An Act of Non-Consequence

I’ve been on a documentary binge as of late (Thank you Netflicks) having watched 6 in the last 24 hours at the time of writing. As it so happens while watching them I noticed a correlation in the behavior of the subjects of the majority of the documentaries and players of video games. The documentaries in question, or rather the aspects of the documentaries I’m going to talk about, all deal with the idea of responsibility. Of course it’s very easy to point to who is responsible, but then the question becomes ‘why did/do these things happen in the first place?’ The subjects, Corporate America, are similar to video games in that they abdicate responsibility by enduring none of the consequences of their decisions.

For those of you who do not follow my twitter feed, the documentaries in question are:
-Maxed Out
-Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price
-Food, Inc.
-Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room

Each of these films at some point spotlight companies looking out for their profit margins to the detriment of their customers and employees. One of them pointed out, I think it was Food, Inc., that companies make these decisions because their decisions do not affect anyone making them. Sometimes it is insidious and one has to wonder why anyone could make these choices. Sometimes it’s about unintended consequences, such as rampant lethal bacteria in our food due to an effort to sanitize the animals by overusing antibiotics.

I’m not going to lecture or inform, the movies above to a good enough job covering their subjects without my input. I do want to point out the correlations corporate decisions and in game ones. Neither affects the decision maker. Corporate executives aren’t affected, because they exist in a whole other world to those they affect and gamers, because they can simply reload a save. Many others have already talked about death as a non-consequence and the many ways to get around the ludonarrative dissonance of it. But anytime something happened you don’t like you can go back to a previous save and rectify the decision.

Without permanence, consequence is taken out of the picture. Without consequence, action lacks meaning.

The Fable series is a perfect example of the lack of power decisions can have, because you alter the world’s perception of you from good to evil and back without having to reload. Any decision you make is non-lasting and can be erased by simply doing something else.

Heavy Rain has some interesting ideas on how to circumvent the notion by not ending the game at any point and allowing it to continue despite player choice or even death. The game continues and adjusts accordingly. Of course in both of these examples we are looking at story based interaction.

Failure in ludic games in fairly straight forward since the continued interaction in evident, but that can be the equivalent of the corporate bottom line. Anytime a game seeks to go beyond the goal of continued play it has difficulty in creating meaningful consequences that either have an effect or aren’t infuriating enough for the player to turn off the game.

I thought it was an interesting fact that corporate executives and gamers would have this in common. I think the fact that we don’t have a solution to either one is telling about our view on consequence and responsibility. Our mentality is: if it doesn’t affect me, it doesn’t matter.

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