Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Who do you want to be today?

I read several gaming oriented blogs, my favorite being Shamus Young's Twenty Sided. He participated in a round table 'discussion', which led me to a few other blogs. Reading around I found a post I wanted to comment on, but it required that I login to post. Since I am a member of far too many forums and communities as it is (more than I can maintain a good participation in) I thought I might as well make a non-collecting post.

Scorpia asks if we are what we play, prompted by a separate article (which I haven't read yet).

I found Scorpia's post rather interesting, and upon self-examination found that I am (not surprisingly) different than her, and those that commented on her post. While I will play a good character, more inline with my personality, it's usually not until after I have played through as someone opposite. Read on, if you dare.

To answer the question, Am I what I play, or do I play what I am? I tend to not play what I am. I like to experiment with character types that differ from my own. For example, when playing a game where the main character has some sort of mystical or superhuman abilities/powers I usually think it would be fun to be an all-powerful galactic ruler that doesn't really have to worry about the consequences of using and abusing their powers.

Take Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic as an example, or SW Jedi Knight/Outcast/Academy. I almost always play as an evil, dark side character first. I find it's more fun and interesting to act in ways and do things that I could normally never do in real life: force choke that jerk that took my parking place, fry the guy that's making me wait in line, punch the annoying guy that asks me for money everyday, take over the galaxy, etc.

Now, these are things I would never actually DO in real life, but I can't say I've never fantasized about doing some of them when confronted by some people. I do go back and replay these games as a more virtuous, or at least inherently good/helpful person, more inline with how I really act, and it's fun too, but I usually play games to experience things different from real life.

Now that I've actually thought about how I play games, it's no surprise to me that I really enjoyed certain games, despite the negative light it may cast on me. Like Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, despite the fact that the main character is a completely homicidal sociopath, with absolutely no moral compunctions whatsoever, does whatever he deems is necessary to get a head (it usually involves killing someone or lots of someone's), who, if I knew someone like that in real life I would strongly be tempted to up and kill them, for the benefit of all humanity.

GTA: San Andreas was mostly more of the same, but in most ways, CJ was a better person than Tommy Vercetti, but he's still not the shining star of the community. But he does do a lot to clean up his neighborhood. He's very upset at the way the drug dealers have turned his neighborhood into a doped up slum, instead of just a slum. He starts a war on the drug dealers, and ends up killing two of his old buddy's because they're the ones that brought the drugs into town. He kills some really dirty cops. He gets himself and his sister and her boyfriend out of the slums, and improves their lives. And he balances it out by starting several gang wars, and bringing his gang out on top.

The GTA games are fun, in a do-very-evil-things-with-no-consequences sort of way, but they do have the draw back of being about people I can't really relate to at all. I never really felt like I was Tommy or CJ, that I was doing those things, but that I was watching (or participating in, I suppose) a movie about somebody else, and in Vice City's case, somebody that I really didn't like at all. Hitman on the other hand, was a lot of fun in a very different way.

Half the time I felt I was not a hired assassin, but a covert government special ops type person. The targets were almost always people that the world was better off without (which was often why you were hired to kill them). In the four games, the only mission I can think of that I actually regretted having to kill the target was when I was hired to take out a mafia stool pigeon. The rest of the missions – taking out the leader of a prominent drug-running, prostitution-ring, Chinese gang; rival assassins, ones that had been hired to kill the US President, by the Vice Pres so he could run the country; mafia leaders that kidnapped Catholic priests; dirty cops, etc, I really didn't have any problems with that.

Add in the fact that there are bonuses for completing the missions in as stealthy manner as possible, no extraneous kills (particularly innocent bystanders and law enforcement personnel), I don't have a problem relating to the main character. He kills people because he was bred to be good at it, and because he get's paid to. He gets no more joy from it than anything else in life (but then, he's also kinda like me in that he doesn't really have a lot of feelings and emotions).

I do usually prefer games that offer behavioral choices (such as the aforementioned SW games), because they usually have higher replay value since I can play both types of characters. However, "Choice" is not always all it's cracked up to be. Sometimes the choices look too much like this:

You meet a woman on the road who needs your help. Will you help, or murder her and steal her shoes? example by Shamus Young

I can't find the post right now, but Shamus once discussed the shortcomings of the choices system of Jade Empire. I haven't finished the game once yet (sorta got distracted by another game), and I was playing through as a good person, but his gripe is that the evil choices were less along the lines of Emperor Palpatine evil, and more like Billy, the middle school bully. You had the choice of helping someone, or punching them and taking their lunch money. Thinking back to Knights of the Old Republic there were some choices like that – you could save someone from being killed by loan-sharks because he didn't have enough to pay them off, and then turn around and take what little money they had – but it never felt as poorly presented, but it could be because I knew from the outset I was going to be a mean-spirited bastard and take over the galaxy (if the opportunity presented itself, which I assumed it would. What else would someone overflowing with Dark Side power do?) With Jade Empire, since I don't know if that's a possibility, I kinda feel like I'm just some random jerk picking on the less powerful, but with no larger goal in mind.

I think at this point I've lost my train of thought, or it's been derailed, or something like that. I feel like I've drifted off the topic, and I'm not sure how to get back, or if I should get back, so I guess I'll end it here. The point of all this was to say that I like to experiment with behaviors contrary to (or from the darker side) my nature, and that I'm glad there are games that let me explore my curiosity for such types of behavior, without the danger of trying to do so in the real world. Cause, Heave knows if I tried to ride a bullet bike like I do in the Grand Theft Auto games, I'd only get to do so once, which would terminate in a long reddish smear on the highway, or a splattered blob on the back of some truck.


Marissa said...

You did get derailed a bit at the end, but that was an insightful post. I don't agree with your comment about not having feelings or emotions. Although sometimes I do wonder... :) No, you have great feelings and emotions. Just paired with mine they seem insignificant. Not everyone is gifted enough to cry about EVERYTHING!

Jonathan said...

Extremely insightful. Favorite quotes:
-"the main character is a completely homicidal sociopath, with absolutely no moral compunctions whatsoever, does whatever he deems is necessary to get a head" (I wonder if writing "get a head" instead of "get ahead" was deliberate or subconscious, but it was funny and worked either way)

-"these are things I would never actually DO in real life, but I can't say I've never fantasized about doing some of them" (obviously, the opening question of the post requires a definition for what "I am" means, and I've decided it means the sum total of your thoughts/actions/feelings/choices. I'm far from consistent in anything, and so to define myself I have to take whatever I think/do/feel/choose most often or most readily. So thinking X but doing Z doesn't make you Z, but a mixture of X+Z . Maybe that equals Y. Anyway, if you ever delete your blog, save this post for posterity and sociologists [and psychiatrists...] because it is very interesting! It requires multiple reads. It makes me wonder why I DON'T get so into playing games. That obviously says something about me, too.) Oh, and Scorpia's post was interesting too. Good you have links to the outside world.

Gillian said...

Hmmm...thought provoking. Jonathan might not play so many video games, but he often dreams that he has superpowers.

Of course, you can be interested in the dark side without being interested in perpetuating the dark side in real life. It's like Sarah Brown in Guys and Dolls.