If you’ve ever read the first 50-pages of any game design book you’ve probably read several definitions of what a game is and what they encompass. This is something I would like to tackle myself through this blog, today however I’m looking at one of those parts that people claim is essential to game – Conflict.
Of the many things that go into making a game the idea of ‘Conflict’ is a huge one. Look at the recently renowned releases – Battlefield 1, Dishonored 2, Skyrim Redux, Doom not long ago, etc. All of these games have some form of conflict, in Battlefield 1 it takes shape as shooting enemies, in Dishonored 2 it’s more interesting as you’ve a choice to engage with conflict, Skyrim allows a lot of choice with combat as well regard if and how you’d like to engage with mythical beings, and Doom is… well Doom.
It’s probably quite important to discuss what I mean by conflict, which relies on me showing part of my admittedly incomplete lexicon on gaming terms. Looking at some bog-standard dictionary definitions you’ll see a lot of the following; ‘struggle’, ‘opposing’, ‘incompatible’ and ‘clash’. So perhaps we could define conflict very simply as the following:
Multiple entities with opposing or incompatible goals that results in a struggle to succeed.
This isn’t the best definition of conflict because in single player games the entities are the player and the system, but the goals are to win and nothing respectively. A game has no goal, it simply provides challenge usually in terms of conflict. The definition will do for now because really what we’re looking at are the mechanics and vehicles that deliver conflict in modern games.
The definition falls short because it only considers multi-player games, but again this is about the mechanics that provide us with conflict, so in that vein let’s look at the largest genres of the games industry and see how they deliver conflict. According to the ESA ‘Shooter’ games had a 24.5% stake of ‘Best-Selling VIDEO GAME Super Genres by Units Sold, 2015’, that is the largest cut with ‘Action’ at 22.9% just behind and a rapid fall off to ‘Sport games’ at 13.2%.
It’s wrong to state that all games fall under my definition of conflict, that was just to give us an idea of what we mean when we say conflict, but in terms of mechanics we can clearly see that guns are leading heavily when it comes to generating conflict. Nearly a quarter of video game sales involve conflict regarding guns, that doesn’t even include games where you’re using alternatives like swords, or even a strategy game where guns are again the vehicle for conflict often, or even fighting games where you just batter the opponent with your fists. Think about that, I don’t have pure facts and figures but going into a store or going online to look at the big year releases we can all see games with violent means to create drama.
I find it upsetting, but to a larger extent worrisome that the largest section of the video game market revolves around guns, and knowing full-well that guns seep into those other genres too. Guns sell for whatever reason, guns in the middle east, guns in the past, guns in the future, guns in space, futuristic guns, old guns, guns with modifications, whatever or wherever they are they sell; it may be to do with our culture, or the focus on war we’ve seen over the past 50 years on large scales, I don’t pretend to know the source, or assume the source is a black and white, simple as type solution. As a child I didn’t think about this (not that children are influenced by this) I just didn’t think about what it says about the industry or our ability to create drama, because really guns are the lazy option.
Games that employ violent vehicles for conveying conflict is just that, lazy. It really struck me when playing Payday 2, I must have killed the millionth police officer when I had a moment of crisis and thought “Why am I happy playing the villain?”. I was swept up in the fantasy of robbing somewhere and all that entails, but actually analysing the game made me feel not bad but morally cracked. In terms of design that game is good, it’s a game that provides tight mechanics, there are flaws outside of this gun issue, and this isn’t the only game with the gun issue.
Warren Spector was the first designer I ever saw talk about this issue and it really did make me think about conflict in video games. I mean my favourite games are Ocarina of Time, Jak & Daxter, and Darksiders; all are action adventure games, all rely on violence to some degree, admittedly far less than Call of Duty (the McDonalds of the gaming industry if you will) but they still rely on this violent means of generating drama.
I’m not above this issue, I’m not the first one to see this issue, I’m no-where near the closest to solving this issue, and worst of all I wonder if I’m a hypocrite about this issue. Sure I see it as a bad thing, but I did spend an hour or so playing Overwatch earlier, a game about shooting down enemies. There is something to be said about playing to what pays well for the business model of video games, return on investment for publishers and so on, but just because there’s an understandable patchwork of excuses for why games are the way they are doesn’t mean they have to be that way. What’s more art and business don’t need to be at odds to one another, not that not all games aren’t art, but the progression of games as an art isn’t mutually exclusive towards business needs, right?
If you’ve any ideas or thoughts you’d like to shout my way, please do contact me on Twitter, ideas that don’t stand up to barrage aren’t worthy of the title idea after all. other than that thank you for reading this far, do share if you’ve found it interesting, until next time have an awesome day and keep on designing.