Madness in the Method: How You Do Something Says More than What You Do

On Sunday, March 10, 2013 0 comments

Context is everything. Roughly 90% of games send you on a quest to save the world. But like we covered before, the way you accomplish a goal is every bit as important as the goal itself. For example, consider Okami. In Okami, players are yet again tasked with saving the world. However, instead of some buff warrior, players assume the role of Amaterasu, the goddess of the sun. Since she is a nature goddess, her can restore harmony by purifying corrupted spots of land. The player isn’t supposed to just save society, but the very land itself. By placing the focus on saving nature, the game suggests that nature is both valuable and powerful. It also suggests that nature is something that needs to be protected. While the game has no overt environmental themes, it still communicates an ecological message through the game play.


Eveything about this game sets it apart, including the goals.
Sometimes, goals communicate a message not intended by the developers. Even if a message is unintentional, the programmers set up the system for the world. They make up the laws of that fictional world, and their imaginary land reflects how they believe the real world should work. For example, in Jak and Daxter: the Precursor Legacy the main goal of the game is to transform your friend back into a human. There are threatening monsters called Lurkers, but when players fight them, it is only so they can advance their journey. Even doing good deeds has a selfish purpose. The local townspeople always bribe you upfront with Power Cells, so you don’t help them out of the good of your heart. While the player does end up saving the world, it is less out of intentional effort and more due to unlikely happenstance. The entire game is about serving self-interest. Even if the developers weren’t consciously putting that into the game, the way they set up the system reinforces the idea of looking out for yourself first and foremost.

In the sequel, Jak II, the goal is to overthrow Baron Praxis’s totalitarian rule. The goal is a generally noble one, but the methods involve terrorism, bribery, and blackmail. Even if the player doesn’t agree with the morality of a mission, the only way to move forward is to do what the game wants. Through the set-up of the game, it suggests that the ends justify the means when it comes to overthrowing a corrupt government.  Sometimes the strictness of a game can be rhetorical by only allowing one solution to a problem, suggesting that is the best solution.

Jak II teaches us that if violence isn't solving your problems, you aren't using enough of it. 
BlazBlue, on the other hand, encourages the player to use as many different methods as possible. BlazBlue is a fighting game, which means that the game play consists of one-on-one battles. In most fighting games, the story will be tournament style, with players having to beat several opponents in order to progress. BlazBlue takes a different approach, with branching storylines that take multiple play-throughs to reach. The only wat to reach some of the branches, players must lose certain battles. In fact, in order to achieve 100% completion the player has to lose all possible battles once. By including losses as part of the completion requirement, the game suggests that both winning and losing are valuable experiences.

Blazblu shows us that if violence doesn't solve your problems, you aren't smashing the buttons fast enough. 
Goals suggest something is worth value, but making something a goal does not make a convincing argument by itself. Video games are often criticized for glorifying violence, but “violence is an element of play that serves specific purposes.”1 Because players are aware that it is only a game, they do not see the things they kill as living beings, but as challenges and hurdling blocks. Whether or not the violence in video games has negative effects on people is a subject of much controversy, and no conclusive evidence for either side has emerged. At the moment, though, the goals in video games are not always directly parallel to actions in real life, but remain abstracted. In order for the creator to persuade the audience that game goals apply beyond the game, they must create a system that is comparable to real life. Then, they need to show real-life rewards that could motivate the player. “Immediate goals provide immediate rewards,” and the success the player feels over small victories will motivate them to continue through the game to achieve larger victories.1 Developers need to provide adequate reason for the player to become invested in the stakes. 

This concludes the goals section of video game rhetoric. For Part 1, check here. For Part 2, check here. Make sure to check out the main Rhetoric directory, and check back for the next section, where we delve into choice and effect in video games! 

Oh, and if you want to make me really happy, check out my novel. You can get it for free with the coupon code YP65T.


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