Friday, March 22, 2013

Death to Death!

As the rather gruesome saying goes "there's more than one way to skin a cat." I'm not sure why you would ever want to skin a cat, but metaphorically speaking the proverb applies to video games and violence rather well. Before I go any further let me make it clear that this is not some pacifistic rant against all the killing and destruction in video games. Rather this is a follow up to this youtube video:

Before reading any further, I suggest watching the video in its entirety. And by all means checkout this guy"s other stuff. Although sometimes flawed, he has some great observations and insights. Getting back to the specifics of the video linked above, he mentions that developers tend to make the mistake of assuming "gameplay" equates to "gunplay". I agree whole heartily with this observation. As for solutions, I also agree, it will be difficult to steer people away from ever greater and more bloody spectacles. One way I think it might be possible though is by looking to historical applications of violence and how it could be used as a stepping stone in game design to ween players off overused mechanics.

While most people tend to associate war in the Middle-Ages with sieges, pillaging and general havoc, there was also an often unmentioned practice, especially between knights, to take each other prisoner rather than outright kill one another. The basic motivating factor here being a captured enemy could be ransomed for money, while a murdered one would require a weregild (compensation gift) from the killer to the victim's next of kin. failure to due so could result in an even more costly blood feud.   In essence, capturing foes earned money while killing them spent it. You can see an extreme example of this phenomenon at the Battle of Zagonara (1424) in which around 20,000 men fighting for several hours resulted in the destruction of a castle and 5000 captives, but only one death (apparently triggered by horse riding accident).

While this might sound silly to our modern sensibilities it could make for an interesting game mechanic. If nothing else I've always had a fondness for playing the Thief series on the expert setting because the mission objective list often says things like "A true professional doesn't leave a mess. Don't kill anyone!" Makes sense when you consider that second degree murder tends to carry a much heavier stigma than grand larceny.

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