On game length and content

I caught myself writing a post-in-a-comment over at Ludus Novus, and figured it’d be best to respond here instead.

*stretch* Ah, elbow room.

As a quick recap (although you should listen to the podcast–it’s short), WO is addressing the relationship between game length and depth and quality of content. His conclusion seems to be that there really isn’t much correlation between length and game depth (although there’s certainly potential); in addition, games don’t easily fall into the novel vs. short story genres in terms of characterization styles.

This is me just shooting off some shit, but here’s a thought:

I wonder whether a lengthy game (leaving aside series) really can successfully go extraordinarily deep into characterization and plot. Good characterization (and feel free to correct me on this) would include ensuring that the broad strokes of the character’s personality become apparent, as well as at least making quite a bit of the little details apparent (or player develop-able), even if the player chooses to ignore them.

For deep plot (rather than wide), you’ve got to go into pretty complex things that are open for analysis and interpretation. To be interesting, this requires details rather than just broad strokes of a situation. I mean, the classic scenario of “You’re held at gunpoint and told to rape a person. Do you, or don’t you?” isn’t really that interesting (despite my own interest in finding out who still thinks they don’t have a choice in a situation like that). A series of these don’t make for an interesting or engaging game.

So for both of these, you need emotion to be evoked by those details–the sweat on the potential victim’s brow, the gunman’s too-steady hand, etc. A player’s feelings of indecision, nervousness, awe, fear, whatever, all contribute to creating that depth. In addition, evoking more than one of these emotions is nice: i.e. complexity. (Myst‘s combination of intense puzzle-driven frustration combined with awe doesn’t count for me, although it may for some others.)

But, as David Weber is fond of writing, intense emotion is usually as brief as it is intense. It also wears people out. How many times can you jerk the player’s emotions up and down before they’ll get worn out? Since a long game may “only” be 80 hours of playing time, you’ve actually kind of got to pack it in relative to what people may normally experience in life.

Can a game do this and not be considered “emotional pornography” (á la Passion of the Christ)? I think short games and series of shorter games will have an advantage here. You can make a short emotional impact without running the player through an emotional wringer for weeks of their lives.

Jesus Camp: interesting.

See, now I went to a Christian camp when I was a kid. I learned a few catchy songs about Moses and got to ride a horse for the only time in my life. The camp wasn’t anything like the “[tag]Jesus Camp[/tag]” making waves right now. Better yet, here’s a bit of video footage for you (courtesy of Andrea).

I’ve heard that children can’t possibly make “valid” decisions regarding religion at that age. I think that children can make religious/spiritual choices, even at so young an age. Those choices are perfectly valid, even if they later change as they grow. I also don’t invalidate everyone’s spiritual choices just because they may change or may be based on emotion rather than cold logic or this thing called “rationality”. The changes in their religious beliefs are based on their changes in life experience, just like everyone else’s. If the kids get tired of being yelled at, shamed (if they are), or wearing war paint, well, they may decide that other faiths’ practices are more in line with what they want/need.

Now, to what extent children can distinguish right and wrong I’ll leave up for grabs. I know that I’m still making decisions on what to include as part of my moral/ethical make-up, but my memories of my state when I was five are rather fuzzy. I suspect that I was pretty immature in that area.

Pastor Fisher does say, however, that she doesn’t manipulate the children at camp. I call bullshit on that. Almost any time you approach anyone with emotionally-charged language, you are attempting to manipulate them. Whether they choose to respond to that is an issue of assertiveness, but the first half is there. Many children are pretty susceptible to manipulation–how else do you raise a child with a sense of discipline, after all? I don’t know what those kids were feeling when she called them sinners and told them to repent, and I’m feeling distant enough from my own childhood at this moment to recall my feelings when my own pastor/minister spoke to our congregation of such things. While there was a brief period in my life where I was strongly religious–at the age of some of those children, in fact–that passed.

The ABC News article doesn’t really talk much about the children. Things done to or with the children, but nothing from the kids’ perspectives. Where’s that info?

The ABC News article also doesn’t touch on the parents of these children. Where are they? How informed were they in choosing the camp for their kids? Are they fine with their children being children soldiers of god (in whatever battle they may choose to fight–the spiritual or the physical)? For the younger children, especially, a lot of the decision-making may have fallen on the parents. I want to see their perspectives.

[tags]Christianity, religion, Becky Fisher[/tags]