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GameSetWatch.com is the alt.video game weblog and sister site of Gamasutra.com. It is dedicated to collecting curious links and media for offbeat and oft-ignored games from consoles old and new, as well as from the digital download, iOS, and indie spaces.

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Column: The Gaming Doctrine

COLUMN: The Gaming Doctrine: Reviewing with Values in Mind

June 11, 2010 12:00 AM |

[The Gaming Doctrine is a new monthly GameSetWatch column by Richard Clark about the intersection of gaming, religion, spirituality, and morality. This month - how reviews often ignore what's really important about a game, and what can be done about it.]

Among those who engage in the (admittedly tired) debate of whether or not video games should be considered a form of art, there are those who suggest that the sheer entertainment value of video games both precludes and requires that the medium be differentiated from any artistic endeavor.

In their view, games are meant to remain a form of amusement, and to attempt and achieve anything more ambitious results only in the detriment of a game's first principle: fun. This commitment to fun at the expense of all else seems a simple actually has the potential to end up being a denial of social responsibility on the part of both player and developer. Known more famously as the “just a game,” defense, it treats video games as soulless and accidental combinations of textures, gameplay mechanics, and sound effects.

The “just a game” point of view isn't articulated outright nearly as much as it's opposition, precisely because those who maintain it don't see in-depth conversation about the “nature of the medium” to be all that important or helpful. As a result, when reading various features and editorials, it can seem as if most game writers and journalists understand the emotional, moral and cultural relevance of story and experience driven games. And yet, when we look at the most foundational form of games writing in the industry, the game review, we see almost no reflection whatsoever of any such understanding.

COLUMN: The Gaming Doctrine: Not Beyond Belief

May 5, 2010 12:00 PM |

[The Gaming Doctrine is a new monthly GameSetWatch column by Richard Clark about the intersection of gaming, religion, spirituality, and morality. This month - why video games can't, and shouldn't, avoid dealing with the subject of religion.]

As I play through Left 4 Dead and its sequel, I'm often in awe of just how well realized the characters are, but I'm also a little frustrated that they seem to be psychologically super-human. Even when cramped together in safe rooms, they choose to tell funny stories and banter back and forth. As a result, we never really get to know them as characters because they are always relating on a surface level.

What struck me, though, was that the graffiti on the wall dealt more significantly with the real existential crisis that results from something like a zombie apocalypse. One anonymous writer becomes aware of man's depravity: “We are the real monsters.” Another simply writes “Exodus 9:15”, pointing out the possibility that God may be judging them. These writings reflect a group of people in true crisis.

As I read all of these messages, I found myself wishing I could play as them, rather than these overly confident superheroes. Apparently, it's those poets and thinkers that are truly wrestling with the implications of a zombie apocalypse. – something that's a fairly new and controversial thing for a character to do in this medium.