Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Holstering Your Concepts

I have mentioned a few times that I'm working on a project that is based on the concept of the John Wick universe with assassins, etc., called Shoot to Kill. It's a pervasive larp that I'm working on an augmented reality app for. I've been pretty excited about it! However, it's being revamped. Here's why.

(Content note: discussion of gun violence and mention of suicide.)

(This will contain my personal feelings on gun use. I honestly Do Not Care if you disagree. *shrug*)


Description: A United States flag over an illustration of ships, with the words "knock knock. it's the United States."
Well, in case you're unfamiliar with the United States, we have a fucking problem with guns. While there are recent events that are particularly notable examples, our incidences of mass shootings are common and significant. I've been thinking about it a lot.

I grew up in an environment with a lot of guns. Like, my dad, pap, and cousin owned probably nearly arsenals and my brother wasn't far behind (I don't keep track of how many they own these days). While my pap was shot twice (by someone else, once when he was a kid - in the eye - and once while hunting small game - in the dick, no lies), in our direct family I only know of one other incident of gun violence in my family, which was a different cousin who committed suicide.

I'm pointing this out because when I was growing up, guns were used "responsibly," as in, we didn't use them in unsafe ways, we were taught gun safety very early, etc. I shot a rifle for the first time when I was like 9. I actually own guns (that may be changing, I'm not sure). So these people misusing guns, they were not us, they weren't responsible gun owners. 

But I totally grew up right next to some of the classic trash bags who own a shitton of guns and want to use them to hurt people. You can be "safe" with your guns all you fuckin' want but when it comes to mass shootings, that's not about how well you can avoid accidentally shooting someone. Like, let's be real. Responsible gun ownership means shit right now. People are electing to go kill people, in public, en masse, with guns. For like, a whole host a reasons that are... okay nah. There's no good reason.

Description: Andy Samberg as Jake Peralta pressing a button to speak to someone who has been arrested, saying "Cool motive! Still murder."
(My official opinion on guns: it would be nice to have strongly regulated gun use for those who hunt and stuff, but otherwise, fuck it, we don't freaking need them. If I'm wrong, you can shoot me later.)

How does this relate to games, you ask?

I was writing a game about shooting people in public.

I have thought about this so deeply. I've been thinking about it for a while. And I can't make a game about shooting people in public.

I especially can't make one that's supposed to be actively played at conventions in-between other games. Like, there's a whole host of problems with pervasive larps that involve finding other people in the first place.

So, the original game was, you're professional assassins like in John Wick and you find people who are also playing the game and "shoot" them (originally just getting in touch with them and marking off their shots). There were gold coins, armor piercing rounds, and armor. It had (still has) varying levels of engagement, both performative and participative, with players becoming NPCs after they're taken out. It seemed like it would be really fun. It also served an important purpose: getting people to meet new people and engage over something.

Still, every time I design stuff, I try to think of ethical issues or any way the game could be misused (this is why there's like an entire two pages in the Turn essays about what you should really fucking not do with the game). This is because people can be stale bagels and also I'd rather not bring further harm into the world. So many people hurt people with games and otherwise already.

Yeah, I'm throwing a little Obamas in here. Description: Michelle Obama saying "When they go low, we go high!"
I'm revamping the game. I'm using the title Headshots because I'm going to try to subvert the violent/game standard use of the term for instead taking pictures of each other - taking "headshots" like in modeling. In this, the fiction will be that you are still professionals, but you're doing reconnaissance instead of assassinating people. You're finding people and identifying them to break their cover stories, and you can use trackers to break cover stories or fake passports to get new ones.

I'm hoping people still like it, and I'm planning to work on it more after I finish school. It sounds fun to me, and it has the elements I thought would be the most fun. I've retained the varying levels of participation, the ability to meet new people and engage with them, and the network of people in the fiction. I'm pretty happy about it, but I feel weird about the fact that some people might think I'm overreacting!

I'm not, tho. So like. Chill for a minute if you were getting those thoughts in your head.

Description: A picture of a parrot with the text "Alas, there is no fruit on my fuck tree."
See, the reality is that game designers have just as much responsibility as every other creator to do their best to make ethical choices in design. I have talked about this before, and it goes beyond cultural appropriation and sexism and all. I don't give a bit of a shit what people's actual political beliefs are. It is very obvious that the use of guns in the US is not handled well, and that the casual attitude towards violence in media contributes to that.

And no, I'm not saying "violent video games and movies cause violent behavior." No. What I'm saying is: if I make a game that could potentially make others (who are not playing a game but are in the place where it is being held) feel unsafe because I don't consider the fact that we live in a society where there are active and persistent threats of violence using the method in my game? I'm not being responsible.

Responsibility is so, so important. We talk about responsible gun owners, right? They can't solve this problem. But as creators, we can choose to be responsible. We can make products that people can engage with without harming themselves or others. We can make products that engage people in the activity that is enjoyable and provide a good fictional backdrop without doing something toxic or harmful.

I'm making this change because I have seen too many body counts, and because I want to be the best I can be. Let's all think of the world and what we can do in it, and for it.

Be better.

Description: A picture of an angry possum with the words "Do no harm, take no shit, beg no man pardon."

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