Breaking the Game
TL;DR: bodily autonomy matters. White supremacy pervades all of this. These bans, and the ability to implement them, are fundamentally racist, sexist, and classist. The people who are expected to make our society better are actively tearing it down for the benefit of the few, to be able to control the many. Settle for none of it. Support people most affected. Lend your voice or raise your voice, whichever is most appropriate. We will always outnumber them. Your feelings are valid.
For the last few years, I’ve been getting back into writing about whatever: things that make me happy, words, memories, recipes, and, mostly, video games. Looking through a lens of games, of design, has helped me come to grips with a lot of things going on in the world, be it on a personal scale or a larger scale. And a lot of things have happened in the world, in our world, seemingly every goddamn day. Fuck it. Let’s look a little closer at some timely design elements.
Choice and Change
In video games, when given a world, we like to explore that world. Even if we’re just following from one objective marker to the next, there is something beautiful about just being able to explore a world at our pace, to peel off and do what we want between points A and B. When given the opportunity to make our own stories, between the story the game is programmed to tell, we relish that opportunity. And our choices are always our own. How I exist in the worlds of Red Dead Redemption, Breath of the Wild, or Horizon between main missions does not dictate how someone else does so, nor do their choices dictate mine. My choices are of no consequence to those around me. They do not affect others, or their personal experiences. To restrict my ability, or others’ abilities, to play their way, to live their way, in a world ripe with possibilities, is a broken design philosophy.
Sometimes, people need to change certain elements to make a game playable. Drop the settings down so it can actually run on their system. Make visual and aural elements more accessible. To force everyone to play the same game the same way with the same settings will always result in fundamental inequity, plain and simple. Some people just can’t afford a full-blown gaming rig or latest generation hardware…but that’s an anti-capitalist rant for another day.
In tabletop RPGs, when the world is designed well, and run well, there is an ability to change that world. That world is almost always designed for the players, for the adventurers to make their marks on it, to initiate the change players (and/or their characters) want to see in it. When the world is built for us, we can actually broach the topic of change, of improvement, and of evolution, even if a mad tyrant or wicked evil stands in the way. Designing for change is how those kinds of shared game experiences have lasted so long and pervaded so many lives.
It all comes back to the power of choice. How will it be most fun for you to play? How does it resonate the most with you? I think back to game nights with friends in Connecticut, playing Machi Koro, and my consistent strategy of “if this one thing happens, I will absolutely floor you all.” The strategy was simple: stock up on cheap Wheat Fields cards, and invest in multiplying Fruit and Vegetable Market cards. If, on my turn, I rolled an 11 or 12, I would immediately get a huge payout, and be much closer to full victory. I can count on one hand how many times it actually worked and I properly won, but it was fun. It wasn’t optimized for victory, but it made me happy, and it amused those I was with. And when it hit, we all transcended. The choice to play how we want, no matter the game, is fundamental.
A Question of Scope
Not all games, stories, or media appeal to all people. Games are split into gameplay-based genres (puzzle, adventure, first-person shooter) to appeal to what kind of experience players are looking to have. Movies, into more traditional genres (horror, action, comedy). Every experience caters to groups, or individuals, that are looking for that kind of experience. Even in religion, there is no such thing as a universally sacred text, even in faith. Between translations, retranslations, and mistranslations, the sheer number of various faiths in the world, there is no one-god-fits-all solution. If you’ve ever tried to force an easily-frightened friend to watch a horror movie or play a horror video game, recognize how difficult that is. That’s not the kind of experience that vibes with your friend; they might not enjoy it the same way you do. That’s the wild thing about stories: they are designed to be created, and then taken in by others. Stories that exist solely for the writer have no discernable function. They are made to be shared, to be experienced, and to have an effect on people. Not all people, just people.
The problem in any story, or any work, arises when people (often, too few people) attempt to apply their scope to everyone. Attempting to force everyone to enjoy one kind of experience is inherently impossible; people are too fundamentally different in preferences, in experiences, and in wants for that to ever work.
People treat those kinds of experiences as though we are all just characters in their story, beholden to their wants, their perspective, their narrative. The monolith does not, and will never, exist, no matter how hard some may try. This is not our story, this is not their story, these are our stories.
The Code is Not Sacred
At the core of every game, every interactive experience, there is code. It dictates game mechanics, when story beats are triggered, what happens when you sock a bear in the face, and how high into the stratosphere you fly when a giant slams you into the ground. The code dictates everything. But, if a game isn’t doing everything that a player, or a group of players, is looking for, they will endeavor to “mod,” or modify, the game, sometimes down to the code. Sometimes, this breaks the game. The system locks up, the game crashes, and it doesn’t do what modders hoped it would. But they try again, and again, to get the experience they’re looking for.
If people in power want to play developer, creator, and arbiter of a world that they are responsible for, and attempt to pass fundamental changes to the code of our world, they need to realize that the players may not universally enjoy the experience that they’ve created. They need to realize that others, that we, will endeavor to mod the game. That we will endeavor to alter the code on our level. That we may still do so, knowing it may break the game.
Let’s summarize, paragraph by paragraph:
- How people enjoy and live their lives is of no consequence or concern to others. To restrict how I privately live my life (or what I must do to do so) when it doesn’t affect others, negatively or otherwise, is asinine. See: abortion.
- We can’t all be forced to have the same experience. Not everyone has the means to afford a gaming rig, let alone the cost of carrying and raising a human being, and to force people into that situation, especially when health care is a capitalist system, is a death sentence.
- If the world was designed for us, our voices and calls for change would be heard and implemented. The world is not designed for us. Not yet.
- The power to choose is what defines our human experience, from playing a board game for laughs instead of victory, to deciding if you want to bring a life into being, no matter your reason.
- We don’t all want or enjoy the same things. The human experience is not a universal path, and forcing people onto one, universal path will only foster resentment. Not everyone wants to carry a human to term. Not everyone can carry a human to term. Finances, medical concerns, and bodily autonomy can all play a part.
- Applying that scope is impossible. People are too different across the board. The human experience is too different. What we need, what we want, is too different.
- If we don’t like how the system is run, we can force the system to do differently. It’s worked in the past. It will work in the future. It can work now.
- People in power need to realize that risk. If they want to rule through fear, then we need to make them afraid of what they stand to lose if they keep restricting how we want to live our lives.
We move forward, whether depressed, angry, saddened, disillusioned, or enraged. But we move forward nonetheless. And it may come time, sooner than we might realize, where we have to mod the game. Where we risk breaking the game. And unlike actual games, that they won’t be able to just fall back on an older, unbroken version. This is not software. This is life.
So let’s break the game. It’s already pretty unplayable as it is.