Friday, December 27, 2013

Click Bait "Game of the Year" Post

So it's about time that I did this. In truth, I don't really like the idea of "Game of the Year" for the same reasons that I don't like "Best Picture". The winner will always come down to the sensibilities of voters (voter in my case).

It's not hard to imagine how easily this happens, certain types of people like certain types of games and there are generally standouts in each category. Then there is a kind of ebb and flow of genres. Fighting games used to be much more popular than they are now. Fifteen years ago the MMO didn't really exist and 10 years ago we were still calling them MMORPGs before realizing they were all basically RPGs. Things come and go out of vogue like that fairly easily.

My long winded point is that there is an inherent bias that you can't really deal with. So, to deal with it I asked myself, "what does it really mean to be 'Game of the year?'" And came up with this, Game of the Year is the one game that I would save if all of the 2013 videogames were about to fall into a chasm of space and time.

So things get a bit tricky here because of course there's no right answer. However, if I could only save one game from the untempered schism of space and time I would save Lucas Pope's absolute triumph of a game, Papers, Please.

Why that particular game? Papers, Please does about a million things right and very, very few wrong.

The game is incredibly simple yet deep, everything lies just beneath the surface. Playing just the first level or two or even the entire demo doesn't come close to really experiencing the game. It's all about subtlety. Sure, some moments are explosive, literally. but this is Oregon Trail for the modern age.

Most people have been through airport security but few people have been through security like this. It's wonderful how the game creates empathy for multiple different people at multiple different levels. First there's the person working the desk either providing access or denying it. Then there's the people trying to get through, some of the appearing to be in terribly desperate situations. Then there's the government who seems to be denying access in a fairly reasonable way considering the bombings and attacks.

Do you risk your job and allow a family to stay together, even though they don't have the right papers? Do you deny access to the alleged human trafficker? What about those willing to pay their way through? Your family needs to eat and stay warm, sometimes they even need medicine.

Things get complicated, fast. There's no clear lines of ethics or morals. You have needs, so do they. If you can't provide then what good are you? In the same token, if you don't do your job right then what good are you to the government?

When you do make moralistic choices the game may or may not let you know the outcome via newspapers. A woman was murdered, was she the same one that warned you about the man you let through? A bomb went off, maybe one of the few mistakes you made let that happen.

On the surface, Papers, Please resembles Ian Bogost's Airport Security, a game that satirizes airport security. However, on the surface is exactly where the similarities end. Airport Security doesn't ask any questions of player, it just pokes fun at the situation you're in. Lucas Pope's game pushes the player into an uncomfortable place which requires grappling with complex issues and provides no clear solution. It's not just a game about persuading the player to think a certain way, its a game where thinking a certain way provides no easy answers. Winning isn't determined by points or how long you play, winning in the traditional sense might not even be possible.

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