Audiences & Experiences — Week 13 (Viewing / Reviewing)

This week in the audiences & Experiences unit, we were given two required readings (thankfully fewer than normally, it’s made it somewhat more bearable to handle on top of coursework). On top of these we were also asked to find some Political and/or Documentary games, and to analyse the features they have which make them either political or documentaries.

Can Games get Real? A Closer Look at “Documentary” Digital Games

Naturally this first source for this week went into detail about what could be considered a “documentary” in the traditional sense, which makes sense given the subject matter.

I think a game as a documentary is an interesting use of the medium, in that it’s one that can be used to provide a far more intimate insight with the subject matter, wherein you engage with the events being told rather than being purely a spectator. You do, however, run the risk of “gamifying” the subject matter, which may not be taken lightly if the material being documented is sensitive in its nature, which will more likely be the case with matters that are personal to individuals or that they can relate to through family members, such as events like the holocaust.

The contemporary view of documentary that is cited here provided by Bill Nichols is one of adhering to genre conventions, and maintaining an ethos of production and reception. The writer then applies this to games stating that the constructed nature of digital games complicates the nature of transparency that more traditional documentaries tend to have. I can see why this would be an issue as the ability to see games as reality is one that’s easily lost when you gamify something too much or translate real things into games in a less plausible way. The author Cites Sim City as one such example being not an appropriate way to document actual urban renewal, even though it may contain similar themes.

One of the main things that stood out to me later in this reading was the concept of creating procedural games in a documentary style, using the “structuring of the subject in a rhetorical frame produced by a defined rule structure”, essentially attempting to maintain the adherence to reality that Nichols’ view of documentaries required. This one was particularly interesting to me as it essentially provides an experience that changes while still remaining somewhat accurate to the subject matter, without repeating specific events in the typical historical fashion.

Abstracting Evidence: Documentary Process in the Service of Fictional Gameworlds

Naturally given the themes of this week’s lecture, this source also focused a lot on video games as documentaries, but compared to the former source this one focused more on the developmental process of creating such a game.

Seeing the comparison screenshot of models compared to the reference image is really interesting; the ability to remake real places in this way might be a really good way in the future to document historical events and essentially be able to walk through them (I’m sure this already exists to some extent, it’s just not something I’ve come across personally).

Perhaps I was misreading the part of this, but the section on realism confused me slightly — It begins by talking about exploring philosophies of realism outside of literal storytelling. Would these then still be considered documentaries, even if the subject matter of the events occurring was completely fictional? This strikes me as something that sort of bits between a documentary and something that is not, so I am curious if there is any technical terminology for the name of this kind of product.

This line of thought follows onto games where the player might be given incomplete information of an event in this source. This one is more intriguing to me because this could be utilised to give perspective to the player, as in some historical situations poor decisions may have been made or events caused due to lack of information, so in a way it might be possible to create a product that produces the same behaviours in the player by providing them with the same incomplete information. I’m not certain if I would want to use this kind of idea with some subject matter where this isn’t the case, unless it’s to make some kind of point about the subject matter from the developer.

Political Games / Documentary Games