Tag Archives: Bioshock

Children in Video Games

To begin, the Article.

Go read it. I’ll wait.

All done? First and foremost – I abhor violence against children. I think people who hurt children should be subjected to all the pain, violence, and abuses they subject on children. I pray for swift retaliatory karma against these people and hope the rest of their lives are miserable, equal to, if not greater than, the pain the child felt during the abuse.

Now, violence against children in video games is a wildly controversial thing. So why does it show up at all?

1. More and more game designers are parents.

Just look at Heavy Rain, Nintendogs, and Mario Galaxy. More game designers that started in this industry as young adults in their 20s are now reaching the age where they have children. Anyone with children will readily admit that it is a radically life changing experience. So logically it makes sense that as these designers have this experience it will reflect in their work. 10 years ago an RPG wouldn’t have considered including having children as something the player can do. Children aren’t adventurous and heroic. But now, as in games like Fable 3, children are becoming a part of the game. Because the game designer parents are able to say “This is an adventure. This is a compelling reason to radically change the way a player plays the game.”

2. The social mores against things in video games are falling, just as they did for other mediums.

Do you remember the brouhaha over Fred and Wilma being shown on TV in bed? It was a huge deal that a cartoon would depict people in a bed together, thus implying sex. Now, it is common to see women in their underwear, sex, and violence on TV. Sex is coming to video game mainstream. So will all the other things like drug use and children. These are the things that define our humanity. Our successes and our failings. That is why they create drama and evoke emotion. Video Games will continue to attempt to elicit emotion from players and drama is a part of that.

3. Why even have kids in the game?

Ask any parent what their worst nightmare is. I am willing to bet most of the answers involve something with their children. The Sims allowed me the joy of having a house full of children, something I will never do in real life (I mean like 6 kids, seriously). The terror that I feel at the idea of having a game where I can gain a child, then possibly lose them… *shudder* The article brings up Bioshock as a violence against children example. However it is notable that in Bioshock they are always Little Sisters, in-human. The NPCs in the game even back this up, saying “Those aren’t little girls anymore.” But when given the option it is always Save vs Harvest. That is an intentional distinction. Despite the fact that the player knows that Harvest will kill the Little Sister, it doesn’t say Kill, it says Harvest. The interesting point is that this is a moral choice presented to the player. And at the end of the game it is revealed that the player is rewarded for choosing the “correct” path of saving the Little Sisters.

In Dead Space 2 (I haven’t played it, I am going off the article) it sounds like the designers needed a small fearsome enemy that was hard to hit, could move fast, and needed to scare the player. As a secondary effect of their story choice they even created the feeling that the player *shouldn’t* be shooting this enemy. Despite the fact that you should. That moment of hesitation can lead to the players death.

It is also worth noting all of the games mentioned are arguably Horror games. The designer’s job is to elicit horror from the player. What could possibly be more horrific and want you to bring down the whole thing than something that harms children? It never occurred to me that Andrew Ryan in Bioshock wasn’t a bad guy. Despite what the designers tried to twist into the story, here is a man willing to exploit children to further his own ends. Once that is made clear, the player no longer feels bad for tearing through this ruined city and destroying it’s people. They allowed their ideals and beliefs to lead them away from the inherent compassion and sense of right. At this point, I no longer wanted to just escape Rapture, I wanted to punch a hole in the wall and allow it to flood. To destroy it completely for the failure to retain it’s humanity.

4. But why have violence against kids in the game?

To evoke the parental emotion and all the messy feelings that come with it. In Heavy Rain I WILLINGLY took a vial of poison, knowing that the probability of it killing my character was high, knowing it was likely a trick by the designer to set me back. But I could chose no other option. I had to save my kid and if this was the hoop the serial killer wanted me to jump through, then by God, I was going to jump through it. My life for my child’s? In a heartbeat. The designers were exceptionally clever with their choices of trials. How far could they push the player to save a child? And push the player they did. It even sparks the thought that while yes, this is a game, would you really do such a thing? If this were real, what would you give up? The designer held up a mirror to the player’s soul and that is definitely going to make people uncomfortable.

5. Games are all about fantasy and being the hero.

Guitar Hero and Rock Band did so well because they MADE THE PLAYER A ROCK STAR. World of Warcraft makes me feel like this powerful and amazing hero that literally saves the world over and over again. Games are about fantasy and being the hero, and what is more heroic than saving a child? The catharsis of saving the child in Heavy Rain is sufficient to have made it a critically acclaimed game despite iffy controls, ambiguous choices, and uncanny valley.

I will admit as a designer, I am uncomfortable with the idea of putting children in harms way in my own games. But that doesn’t mean the question shouldn’t be asked or the situation explored. I am wildly uncomfortable with rape and yet I accept it’s inclusion in Girl with the Dragon Tattoo as a required event to bring me closer to the protagonist, despite her alien responses and behavior. Did Dead Island create the trailer with the express purpose of sparking the discussion to get press? Of course they did. Should they be vilified for doing so? No more than any other game like Call of Duty that does such things to spark discourse and free publicity. After all, movies have been doing this for years already.

Now, take a moment to imagine the Dead Island trailer, which I will admit is marketing at it’s finest. Everyone has a strong emotion about it, despite the fact it doesn’t show one second of gameplay. But imagine if the story the player is stepping into is this family’s story. The player assumes the role of the parents or even the child at various points in the game. The goal of the game is to get them out alive, as all survival horror zombie games are. Through a single short trailer they have given the player all the motive and drive to not only play the game, but play it at their best. To seek, to strive to save this little girl. The trailer shows the worst possible outcome, one the player should stop at nothing to change. That is a powerful emotional response. That is a powerful story over a standard and common game type. Much like movies set themselves up for Oscars, this game appears to be setting itself up for the art and story telling in video games debate. Will it succeed? I can’t wait to find out.



As it turns out, the trailer was in fact, pure marketing hype. It’s a shame, to use something so artistic that could have been the stepping off point for a truly spectacular story. Ah well, back to hacking zombies to bits.


You know the single player game is done right?

Once again, an idea from comments on a news post. Some goof ball commented that Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword had been completed, they were just drawing it out to extend the life of the console. Even the Picard-Riker double facepalm isn’t enough to cover that idiocy.

But it reminded me of the time David and I were in Borders, looking for an Iron Man collection. I had just been hired by Sega and was very excited to be working on Iron Man 2: the Video Game. I wanted to read the comic, at least a bit, so I would understand the world and the characters. I couldn’t find it, so when one of the ever so helpful employees walked by and asked if I needed help, I asked if he knew anything about Iron Man and if he did, could he recommend a few of the graphic novels for me.

As it turns out, he didn’t know anything about Iron Man. But he *did* know about Superman and Batman, and began recommending those to me. I interrupted him to point out, I was looking for Iron Man for a very specific reason. I pointed out I wanted to find the ones that covered the time period when Tony Stark was in charge of SHIELD. When he admitted he didn’t know, he asked me why.

Now, I have never been one to keep information to myself, and I quite love the look on people’s faces when they find out I design video games. I am an extrovert, we have no secrets unless they aren’t ours. So I explained to the young man why I was specifically looking for Iron Man stuff. He, as do most people, got very excited and struck up a conversation about video games. One thing lead to another and we got to talking about future games we were looking forward to.

I feel the urge to point out, up to now, David, had been standing silently by, as he always does. He doesn’t like telling people he makes games, and has expressed to me that he doesn’t particularly like when I tell people he makes games. Odd, but generally I respect his introvertedness.

Right as David turns to join the conversation, the Borders Employee says that one of the games he is most looking forward to is Bioshock 2. Of course, David, working on Bioshock 2, immediately clams up. I nod and say I am quite looking forward to Bioshock 2 as well. The guy interrupts me to say, and I will quote as accurately as I can recall:

“You know the single player game is done right? It’s been done. They are just working on the stupid multiplayer. Don’t you just hate when they ruin games by taking time away from the single player to tack on a multiplayer that no one really wants?”

To this day I have no idea how I managed not to laugh in this guys face. Oh, to be fair, he had no *clue* who he was talking to. But surely they know 2k is in the area and they are *likely* to have the employees in the store. I can assure you, not only was the single player not complete at this point, but also the multiplayer, not even being developed by 2k Marin, but rather by Digital Extremes in Canada. Holy wars of the necessity of multiplayer aside, this guy could not have been more wrong. We didn’t say anything, but the very moment we got into our car we both started laughing about it.

After 4 years in this industry, I can honestly say, I can’t imagine a publisher being “done” with a game and *not* shipping it immediately. More than half the time I would say they aren’t done with the game and it gets ripped out of the developers hands and shipped anyway. It’s the great joy of producers to come in and slash features to make sure a game ships on time. And generally the aim of every programmer, designer, and artist to cram as much awesome as possible into the game before then. I am always surprised at how much developers are completely willing to crunch just to get a feature or thing into a game because they truly believe it is going to make it better.

I doubt very seriously that any publisher would *sit* on a game, all done, just to “extend” the life of a console. If anything they would push to release a second game quickly, to extend the life of a console. It is far more correct that games are in fact rarely, if ever “completed” but are instead ripped from their loving womb and shoved into the cold hard world to be broken, criticized, and abandoned, long before they are actually ready to. It’s part of why leads and producers love completion – just make it work type developers so much.

Something on my Desk… I will catch up, I swear!

As a game developer who knows a ton of game developers I tend to hear about games before they are announced and I hear things about games that are not released. It is great fun to know all these things, even if I can’t tell anyone else about it. Just for the record, you won’t be hearing anything secret here.

So this weekend I was at Gamestop in our local mall and I noticed they have “Coming Soon” boxes for Bioshock 2. Bioshock 2 isn’t going to hit shelves until October 30th, but they already have pre-orders up.

For me, Bioshock 2 hitting shelves is totally different than it is for most people. My husband works as an engineer on the development team. Which means more often than not he stays late at work and often works on weekends. Bioshock is a big game and as such requires people with a great deal of commitment and diligence. Bioshock 2 hitting the shelves means his big dream game is done. He will likely get to spend more time at home in the evenings, but mostly I will be thrilled he worked on and shipped one of his favorite games. It is every game developer’s life long dream. To work on a game you love and enjoy, doing the tasks you love and enjoy, and then going into stores and seeing the space on the shelf where your game should be, but isn’t because it is sold out. 🙂

So with that in mind, the item on my desk this week is the Limited Edition Big Daddy, and the slightly less Limited Edition Little Sister statues. They are great figures. My big daddy protects my little sister. 🙂

Oh just for good measure some links!
Cult of Rapture
There’s Something in the Sea
Official Game Site