Tag Archives: metadating

QuickNote: Wrapping Up “MetaDating”

23 Feb

So “MetaDating”, the YouTube series hosted by Sean “Day[9]” Plott and game developers Bill Graner and Sean Bouchard, is apparently coming to a close.  Not going to lie, I’m feeling tragic and roughly anarchic about the whole thing, and there’s some impressive lobbying going on to keep it.  But in the event that March’s cast ends up being the last of this talented triumvirate, I’ve started drawing up some thoughts about the premise of their series: “How do video games depict romance?”

Early caveat: I’m not a gamer.  The last video game I played was a retro-fitted version of “Dr. Mario” designed to burn off college stress and I’ve studiously avoided MMOs like “World of WarCraft” because I KNOW it would become a huge time suck that I would be helpless to curb.  I also get really upset by interactive experiences that go badly: “Choose Your Own Adventure” books were traumatizing.  It’s like there’s no safety barrier between the experience and my sense of self.  But I’d speculate that commenting on these game by watching playthroughs is roughly equivalent, at the level of experience, to reading a novel, so it’s from that perspective that I’ve started commenting.

If the seven episodes of “MetaDating” so far reflect the scope of romance-themed games at present, there’s not a lot out there.  I’m wondering whether that has anything to do with the gender bias of game developers, but don’t know enough to speculate intelligently.  But during the series, the hosts played two Japanese dating simulations or visual novels* (Hatoful Boyfriend, Katawa Shoujo) and one North American corollary (Judith), one AI-driven story system (Facade), one “triple A” action game (Catherine), two indie art explorations (Passage, Loved), and the sui generis “The Sims 3: Late Night”, and expressed throughout the series the idea that they’d run out of game types in which romance is the central theme fairly fast.

According the the guys, romance is thematically “dangerous territory” in games, which I originally took to understand as a financial risk in that it’s not a theme that typically interests gamers.  But based on the games themselves, it seems really difficult technically to create an experience of love and romance that feels “real”, or at least realistic.  The only really popular game the guys played was “Catherine”, which is distinctly split between plot and a big puzzle game.  And “Catherine” deals specifically with one part of romantic relationships (anxiety over commitment) that’s easier to replicate mechanically than, say, falling in love.  Your nervous system can’t tell the difference between anxiety caused by the repeated failure to solve a puzzle and the pressure to virtually get married.

Narrative is a big theme in this series.  One of the hosts, Sean Bouchard, expresses an ongoing interest in narrative game design, and romance-themed games seem to cater more towards that touchstone of coherence than games that require less emotional attachment.  He introduced GNS theory in Episode 6, and romance-based games (at least the ones they played) seemed to rely by default on narrative largely to the exclusion of game and simulation.  The single Sim game, “The Sims 3: Late Night”, was by far the least realistic-feeling game (Bill, rightly I think, compared the characters to alien pod people in human hosts), even though it had the most concrete characters.  Simulation hasn’t, apparently, reached the point where it can naturalistically render a human being.  The visual novel “Katawa Shoujo” was widely perceived by hosts and viewers to be the most compelling emotional expression of love, but it was also the most restrictive in terms of player agency, and the least gamic.

To be continued…

*They used the two terms interchangeably, although I’m told there’s a difference in emphasis between the two.


Metadating: “Judith”

7 Dec

So I watch the Geek and Sundry channel on YouTube and have gotten really interested in “Metadating”, the show in which three video game designers play through and analyze video games on romance.  The fourth episode included a game called “Judith” that was a rough take-off on the Bluebeard fairy tale.  One of the designers (fellow liberal arts grad) took a stab at analyzing the themes, and then suggested someone else could write an article on it.  So I obliged.  Sort of :).

Jones, Joia and B. Graner. The Heuristics of Exploration in “Judith”. 26 November 2012.

As the game designer of this duo, it shall be left to my colleague Mr. Graner to analyze the gameplay design of “Judith”. But as the literary authority, I can say with absolute clarity that “Judith” wasnarratively flawed. As this article will explore, the retelling of a well-known myth (“Bluebeard”) fell apart along the line where story met interactive gaming, i.e. the practice of exploration. However, this “failure” neatly illuminates the need for specific “good practices” in the context of narrative gaming standards.

Seriously, “Judith” had major problems. It took a lot of tokens from the Bluebeard myth (the key, the bloody knife, progression of doors) and applied them haphazardly, which broke up the story. The logic was faulty: ‘In order to truly love my husband, I need to know about every single person he’s murdered”? Yeah, no. In “Bluebeard”, there’s no slow reveal of increasingly graphic atrocities because that doesn’t work when you identify with Bluebeard’s wife. You find a hidden room in your husband’s castle filled with “bloody hay”, you run, end of story. The “I love him so I have to know” actually seemed like a save: maybe the game designer realized that the character of Judith needed a better motive than curiosity to stick around and explore, but the salvage was really clunky.  Games require items to manipulate, puzzles to solve, and monsters to fight, but “Bluebeard” is not a story that neatly accommodates those elements.

The relationship between the two plotlines was weak, but I actually thought that illuminated an second interesting difference between the narrative demands of a story vs. a game. My best guess is that the Jeff-Emily story was supposed to be a framing device, with Jeff standing in for the reader. A parallel example would “Wuthering Heights” is the story of Heathcliff and Cathy, but it’s being told to Mr. Lockwood, i.e. you. As “Wuthering Heights” progresses, your consciousness of Mr. Lockwood as a character melts away because you don’t see him – you see with his eyes. But as Day(9) pointed out, he identified the most with Jeff, because that’s the character he led off with playing. Because the player feels like Jeff, not Judith, Jeff has to have an ending: he “finds” Emily (who disappeared for the entire game because their story wasn’t the important part). Again, the fact that it’s a game rather than a story required the designer to close a loop that results in a “meh” ending.

In conclusion, it was suggested that you could read “Judith” along the lines of two interpretations 1.) the mythological character locked into flow of the story, or 2.) a feminist allegory of patriarchal control. Third option: the myth of Pandora’s box – curiosity gets punished. Exploration is the essence of gaming, and “Bluebeard” is a story that punishes exploration.  Which makes “Judith”, as a gamification of the “Bluebeard” story, antithetical to the medium it inhabits.

</pretension> 🙂