socially responsible game design

So for the past week there’s been a voice in the back of my head saying “Go buy an Xbox 360 and play some games”. I ignored it when it first popped up, but it kept on returning. Yesterday, I finally gave in to Microsoft’s orbital mind control lasers and got one, along with a couple of used games.

The game I’ve mostly been playing is Saint’s Row 3. I’d heard good things about it, and so far I think it’s one of the most entertaining sandbox games I’ve ever played for a bunch of reasons: very flexible character customization, the ability to customize vehicles and summon new instances of them whenever you like (I’m currently playing as a white-skinned lady with blue hair, who mostly drives around town on a blue crotch rocket with nitrous – bet you can’t guess who that’s inspired by), and its general insanity. It’s really a TOYBOX instead of a serious, gritty interactive entertainment.

And it just did something I found very interesting. A voice started coming on the radio with a guy theorizing that he’s maybe a character in a video game, and then ranting at the player to get up off their ass and go do something besides sitting on the couch, pushing buttons and getting fatter. This bit came up a couple of times as I failed to get off my ass and stop playing with my virtual toy cars, and then another bit came up, with a guy telling me that I’m just doing what the game tells me to do. Shoot that guy! Drive faster! Run into that thing! Come on! Do it! And the game laying itself bare like that made me laugh, and turn the console off.

I don’t know if this sequence of radio speeches is deliberately programmed or not. They didn’t come up when I was playing it for a while last night. If it is, that’s a very interesting thing to do. Detect that the player’s been playing the game for what feels like Too Damn Long, and start poking them about it. I’d like to see more games do that, to be honest. One could also possibly do tricks like ramping up the difficulty, though that might just make some people double down on their obsessive effort to Conquer This Mission, Damnit.

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