A predator

This morning I woke suddenly from a dream.

In the dream, I was playing a video game. The game took place on some sort of alien Serengeti. I played a predator, something like a lion-- I couldn't see my own form, as the game was in first person. I approached a group of prey animals standing in a clearing of yellow grass. They resembled giraffe or llama, sort of similar to the mucalosaurus from Zeno Clash, but smaller and with fur. They were scaled to various sizes-- adolescents to adults, I assumed.

Being a predator, I leapt forward and seized onto a fairly large one, biting at its flesh. It offered no real resistance, but within a few moments I began taking damage from the side. I turned from my prey to see a larger one of the creatures trying to fend me off. I realized that this creature must be my target's mother. I swiped at her, easily repelling the mother and sending the rest of the group scattering. They stood uncomfortably in a perimeter around me as I returned to my work.

I looked up to see the mother creature keeping its distance, as it was no match for me. It looked back at me and said sadly, "No, stop."

I dropped the game controller and recoiled, repulsed and disgusted by the scene I was in the midst of: as I tore at its child, the mother creature-- which I didn't expect to have the power of speech at all-- was reduced to pleading as it looked on helplessly. My predefined role as the player was that of a predator, but the unexpected repercussions of that role on these alien life forms hit me with a wave of shock, terror and remorse. That's when I woke up.

I wonder if it means anything.


gauss said...

Means a little bit of something, like most dreams... possibly something to do with your trying to get a game out the door, given that the dream had an explicit game-playing frame instead of a dream where you yourself were the predator.

But what I think I like best about the description is that it points to some understanding that for games to "matter," (take that as you will), then they would have the capacity to hurt?

To give an experience that could be repugnant... if the game in the dream were real, would you go back to playing it later?
Call the Manhunt question. What's it saying about violence, and does it say anything about you for playing it--is it more endorsement, or complicity, if it happens in a game rather than a book or movie?

Shadow of the Colossus taught us that wittingly or unwittingly becoming the "bad guy" can be a very powerful, and very authentically videogame-type of an experience...
I think I'd at least like to try and play that predator game, would it exist.

elias said...

Awesome. : )

DmL said...

I had a similar disconnect recently playing Call of Duty. As waves of human soldiers fell before my hand, their screams of pain did not fall on deaf ears. Quite uncomfortable. Shadow of the Colossus was somewhat similar, but the player character was as much a victim as the Colossi, and they also didn't (probably) have fatherless children at home.

Jan said...

That reminds me of my experience with Far Cry 2, a game so realistic that i stopped playing in disgust when I started feeling like a sick mercenary killing guys that didn't know better in a troubled country.

Casey Goodrow said...

Hiya Steve! It's Casey from work, stumbled over from your LinkedIn... I'm a little late to the party here but I love this dream and can't help but chime in. It brings a lot to light for me about what I've come to expect from games.

It seems that the standard rule in design is to set the player up with a perspective of the game world early on and to let them play with the tools from that perspective. You were presented with a world where you were a predator (likely given an assortment of predatory skills or attacks), and, given the tools and the perspective presented to you, you naturally assumed that to succeed at the game you must succeed as a predator.

But that wasn't it at all! The game seemed to fool you by giving you a set of tools you were not required to use, and by secretly giving you another set of tools which would have greatly altered your perspective on the game had you known they existed (being able to speak and reason with these other creatures). Once presented with the full gamut of information regarding the design of the game you were left with a dilemma: Do you succeed by continuing to play by the rules originally presented, or do you adapt to the new rules presented to you and succeed another way?

Perhaps it wasn't even a dilemma, it may have just been a realization that you never had to kill at all, that it was something you were trained to do and did unquestioningly until you were forced to question it. This kind of choice isn't often presented in games, especially not in such a realistic way (realistic in that, often we look upon the world as if there is only one right way to do something, and later we will find a new way and it will change everything).

Anyway, that's where your dream lead me. I'm not sure yet how it relates to my own perspectives on game design but there was a very powerful moment in your dream game that we don't often get from real games, and I'd totally be interested in seeing that concept fully realized someday.

Cheers man,

Casey G

Anonymous said...

I feel the same way about quite a few games (Had to get the 'Animal Friend' perk in Fallout 3 so as not to have to kill dogs & yao-guai). I never feel douchey when killing people in GTA. There's a dark hilarity there, I suppose. But I think I enjoy it because I realize what I'm killing is a bunch of programs designed to be morons who are better suited as windshield decorations than as whatever they were previously.