Looking Down from Heaven: How Simulation Perspective Encourages Cruelty

On Friday, December 14, 2012 1 comments

Last time we talked about how perspective influences the player’s relationship with the main character. This time, let’s look at how view point changes how the player feels about other characters in the game. Let’s talk about god.

Okay, god perspective (I had you worried for a second, didn't I?). God-perspective is a top-down view used in simulation and strategy games. The player views things from high up and far away, as if they were a spiteful god. Oftentimes they act like one, too. See, the god-perspective puts a lot of distance between the player and the miniscule figures onscreen. It allows the player to observe humanity impartially. It also allows them to be an enormous jerk. No game demonstrates this better than The Sims.

Look at those snide little jerks. They're begging for a thunderbolt. 

In The Sims, while the player does create and control characters, none of the individual characters are integral to the game. The player can delete and create new characters at any time. This, combined with the looking-down-from-heaven view, makes the Sims dispensable. The player is free to do whatever the heck they want without feeling responsible. While the ambiguous goal of the game is to earn money and build a merchandise-filled house, many players choose to make their Sim’s life miserable. In an online chatboard, players brainstormed fun things they could do with their Sims. Responses ranged from “make a huge family and kill them all and make a new family move in ... in the same house” to “refuse to use the bathroom” to even “Make your Sim cheat on their husband/wife and see how long it takes them to get caught.”1 Players feel no guilt about what they force the Sims to do, because the remote perspective reduces the Sims to mere playthings.

Likewise, in the strategy game Civilization, the player is a ruler of a country, and the goal is to build the best empire (or as an albino mouse might put it, try to take over the world). This involves sending troops to war. When the player is at war, their forces are referred to as “units.” Their soldiers and people are not given an identity or any individuality. There is no reward for keeping them alive, other than the fact that they can be reused as more cannon fodder. Once again, the top-down perspective gives the player a sense of being above the action, both literally and figuratively. Because of this, the player is detached from the struggles of the NPCs.

Apparently Civilization is about a society of giants.

Contrast this with Valkyria Chronicles, a war game that uses the same perspective. At the beginning of every turn, the player views a map showing the position of their soldiers and the opposing forces on the field. However, when the player selects a soldier to move, the game switches to 3rd person perspective, and the player controls that unit directly. Not surprisingly, the soldiers all have an individual identity, complete with a unique character model, names, and even personal likes and dislikes that influence the way they perform in battle. By knowing the strengths and weaknesses of their soldiers on an individual basis, the player can use them more efficiently. This play style reinforces the plot, which is also heavily character driven.

The Pokemon series uses a similar technique to spotlight the fantastical freaks of the franchise. Every new “generation” of games has a new, silent protagonist. This protagonist never speaks or shows any personality. Again, the top-down perspective of the games detaches the player from the onscreen character, making the human avatar seem disposable and unimportant. When a Pokemon battle starts, the perspective switches. Suddenly the player views the battlefield from ground level, from a perspective that may or may not be the player character. When Pokemon are sent out to battle, the player views them up close and personal. You could argue that this is to better show off the violence, but the joke’s on you because Pokemon is about as non-violent as animal fighting gets.  Instead, this makes the player more likely to care about their Pokemon, whom they see first-hand fail and succeed, than the player character, whom they see only from a distant view. 

This is at least twice as violent as the average Pokemon battle.
So there you have it. Perspective is a crucial part of making a game fun or a flop, and it's something developers should never ignore. By controlling how the player sees the game, developers can control how players interact with their environment and the characters. Next time, we'll look at another critical aspect of making games succeed: goals. Until then, curb your craving for nerd by checking out the rest of my blog!

1.                  "1000 Fun Things to Do in Sims 3." Jan 2009. NeoForum Community, Online Posting to Neoseeker. Web. 28 Mar. 2012.

1 comment:

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