Thursday, September 10, 2015

[OE007] What We Could Do: The Pushed Pusher

Previous: [OE006] The Game Mechanic: Choiceless Choices

What We Could Do

                I suppose to ask “what we could do” is to fly in the face of Pandoran morality. For that matter, there really isn’t much else that game designers could do either. When using Pandoran morality the Prime Pusher, the designer who forces the player to make poor moral choices, becomes the Pushed. There isn’t anything else to be done – to Push the player, you must Push.

                Games like Infinifactory shake things up by changing the actions we are forced to take. Instead of shooting others with guns, we design the factories that make the guns (that will then be used to shoot others). Other games raise the stakes by pushing the player to commit exciting new atrocities - Modern Warfare 2's airport civilian massacre or Grand Theft Auto 5's torture simulator. The 'Oh Shit' moments must be regularly ratcheted up.

I suppose the most boring thing about Pandoran games is that they turn evil into one more mission objective, one more box to tick. An evil that the player must commit in order to continue just isn't that interesting. Call it "The Banality of Evil" or "The Banality of ‘Oh Shit’ Moments," but the effect is the same.

A Pandoran game may be necessary from time to time as new dominant genres and tropes emerge (SpecOps does it well), but the more of these subversions exist, they less impact they have. I love discussions of Free Will and Fate as much as the next person (rather more, I dare say), but it’s hard to get excited about games being all like “you had no choice but to shoot that one guy! Oooooohhhhhh! Okay, that was fun. Now go shoot another squadron of thinking, feeling beings.”
Next: [OE008] The Story: Oedipus


  1. It's a tougher issue than it seems: all roleplaying-style games can trace their DNA back to Dungeons & Dragons, which has characters who can accurately be described as "murder hobos." The swords & sorcery genre which inspired it is founded on characters who are morally tainted, to say the least.

    Now, in fiction, it's customary for these amoral or downright predatory characters to get involved in some cause which inspires them to do the right thing. Or get involved in something which tests their morality. Conan, for instance, is a rough freebooter, but he's an easy mark for damsels in distress -- though his intentions are lusty and straightforward.

    Maybe every game needs a scene like the meeting of Priam and Achilles, in which the player-character can show his moral growth by a gesture of mercy and humanity even though he's going to go right back to killing enemies in the morning.

    1. Heh, murder hobos. My group's current campaign has an unrepentant murderer PC who was driven out by the party. He went underground and convinced an army of hobos that their civilization is being undermined by Space Worms. Hilarity (and murder) ensued.

      I could see Priam and Achilles-esque scenes working in most murder simulators. One of the best things about Spec Ops was how it effectively forced players to think about the morality of their actions. A scene that effectively humanizes a foe that yet must be killed could do more to drive the complexity of morality home than a thousand "nothing really mattress" speeches.

      Along the same lines, how about a morality system that has NO effect on powers/endings? You're given a change to show a "gesture of mercy and humanity" that has absolutely no effect on the outcome. It could be an interesting commentary on pure morality - morality tied to abstract standards of right and wrong instead of utilitarianism or feelbads.

    2. I like that idea. A moral choice completely decoupled from strategic/tactical choices. That way you're neither leading them by the nose to do what you insist is right, nor are you penalizing them for being moral (as most tactical simulations wind up doing).


    Hard mode is only mode.

    1. ...why did you introduce me to this. I lost an entire weekend!