From Sea to Shining Sea: Morality in Video Games

Hello everyone!

A lot of people think of video games as button mashing, violent nonsense but there are so many games that are more thought-provoking than what we typically think video games can be. A lot of creators today are attempting to add elements into their games to help the player get more out of it than just a fun experience. When a player is extremely immersed in a game, it allows them to put themselves in the shoes of the protagonist and input their moral ideals into their gameplay. Games such as The Walking Dead: Season One through Season Four, Fable, and Detroit: Becoming Human, choose to tackle the idea of morality in different ways.

The Walking Dead series chooses to tackle morality with a post-apocalyptic world infested with zombies. This game forces the player to make timed decisions with dialogue and actions that inevitably changes the course of their gameplay which leads to different endings that continue on later in the series. As the player becomes more and more immersed in the game and involved with the characters, they begin to make moral decisions that they would make in real life, if they were in that situation. For example in Season One, you find two characters in trouble and you can only save one. One character is the child of a friend of the main character and the other is the son of the family’s house you are staying in. No matter which you chose, tensions rise among characters causing the game to change to your moral ideals. The game challenges the player’s morality and ultimately sets up who the player wants to have with them at the end of the game.

Another game that brings in the idea of morality is the Fable series. This game allows the player to be “good” or “bad” either which will bring about different options and different ways of playing the game. Being good allows for its perks but so does being bad. This idea of being good or bad, though it overly simplifies the idea of morality, allows the player to explore different moral choices while playing a game that they wouldn’t necessarily agree with or choose to do in their own lives.

Another game that deals with morality, despite its mixed reviews, is Detroit: Becoming Human. This game’s idea is heavily influenced by racism featuring the idea of AI becoming deviant and rising up against humans. The game revolves around three different main characters story that, depending on how you play, their stories eventually intertwine. This game is heavily decision based which allows for many moments of deeper moral decisions. The player has the option of remaining loyal to the humans, becoming deviant, making friends and leaving them to die. With the hundreds of combinations of decisions, there are so many endings that could potentially reflect the player’s moral ideals. For example, in the game, one of the characters is posed with the dilemma of shooting an AI in exchange for information. The moral dilemma that the player faces is would you shoot the AI because it isn’t really alive or would you not keeping in mind its potential to become deviant. The game, overall, poses a lot of interesting moral dilemmas.

We, as a group, think adding a moral component into our game is really something worth considering. We think that because we’re using Twine, we may be able to set up moral dilemmas throughout our games within our text adventure. A lot of questions, however, can be presented from this subject in video games; Should video games tackle morality?; Do video game creators have agency over a player’s choice or are they truly being able to tackle these concepts of morality themselves?; How best can the From Sea to Shining Sea Squad add that element of morality in their game about the Cold War gone wrong?

The Decision Makers: Defining Barbarianism

Hey everyone,

In today’s class we focused quite a bit about barbarians and what it really means to be barbaric. We came to the conclusion that a barbarian was somebody who appeared to not have a culture and were essentially simpleminded and violent. When examples were given of past barbaric groups, it was shown that the definition we gave barbarians may not have actually fit them. The examples given were the Mongols and the Vikings. While both are known for their vast military strength and desire to conquer, their other actions are oftentimes overlooked. While the Mongols did take over vast regions of land and were viewed by many as barbaric due to their apparent lack of culture, there actually was a culture there, it just was not the same as those calling them barbarians. They were just more focused on a more oral history than written and had different religious views from some, so some had no issue calling them barbaric after looking at their actions and beliefs. The Vikings have a similar story. They shared many qualities with the Mongols so it comes as no surprise that they are still oftentimes referred to as a barbaric society. However, like the Mongols, their society was simply based on different premises than those judging from a distance. While I’m not trying to defend their actions, some of which were brutal, there is little doubt that they would not call themselves barbarians and would likely see themselves as doing either the right thing or at least be easily justified.

Barbarians is a term that nobody really identifies with and for good reason. The term does not really have any good attributes tied to it besides brute strength, so it’s not surprising that it is a term that is only ever used to describe a group that is viewed as a lesser society. This plays pretty well in our game and how it will play out. Since it is centered around Nazi Germany, which was brutal and has been called barbaric, our group has to be able to show this in game in a kind of delicate way. We have to show it in a way that is both not horribly offensive and also in a way that is at least somewhat accurate to the actual culture in place during the time period. We worked on the story of our game today and this was one of the issues that came up (again). After today’s discussion however we have a bit of a different view on how to approach showing the culture of Nazi Germany. We can look into the reasons people have called the nation barbaric more and see how we can implement those aspects of the nation’s culture in a way that is both accurate and not too graphic in certain parts. Since we are using Twine for our game, the graphic imagery will be easy to leave out since it is a text based game, so we are looking more into setting through description than through imagery to combat this potential problem. While images are still going to be implemented (we are getting very close to putting them in Twine) the majority of the game will be text oriented. The story is getting close to completion with certain ending already being completed so after the remaining  paths are created, imagery can be prioritized and it will look like a more completed game. We agreed that the game should definitely be finished (or at least story completed and images gathered) within the coming days and then we can move to other tasks. For now though, we are looking at how to show the culture of Nazi Germany in our game in the right way.

The Centrenauts: New progress

Greetings to FYS159 friends:

 

Today is like the transpoint for our game projects. Yes, we are still doing the research, however, we are going to put more time on the game development at this stage. The members of Centrenauts met on Sunday night to work on the profolio and the game itself. Yesterday we talked about assigning the portfolio part to each group member, the problems about the RPGmaker, and the plan for the next couple of days. We also helped to put the texts in the actual games. (Which proved it is working later.)

 

Today in class, we were trying to figure out how to create the intro cutscenes in our game. Watching couple of Youtube tutorial videos, Alex figured out how to make the intro cutscenes. We tested the game, and it worked perfectly fine. According to our planned storyline, there should be an secondary location called pas de calais to be seen on the map. We managed to make a cutscene which there will be a plane flying pass this beach to give the players some “hints”. That means we have to work on designing the “ocean map” at this point. Also, we encountering the several bugs in the game. When our spy is out of the general’s office, he immediately walked “under” the map. We found it, we laughed at it, and we definitely are going to fix this problem as soon as possible.

 

As and addition, we are still writing about the dialogues that will appear in the gameplay. The script should be come out soon since everything is on right track at this point. Plotting these conversations in the actual gameplay is one of our huge tasks right now.  Every member of the group will join the writing of portfolio and will finish their own part on time.

Socrates, Salem, and Senator McCarthy

The term, “witch hunt,” is fairly common and usually refers to the act of accusing a person of committing a crime while having no evidence, or very questionable evidence for your claims. Whenever I hear the term I am reminded of the movie, Monty Python and the Holy Grail. There is a scene in the movie in which a medieval town is convinced that a woman is a witch, so they cry out in determination, “BURN ERR!” However, when the townsfolk bring the “witch” to Sir Bedevere, who represents the town’s nobility and is the local knight (played by Terry Jones), he is suspicious of the claims against the woman. He asks for proof of the crime and one man (John Cleese) replies, “She turned me into a newt… but I got better,” thus proving that the massive mob has no absolute evidence.

I bring up this scene because it’s hilarious, but it also represents how gullible crowds can be when their safety or way of life may be threatened. This in turn will lead to quick decision making and rambunctious actions that may seem fair at the moment, but upon further inspection turn out to be horribly misguided. Such is the case of the famous Salem Witch Trials. Very similar to the Monty Python movie, the Salem Witch Trials were a series of hearings and prosecutions in 1692 Massachusetts. The trials led to the deaths of at least 25 people, 19 by hanging and one, Giles Corey, was pressed to death. These people were accused of conspiring with the devil and haunting the town. The only evidence to support these claims were testimonies from townspeople that sited visions, nightmares, and convulsions as proof of witchery. Thus, much like in the movie, there was no substantial proof for the accusations. Also Salem was a Puritan community, a very strict sect of Christianity, and the hysteria of witchery was not an unfathomable idea to many people back then. This environment and the fears of people in the community led to the death of at least 25 innocent people, showing that if fear is growing within a community, irrational decisions will soon follow.

Tying into our game, the Cold War was a period of suffocating fear for many Americans. The threat of nuclear war was as tense as ever before. Cuba contained missiles that could reach the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. was looking to spread communism and destroy capitalism. All of this led to mass hysteria in the U.S. that is known as the “Red Scare.” This tense and fear-driven environment led to more “witch hunts” in the U.S. almost identical to those of Salem. This time they were led by the fear of communism within the U.S., a threat that was preached by Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy. McCarthy made numerous accusations against people within the U.S. government and CIA, citing treason, espionage, foul play, disloyalty, and every other term that could label a person a trader or a “commie.” While most of these claims flung out of his mouth as effortless as breath through his lungs, and they contained no sense of evidence or support, people fell for his trick because they were so afraid of communism within their government. McCarthy knew this and he used it to his advantage to gain popularity and votes throughout his time in office. His endless accusations eventually coined the term McCarthyism as “a campaign or practice that endorses the unfair use of allegations and investigations.” The practice of McCarthyism throughout the Cold War led to many irrational decisions, most notably the cases of Julian and Ethel Rosenberg. The two were accused of heading a spy ring that informed Soviet forces about nuclear technology that the U.S. possessed. On June 19, 1953, the two were put to death via the electric chair. Although it was never proven that they committed these very serious crimes, new evidence suggested that the accusations of a spy ring were true and thus they were assumed guilty. However, it is plausible that had this case not been during the Cold War, these two would have not been put to death, especially due to the fact that at the time of their deaths they had not been proven guilty. Much like the trials in Salem, the circumstances of the trial played a key role in the punishment of the accused. Both Salem’s religion-dominated society and the nuclear tension during the Cold War led to the fear-based, irrational decisions that killed many people.

We plan on using the idea of McCarthyism in our game while also drawing on the example of Socrates. Socrates was an Ancient Greek philosopher who was charged with treason because his teachings of an organized state, as taught in the Republic, defied the Greek model of democracy. He was accused of treason and sentenced to death for his teachings, much like our character. But what I want to highlight about Socrates was his environment. Socrates always taught that an organized state should be led by “philosopher kings” instead of run by the masses, because the masses are subject to irrational decisions similar to Salem and McCarthyism. At the time of his own execution Greece had just lost to Sparta in the Peloponnesian War which caused great strife within Greece. So when Socrates praised Sparta on systems of government, the masses looked to punish his disloyalty. In a way Socrates predicted his own death because he fell subject to the whims of the masses and the irrational decisions they made, much like the victims in Salem and the Rosenbergs.

All of these examples were taken into account when we decided to make our main character a teacher. Our main character will be accused of corrupting minds similar to Socrates. Our character will also be overwhelmed with the sense of helplessness that comes from being prosecuted with no substantial evidence similar to the victims of the witch hunts of Salem and Cold War McCarthyism.

 

The Value of Absurdity

Happy Friday everyone,

Yesterday and today in class, we discussed some sections from Playing With The Past, a book that dissects the relationship between history and video games. Within these sections, the idea of counter-factual history in video games was presented. Specifically, it mentioned the Assassin’s Creed series and DLC that was for the third installment. Assassin’s Creed III is based in the American Revolution and follows the Native American character Connor as his involvement in the war increases. The DLC was called The Tyranny of King Washington, and yes, it calls Washington “King.”

In this DLC, George Washington sets up a monarchy in “The United Kingdom of American” and declares himself the king. I remember when I first saw this DLC’s trailer back in 2012, my mind was blown. What an insane idea, I just played this game where I help the 13 Colonies overthrow the British, and now I had to fight George Washington! My 12-year-old mind exploded a little, but why?

This DLC is the definition of counter-factual. In reality, a democracy was put in place, and a monarchy would have gone against everything the founders believed in. This part of history had been crammed into my mind over and over again by teachers reading out of a textbook with Washington’s face on the cover. The idea of Washington being the enemy was different and exciting, subconsciously I started running through the history I knew to be true and then asking, “what if?”. A part of history that had previously been just another section in a textbook was now revitalized.

That is the power of video games. They allow one to “play” with history and to engage with it, instead of just reading facts. The question of “why?” is extremely power in history, as we have learned in this class. With this DLC in mind, why even do something like this? Granted, it is mostly for monetary value, but I think that it also has educational value. It helped little 12-year-old me to consider how a different system of government would affect America and then to visualize that difference in the game. This is undeniably valuable, even if the concept of the DLC is absurd.

Image result for assassin's creed 3 washington's tyranny

The Decision Makers: Inspiring New Pathways

Before discussing the overview of the new pathways for our game, I wanted to give an update on the use of Twine. Yesterday we discussed exactly how we wanted the layout of our game to be presented. The beginning of our game is going to have similar aspects to the Call of Duty franchise campaigns, where players are provided background information and the scenario at hand before the start of each mission. When discussing military history, we want to be as close as possible with the dates and locations of the game so the players can feel a sense of realism. Twine can provide us with the presentation we desire while also helping us develop our decision based game.

 

Our group work today was very task-oriented. We have been discussing new pathways for our game over the past week, but want to determine our favorites to begin the construction of our game. Developing our protagonist, Günter Schmidt, is a task that is very complex. To provide players with enough information to understand the position that Günter is put in, but also ensuring that players stay interested is a difficult compromise. One of the problems that we are running into is that we are trying to be so historically accurate with our dates that our actual thought into the playthroughs themselves is being neglected. We wanted to get on the right path today by finishing two of our playthroughs involving Günter joining the Nazi army and his participation in Operation Valkyrie. Players will be given the option to join Operation Valkyrie or to remain loyal to the Nazi party and try to stop the plan from unfolding.

 

We further developed our storyline today by adding more options for the player to have control of the situation. After observing the script we have created so far, we believe that we can develop a game that will contain several historically accurate scenarios through the life of a made up character. Our game created in the World War II era and will provide players with the experience of a Nazi soldier. We met last night to watch the movie Valkyrie to get more ideas on how to interpret the operation into our game. The movie sparked several ideas about how we wanted to portray the assassination attempt on Hitler while still providing players the opportunity to make their own decision. We have discussed several outcomes of the operation including a counterfactual ending where Hitler is actually killed. The life of Günter Schmidt will be influential in the outcome of the destiny of the Third Reich and Adolf Hitler regardless of what pathway taken.

 

An interesting idea we played around with after Fisher’s presentation today was the idea of having a playthrough for Günter to join the Schutzstaffel (SS). The SS was an organization that was crucial to the rise of power for Hitler and controlling all resistance against his agenda. One of our sources, The SS: A New History by Adrian Weale, hopefully will provide us with a vision of what it was like to be a member of the SS during the rise of Nazi Germany. If we make Günter a SS soldier he could play a role in stopping Operation Valkyrie before the assassination attempt on Hitler can happen. The idea is not completely set in stone yet, but we believe this could add another exciting ending to our game.

 

Over the weekend we are meeting to work on our game in Twine and discuss the goals we want to achieve throughout the week. The plan of action we developed for this week went very well and provided us with a layout of the things we needed to get done. Our focus on the pathways today was very crucial to provide players with the opportunity to enjoy our game. We look forward to seeing our ideas come to life in the software!

 

 

From Sea to Shining Sea Squad: Player immersion and trust

A few weeks ago, I was beginning my play through of Zelda: Breath of The Wild. I had just been playing through the game’s introductory area when I came to an interesting conflict. I was tasked with traveling to a shrine marked on my map, and the clearest path was a road going up a mountain I had not visited before. As I began traveling up the path, I began taking damage from the reduced temperature due to the altitude, rendering my initial path impossible. I had to reassess my plan. I’m extremely prone to getting lost in videogames, and the fear that I would wind up spending way to much time on a useless endeavor started to set in. I pulled up the game map, and figured I would try and circle around the mountain to the far edge and try to climb up. When I circled around, it was clear from a distance that there was a path to climb up directly to the shrine. This path ended up working out, but it also introduced me to a side quest along the way, which taught me other core game mechanics like hunting, cooking, and how to penetrate into colder climates.

 

The important thing about this instance is that my experience was not entirely based on luck. The game had to teach me how to hunt and cook, but it didn’t force me towards the quest that taught me those things. I was presented with a problem, and in how the developer predicted I would solve it they placed both the side quest and the solution. What this essentially does is create a bit of trust between the player and the developer. I then knew that I could trust the game to handle some degree of creative problem solving. My choice to rotate around the mountain wasn’t even all that adventurous, but the effect was real. I felt like I had discovered my own path but also understood that the developer had predicted this, and he had then used that path to teach other tools in the game. This kept me deeply immersed in the world I was exploring, which made the entire experience much more enjoyable.

 

While the player can always do unexpected things, a good developer can communicate to the player through the layout of the world or the environment and dramatically improve the immersion of the game. The YouTube channel hbomberguy has a very impressive review of the game Bloodborne, and in it he gives a good example of this. In the opening of the first game in the series, Dark souls, the player encounters a monster and is meant to die. The second time approaching this monster, the player can look around and find a shield hidden near by. Using the shield, the player can much more easily defeat the monster. The game is communicating very clearly, without ever breaking the immersion of the game (dying is actually a pretty key part of the immersion in these games) what the player is supposed to try. The more a developer is able to allow the player some creativity, they increase the trust that the player has in the developer and they become more immersed and creative.

 

The dynamic that develops between the player and its designer has an effect on the enjoyment and memorability of that game to the player. The more the player is consciously trying to understand what the designer meant for them to do, the higher the risk that they become drawn out of the experience becomes. This is not to say that the player should never face difficulty. Without difficulty, the satisfaction of having found a creative solution to a problem would be lost. Instead there is a sweet spot where the level of frustration makes sense given the situation presented in the game and the player can experience difficulty without it taking the player out of the experience entirely.

 

While these are concepts that I’ve thought about in my personal experience with games, it’s entirely different to think about while creating a game. Constructing an environment where the player will feel immersed, even in an engine as predictable as Twine, has proven to be a challenge. How do you make the player forget they’re playing a game? How do you make them feel like their path is their own? These are the questions our team is facing now.

TDM: Handling Our Choices

For a large part of our group discussions, we spend a lot of time trying to figure out how deal with the choice of creating a Nazi character. If we decide to stay true to the history, then our character would not be relatable due to the harsh aspects of their lives. On the other hand, if we created a Nazi character that did not follow the ideals of the time period, we would be altering history. So therefore we decided to allow the player to choose. Sometimes people have the urge to be the bad guy in a video game. Games like Red Dead 2 give the option of being the bad guy, and some players think that is more fun than finding the moral high ground. So for some players they will have the choice to be loyal and play that role as the bad guy. For other players, they can try and change history through the July Plot. We decided to use this as the “good” ending to our game due to us being able to show how not all agreed with what Hitler was doing. One of the NPC’s in the game will be Erwin Rommel. A top Nazi general who was a part of the July plot.

In allowing our character to be a part of this, we allow the player to control the outcome of the game. They can either help it succeed and change history, or they can cause its downfall and stay true to history. For this we drew inspiration from different types of games that allow players to be an unmentioned person in history. The Assassins Creed games do this in AC3 with the protagonist Connor. He is an invisible force in the history of the AC games. He influences battles and choices of the founding fathers that will eventually lead to the creation of the United States. Connor was just an invisible force that played a major role in the outcome, but the games core lore allows for this to be okay. As the character is part of a secret organization. This is where we will find some problems. How do we tell the history of the July Plot with a character that does not exist. That is where altering history comes into play. If we add a character it could be the missing link they did not have.

The player will be able to make choices that impact the outcome of the game. We have created three kinds of ways to play this game. The first being a way to stay loyal to Germany during WWII. This will allow players to be the bad guy of the game. As in history they will be able to take part in making sure the July plot fails. Making enemies with the head leaders of the plot. The other choice is the ability to be a part of the July Plot. In this the player will have to make choices that will impact the outcome of the plot. This being that it will be successful and change history, or it will fail and the history will stay the course. Our character however will be forgotten to history as he is going to be forgotten for some reason. We still have not thought of the reason why he will be forgotten however.

The Centrenauts: The Choices We Make

As our group progresses with our videogame and I continue working on our narrative and story, it is becoming more and more clear how important choices are in history. History isn’t simply a collection of names, dates, and places; rather, it is a series or a process that involves the subjective decisions of a human being. For example, Alexander the Great didn’t conquer Persia simply because he conquered Persia—instead, he conquered the empire because he made a series of choices within the context of the period that would lead to success in that specific conquest. The choices that this specific conqueror made were made without the knowledge of what exactly would come next; his choices were subjective to him.

This subjectivity is extremely important when thinking history, and it is especially important to our group as we craft the decision-making process within our game. As Jordan mentioned in his last blog post, our videogame will contain player choices that will change the outcome of the videogame: a series of poor choices will result in a Nazi victory during D-Day and a series of good choices will result in an Allied victory during D-Day. It is up to the player to make these decisions based on the context that they are given. Rather than letting a player make decisions based on prior knowledge of what will happen, we would rather have the player immerse themselves properly in the game and make subjective decisions.

The best example of this so far in the narrative of our game is the series choices that a player makes regarding sending stolen German information back to the Allies. For this situation, a player must take into consideration the weather, volume of ingoing and outgoing mail, and the busyness of radio channels. There is no clear answer in this prompted choice. It is up to the player to weigh their options and think ahead of what might happen if they make a certain choice, as there is no specific historical precedent for them to rely on during this encounter. The player must immerse themselves, recognize established patterns, and make a choice based entirely on context.

These subjective choices are how we plan to keep the game immersive and replayable, but it is also important for the historical authenticity of our game. We’d like the choices that players make during gameplay to matter in the course of the game’s history, so we aim to add weight to nearly everything the player does. When a player makes a choice, it will alter history (even if it’s only the history within the game) in the way that any choice in an RPG should.

As we ourselves continue to make choices during the production of our videogame, we will keep you updated and informed! For now, we are focusing on research, narrative, and map building. By the end of this week, we hope to have our plotline drafted and our game on its way to being properly produced!

Drafts of Choices

 

Centrenauts and game progress

Today in class, the centrenauts discussed how we wanted to format the game and how we were going to the narrative. We ultimately came to the conclusion to add different options for the player to pick when in a discussion with a NPC in the game. We also started doing more research on the game Wolfenstein which has some points that we would like to put in our game. Each choice has a different outcome and can affect how the finale of the game turns out. Rachel came up with a really cool idea that we hope we can implement in the game. The idea is to give each choice a color to the font to give it a significant value. For example if the choice is a bad one it would be in red, if it was a good choice to pick the color of the font would be blue, and finally if the choice was a neutral choice meaning it isn’t good or bad then it would be green.

The Centrenauts are also researching much more about our topic the more we find out about it. When we first went to the library to find books about spies in World War 2, we were expecting to struggle to find any. It was the opposite, we found many books about it and we actually found the books very interesting. I know myself and a couple other group members have checked out more books to do research on.

Today in class our group also started the mapping for our game. We finally understood how to map on rpg maker after watching many tutorials on online. It was a struggle to finally get comfortable with the software but I think it will be well worth it, and even then we still haven’t learned everything about rpg maker just the basic things to make a game. The reason we decided to choose Wolfenstein as the game we would research to help us with our game was that Wolfenstein has the dark and moody architecture that our game will use. Wolfenstein also is based in a post world war 2 era were the nazis come out as champions. We want to research more about this to give us a idea on how to make the choices we make impact the game in the end.