I slept on my last blog post (for many nights), and realized that the concept introduced was not as subtle as I had intended. It was more like a movie where someone is explaining explicitly his stance on some matter. While it was still present, the thought I was driving at was that a game should express its message via gameplay and interaction. The most powerful tools of a game. Let’s examine another angle.
I once played Sim City 2000 with my old laptop. While I was trying to find out relationships between different buildings and making my city better, I got frustrated and went to the kitchen to vent. I found some cookies, and a thought: Despite everything, I was the perfect mayor.
Imagine that you had a machine beside your computer. When playing Sim City, you can pay 100 € (because we’re in Europe) and the machine makes you a potato chip. There are no reprecussions for that, except the loss of virtual money in your virtual game. How long would your treasury last? Would you just make a new game and empty your treasury over and over again? Or would you design a self-sustaining small city that just prints out money to set you up for life? (And make a real living selling those magical chips?)
Corruption. When have you ever been corrupt in a simulation game? You have always had full access to the treasury, all legistrations and other governmental elements. No-one can touch you. Everyone obeys your commands. In Civilization V, I have always used my every resource for the good of my civilization. While I have foreseen wars, famine and unhappiness, those have been secondary goals to the expansion of my territory and the advancement of science and culture. Same thing with Theme Park. Sim City. Star Wars – Empire at War.
Whenever I have started wars for my amusement or built a gigantic hill on top of which to put the Mayor’s Office, it has always been my choice. Just like in roleplaying games, where being Evil is my conscious choice (Hmm, how loose morals should I have today?). In only very few games have I noticed that I had exploited a position of power for my personal gain. Most of those games have been made by Bioware.
Let’s take a famous example: Baldur’s Gate. In the series you create your own character, who is then given a background. Like in many other games, you are the chosen one who will gather an entourage of party members and defeat a great evil. In those games, for every character there is a small screen containing a simple line: ”The strongest enemy killed”. I always get insanely jealous when the line for my character reads ”Ork Archer” and someone else reads ”Adult Red Dragon”. I’m the hero! I’m supposed to administer the killing blow! Also, if there is a character who uses a same type of weapon and armor as my character, guess who gets the first pickings?
This is a very minor point with no real gameplay value… in its current form. Imagine if you get a greater share of experience for dealing the final blow to an enemy. Your character would climb through the levels while others would remain behind. Most likely this would not matter, as you would rely more on your godlike main character and keep the others safe. But what if you couldn’t?
Let’s imagine a simple, turn-based roleplaying game in the style of the old Final Fantasies. You have a good control of the combat and there are little or no random rolls, besides damage. The character who kills a monster gets all the experience for it. No-one else gets anything. Every character uses their own weapons and armour, which are not interchangeable. Equipment is very expensive, and the quality cap scales with the strongest item bought.
Now, every side character has their own personal quests. In these quests they will face challenges where the others cannot help. And if they are not on high enough level, they will die. The game won’t stop, however. The others will mourn every death. Morale will take a hit. Some might start to question your status as the Hero of the World. If you cannot keep your own allies alive, perhaps they should find someone who can. They will look at you, brandishing your star-forged sentient crystal sword and lightmantium armour and their thoughts will return to their own wooden swords and rusty chainmails. Meanwhile, your own challenges are always faced with your friends, so having those flashy attacks and gear are mostly just excess.
And at the first death, people will realize that the game does not keep saves. It just has the latest autosave, taken at every time the characters finish a dialogue or enter a new area. So no, you can’t turn back time. This is who you are. An egoistic bastard who got his friend killed. If your indulgneces cost the life of your teammate, the final boss will call you out on it. He will taunt you on hogging the experience and gold, reminding you that you did not get the perfect ending. Yes, he has meta-knowledge. And if you did keep your team in fighting shape, the King will congratulate you and everyone gets a happy ending.
This is what corruption is. Stroking your own ego at the expense of everyone else. Using the king’s stipend on the best available sword for yourself. Eating chips while struggling to make the ends meet on an irrelevant digital city that exists only to print out potato snacks for yourself. And what is a better way to show this to a person than to give him power and a mirror.