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Encountering real-world factional strife

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Sometimes people play games specifically to get away from reality. This is probably especially true for fantasy RPGs, but also for sci-fi games. OTOH, games like Splinter Cell are highly enhanced by including real world factions. As an offshoot of the thread about tapping but respecting real-world religions, I've been thinking about what your reaction might be to encountering real-world factions. Factions based off of today's factions would evolve and grow, starting from the near future going forward, changing the game's storyline in the process. One unpleasant byproduct of generating factions from real-world origins might be unpleasant denizens populating the game world. Consider, for instance, an Aryan brotherhood faction, racist and paternalistic, operating in the game world giving out missions, attacking other factions, etc. Or a Christian fundamentalist faction, pursuing a similar agenda. The game would take no moral position on this. Rather, consequences and the reaction of other factions would rule (so that these groups would probably be marginalized, if you take modern politics as an example). The game world for the design I'm working on visualizes that humans have founded multiple colonies, some of which are mixed ethnic / religious origins, others which are mono-ethnic. The design requires that you must be free to work for different factions, and you must be able to advance the agenda of a particular faction, barred only by the in-game laws and factional diplomacy. If I stick with completely made up factions, I sidestep all controversy but lose a sense of weight that comes from the feeling that the world you're playing in could arise from the world of now (gravitas?). If I generate factions based on real-world factions, it stands to reason that player activity might suggest racism, anti-Semitism, and other unpleasant things. You could get a mission to destroy a colony settled by Israeli dissidents or Kenyan terraformers, for instance, funded by traditional or non-traditional enemies. What's your gut level reaction to this sort of thing appearing in a game?

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I'm all for it.

I'm a big fan of messy conflict, because that's what life is: messy and conflicted. So what if players are racist in how they play the game? Is that any worse than GTA 3 players who solicited prostitutes and then killed them to recover their cash, something we all recognized as not a flaw in the game but a strength in its flexibility.

So long as the gameplay doesn't suffer and the interests of your target audience are served by this feature, go for it.

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Original post by Oluseyi
I'm all for it.

I'm a big fan of messy conflict, because that's what life is: messy and conflicted. So what if players are racist in how they play the game? Is that any worse than GTA 3 players who solicited prostitutes and then killed them to recover their cash, something we all recognized as not a flaw in the game but a strength in its flexibility.


Very interesting perspective. Thanks. (Certainly could generate controversial media coverage just like GTA, though).





A general follow-up question I just thought of.

If the game does feature real world factions, I have some say in the underlying heuristics and rules that govern their success. But I'm of two minds as to whether or not the game should take a moral stand.

I could certainly make the more offensive factions have a harder time winning. Working for neo-Aryans, for instance, would be harder, pay less, and entail a great deal more danger as the game world responds because you'd assume that civilized society would organize away from such insular, self-destructive factions.

But history provides a gruesome example of which factions could dominate, and the future offers no guarantee that we'll be more enlightened. Religious fundamentalism, for instance, seems to be well tolerated even in supposedly egalitarian societies if the citizens are members of the dominant religion.. Looking at the past of other countries around the globe, the same is true of ethnic descrimination.



I guess all of this is to ask the question:

Since the rules govern how the game world turns out, does a game maker have a responsibility to create the rules to match a certain moral message? In GTA, for instance, by not creating a more real-world consequence to the murder of prostitutes (certainly this was feasible with the existing legal rules involving damage to cars or speeding), can you say the game takes an amoral position wrt murder?

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Curiously, this premise reminds me a lot of Orson Scott Card's Ender's Saga. Colonies, factions, space odissey, religious fundamentalism...

Anyway...

I will look at this from two standpoints. Historic realism, and Moral Standards.

In History, only the last one standing writes the story in a way that suits him, and from this new version of History derives new moral standards and a new apprehension of power relations. Imagine for a second what would have happened if the Axis had won WW2? Would the rest of the world still would say that they were evil? Probably not, because the rest of the world would BELONG to the axis. And would THEREFORE have the same point of view, because anyone having a different point of view inevitably ended in the gas chambers...

From a Moral Standards Point of View, this simple assumption that the Axis COULD have been held for right, had they won, is SO beyond what is currently accepted BECAUSE THEY LOST and have thus become the infamous bad guys, that simply raising that possibility in a game is, in my opinion, beyond the scope of many people, that they would think that you are making some historical revisionism, or maybe some propaganda for Nazism, instead of simply having a Uchronian backstory, just like in Iron Storm. But in Iron Storm, you had to play against the Historical bad Guys.

Let's pursue Scott Card's story. In his books, there is a Hegemonia standing in front of the Warsaw Pact. This is VERY MUCH like cold war era politics setings. Read now, it seems kind of lame to have it, because there is NO Warsaw Pact. But imagine reading about it in, say, 1967, right in the cold war, with Cuban Missiles being aimed at America, with Space odissey being at its beginning, and hopes about it in the heart of each American. Then it is not a Sci-Fi book anymore. It is simply a book about a possible future for political evolution. Yet it was written in 1977. In my opinion, most of the crisis was already gone by the time, but such is not the subject here.

The real question, in my opinion, is "Can I, as a Game Designer, take the responsibility to provide my audience with a content that is partly alien to nowadays moral standards?" Well, only YOU can take that responsibility. I'd love to toy around with a Uchrony. But if you choose to do so, just do it in a normal way. Allow for ALL the different possibilities to happen with the same probability. If you're planning to play in 1970s America, make it possible, although very difficult, to betray and become a "Red" agent. If you are playing in 1940s Austria, make it as easy to become a Nazi as to become a fighter against Nazi. But provide consistent action, in regards to what the player's choice are. You can't take it to you to tone down the action of the player for the sake of moral standards. If the player chooses to become a Nazi Soldier, and, for a mission, is affected to the survey of Extermination Camp Barracks. He is expected to shoot at anyone trying to go out. If he doesn't do so, then he is likely to be the one shot. This is a VERY disturbing experience for anyone, having to shoot at someone's retreating back. But hundreds of thousands of CS players do that everyday without frowning. The real problem here is putting MEANING behind your player's actions, and having them think about them.

Well, there is also the OTHER problem, of designing and realizing a game with so much leeway in terms of gameplay options that it becomes impossible to draw a map of it and display it on the internet. Same exemple followed. If you are an Axis soldier, and kill the escaping Jews, you may be promoted to some other mission. If you don't, depending on which way you choose to roleplay that, you may be "promoted" and sent on the Russian front. This means death, but not spoken. What kind of moral problem, or threat, can that pose? I can't think that honestly playing a soldier and killing people can be sen as moraly disturbing in this game context. But an outsider could always say that you are killing JEWS! or that you are playing a NAZI! and that is against nowadays moral standards. And would therefore be descried. In this exemple, the PLAYER won't be the one blamed for obeying his instincts or whims, and playing a NAZI instead of an Allied, but it will be the Game Designer, and Programmers, and publishers, for providing content to "such mad consciences, disclaiming the lives of millions of people, who fought and died for the freedom of the world as we know it" Then what about those millions soldiers who fought for a better world, in a NAZI perspective? Are they less glorious? Less valorous? Were they wrong? how can anyone tell anybody else "you're wrong"? It is all a matter fo perspective.

And, in fact, all the problem lies here. Is anyone able to put everything in perspective long enough to understand that "this is but a game"? Is anyone able to understand that ALL political and religious positions are not only defendable, but also worth fighting and dieing for? And that most of them have already done that? Catholics killing Jews in Spain, Christians killing Muslims in Jerusalem and around, Catholics killing Protestants in France, Muslims killing everybody just to get heard, Americans striking preventive strikes on Muslims to get sure they wouldn't strike back, "in order to protect and promote Democratic (or Republican, I can't remember) values around the world, and get rid of a madman tyrant". Has anyone seen that Americans had been fooled by a President trying to get a hold on Iraqi Petrol? Has anyone sen that the Crusades only happened because of lack of currency in catholic kingdoms? Does anyone remember why the Protestants have been sent away from England? Why Jews have been killed in Spain? It is all a matter of money!

If you want to make a game in which players have to think about moral implications, and what they would like to see, then do it. But do it with sincerity and objectivity. Do it with plausible outcome. If you make a hero of your player, then allow him to influence REALLY the outcome of the battle, don't give him a "no matter how many ennemies you kill, there wil still be more to come" feeling. If he wipes the ennemies from the maps, then his army is bound to go FORTH, no retreat, and that will be due to his actions, even if he plays an Axis soldier. Allow for multiple levels of success in missions, influencing the way you'll be talked to next time, and what kind of missions you'll be given. Having sex with a senior officer's wife could get you killed. But if the officer is smart, then he will send you on a suicide mission instead.
He will give you a chance to help your faction, and another one to help him get rid of you forever. No matter what you do, he will take pleasure in it, even if you eventually win. He will just have to send you on a second suicide mission, until someone remarks your behaviour, and uses you in other missions, away from the man you cheated. but being sent on a mission behind enemy lines should also provide you with a possibility to betray to the other faction. Don't enforce it on the player, let him choose. He can have a very honest and straightforward 10-hours long adventure in which he dies when he is taken, or he can choose to have a 40-hours long and devious adventure in which he cheats all sides. It is all up to you to make it happen. But hear my call: Doing it will put you in trouble just as much as GTA creators, if not more, because of the freedom of choice you left the players.

Peace.

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Original post by Wavinator
If I generate factions based on real-world factions, it stands to reason that player activity might suggest racism, anti-Semitism, and other unpleasant things. You could get a mission to destroy a colony settled by Israeli dissidents or Kenyan terraformers, for instance, funded by traditional or non-traditional enemies.

What's your gut level reaction to this sort of thing appearing in a game?

My gut level reaction is, it's something i'd tread really carefully around; i strongly dislike pigeonholing, and games with their technology-imposed limitations pretty much enforce simplifications. Combine simplifications with real world labels and you're setting yourself up for a disaster, since simplifications of real world groups pretty much equals falling back to stereotypes.

Secondary thoughts: you'd be hard pressed to find any real world faction which *doesn't* display full spectrum of 'emotions' and limits itself to just narrow range of actions towards other factions. So to do it 'right' in game you'd probably have to allow factions to generate full range of actions/missions, possibly weighted against the faction's set of current preferences. What i mean is, just because faction A has long-term dislike for faction B doesn't necessarily mean they should be asking the player to burn and pillage everything of faction B at every turn. There might as well be fractions inside faction A that find cooperation and making peace with faction B a better idea, and try to achieve *that* ... so the player is also likely to receive 'humanitarian aid' or 'negotiator escort' mission from faction A towards the faction B ... or even 'take care of fraction of faction A that doesn't agree with another fraction of faction A' sorts of task. In a nutshell, would try to avoid making the factions homogeneous "one party, one mind, one voice" kind of deal you pretty much always see in games (that takes us back to the technology-imposed limitations, though)

Also, another note... 'traditional enemies' are usually people who happen to squat the same piece of land/resource (or own the land/resource that *you* want) and look/act different enough to allow one develop the sense of separation strong enough to justify to oneself it's okay to deny those people the 'right' to said land/resource. This means, once you shoot these factions in space where they no longer step on each others' toes whenever they go to the bathroom, the reasons for 'traditional conflict' quickly evaporate and 2-3 generations down the road (when both those who experienced the actual conflict and their direct offsprings die out of old age) hardly anyone cares... except maybe for some shrewd politician who might try to blame old enemies for current hardships the faction is undergoing. Still, it'd require continuous effort like that to fuel the old feud. It's more likely at this point people will be busy hating some completely different faction that happens to share the orbit around the same planet and "steals *our* sunlight". :s

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I've been working on a story that uses this as a primary element.

I find that the most effective way to use that real-world relevance while not using stereotypes is to blindside the existing stereotypes by being totally contrasting. Combine some things. Reverse some roles.

Have the Nazis be a bunch of hippies who talk white power all the time but are too laid back to get violent about it.

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This is one of those areas that I worry can easily cause problems and have been worried about in my current project. While on one hand using variations or out growths of existing factions can allow the player relate better to the game making it seem more real, on the other hand it can just as easily offend or alienate a player who does not like how the faction is portrayed in the game. For instance a lot of people might have a big problem if your game had a neo Nazi faction becoming the saviors of humanity in the game.

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Then make it different.

Imagine a game which settings puts it in Austria, 1926, or circa. You are playing a sort of low-grade indiana jones, and encounter a bunch of laid-back hippies always talking excitedly about white supremacy at about 1 in the morning, raving drunk in a bar. Imagine encountering them only as background noise, in cut-scenes, in said bar, while you meet your contact. You are after, say, Siegfried's lance, or something equally legendary, and surprisingly around.
In one of the cut-scenes, around mid-game, a bunch of other raving drunk men comes in, defies the hippies to stand and fight for their rights, and so begins a bar fight like so many others. But the police comes in, and you are ALL to be taken down. But your mission is urgent enough for you to have to take the policemen down. So begins a barbrawl mission, with you having to defeat policemen and and guys in order to reach the back exit. When you do, a small guy, one of the hippies follows you out, and stirs you to the other side, asking you to follow him. He pilots you through a number of streets in which you have to avoid the policemen. In the end, you reach his private hideout. He is a philospoher. He has studied Buddhism and Asian philosphies, and he is passionate about Wagner and Mozart and the Nordic Sagas. He offers to help you out with your private quest, out of gratitude, by providing his own knowledge, in replacement of your lost contact.

You then procede through the rest of the game. Step by step, you see him affirming himself, and beginning to take more energetic stances, once or twice coming physically to your rescue in a cutscene, and landing a blow or two, before rubbing his sore fist. And ultimately, your recover Sigfried's lance. But you are then betrayed by that young man, incredibly excited about your discovery, now. He wants it to help him lead the world out of the puddle of mud it is going through. He wants to be a savior. He wants to feel like Sigfried and live a hero. He wants his real name to be worldly reknowned: Adolf. He steals your lance.

End of your game experience.

What you are left with is the terrible feeling that YOU are the one who made possible the NAZI to reach the power, when all they were was a bunch of laid-back hippies. You showed them the way through a path made of violence, taking the time to master that young lad and to talk to him, to convince him that "a dream worth having is a dream worth fighting for" (property of Marvel Inc.) Maybe you didn't even said that on this precise purpose, but thinking about your precious artifact being recovered, or Atlantide, or anything else. Maybe you were thinking about The Holy Grail, or the Lost Ark, or anything relevant in this context.

But the goal here is to create a situation in which the player ends up being the ORIGIN of a catastrophy.

Maybe he is a time-travelling friendly weed smoker, who initiated an old man, when sharing a cig to the delights of Haschich. That old man created the Haschichins' sect, and you now have to make the best of your stupidity, and try to make things even. But you will ultimately fail. "What happens remains happened" (property of Marvel Inc.)

What do you say? Would this kind of game story allow for a re-telling of History, with worrying too many people of propaganda? Would it seem acceptable? In a game, I mean?

I agree it was not the theme of the intended space odissey, but, is it valid anyway?

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sorry, I'm not familiar with this sentence. Would you mind explaining it? I feel it's like a compliment or an ironic mockery, because there is a smiley in the end, but I can't quite decide...

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Original post by Fournicolas
What do you say? Would this kind of game story allow for a re-telling of History, with worrying too many people of propaganda? Would it seem acceptable? In a game, I mean?

If Knights of the Old Republic 2 is any indication, you'd have a number of players upset the game forces them to 'play along' with the rigid storyline all the way to the 'shocking' climax, although they (the player) were able to figure out this plot twist way in advance, and would ditch the hitler-to-be like a hot potato the very second they'd be given a chance...

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There is always ways to get a villain back in the story. Magneto might have died a good dozen times, in X-Men. And he is still kicking...

The exemple I chose was merely a way of having a way of retelling History, in a way that involved ACTIVELY the player. If what I have come up with don't please you, then let's transport it 10 years in the future, and have it in 1936. The same Hitler is now rising steadily, and he is now sending parties to and fro, in order to retrieve Siegfried's lance and to achieve an obscure prophecy. He is not the only to believe in it, you believe it too. And you decide to hide it from Hitler. Only when you ultimetely find it, you realize that you've been keeping a pace in advance until now, and that Hitler's agents are closing on you.

And in the end, they DO close on you, and steal the lance you've been trying to hide from Hitler, thus giving him the power to achieve what YOU know as History.Let's make the main character a dedicated Time-Traveller. He travelled back in time to prevent history from happening, and ends up making the History happen, like the Time loop in Twelve Monkeys, by Terry GILLIAM...

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Original post by Fournicolas
There is always ways to get a villain back in the story. Magneto might have died a good dozen times, in X-Men. And he is still kicking...

Well, these are two different things you have here. Coming back to life over and over and over might be good for a comic book supervillain. But if the script of your game expects the player to educamate and influence young Hitler on his road to "enlightement", and the player doesn't *want* to do it because they can see what it leads to and they realize just leaving these laid back hippies to their bong would be the best course of action... except the game script doesn't have this option for them? That's what i was talking about. 'actively involving the player' is all fine as long as they *want* to be involved... but when they *don't* and you force them into it the game becomes a source of frustration, not entertainment.

Quote:
The exemple I chose was merely a way of having a way of retelling History, in a way that involved ACTIVELY the player. If what I have come up with don't please you, then let's transport it 10 years in the future, and have it in 1936. (..)

It's not that the idea doesn't please *me* personally. ^^ But you asked for feedback, and what i gave you is what you're likely to receive from considerable part of the playerbase if you make a game which puts the player in a story that --to them-- makes them "lose" ... not because of what they did and what choices they *made* but because the script from the start didn't include even an *option* for them to 'win' (because the only option to 'win' in the scenarios you present would be to *not play* the game, which is of course ridiculous)

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Which, I guess, is the difference between mainstream games and those works of interactive fiction that aren't pure puzzles, but rather the exploration of a story.

Try Adam Cadre's excellent "Photopia" to see what I mean.

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Original post by Fruny
Which, I guess, is the difference between mainstream games and those works of interactive fiction that aren't pure puzzles, but rather the exploration of a story.

Aye, although one might argue if the story fails to captivate the reader enough to make them want to follow it instead of trying to invent their own, then it's likely at least part of the blame for that should be put on the story itself.

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That Siegfried's Lance idea was great. I love twists like that and don't get upset if the bad guys win, but perhaps not everyone would like the game to end with Hitler stealing the lance and try to conquer the world.

A solution is to continue the story and let the player try to take back the lance and take it to the allies, or to destroy it. IMO Hitler shouldn't be killed (too non-historic), but perhaps one of his main henchmen is. It might still be this episode that makes Hitler decide to take over the world (or even cause his passion for mystic artifacts), but at least the player did his best to stop him.

IMO the main part of the game would be the search for the lance, and Hitler grabs it just before the end. For example, Hitler and his henchmen has followed you into the dungeon where you find the lance. He steals it and has his men seal you in. You make your way out, and just before Hitler can get away you manage to take the lance back and use it to kill his main henchman after a more or less lengthy fight. During the fight Hitler manages to slip away and only resurfaces years later and goes on to follow history as we know it.

Then the main character decides
that the lance is too dangerous and destorys it /
that Hitler and Germany is dangerous and brings it to England to be used in the impending conflict (it gets stored in a crate in a huge room filled with crates [smile]) /
that the spear should be hidden away on Iceland (Brünhild's homeland)
etc

BTW: I'd take "Way to run with it :D" as a compliment. You took a few ideas and wound it into a great story.

Rating++

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