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Real Virtuality

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Real Virtuality

Unread postby icycalm » 10 May 2015 02:04

The full title of the essay (which wouldn't fit in the thread title) is "Real Virtuality, or On the Whole Murky Affair of the Emotions". It's almost done, and should be on the frontpage shortly, to kick off the resumption of updates with a bang. Here's an excerpt:

I wrote:Actually, making a player cry is very easy -- trivially so, even, if you understand the mechanics of how sadness is generated (i.e. if you are not an internet blogoroid or forumroid who's spent his whole life online and has no real human experience to speak of outside the confines of his bedroom). Any videogame ever, no matter how bad, primitive or simple, can be turned into a tear-jerker with but a simple modification. Take Pong, for example. Have you seen The Deer Hunter? Just make Pong 2: The Pong Hunter, and hook up to it a gun pointed at the player's head. If he loses, the game pulls the trigger, and there you have it. I guarantee you that it will be the most harrowing experience ever for anyone who plays that game outside of Islamic State residents. No film or novel could compare with how such a game would make the player feel. So which artform is the "deeper", "more emotional" now, eh retards?
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Unread postby icycalm » 11 May 2015 19:48

I'll start posting it here in pieces like the PA review, before it goes on the frontpage, otherwise I'll never get around to finishing it. Part 1:


Real Virtuality, or On the Whole Murky Affair of the Emotions

Life is impoverished, it loses in interest, when the highest stake in the game of living, life itself, may not be risked. It becomes as shallow and empty as, let us say, an American flirtation.

Sigmund Freud


And there you have it. That answers a lot, doesn't it? But still not nearly enough, so let's get down to business and add all the stuff that's missing from the above quote, and which is absolutely necessary for us to understand if we are to grasp what the hell's going on with videogames: the greatest artform of all time, and indeed art itself.

Why is it so hard for a game to make the player cry, compared to a novel or a movie? The answer to this question is the Holy Grail of videogame theory — if you grasp this, you've grasped almost everything.

Surely videogames must be a lower artform, if indeed they are art at all, if they are having so much trouble exciting emotions that simpler artforms have been exciting for centuries. — This is the effeminate internet blogoroid and forumroid theory; the child-fagot neckbeard theory.

But actually, making a player cry is very easy — trivially so, even, if you understand the mechanics of how sadness is generated (i.e. if you are not an internet blogoroid or forumroid who's spent his whole life online and has no real human experience to speak of outside the confines of his bedroom). Any videogame ever, no matter how bad, primitive or simple, can be turned into a tear-jerker with but a simple modification. Take Pong, for example. Have you seen The Deer Hunter? Just make Pong 2: The Pong Hunter, and hook up to it a gun pointed at the player's head. If he loses, the game pulls the trigger: and there you have it. I guarantee you that it will be the most harrowing experience ever for anyone who plays that game outside perhaps of Islamic State residents. No film or novel could compare with how such a game would make the player feel. So which artform is the "deeper", "more emotional" now, eh retards?

This, I repeat, is no science fiction scenario or wishful thinking: any proper dev studio could set this feature up in their game in a matter of hours. So you want a game to make you cry, internet neckbeard? Here's the Sony CryShock 4, a gun controller that turns every game into a terrifying, harrowing life-and-death experience, only $39,99, including, for a limited time only, a voucher for $10 off a funeral at your local cemetery (valid only while empty burial plots last!)

And don't give me any bullshit that a game with a gun attached to it is not a game: the CryShock's just another output device; a FORCE FEEDBACK device, in point of fact, which instead of giving you a mild shake, gives you a bullet to the face. A stronger kind of shake, in other words; a more FORCEFUL kind of shake. There are machines on sale that blow air into your face for use in racing games like OutRun, aren't there? Very well then, the CryShock blows a bullet. Gives a whole new meaning to the term "permadeath", doesn't it?
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Unread postby icycalm » 24 May 2015 22:30

It's worth repeating and emphasizing how ferociously emotional such an experience would be: you will never have cried so hard with an artwork as you would by playing Pong 2, in which you'd be a couple button presses from certain death for the entire duration of the game. No novel or movie could ever do this for you. A novel or a movie cannot be hooked up to a gun, because if they were they wouldn't be novels or movies any more, they'd be videogames! You'd need some kind of circuitry to be hooked up to the book or the film's playback device, with the appropriate sensors to determine when the reader or viewer reached the point where the gun should fire (since despite what internet neckbeards would have you believe, novels and movies are interactive too, otherwise they'd be reading and watching themselves, instead of needing you to turn their pages and to watch them), so what difference would there be between this setup and an actual videogame? You'd have your input and output devices (sensors and screens/speakers, or pages), and your central processing unit, so all that adding the gun thing to a novel or a movie would do is to transform it into a videogame with minimal interactivity, like a text adventure game or Dragon's Lair.
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Unread postby icycalm » 24 May 2015 22:33

So there you go, videogames win in the emotional stakes too, and by a HUGE margin. And not even future videogames, but videogames that already exist and that have existed for decades. The first videogame ever even, with this fairly simply hack, that could become a standard feature of all existing videogames at any moment we desired it to become so, IF WE WERE ACTUALLY RETARDED.
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Unread postby icycalm » 24 May 2015 22:46

To repeat, because this is an extremely important point that can't be stressed nearly enough: all the mechanical parts required to hook up the gun have been available since before the industrial revolution, and the code to make it work with your PC or console from the invention of digital computing, so videogames have been able to make a player cry more than any other artwork since the very first game: since Spacewar in 1962. It's not something we are working towards. It's not something we are hoping to achieve some day. It's something we could have had since the beginning of the artform — for over half a century now — and the only reason we don't have it is because WE DON'T FUCKING WANT IT, BECAUSE WE ARE NOT FUCKING RETARDED.
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Unread postby icycalm » 24 May 2015 22:57

Now, getting back to Freud up there at the top, let's try to understand what's really happening here. We have seen how, by following his advice, and allowing "the highest stake in the game of living, life itself" to be risked, we can turn all videogames ever from "shallow and empty" diversions into utterly unforgettable and absurdly emotional — perhaps even fatal — experiences, but there still remains the little question of how a novel or a movie can achieve this without the gun. THIS is the real million-dollar question.
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Unread postby icycalm » 24 May 2015 23:09

First off, novels or movies CANNOT achieve this level of emotional involvement. Only an internet neckbeard who's never left his room and for whom Final Fantasy characters may as well be real would think that the fear of imminent death would provoke the same level of emotional response in a person as the fear of imminent death OF A FICTIONAL CHARACTER IN A NOVEL OR A MOVIE. We'll get back to this point and explore it more thoroughly later, but for the time being just realize that, whatever emotional involvement a novel or a movie can elicit in the reader or the viewer, it pales in comparison to what videogames can when their designers are given free reign as to the amount of force feedback they can employ. All other artforms lose by default in the emotional stakes, simply due to their lack of capacity for force feedback (among other things, that we will be exploring shortly in this essay and in future essays).
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Unread postby icycalm » 25 May 2015 02:28

The question then is not how primitive artforms can achieve the same level of emotional depth as a videogame, because they CAN'T. The question is how do primitive artforms manage to achieve any depth at all, given that they fail to heed Freud's admonition to place the reader's or viewer's life at risk, in order to become deep and meaningful experiences.

And the answer is simple. They achieve it via the phenomenon of empathy. For the reader's or viewer's life may not be at risk while reading a novel or watching a movie, but THE PROTAGONIST'S IS (and if it's not the protagonist's life that is at risk directly, it is his dreams and goals or his general well-being, or those of his friends and family and so on). And it is by EMPATHIZING with the protagonist and his situation that the reader or the viewer come at last to feel A LITTLE of what the actor who PRETENDS to be the protagonist of the novel or the movie WOULD HAVE FELT IF HE WAS REAL.
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Unread postby icycalm » 25 May 2015 02:46

The key terms here are the ones I capitalized: "a little", "pretension", and "not real". The novel reader or movie viewer feel only A LITTLE of what the protagonist of the novel or the movie would feel if he actually existed. Empathy is an indirect mechanism of feeling, and therefore a VERY WEAK one. When you see Frank Castle's wife and children die in a Punisher comic book or movie you are not feeling the same magnitude of emotions you would feel if your own wife and children had just died. Compared to the force of the latter feeling, the former is so weak it's almost comedy.

Moreover, the actor playing Frank Castle is not really Frank Castle, and therefore is not really feeling Frank Castle's feelings. He is merely PRETENDING to feel those feelings, an activity that adult people call "acting".

If he does a good job of it, he helps the viewer forget for a few moments that this is all a big charade and not reality, and a distant, faint resemblance of the fictional character's pain is produced inside the viewer.

If he does a bad job of it, it makes people laugh instead, as no one can find it in themselves to take the whole charade seriously.

The entire enterprise, in other words, rests on the quality of the actor's job (and of course on the quality of the script, cinematography and a million other factors -- but if the actor is your 9-year-old cousin, he will still tank everything no matter how much other talent and/or money the movie squanders).
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Unread postby icycalm » 25 May 2015 03:22

Empathy with the protagonist, therefore, is the mechanism via which primitive art works. But since in videogames YOU YOURSELF are the protagonist, you have no one to empathize with! Put another way, you have to EMPATHIZE WITH YOURSELF, which is merely a retarded, roundabout way of saying "TO FEEL"! (since "to empathize" means "to feel with someone else", if you remove the "someone else", all you're left with is "to feel").

In other words, there is no more indirect mechanism of feeling here; in videogames all feelings are direct, not mediated by actors (or by the reader imagining actors in his head via reading instructions in a novel, and so on) -- AND THAT'S PRECISELY WHY THEY ARE SO STRONG. So you want to feel pain while playing a videogame? Very well, then: you'll have to be made to feel pain. The designer will have to find a way to hurt you.
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Unread postby icycalm » 25 May 2015 03:49

[I am looking for a Baudrillard quote to use later on, but I can't find it. Something about immortal beings in the future choosing to experience death as a luxury, etc. If I remember correctly it's in one of the essays in The Transparency of Evil, but I may be wrong. It may or may not be one of the essays that I posted in the old Insomnia. If anyone can find the quote and post it here I'd be eternally grateful, as I really don't want to finish the essay without it, and it might take ages to find it on my own. Googling "Baudrillard, death, immortal, future" and so on gives a million different hits. You have to know the passage more or less to have any chance of finding it.]
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Unread postby DJ Orwell » 25 May 2015 04:10

Here ya go.

http://insomnia.ac/essays/the_final_solution/

Baudrillard wrote:Deprogramming death as fateful event, as symbolic event, and including it from now on only as virtual reality, as an option, as an alternative in the software of living beings. Like that virtual reality of sex -- cybersex -- which awaits us in the future: as a kind of attraction, so to speak. All these functions which have become useless -- sex, thought, death -- will not disappear purely and simply, but will be recycled as leisure activities.


Baudrillard wrote:From having been a vital function, death will become a luxury, a diversion. In a future civilization from which death has been eliminated, future clones might, perhaps, afford themselves the luxury of death, and become mortals once again in simulated form (cyberdeath).
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Unread postby Vogel » 25 May 2015 10:34

icycalm wrote:Empathy with the protagonist, therefore, is the mechanism via which primitive art works. But since in videogames YOU YOURSELF are the protagonist, you have no one to empathize with!


Except for NPCs though, right? I loved Gray Fox as a tragic character in MGS from the perspective of Snake/me, but I think it would have been a very different story if Fox was the playable character.

Also, I always figured that this is the reason why the Mass Effect 3 endings did not sit right with many people, myself included to an extent (spoiler alert): killing the protagonist in a non-video game is different from killing the protagonist in a video game, as the writers did in Mass Effect (except in the extended renegade ending, in which it is revealed that the player character lives; I guess in a sense you do in the other endings as well, as the PC might be said to achieve cultural immortality as the hero of the universe, although I'm not sure if that is something I value achieving in a video game).

And is the pain we feel via empathy really comparable to the pain we feel directly? I mean, apart from being much weaker, as you point out, is it not also different in some important sense? Artistic expressions of pain, if well executed, I often find intensely pleasurable (be it games, movies or music), and it seems positively valenced compared to some types of pain that I might feel directly (also artistic expressions of other so called negative emotions such as fear and anger). There seems to be some vital difference between the pain I experience directly and the pain I feel by empathizing, both with real people and with artistic representations of real people (which I also count music as an example of). Or maybe I'm confused or missing something important?
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Unread postby icycalm » 25 May 2015 17:22

Vogel wrote:Except for NPCs though, right?


I've heard this one before. It was a lame attempt to challenge the validity of my theory. I explain it later on.

Vogel wrote:I loved Gray Fox as a tragic character in MGS


I think that whoever finds anything tragic in MGS needs to be institutionalized. At least going from the first two games I've played. Maybe the rest are different, but I doubt it.

Vogel wrote:from the perspective of Snake/me, but I think it would have been a very different story if Fox was the playable character.


Yes, the story would have been a different story if it had been a different story. Indeed.

Vogel wrote:Also, I always figured that this is the reason why the Mass Effect 3 endings did not sit right with many people, myself included to an extent (spoiler alert): killing the protagonist in a non-video game is different from killing the protagonist in a video game


No difference at all. There's nothing wrong with the protagonist in a videogame dying: it happens all the time. And it makes no difference if the player or the director killed him. It's ALWAYS the director killing him, if you think about it.

As for Mass Effect, I haven't played any of them so I can't tell how well their endings were pulled off. Either way, it has nothing to do with non-adherence to a theory, but with how the specifics were worked out in this particular series of games.

Vogel wrote:as the writers did in Mass Effect (except in the extended renegade ending, in which it is revealed that the player character lives; I guess in a sense you do in the other endings as well, as the PC might be said to achieve cultural immortality as the hero of the universe, although I'm not sure if that is something I value achieving in a video game).


We are talking about a character dying or not, and you bring in "cultural immortality". Bleh. You've understood nothing. And there you go again separating videogame values from those of other artforms as if they were fundamentally different. Like I said, you've understood nothing.

Vogel wrote:And is the pain we feel via empathy really comparable to the pain we feel directly?


Yes.

Vogel wrote:I mean, apart from being much weaker, as you point out, is it not also different in some important sense?


No.

Vogel wrote:Artistic expressions of pain, if well executed, I often find intensely pleasurable (be it games, movies or music)


All pain is pleasurable, "for pain and pleasure are not opposites". Read Nietzsche. Or try to live.

Vogel wrote:and it seems positively valenced compared to some types of pain that I might feel directly (also artistic expressions of other so called negative emotions such as fear and anger). There seems to be some vital difference between the pain I experience directly and the pain I feel by empathizing, both with real people and with artistic representations of real people (which I also count music as an example of). Or maybe I'm confused or missing something important?


You are missing everything. Your justification is gibberish, and I didn't even bother clicking on your link. If direct pain were somehow fundamentally different from pain via empathy 1) we wouldn't be able to relate with other people, and 2) identification in an artwork would be impossible to attain and art wouldn't work.

You are just making shit up because you can't see the connections. I'll use you as an example in my essay on Michael Abrash. He couldn't see that all VR does is enhance immersion, and made some shit up too: the term "presence". He said exactly what you are saying about direct feelings vs. empathy: that "presence" and immersion are something fundamentally different. But that's only because he is a subhuman who can't see past his nose.
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Unread postby icycalm » 25 May 2015 17:23

And thanks, DJ.
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Unread postby icycalm » 25 May 2015 17:46

Hahaha, I looked at your link. Of course weaklings like you will find strong emotions aversive and "negatively valenced", but how are your incapacities and weaknesses binding also for me? What you find aversive I do every day before breakfast and hardly even notice that I do it!
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Unread postby icycalm » 25 May 2015 21:01

Part II: To share not suffering... but joy

It is always as between Achilles and Homer: the one has the experience, the sensation, the other describes it. A true writer only bestows words on the emotions and experiences of others, he is an artist so as to divine much from the little he himself has felt. Artists are by no means men of great passion but they often pretend to be, in the unconscious feeling that their painted passions will seem more believable if their own life speaks for their experience in this field. One has only to let oneself go, to abandon self-control, to give rein to one's anger or desires: at once all the world cries: how passionate he is! But deep-rooted passion, passion which gnaws at the individual and often consumes him, is a thing of some consequence: he who experiences such passion certainly does not describe it in dramas, music or novels.

Friedrich Nietzsche


And that's where the gun comes in. It is of course a very direct and crude method (which is why it's so effective!), but we can imagine other, perhaps subtler ones that achieve a similar effect. Sadness being, of course, the result of either loss or the fear of loss (of the player's life, in the case of the CryShock), what about the aspie in a Dota tournament who loses a million dollars in the final match and breaks down in curses and tears? But is he crying and cursing because of Dota, or the million dollars? Similarly, are you crying because of the quality of Pong 2, or because of the gun? And this is where my concept of "reality linking" comes in, and where we'll make a little detour to explore the concept of gambling, a different form of "gaming" the analysis of which will help shed a lot of light on our current subject.
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Unread postby icycalm » 25 May 2015 21:24

My father used to be a huge gambler when I was growing up, and I inevitably ended up becoming one myself by being exposed to gambling from a young age and falling in love with it (weak degenerates with no self-control would call it an "addiction"). And yet, even though he'd lose no opportunity to gamble whenever possible (primarily roulette in casinos in Greece and across Europe, but also illegal poker games on occasion), he would never play with friends and family the traditional game of black jack during holidays like New Year's Eve. "I love to play but I can't play without money, there's just no interest in it", he once told me. In other words, he doesn't really like the games, and only plays for the thrill of winning and losing, and the potential winnings. Which goes to show that even the simplest, stupidest game like roulette can become utterly fascinating and gripping if the stakes are high enough -- if we "link" its outcome somehow to something "real", to something the player values in life outside the game (hence why I call this effect "reality-linking"). It's the same principle at work here that we used when we added the gun to Pong, just in a somewhat milder fashion.
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Unread postby icycalm » 25 May 2015 21:45

We should not let this effect, however, cloud our attempts to evaluate games on their own merits -- i.e. without the confusing effects of this phenomenon. For if roulette -- a pointless, stupid game on its own -- becomes utterly fascinating and gripping via the addition of a money pot, StarCraft becomes even better, since StarCraft on its own is about a million times better game than roulette. And if StarCraft becomes even better with a money pot, Planetary Annihilation would become about a hundred times better, since PA is about a hundred times better than SC (that's what the difference between a 3-star and a 5-star game signifies: the scale is exponential; a one-star difference signifies a 10-times better game). In the same fashion, Pong would become great with permadeath (real permadeath, I mean), but PlanetSide 2 with permadeath and with all your childhood friends in your team would be Platoon in real life: it would be the experience of a lifetime. An experience worth risking death for, perhaps? Far-fetched, you might say, but it's not something unimaginable. Not to me and other philosophers, at least.

Baudrillard: "From having been a vital function, death will become a luxury, a diversion. In a future civilization from which death has been eliminated, future clones might, perhaps, afford themselves the luxury of death, and become mortals once again in simulation..."
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Unread postby icycalm » 25 May 2015 21:56

Bottom line is that, regardless of how good (or bad) a game might be, reality-linking will make it even better, but though a rising tide raises all boats, the better boats will still remain better regardless of the level of the tide. You might think that none of this would matter if someone shoved a gun to your head and told you to play a fucking game, but if I was risking death I'd rather risk it over a good game, and get a better experience out of it, which would be especially important if there was a chance it'd be my last. Conversely, if some aspie keeps blabbing in your face about how awesome some stupid "esport" is, remember that 50v50v50v50 Planetary Annihilation would be thousands of times better if it became an esport, and the only reason that it won't is precisely because it's such a superior game intrinsically that aspies can't appreciate it.
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Unread postby icycalm » 25 May 2015 22:44

So, to leave behind this little detour and get back to our main subject, we've seen that videogames work by bridging the divide between art consumer (reader/viewer/player and so on) and protagonist: whereas in the primitive arts the distance between them is great and undeniable, in videogames, because of interactivity, the two become one, and the primary psychological mechanism of art's functioning goes from indirect feeling, called empathy, to direct feeling -- to actually feeling everything yourself without the mediation of actors or even your own imagination -- which is a far more immediate, and therefore powerful means of emotional connection, but for the same reason a lot more dangerous too.

This is another extremely important point that no one else has ever touched on or even conceived, and we'll shortly understand why. Because it's time we understood that emotions in videogames can be so powerful that they become DANGEROUS to the person who's experiencing them. Forumroids and blogoroids don't understand this, because they've spent their entire lives browsing the internet inside their rooms and haven't really experienced anything, but SADNESS IS DETRIMENTAL TO YOUR HEALTH. Even a little sobbing in the cinema can harm you, physically at least, despite (or perhaps because of) what psychological good it might do you, and there are countless studies that have proved it. The effects of sadness are disastrous to the human system -- to any living organism even, and are not to be played with lightly. And it's precisely because effeminate neckbeards online haven't had a chance to experience real human emotions that they don't understand this. Maybe this is also why they are clamoring so much for simulations that give them the opportunity to feel them?
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Unread postby icycalm » 25 May 2015 22:51

And now they are asking for games to make you afraid or sad. It's like playing with a kitten, and enjoying the experience, and then thinking that lions are something fundamentally different than kittens because you can't play with them. "Lions are stone cold killers. They are sociopathic. Lions don't play." Well, actually, you CAN play with a lion -- they definitely play between themselves, at least, just like cats do! -- but it's insanely dangerous, and in all probability you'll get eaten.
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Unread postby icycalm » 25 May 2015 23:01

The question then is not whether or not videogames can excite powerful emotions, but whether or not we'd WANT them to do so. Simulation at this level has insane power. Like life (since that's what it's meant to simulate, after all), but in a sense even more, since life contains also countless mundane experiences that we'd never bother simulating, whereas art concentrates all its attention on the extreme ones. Videogames then can certainly be designed to offer you those life-and-death moments from the novels or the movies that you crave (themselves copied from a life you'll never live), but it will be REAL life and death this time. And even if you are merely tricked into thinking it is real death, while in fact it isn't, the shock to your system of THINKING that it's real will be exactly the same as if it WERE real. People can get heart palpitations from this shit. People can be hospitalized from this level of psychological trauma. It's not a joking matter.
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Unread postby icycalm » 25 May 2015 23:17

People can actually DIE of sadness, no bullet needed. Think of a mother seeing her only child dying. At the very least this experience will shave a few years off her life. Now think of tricking her into experiencing this feeling in a game. Obviously, if she's sitting at the computer and sees her digital child dying in an artfag game she won't feel anything if she's not retarded. She'll probably laugh about it and then play a real game. The only way you can get a player to take such a scenario seriously is if you trick him into thinking that the child is real, and really his own child. Remember: the actor in the movie is merely PRETENDING to believe that the dead child is his own, and that it's dead. And the only reason he is doing this is to TRICK you into EMPATHIZING with the character that he has been paid to IMPERSONATE. But none of that shit exists in a videogame. YOU are the "actor" in the videogame, and you have no one to act for because no one gives a shit about you and what you are doing. Obviously you can't act for yourself and trick your own self into believing in your impersonation unless you are schizophrenic, so the only way to make the scenario work artistically is for the game's designer to somehow trick you into believing that all this shit is real.
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Unread postby icycalm » 25 May 2015 23:29

And how could he achieve this? There are ways, and not all of them include sci-fi. The most obvious one, to hook you up to a machine and erase your memory of being hooked up, is indeed sci-fi, but there are simpler ones. Far simpler ones that could almost be used today. For example, a crew could break into your house at night Eternal Sunshine-style, and hook your brain up to the machine (or drug you in a bar, and so on). Then when you wake up, you are in the game and none the wiser. Or the Total Recall solution, in which you walk into a lab from which you've purchased your "virtual ride", and you are sedated and hooked up to the machine with your full knowledge, but the simulation is so seamlessly blended with the reality you experienced up to that point, that you can't tell the difference between them any more (in the newer Total Recall the cops broke in before the simulation had begun, apparently, but did they really? And how could you make sure? You can't, in which case you are forced to assume that they are real, since that would be your safest bet under the circumstances, and the game's on!)
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