|Travelling as a metaphor for... well, life.|
Those of you who don't recognise the above screengrab will wonder what's going on this morning: I spent a portion of yesterday with my kids becoming acquainted with the game that is Journey on the PS3. Except, many people will argue it isn't a game to begin with: you can't die, there is no right way to complete it (though it has the prerequisite trophies) and, most importantly of all, as an interactive experience you have no real way to associate with anyone you may 'play' with until your journey is over. Frankly the entire thing is impossible to describe, you have to play it to understand not simply the beauty of the experience but the complexity. It is undoubtedly unlike anything you will ever pick up on a console and even if the actual game itself doesn't grasp you the music is worth seeking out as possibly the most atmospheric accompaniment to anything I've heard for some time.
This gave me considerable pause for thought, especially on the back of the discussions yesterday concerning in-game accountability. Here I am presented with an experience where the only way to communicate is with a series of musical notes. I have no idea of the identity of the people I 'meet' in game: the only indicator comes when we are close enough to interact. If a person deliberately stops and 'helps' me to find a particular path (or as happened last night the location of items to be awarded with a trophy) and then accompanies me to the end, of the game, I feel a far greater sense of empathy and companionship than I think has ever been the case with random grouping in Warcraft. By NOT knowing who I am with and being made to consider my actions visually and entirely different set of responses are triggered.
Is it fair therefore to judge individuals on past behaviour when it is just as likely that they could act in a completely different manner dependant on individual circumstances? Could affording utter anonymity to people be an answer, so that you are forced simply to consider actions and not previous deeds?
The biggest single problem with that argument in Warcraft is that it is a game that pretty much relies on communication to function, and once to place that caveat into play the notions of simply working on action become largely redundant, because of the goals the game drives people towards. You require not simply an ability to play, but gear and consumables and in most cases a group of friends with whom you can rely on to complete the tasks asked of you. Most importantly, death is a constant that isn't simply inevitable, it is also costly and often frustrating. Because the notion of 'winning' remains at the core of the experience, there have to be complex choices made, and consequences inevitably for such decisions. It also means that long-term issues and flaws become significant, and need to be accounted for.
However elegant and beautiful it may be to consider a world where everything worked in moments of cinematic and artistic perfection, the reality is that life is harsh, and people are often harsher. While even the most embittered individuals may have their moments of salvation, the truth is that being accountable continues to matter, especially when many (often hard-worked) hours are needed to kill bosses. There are lessons to be learnt here, especially for those who believe the moment should be the only thing that matters, and that judging anyone on past mistakes puts that person at a deliberate disadvantage. It is the lesson that many people could do well to be reminded of whenever they feel the need to tell the world online of what's going on in their life at any given moment.
Unlike people, the Internet has an extremely long memory. It remembers far more than most of us would probably feel comfortable with, not simply in cached pages. Pictures on ancient bulletin boards we have long-since grown out of, discussions in forums we would rather forget. Yes, you may keep changing your name but all that stuff never goes away, and it is amazing what algorithms are now being written to tie all the disparate stands of our lives together to appease both advertisers and governments. If the future of our lives is online, then learning how to manage that presence responsibility is vital, especially when it comes to the consequences of our actions. That means being made accountable for whatever we might do, even when playing a game.
I'd love to live in a world where something like Journey could be a foundation for a gaming world where helping each other is the default state. However, that's unlikely ever to happen (at least in my lifetime), and so we do need to push for some more aggressive methods of policing. It may be unpleasant for some, but the reality of the situation we now find ourselves in is that accountability has to matter, and it has to be a state that everyone is prepared to embrace.