A Critical Reading Towards the Video Game. The Gamer as a Subjective Element Within The Game

During this month of July I was playing with two video games with similar themes, but totally different in terms of their mechanics: Far Cry 5 (Ubisoft, 2018) and Sagebrush (Redact Games, 2018). They both share a similar theme in that they explore the role of cults; however, beyond the game mechanics, the main difference between them lies in how they approach cults.

For this article, I present the two examples mentioned above to explore the role of video games as a cultural product whose characteristics serve to make a critical reading of various topics, as is the case of cults in the two games mentioned. I also emphasize the role of the gamer to see beyond a superficial reading, and where, in addition to the narrative presented, it is he who completes the story with his own ideas, maintaining a constant dialogue with the videogame.

Cults, Between Far Cry 5 and Sagebrush

The similar themes from which both games start are changed by both the game mechanics and the way they approach the theme of cults. In Far Cry 5, the player is confronted with an apocalyptic cult in the midst of gunfire and explosions. The leader of the sect, Joseph Seed, along with his three brothers, arrives in Montana to spread his word and take over the town, and the gamer as the protagonist must stop them. While the story within the environment is one that gives insights into the cults and how the people and individuals suffer, there is not much depth to it. Possibly the most exemplary case is the case of Sister Faith Seed, whose roots are briefly explained in some sequences and a couple of letters.

Otherwise, it is the game of Sagebrush, where the protagonist, after a long period that is not mentioned at the beginning, explores the old place where the sect was located. Unlike the first game mentioned, Far Cry 5, the purpose within Sagebrush is to reveal the history of the sect, the faithful, and the relationship it has with the protagonist. This last point is the one that, with a more emotional side and with more resources (through cards, audios, and internal dialogues), emphasizes more in the game, and shows us a more human side of cults, one where they are not only the bad guys to be destroyed. And it is precisely this side that calls my attention the most, mainly because the video game does not give a value judgment on the sects, and does not discuss in a positive or negative way the faithful, but through a journey, you can see the reasons why the characters joined that cult, and what led them to a tragic end.

Critical Games

There are two substantial differences in the story and how the gamer approaches it; however, this process occurs from two elements: the game itself and the relationship between the game and the gamer. In the first part, in the game itself, there is a substantial difference between the Far Cry 5 and Sagebrush titles, where the second one approaches the subject of the sects from a more critical and empathic way, and not only as a background to develop a story. This approach makes the subject more carefully explored, and different elements are related to it, such as mechanics and aesthetics.

The way the game is designed gives the player a more developed critical appropriation, understood as the interiorization of the critical content of the video game, and with which he can structure and give meaning to his life experience (Hernández and Sánchez, 2015). In other words, although the activity of appropriation becomes part of the player, it is part of the intention and development of the game itself that has such content
However, beyond the designer’s proposal, there is another narrative that the videogamer constructs with his own framework of subjectivity.

The Gamer’s Role in Understanding the Video Game

Zagal (2010) comments that there are two ways of understanding a game: one innocent and the other derived from greater understanding, a ludo literacy. In the case of the first one, it can be considered, in a very general way, that the game of Far Cry 5 is only about shooting and killing every cultist in Montana, which is why it was very criticized in different media.

However, starting from a critical way and with a personal frame of reference, it is the gamer who acts in his own way within the open world of Montana, where the story of Far Cry 5 takes place and makes him play in a subjective way, so he also gives coherence to the character and the story. So, in a personal way, I chose to carry out the rescue missions first, always with stealth and killing the least amount of animals; that is, with my own subjectivity, I tried to play in such a way as if it was me who was in Montana, adding the subjective experience to the one created by the developer.

Towards a Critical Reading of the Video Game

Finally, I emphasize that for any video game, whether designed with more critical content or not, we must not forget the role of the gamer and the importance of having a greater amount of videoludic culture, not only to have a better experience, but also a better and deeper reading of the videogame as a cultural product.

References

  • Hernández Mendo, R. D. y V. E. Sánchez Luque (2015) “Entre burócratas, fontaneros y pandilleros. De la comprensión inocente a la educación crítica en videojuegos” en Bit y aparte. Revista interdisciplinar de estudios videolúdicos, n.º 3, pp. 24–35. Madrid, SELLO ARSGAMES.
  • Zagal, J. (2010) Ludoliteracy. Defining, understanding and supporting games education. San Bernardino (EE. UU.), ETC Press (The Carnegie-Mellon University).

VideoGames

  • Far Cry 5, 2018, Ubisoft.
  • Sagebrush, 2018, Redact Games.

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Essays about philosophy of technology, new media, and game design.

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learto_ler

learto_ler

Essays about philosophy of technology, new media, and game design.

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