Warlords of Draenor, Hermeneutics, Feedback Loops (Part 2)

Part 2

Many game combines good feedback loops – the kinesthetics of a wonderful firefight, the slight pause between impact on hits, the joy of winning a strategic victory, or even building up that farm in Harvest Moon after lots of good crop planning. Just as many games overlay their good feedback loops with bad ones. Imagine how many game contain strange, arbitrary systems of upgrades, or endless numbers of resources to gather, or even a million billion pointless objects to collect. Sometimes they supplement the real game, but often times they obscure it through a mess of overlays encouraging you to play when the game already intrigued you enough to continue.

When I come to a video game, then, I can quickly determine whether it fully takes advantage of its mechanical strengths or if it merely strings me along towards the next setpiece while I press buttons as an unwitting participant. You can see this via the review I write and most of the games I praise; I demarcate a clear divide between good and bad on the basis of feedback loops, and differentiating between the good and the bad takes some doing. In effect, I create a set of doctrines for myself to determine which game fits where; sometimes I need to change my criteria, but most times it remains solid and self-sufficient for the process of criticism. I do not believe these as interpretations; rather, they attach a hermenuetics as to how I interpret good and bad in this particular entertainment vein.

Video games often manipulate some switch on the circuit boards of our brains, no doubt. The issue lies in figuring out whether you want it to hit that switch in specific. While playing, you will not realize this as the game world becomes the primary focus of your mental energies. However, post-game, ask yourself some questions?

1. What am I actually doing?

2. Is this fulfilling in any way, or am I merely pressing buttons? Do the aesthetics complement, or complicate, what happens on screen?

3. Does the game consist of menial tasks and bars going up, or am I accomplishing actual challenges in the game?

4. Does the story, if it is important, bother to aid immersion? If so, then how?

5. And lastly, do the mechanical interactions and underpinnings work well in the context of an endless mode?

That last one sounds like personal preference, and to some degree that’s true. Most games I play, however, tend to fall in this category. The feedback loop of, saying, combat action games lies in looking stylish, subtle timing and screen movements, along with the challenge of not being killed yourself. This could apply to nearly every game ever made – could you play it in a survival endless context and still find it wonderful? Over time, that criteria proves efficient for discerning which games actually work in themselves as video games (for endless movies and books just do not exist), rather than as manipulative media.

puppeteer

Blizzard is the Puppet Master!

And this, I find, works well in examining the Biblical text as well. Any one who considers it the Word of God knows its usefulness and its power – but we can also change it to our own ends when we read it with preconceptions and presuppositions. It takes some work to remove our own preferences and engage the text as the text, as a Living Word, quick and powerful and, dare I say, dangerous. The metaphors that the Biblical authors use to describe it always struck me as incredibly vivid, noting God’s inexplicability and grace in equal measure:

For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.

Hebrew 4

I find it an inexhaustible, sometimes exhausting (har har), resource of truth. You can read, and re-read, the text while finding new things within it. If any book has an endless mode, than the Bible’s mysteries certain contain enough for that (the reams of books on said subjects should tell you that much, if not much in the way of useful analysis). We wrestle and struggle with it, coming from a completely different context, and emerge with new knowledge, not that of the world but that of God. No fancy philosophical overlays or theological agendas should come into play. They, in a succinct and precise word, devalue the text through their categorizing and listing, making explicable what remains inexplicable to the rational mind. To constrain it to your whims, you must kill it, and we already know God does not let Death stop Him.

So it is that I find  Warlords of Draenor both enthralling and problematic at the same time: it tries to constrain the mechanics with this overlay of STUFF. I still enjoy the game for what it is, and for all the challenge that tanking provides (mostly in fixing people’s mistakes), but the end result of the Garrison worries me. It represents all the things in games that I don’t like, a thin set of arbitrary checklists and completionist requirements so that I can feel good for doing next to nothing. If I wanted that, I’m sure there’s any number of other ways to tap the pleasure centers of my brain. Me? I just can’t deal with that kind of game design in any good conscience and say it’s good.

And yet….it does compel me in some way. It accomplishes the idea, if not the actual accomplishment, of building something up in the world. You get to choose the buildings, the followers, and all the real specifics of your Garrison environment. In all those ways, it will definitely work for you, but ultimately it comes down to a series of empty choices involving World of WarCraft perks. But, again, it appears compelling and I am still playing, so clearly something’s wrong!

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.