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The creator of Dungeon Keeper argues that 'god games' should encourage the player to make responsible choices. Words: John Henderson
‘God games’ have developed a huge following over the years. Civilization, Sim City, and Papa/pus. games that allow you to build and maintain your own virtual worlds, literally to become ‘god’. have all been huge hits.
Playing at politics would seem to be all the rage. The latest game for aspiring dictators is Imperialism. which involves players battling to take over the world.
Yet what exactly are the politics of these games‘? Will Daily Mail readers be shocked by the discovery that their children are learning moral and political principles from communists posing as games designers?
The answer, it seems, is probably not, although they are not going to be fed a Teletubbie fantasy world in which everything is rosy either. Peter Molyneux. the man behind Populous, Theme Park and, most recently, Dungeon Keeper, is determined this should not be the case. ‘You do have to reﬂect the real world, so there is little point in creating an antiseptic environment full of good people and good things,’ he says.
Molyneux sees the opportunities ‘god games’ provide for moral and political experimentation as one of their great benefits. ‘Where a game differs from other forms of entertainment is in the fact that it gives the player the chance to act a certain way without any real life ramifications,’ he says. ‘They could choose to play a violent character just to see what it feels like, which I am sure we would all agree is better than someone deciding to do this in real life.’
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’There is little point in creating an antiseptic environment full of good people.’ Peter Molyneux
Imperialism: the world in your hands
But surely the moral majority will argue that this ability to empathise with and practice evil will only lead, through familiarity. to real evil in the outside world? Not according to Molyneux: ‘The responsibility of the games designer comes in balancing the game so that the player is rewarded for good actions but not for bad ones. So they have the choice to kill people, but will reap a far greater reward if they choose to help peOple.’
In this respect, games designers would appear to have become the arbiters of morality, defining from within their silicon bunkers how life should be led. If that was the case. their own politics would seem to be of considerable importance. Molyneux admits that personal views will creep into any creation, but considers his own politics irrelevant to his game design.
The reason for this is depressineg mundane. The morality and politics of these games come from the punters themselves, be they in communist China or back in good old Blighty.
‘We are now producing games for a global market and political issues tend to be more regional,’ says Molyneux. ’So for any political game to succeed on a global level it would have to be set on a stage that everyone could recognise. That is the hard part, as I can’t see a Japanese games player relating to US political issues or a British player relating to either of them.’ ,
Thus, blandly. it is commercial success that regulates these games’ moral basis, for which simple MTV-style politics of the lowest common denominator makes for obvious business sense. Games designers do not impose their own opinions on their creations. They simply distil the most basic of principles that govern people the world over. Good and bad. Perfect for all readers of the Daily Mail.
Imperialism CD-ROM, for PC and Macintosh is published by Mindscape, £39.99, Fri 10 Oct. Dungeon Keeper is out now on PC CD-ROM, £29.99.
Games oWeb Sites 0CD ROMS
(Nintendo 64 £59.99)
Hexen 64 is a disappointment. When it was first released for the PC the medieval decoration gave this Doom- clone some appeal, but it all seems less exciting now. The graphics fail to take advantage of the N64's capabilities, and there are no new levels to discover — they're identical to those in the original version. The only major difference is the multi-player option, yet even this falls flat. The levels are too large, forcing you to spend most of your time looking for opponents rather than killing them.
CD-ROM Lego Island (PC £29.99)
Lego Island is aimed squarely at 6—12- year-olds, and brings the joys of gaming to the ubiquitous world of Lego. Clearly much energy has gone into creating the eponymous island, and the game encourages independent thinking and exploration. Cars and jet skis can be built and raced in countless sub-games, while mayhem breaks out with the escape of the destructive Brickster. The main thrust of Lego Island is the defeat of this evil madman, but there is much else to entertain and amuse. Lego have always managed to hit the right note, and it looks as though they’ve done it again.
Chameleon Design (http://www.globalnet.co.uk/~chame| eon)
Chameleon is run by Scottish designer Gavin Bonnar as an Internet-based artists’ collective. The site showcases pieces by a group that includes, among others, painters, furniture designers and jewellers. Work can be both purchased and commissioned directly, and the site operates as a non-profit making enterprise. There is a useful collection of links to various art-related sites, although the design of the site itself is fairly basic. It might be kinder to say that it mimics the white space of a real-life gallery.
REVIEWER THIS ISSUE
John Henderson Lego Island
10 Oct-23 Oct 1997 THE U8T101