Sci-Fi Game Writing, Soft Porn And Storytelling

Toshio Saeki, source

Shallow by design?

If while playing in-game dialogues with robots you suddenly feel an awkward sensation of shallowness, consider that it may somehow happen by design, because the concept of robot or golem signifies an animated anthropomorphic being that is raw.

Voight-Kampff test — source

This can be put to great use, by a contrast between human depth and suspected shallowness of intents — the master of this is Philip K. Dick. Read the short Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep —the result is so strong that it functions also in derivative works, Blade Runner (the movie) and even in the remarkably cool Blade Runner videogame (thanks Demigiant for the pointer).

Dick blurs the boundary between raw and human — but notice how the pivot characters of his narrative are almost all humans. Working on the edge of human / golem requires mastery, chiaroscuro skills. Otherwise it’s a problem.

I thought about this as an analysis of the only weakness of a well designed little game (which you should play): Subsurface Circular. The game offers robot dialogues that are consistently terse and logical — which is correct but narratively plain (given the pitiful state of today’s chat-bots AI, that depicts a plausible future — but this is not the point). You don’t “get” much into the characters, because you know too much. I understand that that is intentional — and maybe it works for someone. But not for me.

Writing this plain, such a conservative writing style , numbs the reader instead of eliciting reflection. The objective seems to be “have some good time” instead of attempting a transformative experience for the player.

Weakness of the dialogues and a subtle incoherent feeling of the resulting narrative ends up tainting my gameplay experience, which here is not compensated by rich mechanics. This may be also due to how well designed is the game’s ambience and user interface, which raises expectations — and notice that these qualities make the game worth trying anyway.

from Subsurface Circular gameplay

Soft porn storytelling

When shallowness is not by architectural character design, meaningful storytelling can win, even thrive in the most unlikely contexts.

source

Game of Thrones or Black Sails get going by exhibiting abundant boobs, muscular torsos, dreadful acting and quite a bit of soft porn — but then storytelling prevails and the experience is not completely tainted by post coital tristesse.

lots of awful acting and nice boobs

Notice that in these cases the writers are perfectly aware of what they are doing and how to get you caught in the narrative.

writers of Black Sails

As rough as the world and character design may seem initially, you progressively get trapped by the writers, so much that naked bodies fade out; you even get to a point in Black Sails where characters refer directly to the whole plot as a story and start making “meta” observations, all without breaking the fourth wall!

source

Even inflated boobs and torsos can lead to stories better than robots — but again this does not work in all cases — Keijo!!!!!!!! being a potentially great lost opportunity.

source

Repetitive shallow usage of semi-naked bodies in videogames can be gifted with good mechanics: wonderfully deplorable, narrative and mechanically dense HuniePop being a good, maybe unique example.

HuniePop gameplay

Actually it may be the overall shallow context that makes narrative depth possible!

This hypothesis is what fascinates me in working on football and poetry: shallowness of the game’s universe and fans and depth of the lives and literature behind it, of the hero and anti-hero dreams the beautifully silly game elicits.

Roland Barthes writes in Le Sport Et les Hommes:

At certain periods, in certain societies, the theatre has had a major social function: it collected the entire city within a shared experience: the knowledge of its own passions. Today it is sport that in its way performs this function.

Exploring an epic, turning it into knowledge is a difficult task — media, also games, are the researcher’s tools. Even if the result is Triste, Solitario Y Final.

a poster for Football Voodoom