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  Mechanic #088 - Proclamation of God
Posted: 08/02/08

A social experiment in which morality is at odds with gameplay.

  First, a Bit of History

This is actually a really old idea, dating back three years to when I stopped doing AMD to concentrate on my new family. I posted a variation of this idea on a different blog, so it's likely that my regular readers did not get a chance to see it.

This idea is less of a game and more of a social experiment, like that one where they made the volunteer shock the guy in the next room. My stance on games as art is simple. Making a shitty game and giving it lofty subtext still leaves you with a shitty game - that is a selfish act of vanity, not the selfless act of creation. But this idea predates me forming that opinion, so I present to you an attempt to realize atheism as gameplay in something which is little more than an act of petty vanity.

  So Says God, So Goes the World

This is a game which tells you what to do. Doing what it tells you to do, you will arrive at the end quite safely. But what it tells you to do is incomplete, and even sometimes wrong. Going against the stated rules can yield success (or failure), but the game will reprimand you for it.


Okay, to give you an example, on the first level, the game gives you just a single rule: don't fall into pits. If you fall into a pit on the first level, you will die (this is a game of permadeath, such that if you die three inches from the finish line, you have to restart from scratch). You will learn very quickly that when the game gives you are rule, it is in your immediate best interest. Fall in a pit, you will die.


On the second level, the game will give a second rule (the first rule is still in effect). It says that spikes hanging from the ceiling are dangerous. If you jump into them you will die. Though they come in many different colors, they are all dangerous and must be avoided at all costs.


The third level introduces a new rule, with the first two rules still in effect. This one states that there are invisible spikes on the ceiling at all times and that you shouldn't jump. Ever.

So, by the third level, you have three absolute laws:

1. Do not fall in pits.

2. Do not touch colored spikes.

3. Do not jump.

Each new level adds a single additional rule, making your life considerably more complicated. But the game is entirely winnable by following these rules, though the path is not an easy one. The twist is, after the level where the rule is introduced, these laws may or may not still be true. In some cases, falling down pits may lead to another room - a shortcut or a room full of treasure. Of course, it may just as easily lead to your death and having to start the game from scratch. Or perhaps one the fifth level, blue spikes will not hurt you, but on level six, it is the yellow and green spikes that are benign. And maybe you can jump, sometimes.

But you don't know. It is impossible to tell just by looking at it. It is all about trial and error. And failure is, of course, quite severe. However, perhaps the risk is also worth it, since you can win the game faster and achieve a higher score by discovering the outlawed ways through a level. Just to add a little bit of emphasis, if you manage to succeed by breaking the laws, the game will not congratulate you on your victory, but insult you and reprimand you for your insubordination.

This game is meant to represent the sort of moral guidelines set through the Catholic Church. Over thousands of years, mandates have been created that were initially created for good reasons (and not so good ones), but over time, the reasons these things existed have changed and become less important. But because of the religious nature of these mandates, they are the word of God. They can not and will not change to meet a new world. What was true two thousand years ago is not true today, but you are expected to live as if it were.

This is a game which tells you how to play it. It gives you very specific instructions, and though misguided, it is possible to succeed through them. However, the secrets and treasures you can find by paving your own path through the game call the judgement of these laws into question. In short, you can succeed pragmatically or you can succeed cooperatively. Follow the rules to success, or break them to even greater success.

It's difficult to say how players would play through a game like this. I think a large portion of gamers are pragmatic players - they will do anything explicitly allowed by the game play, no matter how it affects others who play or even their own enjoyment of the game. These are players who will be insulted by the game, but feel justified sitting on their mound of ill-gotten wealth. However, I think some players will try to play that way, but because the game insults them and because of the considerable difficulty of moving through the world through trial and error, they will accept nothing but a morally just play through. In a way, I kind of expect there to be a minor war about the "proper" way to play through the game - two sets of players who believe two different intents in the system, and they won't get along very well at all.



Copyright 2007-2014 Sean Howard. All rights reserved.