities for the future of this genre. One of the examples he used was with a football game that covered either a different reality e.g. another team winning or difficult topic such as substance abuse within football teams. I agree with his statements as I believe the genre could definitely be utilised to the utmost of its potential in order to inform the audience. Another advantage is that documentary games could also be used to explore various content and theories which otherwise wouldn’t have been possible within other mediums e.g. cinema.

This article from Game Studies was essentially a review of the title “1,000 heads among trees” which was formerly called Cachiche after the name of the Peruvian town it was set in.

The main argument from this piece was to highlight the fine balance between the use of realism and fictionalism within documentary games. For example, if a game realistically portrays how a soldier in Guinea-Bissau would have realistically spent their time, despite being accurate, it is extremely boring to the player.

Another argument posed was associated with the inclusion of real-life documents and evidence in the form of photographs, video, interviews etc. It is important to model and draw from reference as much as possible but by including photographs or video footage in game, it provides another method that can support the documentary aspect.

Furthermore, documentary style games should provide self-reflection and encourage the player to delve deeper into the subject. The example provided was the feeling of being an “outsider” within the small village which was portayed by the mechanic of the player taking photographs of the villagers which in turn, prompted the npcs to make comments on the action.

All of these short games featured a strong message. I found Phone Story to be the most appealing overall as it provided a voiceover over the top of the players actions which subtly informed you about the subject alongside the minigames e.g. catching patients committing suicide.

Unmanned focused on the subject of a military pilot and the effect on his home life. It was ok but due to focusing more on the family narrative, I missed out on many of the badges and perhaps didn’t experience the game to the fullest due to this.

Every Day The Same Dream was particularly interesting as it featured an office worker living out the same day every day. However I will admit that I ended up repeating the game sequence a fair number of times before realising that I was meant to do the opposite of what it wanted me to do! The ending was unexpected and quite sad due to depicting the outcome of the other office workers who lived their lives in the office.

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