April’s ’09 Round Table Entry – Torture

Taking Games Seriously, Making Game Seriously: This month’s Round Table challenges you to design a game that deals with a social issue that personally troubles you. The recent months have seen controversy sweep through the video game industry. Whether people are objecting to the use of imagery widely considered to evoke racial stereotypes, or to the gameplay based on violent sexual crimes, or to the fact that anyone would complain about either topic-the discussion has been fierce. This month, contributors to the Round Table are invited to design a game that focuses on racism, rape, domestic violence, cruelty to animals, genocide, or any other serious, and potentially hot-button, topic.

IMPORTANT: Because I expect many of these posts will be difficult and/or disturbing for portions of the audience to read, I ask that you consider using a high level of language to describe the contents of your design. I also ask that you both rate your posts and include rating descriptors as laid out by the ESRB (http://www.esrb.org/ratings/ratings_guide.jsp).

As per request I rate this post M for Mature. The text may be T for Teen, but I never joke around with torture.

I will admit I’ve had difficulty with this topic. Not just because it is difficult to come up with a game concept, but the subject matter. This topic came along at a point when I was reading fiction that dealt with subject matter that I found disturbing and totally within the realm of the human condition. Betrayal, greed, objectivism, sin, violation, and the manner of corruption of truth and justice, I’ve been immersed in these themes for the past few months and the real trouble is these things make me physically ill to contemplate. Lately I’ve been trying to find something happy.

Instead of exploring any of these on an emotional level I’ve instead decided to look at one of these at an educational level. Given its prominence in the news lately, I’ve decided to look at the subject of torture. Tekno looked at it from the victim’s point of view here, I’m going to look at it from the point of view of the interrogator.

The game quickly sets up the situation, a situation that never occurs in real life, the ticking time bomb scenario. You are told there is a man in the next room that has information on a terrorist attack and you are charged with getting it by any means necessary. You are given little information and few details to work off of. In fact the only concrete detail you are given is that there will be an attack.

Then you are left to your own devices and are shown a screen with all manners of items you could normally find is a kitchen or garage. Knives, tongs, wire, car batteries, saran wrap, paper clips, pencils, etc. These are your tools. You can combine them and use them anyway you see fit. You can come back to this screen at anytime to restock or switch items. Once inside the room you can set the conditions for the session, the lighting, the temperature, the position of the subject. A faucet and bucket are in one corner and a drain in the middle of the room.

You get to work and at anytime can begin asking questions to the subject. Your questions at first are very vague since you don’t have any clues to pick apart. You pump him for as much information as you can get all the while doing what you will or you have the choice of doing nothing at all. You can stick with physical abuses, but psychological and verbal abuse options periodically make themselves available.

During this you will see a timer in the corner. You are given a liberal amount of time to complete your task, 48 hours. The timer, however, will keep running even if you are not in the game, even if it is turned off.

Throughout the game your superior officer will enter at several points to see what progress you are making. Each time you will have to inform him of what has been done and each time it isn’t enough to satisfy and each incident your superior will get increasingly agitated and angry with you as the clock runs down. In the end you will try more aggressive tactics and over time will get more specific responses. Though if closely examined each response is merely an extension or experimentation of the last one. The subject will also begin to look worse and reflect the torture that has been inflicted upon him so far. The damage during will be graphic. The subject is tied down for the entire procedure. This is the only aspect of the room you cannot change.

The game will end in one of two ways. One the clock runs down because you weren’t aggressive enough and you get a game over screen. No explanation or details will be given. You will just be asked if you want to play again. The other way is that subject breaks and will admit that there is an attack and to anything else you ask him. Should you ask for details he will confirm everything. You report what you’ve learned to your superior. Then you are treated to an epilogue screen that explains that there was no attack with the inserted details learned during the sessions.

The end is left ambiguous with the more obvious reading being that the subject lied in the end. Not just about the details, but about everything. The other reading for those who see it is that the torture leads to the prevention of the attack. Either way the game will ask you to play again in the menu screen.


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