Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Design Challenge: What Would a Maoist Videogame Be Like?

This page of Maoist videogame reviews has been making the rounds on various game-related blogs lately. The thing that interests me the most about these reviews is that they start with the assumption that games convey ideology, something people have argued about endlessly. Traditional game reviews almost always ignore even the possibility of a bias in the game's presentation. For instance, while most reviews of Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic mention the choice the player has between good and evil, the Maoist review takes note of the fact that the game is significantly easier for players who chose evil and skewers the game for teaching the player that "those who have the courage to kill, are strong. Those who don't are weak."

The review continues to examine the lessons that are inherent in KotOR. "In one part of the game, the player fights for money--to the death. This serves well to illustrate the society, where money is everything and human life is worth nothing. The worth of a corpse is solely a function of its persynal properties, which have to be looted to advance in the game." While the paranoia and the talk of "fascist bastards" turns me off, I have to admit that I am happy to find someone examining the ideology of games.

After poking around for a bit, I had to ask the inevitable next question: "What would a good, Maoist (or Marxist, or Communist, or even Socialist) game look like?" Their review for Rise of Nations begins to point the way.

"...at least in RoN there is an entire economy, a political system and history. The outcome of the game does not depend on the action of one super-robot constructed by the player: as in 'Tropico,' we see all the citizens scurrying about their work and that work determines whether the player wins or loses." So, it would seem that a Maoist game should focus on a society rather than a single, heroic central character. The player's success or failure should take place within a group context rather than from an individual perspective. In addition, the economy and political system should be linked such that economic failure leads to political downfall and vice versa.

"It was an advance for RoN and others to 'assume' the world is non-violent and that the game occurs in that context, either as economic competition or cultural competition." Presumably, a Maoist game then would be based on achieving peace rather than dominance. Think PeaceCraft, an idea my friend, ClockworkGrue, came up with. Success in the game should be possible to achieve through economic, political, and/or cultural means rather than solely through military domination.

Are there any other fundamental design decisions that would lead to non-Capitalist ideologies in a game? Are there games out there that do this already?

Aside: I can't resist this little dig... I love the little bourgeois link to Amazon.com at the bottom of each review. It makes me wonder...


At 11:01 PM, Blogger Foopy said...

The kind of game you're talking about perfectly describes my favorite political game of all time--Jim Gasperini's Hidden Agenda.

Here is an old review of mine that explains what I'm talking about, if you're interested.

Nice blog, by the way!

At 2:48 PM, Blogger Clubberjack said...

Welcome to Laundry Sessions, Foopy. Glad you like it. I'll have to check out your review of Hidden Agenda. Things have been a bit busy as we prep for GDC.


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