I feel too used to criticising the society and not the individual. I want to make my tragic hero properly heroic, and martyr him or her to reveal the flaw of the society.

I am far too used to plays that say, “So this is your society: a little fucked, isn’t it?”

Instead I need to think in terms of catutionary tales. I need to think in terms of an external society that is okay, and an individual who represents a seemingly alright deviation within society, or a sub-group of society.

Hubris as a positive trait

In Aristotle’s Greece, the society was pretty afraid of Pharmakos, or what we would call a “tall poppy.” These were members of society treated as scapegoats, often because they had too much good fortune or luck. Democarcy was the political system of the time, and anyone in the minority was treated with suspicion. Hence the tragic hero: full of hubris, the sense that their personal moral choices were more relevent and valid than those of their society or their gods.

But in today’s society, we have almost an excess of hubris. Everyone is expected to have their own opinion, and they have the right to that freedom of speech. What could be understood as slandering another is acceptable today: telling someone, “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all,” treads all over their right to freedom of speech.

Is hubris encouraged in today’s society? Is being selfish exactly what we expected we should be? Is this a change, or is this a good thing?

We may have more contestants to win the meritocracy crown, but does it just give rise to the stupidification of the masses based on the misiformation of one?

Are we freeing ourselves to uncover “The Truth,” or are we just second-guessing everything?

Preventing social and personal change

I’ve been doing more creative research lately, starting to read up on Atlantis and the Knights Templar. The current edition of Hyper magazine is exploring moral choice in games. Very heartening, but also interesting because it isn’t exactly what I’m looking into.

I also gathered together my two essays and put them together to the best of my ability to begin my exegesis. I’m formatting it with topics and conclusions which then become my design constraints. In doing this, it has more brought to my attention where I’m going wrong with my thought process on Tragedy. Until now, I’ve kindof been seeing it as a way of changing society or personal thought. But I’ve since realised that this is backwards:

Tragedy is not about changing society, but preventing change and maintaining what else exists.

Thus, I need to ensure that the theme of my game isn’t about something I dislike about society, but something I do like that is being challenged. I’m supposed to be reinforcing behaviour and thought, while warning against incorrect choices. So, I need to ensure that the first part of my game design is aimed towards building up the relationship between the player-character and the tragic hero. I can’t have him/her be too deviant from the start, or else the deviancy must be understandable/interesting/tempting for the player as well.

It’s difficult, because my instinct is to show a “normal” hero or underdog- someone who goes against the corrupt society and is revered for it. Instead, I need to make sure that whatever I am depicting in the society in which this is set is what I want to reinforce, or otherwise the tragic hero needs to take their society to excess, and make sure that the law of their city is what they follow, instead of the law of the Gods of their time.


The other weekend, I downloaded and played through Braid. It was pretty interesting, with the fractured narrative being delivered to you like the puzzle pieces you collected through each stage. The time-rewinding mechanic was really awesome, too: it allowed the game to be challenging, but not in that “restart at checkpoint,” way; and the variations created some very interesting puzzle-solving techniques. The penultimate stage (World 1-1), was clearly the most basic and clever use of this forgiving device.

However, I, among many others, have a gripe with the designers.

In a game that focuses on a desire to undo mistakes realised too late (sounds like hamartia to me!), the player’s incapacity to do this WHEN THEY PUT A PUZZLE TOGETHER CORRECTLY is extremely frustrating. What am I talking about? Well, there are these “hidden extras” found in the levels in the form of invisible stars. Collecting the stars changes the ending of the game. Most of the stars can be collected at any time during the game. But one of them is created by incorrectly solving one of the jigsaw puzzles. Please note that once you put the puzzles together, you can’t take the pieces apart. Whoops. I just denied myself a different ending because I did something right.

Now, I don’t care what wanky excuse the designers come up with, such as, “Oh well if things were done right in the first place, then nothing would have gone wrong.” Ah, but see, they created for the player a moment of hamartia: I put together the puzzle in a way which I believed was right, and yet I’ve done it wrong, and now I have to do it all again? Well, screw collecting the stars. Someone else will do it and I’ll watch that on YouTube.

So, does the player/audience enjoy being the one who has hamartia? Of course not. This is why they could, should, never be the Tragic Hero.

Tick Tick Smileyface for me. Thanks for proving me right 😉

Tragedy for Social Change

I’ve been absent for a while.  I’m sorry.  I’m going to write up my response to playing a few games of various sizes shortly, but before that, it’s more important (for myself, at least) that I talk about this.

You may recall the post where I talked about Tragedy and the “Role of Games in Personal and Social Change.”  Well, I’ve become increasingly frustrated by the whole “serious games,” thing.  And yet, what is the purpose of Tragedy is to arouse emotions while potraying events that are considered negative in society.  Gonzalo Frasca looked toward Brecht and Boal to find a way to create social and personal change.  However, myth and cautionary tales have been used perfectly well as a form of implicitly enforcing societal expectations and laws.  Is there one amongst us who has not had an experience with some story, whether through literature, film, music, fine art, or performance, that has changed the way we consider our lives?

Therefore, I no longer wish to concentrate on the means without the purpose or the end.  No longer do I wish to position my aim as “making Tragedy playable in games,” or “invoking Catharsis in a game player,”  but rather as updating Tragedy for social change through electronic games.

Nietzche wrote on Tragedy?

I recently found out that Nietzsche wrote a book dealing with Tragedy.  So I started reading generally about the guy, having only gained a passing glance at his life in Alain de Botton’s “The Philosophy of Happiness.”

“God is Dead,” and then we’ll become Ubermensch?  Totally feminist, practically, and yet, at the same time, Mysogynist?  He’s seriously got the worst case of “nice guy syndrome” I think I’ve ever seen.

I think… I think I may have found my man.  I mean, I’ll be looking to other men, too… Aristotle is a good start.  And I kinda like some of those Structuralist guys.

But he’s my muse.  I think I want to base my tragic hero on him.  Poor Walrus man.

Two things that bug me in this industry

I apologise in advance to anyone who I may offend in writing this.  It’s just my opinion, which I’m entitled to, but you’re also allowed to disagree 🙂

The first thing is this “Women in Games,” thing.  Don’t get me wrong, I want more women in the games industry.  Two of the most important books that I’m referring to for my Honours project are both written by women (I’ve also noticed that women who write on games are likely to have a background in theatre too, oddly enough!).  But the very idea that somehow girls need to have an equal representation in games sickens me.  That’s not gender equality.  That’s gender bias.  I do not want to see a wave of women and girls entering the industry and being given positions because they are female.  I also don’t want to see the same happen to men.   Are interviewers so incapable of guaging whether a person is capable, seperate to their gender?  I agree that people may have skills that happen to align with the assumed traits of their gender- I know I do.  So what’s the big deal?  I certainly shouldn’t therefore be “female” and only do “female” things.  But I shouldn’t not do “female” things, just because I am “female.”  I’m not against networking with other women or anything like that, but I just hate that we have to segregate in order to integrate.

The other thing that annoys me is this, “Serious Games Movement.”  Okay, I get it.  Developers have an ethical responsiblity for what they produce.  But that doesn’t mean we should neuter the fun, indulgent side of games.  There’s been a lot of discussion on this lately, a lot of which I agree with.  It’s not like I’m not doing anything that will challenge the gamer’s morality.  It might!  It might not!  Maybe it has another purpose…  But whatever the purpose of Tragedy, I will find it.  But back on Serious Games…  I just find the whole thing so navel-gazing.  They all tend to be activities, not games.  And the ones that are games seem to be kinda… ranty.  You know, like they’re making sure you’re aware you’re learning something.  Same thing with “Edutainment.”  Obviously you’re going to learn from the entertainment!  So why do we have to make it obvious, the focus, which only serves to turn us away from how much we’re enjoying things?


So I’ve been happily going about my Honours research and preparation, talking about catharsis, games, films, plays, etc etc etc, and suddenly, today, it hits me. I talk to my supervisor and then to one of my tutors, and they both say the same thing, “It sounds like you’re more interested in Tragedy than Catharsis.”

They’re right!  I feel like I’ve taken the longest route to get there, and I’m not throwing out any of my ideas.

But now, instead of thinking, “What causes Catharsis, specifically Aristolean Katharsis?”  I am thinking, “How can I make Tragedy playable?”

What is even more exciting for me is reading the transcript for the Friday 27th March morning panel at GDC 2009, focusing on The Role of Games in Personal and Social Change.

It seems like my research is going to be very timely, and hopefully very relevant.  No pressure or anything! 🙂

Two quotes that particularly caught my eye…

Katharsis and the Deuteragonist

While I want to explore and delve deeper and deeper into Freud (dreams + play), I am constrained by what I can achieve in one year, with both an exegesis and a creative component (in my case, this will be a design document).

My main thrust is Katharsis (or Catharsis)-  this continues from my discussion of Othello/Iago.  If Othello is the Tragic Hero, and Iago the protagonist, it then follows that Iago must also “be audience,” to Othello’s tragedy, which obliges him to experience fhte same Katharis that the audience would.

This also prompts another thought: does the Player-Character (PC) always have to be the Hero or Title Character?

Postmodern narratives delight in the idea of exploring a familiar narrative from an unfamiliar perspective (no new stories, only new ways of telling them).  Othello could have been both the Tragic Hero and the protagonist, but it is more dramatically effective and interesting to feature Iago as the Protagonist.

When I mentioned this to a friend of mine doing his Honours in Theatre studies, he argued that Iago is the Antagonist, but I rebutted by saying that he must be the Protagonist, due to having the most active role, Othello getting in the way of his plans, and also being the character most featured in the role.

But, if Iago is neither the Protagonist (he is not the Hero) nor the Antagonist (he is not just trying to put blocks in Othello’s way, as he is trying to ruin Cassio more than Othello), then he must be in the support role: the Deuteragonist.  My friend mentioned how it is often the Deuteragonist that has the direct dialogue with the audience, by way of asides and soliloquies, and shares the same position as the audience in regards to Dramatic Irony.  The fits Iago’s role perfectly.

So why is the Player Character necessarily the Hero, Tragic or otherwise?

I have some theories “Why,” which refer to Joseph Campbell and Freud, but this is both too big for me to tackle this year, and also not as illustratable as I’d like, which prohibits me from producing an effective creative component to my Thesis.  So, instead, I want to turn this on its head and discuss the possiblity of having the PC as the Deuteragonist, and ask, “Why not?

Who is the Protagonist?

I was thinking about the idea of the player wanting to cause events to happen, to be active rather than passive.

What came up in my mind is Othello.  It is well known that this, one of Shakespeare’s plays, is Othello’s tragedy, but Iago’s play.

If there were to be a game of Othello, would you be intended to play Othello, the insecure “Moorish” man (it is never explicitly stated where he is from) who becomes the General of an army and marries a beautiful caucasian woman, only to be tricked into murdering her in a jealous rage?  Or, would you be intended to play Iago, the cunning, sneaky ensign, who lures Othello into this horrific mess?

Othello, the Tragic Hero, has his fatal flaw, and the audience tends to walk out thinking, “If only Othello weren’t so insecure, he wouldn’t have trusted Iago and then Desdemona would still be alive.”  Iago, meanwhile, has a ball being doing everything he can to seek vengance on Othello for promoting another over him.

So this prompts the question: Who is the protagonist… and who does the player need to play?  Could this stretch so far as the “real” story focus on another, provising a backdrop, while the player has their own journey; like many of those PoMo novels about some significant figure’s dog’s walker’s hairdresser, offering both their own narrative, as well as hinting at the epic story occuring  behind them?