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#Metagame Book Club
Game Studies Week 2: “Ideologies & Games”
Sherry Jones
Game Studies Facilitator
Fall 2014
Watch the Live Webcast To This Lecture!

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"Ideologies & Games" by Sherry Jones (Nov. 16, 2014)



November 16, 2014 - This is my Game Studies presentation for the Metagame Book Club titled: "Ideologies & Games."

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"Ideologies & Games" by Sherry Jones (Nov. 16, 2014)

  1. 1. #Metagame Book Club Game Studies Week 2: “Ideologies & Games” Sherry Jones Game Studies Facilitator Fall 2014 @autnes http://bit.ly/gamestudies7
  2. 2. Watch the Live Webcast To This Lecture!
  3. 3. Texts in Focus Political Ideologies & Games 1. "Rapture Through Russell: Bioshock & Bertrand Russell's Authority & The Individual" by Ciarán Ó Muirthile (2014) War Ideologies & Games 2. "Play and Possibility in the Rhetoric of the War on Terror: The Structure of Agency in Halo 2" by Gerald Voorhees (2014) Ethical and Moral Ideologies & Games 3. "Moral Decision Making in Fallout" by Marcus Schulzke (2009)
  4. 4. Guiding Questions Q. What is ideology according to Louis Althusser? What is the relationship between ideology and digital media, such as video games? Q. According to the academic articles assigned this week, what types of ideology present and assert themselves in games? Can you name some examples? Q. Do game developers consciously incorporate ideology into a game’s narrative? If not, why do ideologies appear in video games? Q. As an educator, do you consider video games appropriate for teaching different types of ideology? Why or why not?
  5. 5. A Close Reading of "Rapture Through Russell: Bioshock & Bertrand Russell's Authority & The Individual" by Ciarán Ó Muirthile (2014) “Tea Garden” in Bioshock
  6. 6. Ciarán Ó Muirthile (2014) analyzes the breakdown of the city of Rapture and the political ideology of individualism in the story of Bioshock (2007), through Bertrand Russell’s political philosophy on the role of social cohesion in the survival of a state. For Muirthile, previous attempts to analyze Bioshock’s story through Ayn Rand’s individualism do not adequately account for the complex issues that led to Rapture’s series of breakdowns. Through the lens of Russell’s political philosophy, Muirthile argues that Rapture’s breakdowns are caused by intellectualism, oppression of irrationality, individualist freedom, and lack of social cohesion. Analyzing Bioshock via Bertrand Russell
  7. 7. Balance Between Rationality and Irrationality “Andrew Ryan’s ‘great city’ shuns moral and emotional barriers in the pursuit of artistic, scientific and industrial greatness. But, as Russell explains repeatedly throughout his lectures, those impulses, which he describes as irrational or emotional, can only be suppressed for so long before a type of coiled spring effect occurs, and a violent, shocking return to natural equilibrium–in the case of BioShock this is a state of emotionality or irrationality–occurs.” -- Ciarán Ó Muirthile
  8. 8. Society vs. Individualist Freedom “Ryan, in building Rapture, built an escape from the impulses which, he felt, restricted growth in the facets of human development important to him. But in doing this he forced other elements of natural human instinct and society to be quashed in the spirit of individualist freedom.” -- Ciarán Ó Muirthile
  9. 9. Tenenbaum, Intellectualism, and Amorality “The character of Tenenbaum, who worked with ‘kindred spirits’ in Nazi experiments during the Second World War, is seemingly a perfect match for the amoral, intellectual, progress- driven ethic of Ryan and Rapture, and yet it is her story which shows the dramatic change.” -- Ciarán Ó Muirthile Image by Biohock Wiki
  10. 10. Before we dive deeper into the texts, I want to provide you with some context to help clarify Muirthile’s argument that Brigid Tenenbaum, a key character in Bioshock, symbolizes the story’s turn from amoral intellectualism to emotionalism (which was repressed by rationality). Brigid Tenenbaum is a geneticist who discovers the ADAM substance in sea slugs, and creates a series of ADAM-based commercial products for enhancing human capabilities. She also created Little Sisters (female children) to collect ADAM. The following are 2 in-game audio diary recordings by Brigid Tenenbaum from Bioshock: Analyzing Bioshock via Bertrand Russell
  11. 11. “The augmentation procedure is a success. The slugs alone could not provide enough ADAM for serious work. But combined with the host... now we have something. The slug is embedded in the lining of the host's stomach and after the host feeds we induce regurgitation, and then we have twenty, thirty times yield of usable ADAM. The problem now is the shortage of hosts. Fontaine says, ‘Patience, Tenenbaum. Soon the first home for Little Sisters will be open, and that problem will be solved...’” -- [AUDIO DIARY] “Mass producing ADAM” by Bioshock Wiki Brigid Tenanbaum’s Audio Diary 1
  12. 12. “What makes something like me? I look at genes all day long, and never do I see the blueprint of sin. I could blame the Germans, but in truth, I did not find tormentors in the Prison Camp, but kindred spirits. These children I brutalized have awoken something inside that for most is beautiful and natural, but in me, is an abomination... my maternal instinct.” -- [AUDIO DIARY] “Maternal Instincts” by Bioshock Wiki Brigid Tenenbaum’s Audio Dairies 2 Image by Bioshock Wiki
  13. 13. Breakdown - Tenenbaum’s Emotionalism “Yet her constant repression of her emotional core leads to the coiled spring effect, and later the player discovers Tenenbaum’s true feelings: ‘I feel… hatred, like I never felt before, in my chest. Bitter, burning fury. I can barely breathe. And suddenly, I know, it is not this child I hate.’ BioShock presents her turn from being the intellectual, progress driven being of rationality to becoming a mother, a creature of emotion, of spiritual connection, as an about-face.” -- Ciarán Ó Muirthile
  14. 14. Breakdown - Death of Lutz to Cold Intellectualism “BioShock, in keeping with its theme of mind overriding heart, offers Mariska Lutz’s story as another example of the suppression of ‘irrationality’ which, while giving Rapture life, turns against the underwater refuge. Mariska’s daughter, Masha, is taken in for implantation, to further the scientific uses of the sea-slug; to “save the city” according to one of her Audio Logs. Mariska is expected to, and indeed does, suppress her instincts and her emotional drives in favour of Rapture’s ethos. For the good of the dream, of Rapture and science, Mariska and her husband make a sacrifice ultimately neither can live with.” -- Ciarán Ó Muirthile
  15. 15. Breakdown - State (Community) Ideology vs. Individual Interest “The conflict between building a community and allowing complete individualism is what ultimately causes the first cracks to appear. As Russell would put it, both Ryan and the other people in Rapture are creating a product, a paradise of individualism and excellence. However the divorce between ‘management and the worker’ (Russell 43-44), that is the top level and the lowest level, means that the product becomes less and less of interest to those who don’t share the vision of the management. The uniting purpose, the social bonds so crucial to the development of a stable society, are denied a chance to grow: Rapture, in the end, remains an empty seashell rather than a city.” -- Ciarán Ó Muirthile
  16. 16. Breakdown - No Enemies as Uniting Purpose “A glance at Rapture, and its founding ethos, shows that Ryan, almost accidentally, made this togetherness impossible. Rapture was built underwater, away from the “man in Washington,” etc., because it was the only place that Rapture would be allowed to exist. It was the only place where those who felt restricted by societal norms and values could escape and be free. Rapture, in short, no longer has any enemies.” -- Ciarán Ó Muirthile
  17. 17. A Close Reading of "Play and Possibility in the Rhetoric of the War on Terror: The Structure of Agency in Halo 2" by Gerald Voorhees (2014) Master Chief in Halo
  18. 18. Player Agency in Interpreting the Rhetoric of War in Halo 2 Gerald Voorhees (2014) examines the ideology of American Exceptionalism in the game, Halo 2, through the lens of post 9/11 rhetoric on the War on Terror. He argues that the game affords the player a sense of agency to respond to the War on Terror via gameplay. Voorhees applies “Michel Foucault’s theory of agency and Northrop Frye's theories of fictional mode and thematic genre to consider a range of possible, potentially overlapping affective responses to Halo 2.” -- Gerald Voorhees
  19. 19. Relationship between Government and the Entertainment Media Industry “Stahl (2006) provides a most comprehensive analysis of the game industry's role in the post-9/11 media landscape. Recounting the Bush administration's efforts to reach out to entertainment media industries, Stahl gives a thoroughly contextualized accounting of numerous games released in the five years following the attacks on the World Trade Center and argues that the game discourses blur the distinction between citizen and soldier.” -- Gerald Voorhees
  20. 20. Definition of Power via Foucault “[P]ower is an effect of knowledge materialized though the actions of subjects. Power operates to the extent that the actions make sense in the context of the discourses that shape how people know the matter in question. This does not mean that power is domination. Quite the opposite, ‘It operates on the field of possibilities in which the behaviour of active subjects is able to inscribe itself’ (Foucault, 2000, p. 341).” -- Gerald Voorhees
  21. 21. Definition of Agency via Foucault “This paradigm, cognizant of the ubiquity of power and the importance of intelligible action, maintains that agency ‘must emerge from an analysis of the particular concepts that enable specific modes of being, responsibility and effectivity’ (Mahmood, 2005, p. 14-15). Agency, in this light, is neither the freedom from domination characteristic of liberalism nor the power to impact the gameworld banalized by scholars of game design, but the ability to create meaning in a situation not of one's own making.” -- Gerald Voorhees
  22. 22. Rhetoric of Agency of the War on Terror “In the face of this danger, (an undeconstructed notion of) agency becomes a key theme in official discourses alternatively celebrating and justifying the War on Terror.” “Agency, to seek justice, to redress wrongs and to ‘define our times, not be defined by them,’ is central to this ethos (G.W. Bush, quoted in Murphy, 2003, p. 624). The same polarizing rhetoric of ‘us versus them’ that highlights the ideological character of the War on Terror figures American agency as a Biblical power wielded against the forces of evil (Ivie, 2007).” -- Gerald Voorhees
  23. 23. Exceptionalism and the War on Terror “[I]deology of American exceptionalism . . . was a cornerstone of the Bush Administration's post-9/11 rhetoric and inspired the bravado that underwrote Bush's claim that ‘in our grief and anger we have found our mission and our moment’ (quoted in Murphy, 2003, p. 623). . . . Indeed, as evidenced by claims that the War on Terror would bring about the ‘democratic globalism’ espoused by conservative commentators at the American Enterprise Institute and produce what the National Security Policy of the United States of America describes as "a balance of power that favors human freedom" (both quoted in Rojecki, 2008, p. 72) the War on Terror is deeply entrenched in exceptionalist ideology.” -- Gerald Voorhees
  24. 24. Halo and the Weapon of Mass Destruction “In [Halo: Combat Evolved] players enter the twenty-sixth century, where humans have been attacked without warning, just like the Americans in the World Trade Center on the day of 9/11, and thus find themselves embroiled in a war with an alien civilization known as the Covenant. HCE begins when a human spaceship pursued by a Covenant armada makes a blind 'jump' into deep space and discovers a Halo, an ancient but technologically sophisticated relic of the heretofore unknown Forerunners. Upon learning that the Covenant seek to use the Halo as a weapon of mass destruction, the player sets out to commandeer or destroy it.” -- Gerald Voorhees
  25. 25. Halo 2 and Theology “[I]n H2 the Covenant is identified as a religious movement. While dialogue concerning the "sacred rings," "holy rings" and "sacred journey" pepper the game's script, the theocratic nature of the Covenant is also highlighted by several non-interactive cut-scenes toward the start of the game. One scene is a 'trial' that takes place on the Covenant Holy City, High Charity, (identified in an establishing shot).” -- Gerald Voorhees
  26. 26. Halo 2 and Theo-Politics “[A] Covenant soldier of the Sangheile species (called Elites by human soldiers) is publicly humiliated for failing to safeguard the Halo ring destroyed in HCE. He is dragged from a kangaroo court to an amphitheater, where thousands watch, and approbated: ‘There can be no greater heresy. Let him be an example for all who would break our Covenant!’ Then, he is tortured and branded with a hot iron. Because this scene takes place before gameplay has begun, it frames the conflict that follows. . . . [The] scene also evokes the fundamentalist ideology of the Covenant and theo-political character of the Human-Covenant War, paralleling the Bush Administration's construction of America's War on Terror.” -- Gerald Voorhees
  27. 27. Halo 2 and the Rhetoric of the Apocalypse “H2 also quickly reestablishes the apocalyptic nature of the Human- Covenant War. When they first encounter the ring, the humans are reminded, ‘If activated, this ring will cause destruction on a galactic scale.’ Later, a Covenant transmission proclaiming that the activation of the ring will commence a Great Journey is intercepted and a human soldier calls out, ‘Great Journey? Doesn't he know what these rings do?’ By linking the Covenant's misguided religious fundamentalism with the potential destruction of all life in the galaxy, the game buttresses the analogical relationship with the War on Terror that players must negotiate as they play H2.” -- Gerald Voorhees
  28. 28. A Close Reading of "Moral Decision Making in Fallout" by Marcus Schulzke (2009) In-Game Propaganda videos from Fallout 3
  29. 29. The Fallout Game Series and Morality Marcus Schulzke (2009) argues that video games are literary texts can be used to teach students how to think about morality and moral choice. Due to the unique, interactive nature of video games, he asserts that video games force the player to make moral choices based on her own value systems, which in turn, can make the player question her moral choices. For Schulzke, the Fallout game series best simulate the conditions of philosophical questions, such as the moral dilemma, in the game narrative and gameplay.
  30. 30. Games and Moral Choices “The Fallout series is among the video games best suited for ethical instruction because it is set in an open world that grants the player freedom of action - including the freedom to be moral or immoral. Although these games have not perfected the moral dimension of play, they are effective in presenting players with complex moral dilemmas that require careful reasoning. The games do not purport to teach morality and they should not attempt to do so. Their value is in creating compelling simulations that force players to test their own values then using sanctions in the game to respond to the player's choices. We should see them as a training ground in which players can practice thinking about morality.” -- Marcus Schulzke
  31. 31. Setting of the Fallout Series “The character ventures into the wasteland of post-nuclear America to find an array enemies ranging from mutated ghouls to renegade factions of the US army and must complete a series of open-ended quests that make game experiences personal.” -- Marcus Schulzke
  32. 32. Moral Weight of Choices in Fallout Series “What makes the games so enjoyable is that choices matter. While players must complete the same main quests they have so much choice over which side quests to complete and how to complete them that no player come away with the same experience as another One of the qualities that sets the Fallout series apart from other games is that the quests are not only open but that they also attach moral weight to the player's choices.” -- Marcus Schulzke
  33. 33. Fallout 3 & The Moral Question on Drugs “Fallout 3 was initially banned in Australia because of the prominent role of drugs (Peckham, 2008), only to be accepted in an altered form that fit with the country's game rating system. . . . In the game, each drug is accompanied by a small graphical representation of the drug and the player is shown using them when they are taken in the game. The drugs closely resemble real ones. Med-X, was even called 'morphine' before censors forced a change. They are also suggestive for having numerous positive and negative side-effects as well as the possibility of addiction. Usually drugs in games are far more one-dimensional, repairing hit points or increasing strength and not doing much else.” -- Marcus Schulzke
  34. 34. Fallout 3 & The Moral Question on Sexuality “The first two Fallout games also included high levels of sexual content. In Fallout 2 the player could collect condoms, ‘Jimmy Hats,’ and work in the post apocalyptic American pornography industry. The scenes were never visually graphic, but they did bring real moral questions about sexuality into the game with uncompromising directness.” -- Marcus Schulzke
  35. 35. Player-Centric Virtue Ethics “More than anything else, the Fallout series is unique in giving players an open world in which they can make genuine moral choices. Moral dilemmas are not presented for passive contemplation - they are an integral part of gameplay. As Sicart points out in his study of virtue ethics in games (Sicart 2009), virtue ethics is player-centric. It makes sense only when players are not merely passive recipients of the games content but actually play a role in determining the course of events. Fallout is certainly player-centric and it includes a sophisticated system of quantifying players' actions in order to work them into a computer simulation.” -- Marcus Schulzke
  36. 36. Utilitarianism and Fallout “[Jeremy Bentham, philosopher of utilitarianism,] measures happiness by assigning numerical value to the variables intensity, duration, certainty, propinquity, purity, fecundity and extent. For time and propinquity this is easy since we already measure time and space numerically. Bentham also thinks we can assign numbers to the intensity of a pleasure and how certain one is of obtaining it (Bentham, 1961).” -- Marcus Schulzke
  37. 37. Utilitarianism and Fallout (Cont’d) “Fallout 3 attempts something similar to Bentham's quantification of pleasure and pain with the Karma scale. Although Fallout does not start from the utilitarian assumption of happiness being the greatest goal, it does measure the amount of harm done to other characters in the game. There are six moral types corresponding to the numerical values. Between -1,000 and -750 the player is very evil, -749 to -250 is evil, -249 to 249 is neutral, 250 to 749 is good, and 750 to 1,000 is very good (Hodgson, 2008, p.29). Nearly everything the player does in Fallout 3 affects Karma in some way, either increasing or decreasing the number of points depending on the morality of the action.” -- Marcus Schulzke
  38. 38. Fallout 3 and Moral Dilemma “In The Pitt, a Fallout 3 expansion, the player is faced with a moral decision that is far less clear than most others in the game. The main quest, ‘Free Labor,’ revolves around a difficult choice between freeing slaves and curing a degenerative disease by kidnapping a baby or defending the baby and the scientists looking for a more humane cure to the disease while allowing the slaves to remain oppressed. The designers took a care to present compelling reasons for each choice.” -- Marcus Schulzke
  39. 39. Fallout 3 and Moral Dilemma (Cont’d) “The slaves clearly live miserable lives and aspire to something better, but they are also ready to hurt the innocent baby in pursuit of their cure and want to kill all of their former captors, not all of whom seem immoral. On the other hand, the slavers treat the baby well and they have a strange paternalistic care for the slaves because their leader claims to defend them from the outside world. The masters are flawed because they keep slaves and because the forced labor includes such unnecessarily harsh measures as forcing them to fight each other to the death. Thus the player is forced to weigh two choices that will each produce a great deal of good and evil.” -- Marcus Schulzke
  40. 40. Lecture By: Sherry Jones Game Studies Facilitator Philosophy, Rhetoric, Game Studies @autnes Writings & Webcasts Access Slides: http://bit.ly/gamestudies7