(this post contains spoilers for Halo: Combat Evolved, Destiny and Bioshock. You should play or have played at least Bioshock before continuing)
I’ve spent the majority of September in silence, partially because Blaugust burned me out something fierce, partially because every time I had something to talk about I saw it discussed better elsewhere, and partially because I have been trying to come up with something to discuss the #gamergate brouhaha. I keep trying to write about it but I get depressed and quit halfway through. So in the spirit of getting back to writing I’m gonna just talk about games, starting with Destiny which I’ve been playing quite a bit through the month of september, and I’ll do so without retreading any of the gamergate drama. So let’s get started.
Destiny is a first person shooter game that subversively promotes xenophobia.
…Damn, that didn’t last for very long.
Destiny and Context
Destiny is a game about shooting things, which is fine, lots of games are about shooting things. Where Destiny fails is it doesn’t impress upon you why you are shooting these things. You wake up by a floating robot, who guides you to a gun and instructs you to start killing these aliens. The first moment you meet these aliens, you have a gun trained on them. This isn’t an optional thing either, the game forces you to get a gun, and forces you to have it aimed. It makes perfect sense that they would attack you. The game then instructs you to kill them, and keep killing them. I regularly come out of a mission with over 100 kills to me name. I just checked my Legend and it says I have over 4000 kills of sapient creatures on my hands. That is a lot of blood that I killed, and I honestly didn’t even think about it. This game is very good at just telling you to go shoot these dudes because they look like dudes you should shoot. They look different from you, they sound different from you, so you should kill them. I don’t have any visibility to what they’ve done to me, or to my faction. There is a singular neutral city, and I don’t see them besieging it on all sides. What I do see is us, the “good guys” going out into these remote locations and killing as many of them as we possibly can. And then we get a score for that.
In many ways Destiny reminds me of Halo: Combat Evolved. In that game, you know that you are at war with Covenant, but your enemies motives are completely unknown. As a result, you kill your way through hundreds of these aliens without really knowing why, and eventually you awaken the Flood, unleashing an ancient horror across the galaxy. In the later games you find out that what you just did is exactly what the Covenant were trying to avoid, and maybe if you could have communicated without shooting each other this whole bloody mess could’ve been avoided. Halo still has a lot of contextless killing in it, but it couches that with the mid game turn that you are responsible for awakening this cosmic horror.
Would you kindly
The whole thing reminds me of Bioshock, which is as much a game about video games (and FPSes specifically) as it is about objectivism. At the end of the game it reveals that the character you are playing has been mind-controlled to follow the instructions of anyone who asks them ‘would you kindly’ do something. This is enforced by the game requiring you to perform those actions before progressing, but that’s not a specific thing about Bioshock, that’s true about all first person games, and when you don’t understand the in-game context for why you are doing this, I can’t help but feel like I’m being controlled by the game. This is especially true of Destiny, and a regularly imagine the Ghost asking me if I would kindly go kill those aliens.
What’s the point?
The point is that games are about something, even when they aren’t supposed to be. I really have concerns when a game asks me to turn my brain off and just accept what’s happening, for the same reason I’m not thrilled when shows ask me to turn my brain off and then show me advertisements. When you aren’t actively thinking about something you are more suggestible, and especially when you are a younger you aren’t equipped to critically think about things. This is why I take big offense to the current trend of demanding games not be about anything. Games are always about SOMETHING whether or not you want them to be or not, and I would much rather play a game that the developers consciously knows what they are trying to say.
This has been a pretty political blogpost, and I wouldn’t expect most of them to be like this going forward. I’ll probably still post occasionally about the issue on twitter, but in the future I’ll try to be less specific.