Creative Play #5: Pacifist Counter-Play

Above is a long clip from the recent videogame Call of Duty: Black Ops. One intrepid (or cynical) player discovered that it was possible to play the entire first mission of the popular shooting game without firing a bullet (except during one scripted scene). The player might not have known this, but this kind of play is actually a fairly common artistic practice in the short history of videogame art. Critics such as Mary Flanagan call such pacifist activities in violent games “counter-play” or “critical play.” The idea behind this play practice is to identify the dominant ideology of a game and then work against it through play. The classic example from the history of game art would be Velvet-Strike, a Counter-Strike mod that introduced a spray can that could be fired to create graffiti on walls instead of harming other players. Recently, a player reached the level cap of World of Warcraft–another game criticized for its emphasis on tribalistic violence (both against other players and against non-player characters)–without actually killing anything or completing a quest. Everbloom achieved this feat simply through gathering natural minerals, an experience that allow the player to explore the world more thoroughly and come to appreciate the gameworld for its natural beauty alone.

About Simon Ferrari

Developer relations guy at Indie Fund. Producer and adjunct professor in the NYU Game Center.
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