September 21, 2005
MarkBernstein.org
 
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Premises

At last: a bunch of game theory people are actually playing, and writing about, actual games. Jill dreams of what her WoW character could buy for 100 gold coins.

The armour! The equipment! Maybe even one of those bird things to fly on!!!

Torill is also running around World of Warcraft, as an orc.

Blood, fire, heat and sand are the aspects of the orc homeland. I read this background as angry and disturbing, but when I try to see it through the eyes of Agirra, I enjoy it. This is the familiar. Cool water, lush forest, rolling meadows: these are dangerous, treacherous places. Only in battle are the sides clear, only fire lights the day enough for an orc to see clearly.

This identification is, I think, distinct from the identification we know from novels and cinema. We aren't identifying so much with the character's situation as with their aesthetic and intentional system. It's not that we want our orc or our hero to win through, but we begin to appreciate what they like to see and to covet what they'd enjoy.

Perhaps this explains the immense importance of graphics to current game production. I'm playing City of Heroes instead of WoW, but I see a similar effect: I'm beginning to appreciate those seamy backlots and alleys where street villains lurk, and I'm starting to get a sneaky appreciation for the grades of urban decay that make street crime flourish. The disused mills of Kings Road, surrounded by stagnant Middle-European-Modern housing: you wouldn't want to live there, but there are plenty of street criminals that need to be trimmed back and that aren't so dangerous that my little archer daren't tackle the job. The neglected edges of Perez Park, filled with gang members hanging at the edges of the action, throwing beer cans and tossing bricks at passing heroes, become an exciting place. You get to almost like those criminals; without them, you wouldn't have a job to do.

It's interesting to see so much care lavished on capturing the texture of places we don't see: the bad side of neglected British cities, the faded grime of the less nice parts of Paris or Vienna or Pawtucket. In this view, the graphics aren't chrome: the graphics are the point. The game and the narrative put us in the right frame of mind to see, and appreciate, the images.