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About
I'm a somewhat new member to Destructoid, originally came here as a fan of the Twitch channel (now Phil & Spencer) and a fan of the original Podtoid crew of Jim Sterling, Conrad and Jonathan Holmes. These days I usually lurk the news section. May post more blog posts occasionally.
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This article was written before I recieved news today that AFK News will not be released soon. It may come one day, but it most likely wouldn't be a day any week soon. So I'll be returning back to my usual schedule of one-a-week for articles. However, I'll need to get back into the swing of things so the next article wouldn't be next week but the week after. After that point, it'll be a once-a-week schedule as usual. 

 

Edit: So the full title "Futurism Of The Oculus: A Consideration Of Possible Future Scenarios Due To Techology Advancement" couldn't fit in the title. So it's now shorten. 



 So when I went on board to take part in AFK News (it's coming, I promise), a few decisions were made about the type of content to reflect AFK News's goal of creating professional analyses of videogames. If you've worked on a social science paper, especially sociology, it's roughly the same style. This means things like to avoid a casual writing style, using language to signify ownership (e.g. “this paper will show” rather “I will show”) and baseless conclusions with no evidence. The last part is what makes it tough to talk about something I would like to: Futurism in Videogames, especially concerning the technology of the Oculus Rift.

Futurism, or Futurology, is the process of using current knowledge to attempt to predict future events. It tends towards using tools like extrapolation and assumptions to assume what may occur. For instance, there is a tendency to predict that humanoid robots will exist one day that will past the Turing Test (even if you may technically get the Chinese Room problems). This is born from our extrapolation of the progression of technology will continue unhampered, that our goals of said robots will not shift and similar assumptions. I explain this to help you recognise that not only this entire article is guess-work and I will likely be very off the reality, but also that I am aware of these problems.

However, despite this, I wish to discuss interesting possible sociological/psychological aspects that may come about from the Oculus Rift based on a video that inspired me to write this article. It will make the assumption a technology akin to the Razer Hydra (a product that is now discontinued) will exist, but technology will be discussed as well. It will also make the assumption that there will be a gradual shift towards games that use the Oculus Rift and other supporting technology, which I'll admit to being an assumption that flies in the face of how much people do not like motion sensor games at all, including me. Part of the reason for this assumption is how the Oculus Rift functions differently to existing motion sensors like the Kinect and the Move, and partially because the Oculus Rift looks like it actually works.

 

"As you can see, the Kinect operating machine works roughly 10% of the time. Looks pretty to investors, I don't doubt sir...Up to the point when they see we save people 10% of the time. Percentages increase if it's a simple routine operation like exploratory surgery on the knee...To about 40%."

 

The first aspect of this is a re-emergence of the “what is a videogame” conversation, as a new form of simulation is born. This new form of simulation will likely be due to the Oculus Rift's form of motion sensor technology being in the form of vision. With interactivity of being able to look around and, potentially few other things, it could be argued that it isn't a film. However, due to the low-level of interactivity, people will argue if it's a game. This is an example of what type of interactive-experiences may end up being born to cater to the simulation experience the Oculus Rift may offer.

Despite the discussion, I feel it'll be the type of question that'll already be answered by the reader and all forms of discussions are actually bitter arguments from the “is Gone Home a videogame?” discussion. However, due to the simulation-esque feel of the Oculus Rift, videogames that would normally appear too boring for standard audiences (e.g. Dear Esther) may get a resurgence. This could be due to people's curiosity being fed by the new form of presentation and a greater amount of immersion.

From this new venture into simulations and interactive-experiences, new technologies may come along. There are technologies that look to be designed with the Oculus Rift in mind. Two successful ones are the Razor Hydra, which is now discontinued, and the Virtuix Omni. While the Razor Hydra sought to replicate hand movements, the Virtuix Omni was designed to allow foot-movement to be detected.

However, naturally, there are downsides to both technologies. The Hydra does not have a device that can alter weight so a handgun is as heavy as a rocket launcher. While the Virtuix Omni has no way of detecting crouching or being prone. However, chances are is in time these problems will be fixed. A less commercially successful product was the Haptic Suit which gave feedback depending on where you were being hit in game. If it failed due to it's own limitations or due to people not wanting to feel it when they're shot is unknown.

 

Simultaniously the reason why it did as badly and as well as it did was because it lacked a lower-half part. This would be so you could punt people between the legs through the internet, rendering them hopefully sterile, every time they said or did something so stupid you died inside.

 

The other downside to the technology is how piecemeal it is currently. Put together, you'd be walking around on a pad with a harness on it, gripping two sticks as your controller, a headset on you and, assuming the Haptic Suit, having a suit on as well. It'd honestly be surprised if a company doesn't decide to combine all the technology together into one collection that functions with each other. If it's an existing company or a new one is unknown. If a guess had to be made, then it'd be Oculus VR which is now owned by Facebook, but it could quite easily be any other company.

The possible psychological impacts can be split into two sections, the positive outcomes and the negative outcomes.

Starting with the positive outcomes, there are a few but I'll cover two. The first is it can help potentially distressed individuals while they are in hospital. With the immersion the Oculus Rift potentially holds, it can distract patients who may be in pain and be unhappy with their environment or themselves (e.g. if they are using chemo, it may distract from the hair-loss and the weight loss that occurs). By putting the individual in an environment they may enjoy more, even if it's a simple walking through the garden simulation, it has the potential to raise their mood. Which by raising the mood of the individual, they have a greater chance to recover than someone who has given up.

Another such positive is it can allow people to experience things they may not be able to experience. While there will be elements that are very far away from being simulated, such as smells, tastes and being able to feel like you're walking when you're not, the Oculus Rift has the potential to become close. This creates the possibility to simulate things not out of entertainment or interest, but for a more positive psychological state for someone. One such example could be to alleviate some depression symptoms brought about because physical disability (e.g. damage to the spine) by simulating some experiences they enjoy such as travelling to foreign places or taking part in sports they loved.

 

Thanks to Oculus Rift, soon disabled elderly people may experience a joy they once experienced before being bound to a wheelchair: Chasing children who rang their doorbell and ran away, with belt and a lot of colourful language. 

 

Another example that has been theorised is it could help with transgenderism. By allowing the individual to experience a body of the opposite gender, they can determine how they feel in said body. BeAnotherLab did an experiment where two individuals could feel like themselves in a different body. By synchronising movements and wearing Oculus Rifts connected to a camera the other person is wearing, a person may feel what it's like to have a body of the opposite gender. This may help someone discover if they feel more natural as their original gender or as the opposite gender.

However, there are a few psychological problems that could occur from technologies such as the Oculus Rift.

One such problem is it may increase the addictive nature of videogames. By having greater immersion in a world where the individual is loved, praised and depended on, like a MMORPG, the greater the chance this may cause someone to disregard a world as rife with problems as their own actual lives and focus upon living in a world where they are psychologically satisfied. This is not to suggest however videogames addiction doesn't already exist (it does) or that it'll affect everyone (it wouldn't), but there may be a growing amount of cases. Although that excludes how this is reported cases, and videogame addiction is a condition that is increasingly being legitimised in the mental health field so the amount of people reporting it will most likely rise anyway.

Another problem is by creating greater immersion in the game-world, the events in the game have a greater effect on the player. While this on the surface is a very good thing, it does have the potential to cause some negative psychological repercussions. If a particular experience in a particularly immersive game ends up violent or traumatic, it could affect the individual negatively. For example, if there was a scene particularly violent, the individual may get PTSD symptoms.

Another example is an individual may end up mourning a character, either due to their death or due to the game ending. While there hasn't been a game example, besides the videos on Youtube of people crying about game characters they consider their waifu, there has been an example in film. After the release of James's Camaron's Avatar, a film with high special effects work, people began getting depressed. Accordding to the Huffington Post, there have been reports of depression and suicide on forums dedicated to the film Avatar. So the possibility exists for fictional events in a visual medium to invoke feelings of depression, even if it's just due to the fictional nature of the world. So isn't it possible a particularly immersive interactive-experience could invoke these feelings?

 

Sadly, like a character with plot armour plumetting to a death that consists of a floor of spikes, the fans of Avatar ultimately missed the point. 

 

The final interesting aspect to discuss is how this type of technology could theoretically revolutionise videogames as a sport. In it's current state, videogames tend to be a competition of tactics, reflexes and much more mental abilities. Physical strength and dexterity (besides reflexes) are left out of the equation. So, consider a videogame that used the Oculus Rift, Virtuix Omni and the Razer Hydra in conjunction that was created to function at competitive level. A FPS for instance. In that instance, a new skill list would be required.

To use a FPS simulation at competition level for an example, a skill list that could be required could include things such as stamina for running, fine motor controls for aiming, smaller body shape to decrease targeting area and maybe even the ability to quickly learn the environment if rules and levels were designed for the event as to prohibit reflexive actions that can occur in games like Counter Strike. This in turn could act to either legitimise or delegitimise videogames as a sport. Videogame culture could claim the virtual sporting event, thus allowing more tactical-based videogames to become a legitimate sport in the mainstream. However, it could become distant enough to typical videogames as to be considered not a videogame and possibly picked up by sporting circuit or simply not be a formalised competitive sport due to the lack of any backing.

 

Fortunately, I don't think having exhaustive knowledge of the many ways you can call someone offensive insults or imply the ways they screwed all of your family including the pet guinea pig would be part of the skill set of a competitive FPS simulation. Sending a false alarm to your competitor's local police station about your competitor holding children hostage however may be part of that skill set though. 

 

So, considering all the possibilities that future videogame technologies hold, it is naturally a future that looks simultaneously promising and one with problems. However, what the future will most likely hold is increasingly interesting technological advances that'll further increase engagement. It will be one naturally with some problems at the start, in a similar way that motion sensors on consoles has turned into a running joke. Even include some instances of people making some business decisions based on past logic that no longer applies, like different release dates globally for digital releases despite no shipping or colour encoding systems (e.g. PAL and NTSC) to consider.

However, especially with regards to possible psychological problems, we need to show caution. We need to be not afraid to say no to pushing the envelope, at least without any research into the effects. We need to be able to admit our videogames may cause harm in others, like they do today with regards to addiction. If we, as a culture, refuse to admit fault people's lives may be destroyed and we'll all be worse off for it. Every form of media has it's shady side. Such as snuff-films, corrupt journalism and moral panic inducing TV programs. It's okay to admit a shady side to videogames if future developments start suggesting harm is being committed. This article is all speculation, but grounded enough in reality that a possibility exists of it occurring. If our love for videogames blinds us from the harm it may cause rather than motivates us to improve it, then videogames will be demonised by the mainstream and all the work for legitimation of our medium in the last 40 years will be for naught.

However, if videogames ceased to be trying to be serious and legitimate, at least we could all bask in the warm flame and insane-song of increasingly tedious videogame debates. Worry not, because there will always be arguments to warm our bodies and lose our minds to.

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Hey, so this is my first blog post since joining AFK News (sadly don't have a link yet to it), and I wish to discuss something I will be doing for 61 days. This is a personal goal, for my own interests, but if others wish to join in I really recommend doing so.

On the 30th of September, I will purchase Sid Meier's Civilization: Beyond Earth and, if it's paid DLC, the Payday 2 DLC released on that day (the Hotline Miami one). From that point on, from the 1st of October to the 1st of December I will not buy a single video-game related item. Not an indulging of a deal on PSN or Steam. Not a Payday 2 DLC. Not even a Humble Bundle for less than £1. No games, DLC or added content. Anything relevant to videogames at all. This is for reasons beyond financial (as I'm not even buying $1 Humble Bundles), and dips into psychological.

As I've hinted at time and time again, I am someone with an anxiety disorder. It's something that has followed me from an early age. So, naturally, I found my own releases to deal with anxiety. A few can be seen as perhaps positive. Some like my tendency to wear my heart on my sleeve. I'm usually open how I feel emotionally. However, I also have some negative habits. I've had a long history of using alcohol as something to lean on during my teens, and somewhat a little bit during my early 20s during hard moments.

 

As much as I stole alcohol from my dad during my teens, I never stooped low enough to drink White Lightning. Even alcoholics have to have standards.

 

One tactic I've used to deal with my anxiety through-out my entire childhood and even today has been videogames. I grew up with them, and used them to get through a childhood that was spent pretty much in social isolation. That and the internet (a place that I had a few associates and no friends) were my two tools of helping to deal with things. However, when I moved out and went to university, the power of complete control of my life went to my head. I begun buying games on a whim, looking to play something that piqued my interest or held my attention. My standards of what would hold my attention for a length of time increased. So I bought more and more. Not usually at full price, but let's say that Humble Bundle's $1 for 3 to 5 games became a good friend.

If this is starting to sound like an addiction to videogames, I'm not so sure it's necessarily that. It's more an addiction to purchasing games. A rush of “maybe this is the game that'll captivate my interest” occurs when I buy a game. 99% of the time, my interest is not kept long. The wishful gazes of the title before purchases, and the rumours of just how this game is amazing and may change my life, just leaving me with something resembling a hang-over. A disappointing “...That's it?”, before I bumble off to see what new shiny games are being sold.

The reasons for this are somewhat self-inflicted as well as created by their own. As I've grown up with videogames, so has my demand of them. I demand more things of them. No longer I wish to be simply entertained by gunplay and sword-fights. I wish to be intrigued. I wish to be drawn into a world that makes me think about things I would not have thought of. I wish to be distracted not by gameplay but rather stories. My tolerance level and my expectations are now of an unachievable level. A level that I need to bring down myself.

However, another aspect to consider is Cryder, et al's paper on Misery Is Not Miserly. The short version is that sad individuals spend more than non-sad individuals. Their theory being that with the combination of a sad event and self-focus, it leads to devaluation of the self. Devaluation of the self leads to desire to enhance self. This in turn leads to the increase valuation of possessions that one may acquire. So with my state of social exclusion and anxiety, it's hard to have value in myself. I simply do not value myself much at all. So it's understandable that maybe, just maybe, this videogame will complete me and help me value myself more.

 

I'm sure on a sub-concious level I somehow thought "yes, a game where you shoot police officers and sometimes accidentally civilians as bank robbers as you steal cocaine, money, gold and guns will complete me psychologically some how" when I bought Payday 2. Then again, it is good fun.

 

I'll also admit that financial reasons are important as well to all of this. As I'll be leaving my home to live far away, hoping to get a job. I need to try to avoid as many avenues where I may lose money due to my own incompetence. Humble Bundles only cost $1, but I can be swayed easily to purchase a game or two on Steam that catches my eye for £20. I've also bought into quite a few Kickstarters that look interesting in my eyes.

I'll admit in this, I've rambled quite a lot. That it's very unfocused, very casual and very introspective. I'm not doing this to raise awareness of videogame addiction, nor have I adequately discussed it (maybe in AFK news in the future?). However, I wanted to write this for three reasons. First, I wanted to introspectively discuss this so I could understand this more myself. Secondly, I feel if I didn't put this down in paper then I can see myself backing out of it. At least in paper, it's harder to not feel like I'm betraying someone by caving in. Thirdly, I wanted to open up on my experiences so others may know of them. At the very least, so if someone is feeling somewhat similar or they wish to undertake a “videogame fast”, they may do without feeling alone. After all, it is hard sometimes to just say no. To deny the thing that you feel may complete you. I hope to further complete myself by denying said items for a while. Afterwards, well, I hope to spend money on videogames in a more controlled manner.


On a side note, damn the editor has changed. It means I can't do the dark-green text for captions. Also, I'm glad Payday 2's Crimefest is a thing. That should save me some money.

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Just a pre-word: So I have some good news and bad news for those who follow these posts. The good news is I was recently invited to work with The Scholarly Gamer (who hit front page a week or two back) on a new project he is doing called AFK News. I will be carrying on what I do here, talking about videogames in some form of analytical manner, but will be a smaller version (about between 1500 to 2000 words). Just look for something called Bitesize Issues when it starts soon. I'll likely edit this with a link when it does get posted so people know where to check it out. I'll be doing Bitesize Issues once a week.

The bad news though: Due to having more commitments (getting a job soon, Bitesize Issues, so on) and some real life illness, I'll have to reduce how often I do these posts. I already struggle as it is, I'll admit, to doing this once every two weeks. Let alone every single week. So to make sure future articles are of good quality and nothing else suffers, I feel I will reduce this to a "when it's done" schedule. You'll still have Bitesize Issues for a weekly treat of rambling, but this blog will be for when I want to pursue a more lengthy discussion or for when I want to just banter about something non-analytical. Anyway, I hope you enjoy this week's article.

__________________________________________________________________________
So, as anyone knows, there is the problems of Zoe Quinn. Most of it has already been said and done, and everyone has their opinions of the situation already. However, from the controversy surrounding Quinn, an interesting discussion has emerged.

Here is some back story: So on Reddit someone called SillySladar described how Zoe Quinn helped take down something called Rebel Jam which was being done by The Fine Young Capitalists (TFYC) and was about trying to get females to pitch ideas for games. These games  would then get made by an all-female developer (Autobotika), with all proceeds going to charity, with a small amount going to the pitcher. For more information, I'd say look it up as I'm trying to avoid getting involved with the Zoe Quinn situation.

TFYC decided to ask for donations, however I'll admit I can't find out if the donations would go to a charity of the donor’s choice or to TFYC for help with development. In the midsts of this, 4chan forums /pol/ (Politically Incorrect) and /v/ (Video Games) noticed the opportunity to help this jam, and decided to donate $10,000. They received a few rewards such as the donator's logo on the TFYC website for 6 months and loading screen of games sold. They picked a charity some money would go to, which was Colon Cancer Alliance (to “chemo butthurt”). They even got to make a character that would feature in the game: Vivian James. A personification of the /v/ forum.  


Complete with just absolute disgust with your taste in games, no matter what it is.


From this however, problems arose. A lot of criticisms were levelled at TFYC for accepting 4chan's donation, and it's one of the suspected motivations of the Indiegogo page being hacked.  Due to 4chan's perceived history of misogyny, it seemed counter productive to allow them to participate. So I wish to analyse if the source of donations is important. Especially as things like Kickstarter, Indiegogo and Patreon appear to be the common norm in videogame culture. However, due to no examples beyond the Vivian James situation, I will be focusing on it as the example. As always, and is my final warning I do this in my posts: If a spoiler for a videogame is in a paragraph I will write in italics above said paragraph the name of the game so you can skip it.

So let's get the obvious part of this out of the way: The actions of some, or even most, does not mean all members of a group act in the same particular way. It may seem like an obvious assertion that, say, not all those who self-identify as feminists don't consider moments of discrimination towards males as unimportant. Some feminists believe in getting rid of gender inequality, while others believe in breaking down and destroying the structures that reinforces patriarchy in our society. However, it's a common mistake to apply the noticeable details of a group to all those part of it.

While it's illogical, it's as natural  as the paranoia that you left the front door unlocked that creeps in when you're half an hour away. The psychological term for it is in-group out-group behaviour. This is a psychological phenomenon where people are affected by being part of a group (cultural, racial, gender, etc) and it affects a lot of things. Like for instance, it explains why some people can come off as stereotypes of their own social group. After all, being part of a group can instil a strong sense of self-worth and identity. While there's a few other things that go under the in-group out-group umbrella, there is one part that I wish to focus in on. Namely perceptions of participants in the in and out groups.


Schrödinger's Door is just simply the worst. It requires that trip back for it to slide in the reality of being locked or unlocked.


Now for a demonstration: I want you to think about those within videogame culture. Look at diverse they are. Some of you may even love how varied those within videogame culture is as it can enrich social interaction. Now consider your views of, say, football (soccer for Americans) fans. If you're a fan of playing sportsball, try to think about bronies. If you're both, well, pick a subculture you're not a part of. For various reasons, you'll tend to speak in general terms and with less attention to variation than you do of your own culture.

Now to bring it back to the view that 4chan is misogynistic. I do not deny there are activities over there that are misogynistic in nature. However, by declaring 4chan misogynistic, it assumes two things. First, it assumes that the /v/ and /pol/ board represent all of 4chan, rather than being their somewhat independent board. It's like suggesting The Red Pill, Depression or Mildly Interesting boards represent all of Reddit.

The second assumption, and is perhaps more generalisable, is it assumes the entire group shares a collective view on everything. Like if all X-Box One fans were collectively anti-abortion, or if all PS4 fans believed marriage is purely between a man and a woman. From what I can discern about /v/, they are a board united by a love of videogames. So why shouldn't there be some misogynistic individuals, as well as some who wish to support pro-gender equality causes? So while the donation is in /v/'s name, why should that mean it represents all of /v/? Why not represent just those who care?


If the fan-boys are to be believed, the X-Box One, PS4 and Wii U are all the worst consoles of this generation, and I believe there is truth to that.


The second thing worth discussing is the idea that accepting money involves an agreement beyond the contract. There are several tweets feeling a sense of disgust of TFYC accepting money from 4chan as it symbolises accepting some actions seen as unacceptable, disturbing and counter-productive to the TFYC cause. However, this ignores the bureaucratic contract.

A bureaucratic contract, put in it's most distilled and simplistic form, is a contract drawn between two parties to ask both people to act in a particular way. If it sounds vague, it's because it varies wildly. From cease-and-desist contracts (we wouldn't sue if you do not continue), to do-not-disclose  contracts (you get to play this, if you don't speak of it's contents). While the forming of said contract does often involve opening a line of communication between both people, they are contracted to act in a particular way.

So while TYFC and people from /v/ and /pol/ are communicating with each other, it does not mean an alliance. All it simply means, on it's core level, is TYFC is getting money in exchange for offering services that have fine print to them. Said fine print includes TFYC stopping the deal if they feel what is asked of them is not to their taste (e.g. if they had to design a character that is sexually exploitive). What this means that while 4chan does offer misogynistic content, TFYC can at any point close the deal if they feel it is inappropriate. While they are acting friendly to each other, that does not indicate a friendship or an alliance. Nor does it indicate TFYC respecting everything 4chan related. If people wish to prove TFYC is accepting content of 4chan that is sexist, better proof will need to be found than simply accepting a contract.


Did it stop people from making their own NSFW sexually exploitive pictures of Vivian? It sure didn't.


A third aspect of this is the genetic fallacy. While this fallacy is very similar to the first point about 4chan being very varied, it is a bit more specific than that. This fallacy is where someone assumes a message to be correct or incorrect based on the individual delivering this. Taken to it's extremes, it can lead to such insane statements like “vegetarianism is wrong because Hitler was a vegetarian”.

4chan is a place with a very negative reputation, especially in the eyes of those who believe they value social rights highly. 4chan has been seen an anarchic place that brings out the worst in individuals. A cesspit filled with racism, homophobia, sexism, anti-Semitism and many more labels indicating their offensiveness towards different social groups. It isn't known for it's community spirit helping others, especially with avenues such as donating money to a pro-women representation cause such as TFYC. So when it does reach out and help TFYC, some how the acceptance of TFYC as a good cause by /v/ and /pol/ shines a negative light on TFYC in the process.

It's obvious that to invoke a fallacy is a negative thing to do in a discussion. As by invoking a fallacy, it's a sign of using poor logic to create a conclusion. However, another fallacy does exist which will open up the second part of this article: The argument from fallacy. A fallacy where if someone spots an argument containing a fallacy and therefore concludes the argument is incorrect. I have talked about all the problems with the assumption of being fearful who pledges to a project, and I guess it's now to admit there may be some truth to the arguments.


Sometimes, the planets align in just the right way, and the conspiracy theorists turn out to be correct.


The first of this is what does the money pay for, and methods to corrupt this. When /v/ and /pol/ paid $10,000 to TFYC, they received some things in return. The part that has drawn the most attention from everyone is the inclusion of a character in whatever game is created. This character has to be cleared by TFYC, and is then up for interpretation by them. Despite this, there are two methods of manipulation that can occur: Covert and overt manipulation.

Overt manipulation would likely involve black-mailing TFYC. By forcing the group behind the Kickstarter project to include as asked or face a refund, it can potentially force someone to allow a more risky pledger inclusion or face losing money. Of course, if the pledge was something like $125, it'd be unlikely to force the risky character into the game. However, if the pledge was at least $10,000, maybe it's more likely they'll allow that female character to be a bit scantly clad.

A more covert means of manipulation either involves sneaking thing under the radar or doing things outside the system with relation to that. For instance, say if you're trying to sneak an immigration message into a game like Darkest Dungeon. You may decide to pledge to name a character and/or item, and then use slang terms to make references to it. You may try to make the item function in a way to hint at the immigration debate. I'll admit to it being a crude method of sneaking said message in, but possible.

What may be more possible is to make allusions to your contribution with relation to your message. Using my previous example. Maybe you could design a fabled item that a hero you named tends to use. Then hire a good fan-fiction writer to write a story about said hero and item, and pepper it with references to the debate you have. Then just post it for free on the Darker Dungeon (Darkest Dungeon fan-website) forums. If it reaches popularity, it may act as a form of subliminal messaging.

However, as you can probably tell as I'm describing it, it is an approach with problems. First, the group can turn around and say “no” at any point for any reason. At least with regards to Kickstarter, the people behind it can refund and refuse service for any reason as they desire. They can cut down all forms of manipulation if they can feel it. Secondary, it would be hard to submit a message/concept of some kind besides simple advertisement without feeling clunky. It's hard to say “Zoe Quinn is a terrible individual” in a name, it's easier to just make a reference to /v/ forum.

This brings me to the second element of truth that is similar to the first. That the pledging acts as a ploy to achieve a particular goal. Rather than something getting pledged a lot of money out of genuine interest, it is rather being funded to fuel an ulterior motive. This motive can vary, but becomes potentially problematic if the goals differ from the Kickstarter goal.

The main example I have for this is actually the Vivian James example. According to a screenshot on KnowYourMeme, /pol/ originally picked up on helping TFYC in the first place to not only spite Zoe Quinn and other Social Justice Warriors, but also to create good press for the board. “Can you imagine? 4Chan attacks the cancer and simultaneously sponsors the chemo AT THE SAME TIME. We'd be PR-untouchable”.

However, there's two factors about this: The first one assumes that everyone is using the same logic and everything about it is about creating good PR and spiting Zoe Quinn. The first part of that, I covered earlier. The second part, I can't help but think this isn't really much different to other groups donating money for good PR. In 2013, Microsoft donated $113 million for non-profit organisations and charitable causes. Leaving motives aside, it's hard to deny that this level of charity contribution does create positive PR. I'll admit that I don't believe that those who did the ALS challenge were met with anything except praise and sympathy for the cause. It may not be a positive thing, but it's not as corrupting as I believe people make it out to be.


I'm not sure EA could amass enough money to salvage their reputation. I'm not even sure if Bobby Kotick could be redeemable in anyone's eyes no matter what he does from this point onwards.


The second factor is it assumes that by it being a ploy, takes it away from the bureaucratic contract in place. The one that allows the person behind the Kickstarter/Indiegogo/etc to stop at any point. For instance, if TFYC believed the ploy to be unacceptable, they can walk away from the deal. The fact they haven't, shows that at the most cynical level: Sometimes you just need money, without compromising your ultimate goal. At a more likely level, they believed that the /v/ and /pol/ board to be, while perhaps a bit immature, caring about the issue on some level and enthusiastic to designing their character.

In the end though, I believe Vivian James to be an interesting experiment. It was interesting, at least at some level, as a demonstration for many things. It's not often, if it does occur, for a group to take advantage for pledge-based websites to further their own PR. Nor is it often for a character to be created by many loosely connected individuals in the chaotic maelstrom that is 4chan's boards, and for the character to be something that could work as a representative figure of a female videogame player. In perhaps a more schadenfreude moment, it was interesting to see a pro-female videogame representation group to feel failed by their own movement after a representation of that movement abandoned them and destroyed then. Then, in a moment of falling out of favour, they got picked up by “the CATHEDRAL of misogyny” (words of Ariel Connor, who is possibly Anita Sarkeesian according to a picture on Know Your Meme) who proceeded to donate over $10,000 becoming TFYC's biggest donor for a few days.

I'll admit that I wish I had more examples to offer out, but as Kickstarter is relatively new (as well as the similar websites like Indiegogo) it leads to me to rely on the fiasco as a bit of a crutch to explain some interesting aspects to this. Just in the end, no matter how much power you feel a pledger may have, the person asking for pledges always has the opportunity to say no. While it may be a stab at some who may be too weak to say no, it's rather my possibly awkward way of saying:   do not worry about suspect pledgers, the group behind the project trusts the pledger or does not know anything. All you can do is inform them as much as you can if you feel it may create problems, and trust in them to make the decision they feel will benefit the project the most.


For some reason Vivian (who's nickname according to her bio is Clover) reminds me of Clover from the Zero Escape series. It would be nice if it wasn't for creeping fear that tingles down my spine at the name.
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So, two weeks ago I wrote about mental disorder representation in games. I'll admit to it being a somewhat rambling piece where I discussed positive and negative representations of mental disorder (although, it was mostly on depression, and a bit on schizophrenia). I had dipped into some of the reasons why negative representation occurs, but I wish to further elaborate as it is a complex issue. It's an occurrence that has many reasons, some that is the blame of people and others that are inherent to mental disorders.

So in this article, I will be talking about five of the factors that influence the representation of mental disorders in videogames. The list is hardly exhaustive, and even includes some overlaps in terms of the effects they have, however the items listed do appear to be some major problems to consider.  Like I said last time, keep in mind that I am not a professional in the mental health field so I may be incorrect. As always, if a paragraph contains a spoiler of a videogame, I will write in italics the videogame name before the paragraph so you know to skip it.

So the first influence exists outside the videogame industry, and more in the videogame industry's biggest inspiration: Hollywood. An inspiration that runs deep for many reasons and shows up in many ways. One such way this Hollywood Effect shows up is the drive for cinematic gameplay, which is gameplay that mimics the cinema experience. This inspiration does end up affecting the representation of mental illness. For instance, the display of schizophrenia in Lynch in Kane & Lynch: Dead Men is influenced more by pop culture than fact. This leads to sometimes simplistic (e.g. Darkest Dungeon with regards to all mental illnesses) and sometimes flat out wrong (e.g.  Billie Church in Clive Barker's Jericho as schizophrenic, although credit is due that they didn't make her a violent schizophrenic which is a low low percentage of schizophrenics) representations of mental illness.


Ah yes, the Hollywood cinematic experience.


Very similar to this influence, is also why some mental disorders are under-represented in videogames (e.g. personality disorders, at least as a non-enemy which occurs due to the Hollywood Effect). Like clothing, mental illnesses can become fashionable in the media. These can occur for various reasons, such as awareness campaigns (for depression) and popular films (then Multiple Personality Disorder due to Three Faces Of Eve, now is Dissociative Identity Disorder).  As the mental disorder enters the public eye, the portrayal of them can become people's perception of the condition. For example, the representation of schizophrenics by the news (as violent crimes committed by those with schizophrenia leads to a focus on them having schizophrenia) leads to the viewpoint that schizophrenics are violent. If there has been no representation, or a negative representation, this can lead to an inaccurate and potentially offensive perception of the mental disorder.

What these two influences have in common is they're rooted in the source of information of mental illness. Out of the five factors, these two are the easiest to solve as they involve doing research on mental health. While it's impossible to suddenly know of a mental illness's existence, it is possible to rectify misconceptions of a mental illness you wish to cover. There is the dry way of doing it of reading through the psychological theory behind the condition.

However, at the very least there should be reading of those with the condition (either written by those with it, or a company who has no motivation to twist it) or perhaps watch a documentary on it. While it is not everyone's goal to give an accurate portrayal, and that's fine (e.g. Darkest Dungeon is pulpy while focusing more on stress management), but if you wish to attempt for a correct portrayal research needs to be done to avoid creating misconceptions.


No.


The next two problems that exist with regards to the portrayal of mental disorders in characters does stem from what is a mental disorder and how is it classified.

The first is the vagueness of mental disorders. Let's consider one of the most popular mental disorders: Depression. This is a mental disorder that is classically characters by feeling depressed. A sensation described by the NHS as “[feeling] sad, hopeless and [losing] interest in things you used to enjoy”.  Using this simple description actually helps illustrates some of the problems of diagnosing. So when it says you have to feel sad, how sad is sad enough? After all, sadness is not an on-and-off switch but rather a degree of severity. Do you just have to feel uncomfortable with your current situation, or have to be crying at night? With regards to hopelessness, are we talking about a feeling of unable to change things or about things are about to go terribly and there's nothing you can do? Do you have to lose interest in one thing, or everything?

There are other symptoms to go along with this, each one of these have to be self-reported by the individual feeling these sensations. They first have to be acknowledged as abnormal thoughts and not just “things that just happen”. Next, they have to be described to a professional who uses their perception on the narrative being told to decide if the individual does or does not have a mental disorder. If they do have one, then which mental disorder do they have? There are many problems with self-reporting symptoms for diagnosis, but I will only talk about one to save time (if people want me to elaborate, I'll be willing to write a future article on it).

In 1974, Loftus and Palmer devised an experiment. They showed people a clip of a car-crash, and then asked how fast the cars were going when they smashed/collided/bumped/hit/contacted. Depending on the word used in the question, people estimated the cars were travelling at different speeds. By the use of a singular word, the memory of what they had seen had been altered. Consider what would happen if an individual used the phrase “Lately, I've been sad/depressed a lot”. It's simplistic to boil it down to a phrase, I'll admit, but phrases can load the rest of the conversation and create expectations. This type of phrasing is most likely unintentional, but the effects are the same.


Surprisingly, in the study they didn't use the question "How fast do you think the car was going when it crashed after being stalked/hounded/harassed/chased/tailed by the press."


Things like shows that mental disorders is actually a very complex yet vague thing. The difference between mentally ill and mentally well is an imbalance of hormones, a singular event and/or a phrasing of something as abstract and complex as mental thoughts. So to be able to convey something this abstract and complex in a plausible, interesting and representable manner is a hard task. Especially while making the mental disorder noticeable for people to pick up on with a resemblance of certainty, but not  invasive enough to make the character a singular note. After all, things like a mental disorder can colour a character, but it shouldn't be the entire colour nor unnoticeable.

Now, if this wasn't hard enough, you face the second problem: The variation of those with the same condition. While not impossible, it's hard to find two people who experience the same mental disorder in the same way. Two people with autism will very likely experience anxiety differently, struggle with social interaction/language in different ways and feel attached to order for different reasons. That's even ignoring severity of mental illnesses do vary wildly from barely noticeable to being required to live their life in a ward. So this creates a problem: How do you make a mental disorder representable?

The only hope you have is to avoid depicting the same type of symptoms. Talking about the schizophrenic with the paranoid sub-category is a tale that is old, especially with regards to aliens or governmental conspiracy. What about the Residual Type, where hallucinations and delusions are in a low intensity? Maybe you can have an autistic individual who isn't high functioning, but rather low-functioning?


Neo Nazi without a balding problem?



These two problems are things that can not be helped really as they stem from the complexity of human thought. As mentioned, one of the main ways you can help create an interesting and believable character is to pick a less mainstream interpretation of the condition that still falls in line of what is to be expected of the condition. Besides that, all that can be done is to be cautious, do research on people with the condition and go from there.

The final problem is one that affects some conditions more than others. Some mental disorders can be hard to represent in a way that doesn't create other problems. Some scenes that could appear in videogames due to mental illness of a character could be distressing, not only to those without the condition but also those with it. A classic example of this is suicide in videogames. In those without the condition, it can stir up reminders if they knew someone who also killed themselves as well as be particularly shocking to the player. To those who have thought about suicide, it can trigger suicidal thoughts as they are reminded of the desire to leave. This is why on some websites, they use the term “trigger warning” if they are about to talk about suicide, so those who may be triggered by themes such as this can avoid seeing it.

Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward

Likely due to it being a touchy subject, is why suicide is relatively rare in videogames and why experiencing the individual committing the act is especially rare. Off the top of my head, the main example I can think of where a game depicts an individual trying to commit suicide on screen is Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward. One of the times you experience a child who is 10 yelling “I have to get out of this body! They can't lock away the soul! Once my body's gone, my soul can escape! Please! You have to let me go! I'm trapped here! Let me die! I have to die!”. There are more like this. While it's not due to a mental disorder, it's obvious that this could act as a trigger to some.

So, needless to say, great care has to be made crafting characters doing things that could create severe discomfort in the player. Unless, of course, that's the point, which is fair enough. Although at least warnings should exist if such themes are in the game so those who may be triggered by suicides in videogames can avoid it.

So, as stated earlier this is hardly a comprehensive intense look at all the problems of depicting mental disorders in videogames, but they are a few factors that I believe are important to note. However, as I've stated a few times through-out, it's okay for a videogame to not try to depict mental illnesses in a realistic fashion if it serves the goal. It's okay for Darkest Dungeon to take hints from the pen & paper game Call Of Cthulhu in infecting it's characters in a Hollywood-esque depiction of various mental illness. It's okay, because the simplistic nature of doing so allows the player to not get bogged down about the ins-and-outs of each condition. However, the developers shouldn't expect anyone to find a character that is built badly with the mental illness poorly implemented remotely interesting or enjoyable.


Horror games where the main source of fear is of those with mental disorders are even worse than bad characters.



While I haven't dabbled really with regards to trying to simulate mental illness in videogames, a lot of the problems mentioned above do apply. Especially the complexity, as you are trying to simulate why a mental disorder creates one way of thought rather than another. As said before, the closest I know of a good mental illness simulator is Depression Quest as it uses mechanics to show how some options can be cut off due to feeling too depressed or hopeless. Although I do hope in the future that there are more depictions of characters with mental illnesses and good simulations of mental illness. As isn't one of the goal of videogames to help explore new and exciting narratives?

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So, through-out this article I've discussed the problems of mental health diagnosing. However, I speak from an element of personal experience that it is better to seek help rather than suffer in silence.

During my fourth year at university, then doing a Masters in Social Research Methods, I had slowly been stressed out. I had lost friends, one or two friends I knew had finished their three year course and moved away and I was slowly becoming distrustful of the field (as I learned some ins-and-outs that somewhat disgusted me about sociology). I'd even had to abandon going home for Christmas (I lived the other side of the country) so I could catch up with work that I'd slacked off due to focusing problems.

It was in January that things started really going badly. I had received some shocking news about someone I knew (all I'll say is it wasn't a health issue, and it didn't really affect me in any real way), I had deadlines around the corner and I was surrounded by people who were obviously not on a similar mental thought pattern so I had no one to really discuss things with. So I began failing things I should have passed, as I was unable to focus in on the work. I began panicking more-so than usual. I had to even excuse myself from lectures a few times so I could take a breather as being in the room made me feel miserable.

It took a few months of this, to finally admit defeat and look for counselling help. The first meeting was just an assessment meeting, and upon talking about most of the symptoms (I kept some things to myself) and even included my previous mental health diagnosis, they labelled me with depression and told me to go get medication. I responded that I'd rather just have the CBT, and no medication.

Both counsellors who I saw in the limited time I had left before I ended up full out failing the course were people who saw past the easy diagnosis and said it was my existing anxiety-condition being more intense.

While I can't say if certainty if they helped me out of the emotional problems I was having, they could have gone for an easy diagnosis and tried to get me on medication. Instead, they decided to help with the anxiety I was facing which had started to create depression-like symptoms with CBT.

So, despite all the problems I've mentioned as well as more (e.g. preferring type I error to type II error (a.k.a prefer to diagnose where no mental illness exists, than to not diagnose where one exists)), it's still important to look for help if you need it. Failing seeking help in the usual counselling/psychiatric way, there are communities out there willing to talk about any mental health issues such as Reddit. This isn't limited to depression, which in the wake of Robin Williams is the in-thing, but includes many other types of conditions if you feel you must discuss them. Just don't worry, there's always someone somewhere out there happy to just listen.


I think after all that, we could both do with some nice pictures.



Note: I'm sorry this took two weeks to write. It was due to me getting a bit ill recently. Not entirely over the illness, but I'm nearly there I think.
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Part of the joy of videogame narratives are the different experiences they can offer us. It is a rich field where we can feed upon the fruits of alternative lives we may never live. We can feast upon the flesh of an action packed life where we save the world through the way of the gun. We can taste the life of the artful way to combat through sword and magic. We can even munch upon the feeling of being in a colourful world which we can explore at our leisure. We are increasingly raising awareness of what flavours we haven't explored, as racial, gender and sexuality representations are being raised. However, some stories present something not fun, but yet interesting in it's own way. I wish to talk about an area of representation that is, well, unrepresentative and presents a very unfun story. I wish to talk about mental illness in video games.

I wish to skip the part where I explain why talking about mental health is important, as it seems obvious. If you're not sure, the cliff notes are: ¼ of people in the UK will experience some form of mental health issue in the course of a year. It is also still an area that faces a lot of discrimination in the form of things such as poor perceptions of what those with a mental illness are like, and being fired from a job over it. It's important enough to warrant examination by videogames as not only a form of awareness but also because it can affect the plot in a particular way that can make something interesting. The article will mainly be exploring the different ways videogames explore mental illness, and the good and negative sides of it. These will be separated by the type of mental illness. If a discussion of a spoiler will be occurring, I'll begin the paragraph with an italics name of the game. Just skip until the paragraph end, and you'll be fine.  I will be limiting myself to games I've played, so I apologise to missing other games. With regards to diagnosing, I will be using the DSM IV guidelines, although be aware this is an interpretation and I am not a professional.


Unless you mean a professional in crude photo manipulation. I can do that.


So, the first mental illness to talk about is the most popular mental illness to depict, as well as one of the most diagnosed around the world: Depression. Older games never approached this topic, as it's one of the mental illnesses that have no whimsical or fascination of the condition. The symptoms are obvious and the results are severe. It's not even the type of mental illness that “oh, now I don't have it by this point, I'll never have it” like some age specific conditions or developmental illnesses. However, due to it's position as a mental illness that anyone can suffer with (although there are factors that increase or decrease the likelihood), most games featuring depression tends to act as an awareness campaign.

One such example is the aptly named Depression Quest. This is a text-based choose-your-adventure game where you play as a early-20s to mid-30s male who has a girlfriend, a job and depression. The twist in the tale is you're not playing as someone diagnosed with depression, just someone who fits all the symptoms and is not sure what to do. The game presents it's self to say “if you suffer with symptoms, seek help, otherwise you're not going to get better”. If you decide anything less than that, you will get an ending that suggests that, at best, things aren't going to get better or worse. At worse, you decide to seek the only way out you can think of and find peace. It's free to play and actually works very well as an awareness campaign.

However,  due to the sensitive nature of the mental condition, it's one that people don't tread lightly.  Some of the symptoms of depression do crop up in some games if to indicate severe hopelessness. This is either played to the standard narrative of “things getting worse/dire before they get better” (e.g. Final Fantasy 7), or as a punishment (e.g. Persona 4). However, depression in characters does show up but usually far and few and never in the main character unless if trying to make a point (e.g. Max Payne has been hinted to have depression, especially in Max Payne 3). It's never labelled so, but hinted. Rather than dwell on bad examples (e.g. Darkest Dungeon, which is a game I have a lot of respect for actually), I may as well list two good examples.

Transistor

At the beginning of the game, we awake Red to find a corpse next to her and a sword in him. She takes the sword, that begins to talk to her. Guiding her what to do. The first thing that should be apparent is Red's silent nature. As shown, before the event Red was not only someone who wasn't silent but was even a singer. She also navigates the game with a constant scowl on her face, save for some brief moments of a flicker of bliss as she hums to a tune as she hugs her sword. As it turns out, her lover was the one was dead and she returns back to him at the end. Only to impale herself with said sword, to return to her love. Everything here would indicate bereavement. A loss of voice (that could be down to choice), no real appearance of joy and by the end the wish to die to join her lover. The only hint this may not just be simple bereavement is, I'll admit, a weak link. This concerns how she quit singing for a period of time as she noticed the effect her voice has. It was only after a long time in solitude, save her lover, that she came back to try to sing, only to have her lover killed for her trouble. The fact she stopped singing in public, and then ceased to talk, could be a sign of excessive guilt due to her belief that her voice hurts others, and even killed her lover who was innocent in all of this. It's a subtle display that doesn't look to hit you in the face with it, but there is a real possibility there.


Sometimes, you can't even be mad, just upset.



Silent Hill 2

The second subject is not James Sunderland, but rather one of the people who he meets.  Angela Orosco is someone who is drawn to Silent Hill after murdering her father, an act committed due to years upon years of abuse. Angela is someone who grew up being sexually abused by her father for years while her family did nothing despite knowing. After killing her father, she runs to Silent Hill where she presents herself as a suicide risk, even wishing James had left her to die. Angela comments how she deserved what happened to her, and the fiery staircase is the type of environment she sees everywhere, hinting at hell (taking a subtle nod of Jacob's Ladder's use of biblical symbolism).  Even without making references to the DSM, it's clear she has some form of depression as she shows a lack of enjoyment in things and a severe amount of melancholy. Even without a tear shed, she shows a lot of sadness.

However, besides awareness campaigns, it's usually incredibly vague if someone is depressed or just sad. Rather than hinting, it seeks to avoid the question. Someone is sad, but you're never sure if this is sadness where it can be fixed with time, or depression where it tends not to. It acts a motivation drive for some characters to find someone who's left seeming particularly sad, but even in the face of suicide it's never clear if it's depression.

Corpse Party and Corpse Party: Book Of Shadows

Seiko Shinohara, for instance, ends up killing herself. However, it's never out of depression. She does feel despair and heart-break, a theme that is explored more in the second game, but if she did kill herself it wouldn't be a depressed moment. As grief and depression differ from each other, and it's a supernatural place that does encourage succumbing to hopelessness. I'm, of course, ignoring the part where it turns out that Seiko's love interest Naomi is actually the person who kills her and playing “what if”. However, videogames do this a lot where they may have a suicide, but they'll refuse to commit to saying if it was depression.


Although a warning, playing Corpse Party: Book Of Shadows may break you like it broke me. I've never been so angry I laughed since or before playing the game.


So with regards to depression specific problems, it does tend to be a poor representation of depression outside of awareness games. Suicides are covered up, almost to the level of how much suicide used to be covered up, at in comparison to Durkheim's study's finding. Plus, main characters never end up having depression unless if they're destined to be “cured” or if they're being punished.

The only other game to talk about features an examination of schizophrenia within games. Schizophrenia is a mental condition that is classically characterised by psychotic episodes of hallucinations and delusions, however is a lot more general than that. These include disorganised speech which is an indication of thought disorder, catatonic behaviour and social or occupational dysfunction.  The game in question is one I've talked about quite a lot actually as it is an useful game for talking about things.

Kane & Lynch: Dead Men

It's made obvious from early on that Lynch is schizophrenic. The classic type of schizophrenic, the type with hallucinations and delusions.  However, the penny drops when in the midst of a bank robbery, Lynch starts shooting the hostages in a panic. You just hear him shooting while muttering “THINK YA COULD SNEAK UP ON ME, COULD YA?!” on the radio. You then walk into the main lobby as Kane and witness Lynch gunning down civilians in a panic. This stereotypical portrayal of schizophrenia, a side-plot brought up only one more time as a passing comment, is only redeemed by the co-op portrayal of the scene. Due to co-op featuring the second player playing as Lynch, you get to see what Lynch sees, which includes the civilians turn into police.

The only other game that features a comment about schizophrenia is Clive Barker's Jericho as Billie Church has schizophrenia. However, it deserves only a passing reference as it revolves Billie relying on her teddy bear to protect her, thus serving as one of two comments. Either it's an interesting social commentary on the difficulties of diagnosing someone with a mental illness based on self-reported symptoms; or more likely it's Clive Barker not understanding schizophrenia.

There are many other games out there that tackle with mental illness, but the themes are usually so vague as diagnosing is impossible. It's a generic “oh, they're crazy”, a typical archetype of villain in videogames. The only other videogame out there that may tackle mental illness correctly may be Killer 7, but this creates two problems. The first is the mental illness in question is dissociative identity disorder, an illness that has had a lot of disputes over the years of if it exists. The second is a personal admittance of not having played it.


Although naturally for a Suda 51 game, you shouldn't let reality get in the way.


To my knowledge, there are no games out there that tackle other forms of mental illness, such as anxiety-related ones, personality-related illnesses (without making them the villain) and autism, a mental illness that has had a recent surge in diagnosis. These have different reasons really. I've out lined a few, with a focus on why depression has been presented the way it has. However, I think to do the topic justice and really explain why it is the way it is, I think I may need to do a follow up article out-lining it. Just think of this article as the ground-work to next week's article.  So come back next week, and hopefully there will be a better article which seeks to analyse the problems with videogames and psychology of why representation of mental illness is poor.

Writing note: I wish to apology for the article. The more I wrote on it, the more I realised it was a lot deeper hole than I gave it credit for. I thought separating it into mental illnesses would help, but due to videogames steering clear of remotely being clean-cut in diagnosis it became too hard to do so. Not to mention, most of the problems and positives are rather non-mental illness specific. While I could have re-written, time became short and I wanted to stick to a schedule to help get into the swing of writing. I'm hoping next week I can fix this by just discussing less the "how" and more the "why" videogames have bad portrayals of mental illness. Again, I'm really sorry.
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I'll admit in advance this is going to be a lot more lighter, but that's because this is very last minute as the original topic turned out to be a lot more intensive than I original figured. I would also like to express severe thanks to all those who read my blog. I'm grateful beyond belief as without you people I would have given up at the first hurdle. If you, the reader, have any suggestions please feel free to comment with them.

This is currently a rather open-ended blog with a focus just on computer games so I'm currently reaching out for a lot of variation of topics. The first week was a recommendation of a game (which I am really considering doing a weekly or fortnightly series where I recommend games that perhaps are a little under the radar or informs in some way), second week was about a video game political issue and now I'm going to be talking about writing bad characters. So feel free to throw any ideas, even ideas of what direction I could take this blog. I do read all the comments and often reply. Again, thank you, and let's get on with the show.

I write this rough guide as both a fan of bad protagonists, and also someone who does write them. I consider Kane & Lynch: Dead Men to contain some of the best characterisation in any game to date, but consider Clive Barker's Jericho to have the worst, and is my personal worst game I've ever played. These are two games that contain bad characters, characters who do bad things and aren't meant to have any sympathy felt for, but you're meant to be rooting for these guys. I was tempted to use the term “villain protagonist”, but Kane & Lynch aren't people seeking to do something awful but rather some good in the only way they know how: In the most awful ways possible.


I try to avoid characters who end up as a bad protagonist due to player choices, or I'd be here all day.


So I will be going through four of the ways you can create a narrative that allows a bad protagonist in a story to be liked, however understand there are many other ways and a lot of the ways are grey areas that are steeped in opinion. I wish to also warn you there will be spoilers ahead for games as we will be assessing narratives and characterisation, but each section will list which games will be discussed so if you don't want spoilers feel free to skip a section.

Relatability In Problems
Kane & Lynch: Dead Men vs GTA 5

This is actually something that can be applied to non-bad protagonists, but is extra important with regards to bad protagonists. You're going to be making your protagonist do some pretty awful things most likely, awful enough that by normal standards they would be a villain in a game. So you need to have these actions have a good reason why they are doing it, that the audience not only understands but relates to as well. Otherwise you lose the audience and they damn the character to just being irredeemable.

Kane & Lynch: Dead Men has a lot of complaints put at their door, as I've discussed before. Jim Sterling, back when he was at Destructoid, described Kane as “irredeemable and downright grotesque”. However, I wish to argue that while he is grotesque, he isn't beyond all forms of redemption. After all, it is a tale of Kane making a truly awful mistake with the facts he had, understanding he is to be killed for it and now is trying to find the money so his family doesn't get killed. The method he does to try to fix this shows him as a terrible human being clutching at straws to save his wife and child. This shows he's still got something inside of him that isn't beyond all saving.

Just by wanting to save his wife and child, and by accepting his punishment for his actions, he shows himself as a professional who wishes to atone for his crimes if to save the only people who matters to him, even if they despise him back. It's relatable the idea of making a grave mistake and trying to fix it any way you can, even if it may be some of the most disturbing ways possible.


Kane tries to ask his neighbour if he can borrow their lawnmower for the weekend the only way he knows how: With their daughter bound and kept watch by a schizophrenic man with a shotgun.


In contrast to this, I wish to present to you Trevor from GTA 5. I wish to start by saying that Trevor does fit into the GTA 5 setting well and makes for an enjoyable character to play as. However, relatable? Oh no, not remotely. In the game, this works as GTA 5 works less of a narrative driven game and more of a distilled form of escapism. It shows in how Trevor is roughly as relatable as creatures of the cave such as Dagon, Hydra and David Cameron. What is his problem? Well, he wants to run a drug empire but surprisingly people have a problem with him dealing drugs. There's also the whole “betrayal of Michael” sub-plot. However his primary motivation sits as he wants to make a lot of money and deal with those angry because of that. So, unless you're someone who has a meth lab, then you're going to have a hard time finding Trevor relateable. Even then, there is Breaking Bad if you're not someone of insanity side of the spectrum.

Design Of The Character’s Image
Heavy Rain vs the Uncharted series.

If there is one thing the media loves to do, is remind us that evil is ugly. Look at the protagonist and the antagonist of your favourite live action film or tv series (doesn't work as well with animation, but it's still there in a way). Now assuming the protagonist isn't an anti-hero; you'll notice the protagonist will be an individual who is at worst “Hollywood ugly” (where they aren't really ugly by normal standards, but in an utopia of the master race some how are considered hideous) and at best a sex object. In contrast, assuming the antagonist isn't someone who uses charisma to get their way, they'll be at best “Hollywood ugly” standard, and at worst deformed hideously.

Unlike most Hollywood tropes, this depiction has elements of truth. If your hero is the type to work out, eat healthily and are psychologically stable, then they will tend towards the more attractive end of the scale (excluding use of beauty products). If, however, your antagonist (or, in this case, the bad protagonist) is the type to be under stress, doesn't work out, eats whatever they can and are a few sociopaths short of a political party mentally, then their skin and hair at least will show wear-n-tear. That's excluding scars which, if you're written to be more slack with safety and doctor visits, you're going to have them. A bad protagonist without wear, will tend to look like they haven't lived life and seem to be mean spirited for no reason. While this tends to be less of a writing thing in video games (thanks to the recent advance of actually having art in games), it's something to keep in mind if you're having to describe characters.

I use “bad protagonist” in the loosest sense of the word as I use Scott Shelby from Heavy Rain as an example of good character design. While he starts out as a private detective and as though someone who is trying to help, by the end it's revealed he was the killer all along. A man broken at childhood due to an abusive father who wouldn't help him save his brother's life, so he's made to watch him drown. Scott is an over-weight and greying man with wrinkles, creases and spots. His eyes hold drooping bags, and his skin has an unhealthy shimmer to it with bumps all over. As much as people give David Cage a lot of criticism, especially with regards to his focus on graphics to deliver plot, in this case he's nailed a character design that fits with the back-story while appearing believable. Although considering it's based on the voice actor's appearance, it's understandable why.

The example of this done badly is Nathan Drake from the Uncharted games. Another odd choice of example I'll admit, as Nathan Drake is presented as a hero. However, his actions come across in the rest of the game as being an anti-hero at the most redeemable and a bad protagonist at worst as he splatters the brains of those who are not-American, seduces as much women as possible and has the inability to feel bad. This could make for an interesting analysis of a sociopath, but any attempts to depict Nathan Drake as anything but a typical Hollywood hero doesn't exist.

Nathan Drake is a man in his late 20s-early 30s, with a stubble. He has a strong jawline, perfect skin and short brown hair that is non-shaved. Not an imperfection in sight, and not a sign of wear-and-tear associated with dealing with the ills of life. Considering Nathan Drake, I can't help but think a film has already been made about him and it's called American Psycho. As he's killing as many as he does to discover treasure (while destroying much more in his wake), he shows no sign of having to go through the part of life where you get used to doing that. It's part of the reason why Nathan Drake comes off as more sociopathic than someone dealing with a conflict via the great American pass-time: Shooting non-Americans dead.

So one is a sociopathic murderer, and the other one is detective.


No Unforgivable Sins
Payday 2 vs Clive Barker's Jericho

Fortunately, this is a rough rule usually followed but I wish to put emphasis on the word “usually”. Within the society you are presenting your work to, there are some codes that go beyond the grey area and exist firmly in the “wrong at all times” category. Murder, as much of an universal sin, is actually a grey area as a sin. Murder to punish those who deserve to be punished? Sure, you're the punisher! Murder in self-defence? Sure! Murder for fun? Uuuhh...No? Maybe? Murdering kids? Nope, no way.

In Western civilisation, there are codes of professionalism even among the worst of the worst. One such code is “no rape”. That a rapist is worse than evil. Rape is such a vile act that it's something not even villains do. If you're looking for a rough guide of what is an unforgivable sin, consider two things: First, could someone get offended at you depicting it? Secondly, is there a good reason why a character is doing something that is considered a sin? If you answer no to both, it's unforgivable.

My praise paragraphs for this goes to Payday 2. Just to apply some context: You play as robbers as you just rob places while killing police. There's no “means to an end” to this. You are the bad guys, if unable to fall under the “bad protagonist” rough label.

You are still professionals though. While you are killing police officers, you do not do so out of spite but rather because they are simply in the way. You are cold, but with a code. Things like this are realised in one simple mechanic: If you shoot a civilian you are deducted money, while Bain (your mastermind helping plan all this) yells at you for it. These are people above hurting those who aren't in the way but rather are just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

What better way to compare a game I have a lot of love for, with a game that I despise and consider the worst thing I've ever played. Clive Barker's Jericho. While everything else about the game is bad, it's the characterisation which makes it absolutely appalling. The fact it was written by a 80s horror film writer really shows, as the protagonists you play as are created to be simply the worst people. There are many sins the writing commits, but the worst is they break an unforgivable sin.

Despite the team varying in background wildly, with different ethnicities, sexes, sexualities, mental illnesses and so on, this is a game that manages to alienate all that with it's dialogue. Their version of intra-group banter is to throw around insulting racist, homophobic and sexist comments to each other. One such quote was between a male character, and a lesbian character after the lesbian character became possessed by a male spirit for a small amount of time:

Sergeant Frank Delgado: [after Black has been possessed by Ross] Hey, congratulations, Abbey! Now you finally know what it's like to have a man inside you.
Lieutenant Abigail Black: Fuck you.


...


Maybe this banter would have worked in the 1980s, but in the 2000s (the game was released in 2007) it sits as a relic of it's time. As a game that is offensive and out of it's time. A bit like Duke Nukem: Forever ended up being as they tried to convert the original games to 2011 without realising that society has changed. That since mid-2000, social equality is something everyone is excited to embrace. So to light-heartedly quip with offensive material makes everyone involved look terrible, and without a good excuse leaves it as just an unforgivable sin against the characters involved, the game and the writer behind it.

Understanding And Justification Of Their Actions.
Silent Hill 2 Vs Last Of Us

I can tell I'm likely to get lynched by some considering the direction this may be going.

So your bad protagonist is doing some pretty terrible things. In fact, chances are there will be one or two moments where they just go above and beyond with regards to just doing the worst things imaginable. They haven't crossed the line into “unforgivable sin” territory, but god damn it's just a terrible thing. Now, what separates someone doing something particularly horrific by their own standards, and just buying milk, is their attempt to understand and justify what they've just done.

Just to make it clear, you don't need to dwell on it for a long time. Most games do (I'm looking at you Spec Ops: The Line), but a sign of awareness and maybe even doubt of the consequences of their actions is enough. Without this, a character can come off as being dim, uncaring and likely holding the potential to do much worse (after all, these one or two moments of sheer terribleness isn't enough to shake them, so what will?).

Silent Hill 2's entire game is about understanding and self-justifying the main character's own action for one particularly bad thing he did. If you're one to believe in symbolism, each of the characters and enemies exist as a reason of why he killed his wife Mary with a pillow. The nurses being sexual frustration. Eddie symbolising James being not remotely sorry and blaming everyone else for his problems, the death of Eddie indicating that anger isn't the correct coping tool for what he's done. Pyramid Head as the desire to be punished. Angela is there to remind James that wallowing in depression and misery for his mistake isn't useful at all, and suicide will not solve anything.

Considering a large portion of the game occurs inside James's mind, you get to see first-hand James trying to understand and justify his own action of murdering Mary. The endings exist as the ultimate conclusion James comes to. While the Leave ending suggests understanding and a new life, the Maria ending means nothing is learnt. The In Water ending suggests absolute depression swamped James and the desire to not continue on without Mary or to be punished for what he's done. While there is ambiguity over what the symbols mean and how James feels, it doesn't feel confusing of the psychological state of James.


Although the common conclusion is James Sunderland is roughly as nutty as Bombay mix.


The Last Of Us on the other hand, presents Joel as either unaware of what he's doing or selfish/obsessive to the point of being unlikable. Within the final 30 minutes, it's revealed that Ellie may hint at a cure to the virus plaguing mankind, however to continue research an operation will be performed where Ellie will die in the end. Joel shows very little effort to consider letting Ellie die to help mankind, and instead murders everyone involved. Everyone who was helping cure the virus. Joel's excuse being “well, they've tried in the past and failed, no use letting them try further”. Yahtzee put it best really, as he described the mentality of “fuck you, got mine”. As Joel got what he wanted any attempt to deprive him of that, even for the greater good, will be met with bullets to the face.

Besides a single line of dialogue where he makes up a sentence excuse why he freed Ellie, there is no sign of Joel debating letting Ellie die to possibly help mankind. With no attempt by the narrative in game to justify why Joel did what he did, the viewer is forced to work out why Joel did what he did with the ultimate conclusion being “well, he's not a good guy” or “well, Ellie is like a kid to him”. In the end, as I said, it either makes Joel unaware of what the consequences are, or obsessive and selfish to the point where it's odd he stopped being a bandit at all.

Conclusion

The list is by far from complete, as there are many other ways to make “bad protagonists” enjoyable ones that create intrigue rather than boredom due to lack of empathy. When people typically complain about “grim-dark” games or the protagonist being unlikable, it does tend to boil down to an immature view of wear-and-tear of the human mind and body. This was one of the problems people saw with Max Payne 3, as Rockstar Vancouver (now Rockstar Toronto) tried to make Max Payne into a more of a bad protagonist. Rather than creating depth by suggesting the years haven't been too kind to him after the events of Max Payne 1 and 2, they took an immature approach to grief. Rather than generating Max Payne as looking and acting burnt out, they showed a lack of understanding of how burn out looks and works. Max Payne 3 was too singular note in it's approach, and actually missed the opportunity to tackle some interesting issues (e.g. Max Payne's addiction to painkillers).

Over time, we're only going to see more and more of these types of protagonists as they really will be the way we tell stories in a way that applies gravity and respect to what it's analysing when the issue demands it. While it wouldn't be appropriate to all topics, it's hard to say that a clean cut protagonist would be able to examine themes such as drug abuse and police brutality without making the issue too clean and too patronising. In the worst of cases, it could make the issue appear to be just telling you what to believe rather than presenting a scenario and giving you the opportunity to decide on your own what to believe. It's hard to argue that Spec Ops: The Line would have been better if everyone involved would be more of a classic hero archetype, or even an anti-hero, rather than just a bad protagonist.

These are difficult topics, and with the correct level of being a bad protagonist, I believe we can continue pushing the narrative possibilities of analysing more and more difficult and awkward topics that should be talked about.


There's just no punchline to this image. Just...War is Hell...


Side note: I'm sorry for some of the images being blurry. For some reason the images are auto-sized to fit the width, which for some images increases the resolution. Plus, makes pictures which have a lower width:height ratio come out a lot bigger than I hope for. If anyone knows how to fix this, I'd really be grateful.
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