When Games Get Personal

Image by Flickr user Susan
Image by Flickr user Susan

I’ve been intermittently playing The Simpsons: Tapped Out for a little over six months. Say what you will about such time sucks, but I’ve been having a pretty good time in my ten minutes here and there with a beloved cast of characters that I know well and enjoy. During a recent “quest,” one of the characters inquired about the town’s lack of fresh vegetables. In response, I had to go to the local yokel’s farm and plant some sort of crop. Considering that available crops included moonshine, triffids, and “tomacco” (tomatoes + tobacco…gross), I knew that I probably wasn’t going to be planting something normal. The quest item that popped up was a surely questionable hybrid of potatoes and tomatoes that was blatantly labeled “GMO.” If you’ve followed any news at all over the past decade, hopefully this isn’t an unfamiliar acronym, but it stands for Genetically Modified Organism, and it’s a hot-button issue affecting food production worldwide. For me, it’s become a very touchy subject and one that’s affected my own grocery shopping habits. All I can say is that the more I learn about it, the bigger I want our backyard garden to become. So when that GMO crop showed up in the game, I paused, and number of disparate thoughts went through my mind.

1. Delight. (Haha! They’ve mocked GMO foods on The Simpsons before, just as the mock everything in American culture. Surely this won’t have good consequences.)

2. Disappointment. (Gross, really? A GMO product? Again, I’m sure this will have some funny turnaround in the end, but still…yuck.)

3. Distress/paranoia. (If I click on the product, will a signal be sent to Monsanto or some awful “agri-business?” Will I be put on “a list??”)

Now before you get ready to smack me in the head exclaiming “it’s just a GAME, you dummy!,” I know it’s just a game. I know is not real. There’s (probably) not some big conspiratorial relationship (maybe) between EA and Monsanto (but anything is possible). But I also know that it took me a good few minutes to reconcile my feelings against the game’s demands. And yes, I planted the funny-sounding, totally fake, GMO crop to move on with the game. I wasn’t happy with this particular quest, but as I alluded to, the game did end up turning the situation on its ear for pretty decent laugh.

Or maybe I’m just taking things to personally. Right? I mean, I’m not Homer Simpson any more than I’m Commander Shepard or Nathan Drake. And they don’t exist anyway! They are constructs and computer data. So why in the world should I care if the good people of Springfield dine on hybridized, horror foods? Why should I care if Commander Shepard must slaughter an entire alien race for the “good of humanity?” Why should I care if Nathan Drake survives to win the day and get the girl?

Why? Because games, and I’ll be more specific in saying modern games of the RPG and/or action-adventure and/or culturally familiarized ilk (The Simpsons, South Park), compel me to do so. They compel us to care, to react, to think about the “why” because they take place in worlds not all that removed from our own.

Along related lines, about a month ago, Revision3’s Adam Sessler posted a gameplay preview of Wolfenstein: The New Order. At the end of the video, he remarked on his personal reaction to the Nazi doctors in the game. (The part I’m referring to starts around the 4:31 mark.)

Our personal experiences color everything we do no matter how “objective” we may strive to be. His reference to the Holocaust being something that still affects many families (including his own) is complete fact; it’s a subject to tread lightly at best. Plenty of others, however, don’t have this singular reference point and therefore The New Order may appear as regular as any other shooter. So I’m glad that he brought a little something private into his review and that he chose to not gloss over something that could easily be swept aside. Frankly, my issue with GMOs is nominal compared to many a world issue, but it’s hard for me to separate it from my own daily rituals.

Has anything in a game ever affected you personally? Has there ever been a moment in a game that made you question your own beliefs or made you think about what was really happening on the screen?


  1. Hatm0nster says:

    Choosing between Ashley and Kaiden in the original Mass Effect made me sit and think for a long time. Whomever I chose to leave behind was NOT going to make it out alive; they would be gone forever, and I had to choose. I knew it was a game sure, that it didn’t actually matter outside of the game. However, inside the game, in my Shepard’s story…it did.

    I tried to look at it in several different terms: who should be saved, who would be more valuable to the team, whose loss would have the most negative impact…it was hard. In the end I chose based on what suited my playstyle best at the time, I needed more combat oriented characters so I chose Ashley. In the aftermath, it got me thinking about whether or not I could have actually made a choice like that in reality. May conclusion…well I still don’t know.


    1. cary says:

      Oh goodness, I remember that moment all too well. I don’t know how long it took me to make that decision, but I remember sitting there staring at the screen for a long while. ME was the first game I ever played that made me think about something as crazy as sacrificing a teammate. In the end, I ended up leaving Ashley behind because I thought Kaiden would be more useful in the final battle (which I had no idea of at the time). Thank goodness it wasn’t real life cause I really don’t know how I’d actually react in that kind of situation.


  2. duckofindeed says:

    So far in my games, I’ve mainly just been disturbed by various things in “Conker’s Bad Fur Day”. I’m pretty sure there was this baby dinosaur, and I think you led it somewhere, and I just knew something terrible was going to happen to it. And sure enough, the poor thing gets squished by something or some other horrible fate. That was the first time in a video game where I almost couldn’t continue because of what the game wanted me to do. And I did it anyway just so I could get farther into the game, but I felt horrible about it. It may not be real, but you don’t think about it as simply being a sequence of 1’s and 0’s. You see a dinosaur on the screen, and you press a button that results in its murder, and that’s all that matters, whether it’s fake or not.

    That is one of the reasons I can never play that game again. It made me feel like a sick person. And that made me sad.


    1. cary says:

      I recall that little dinosaur, and I don’t think there was any option to save him. I admit that I enjoyed Conker’s, but that was a sad moment because you had no choice.

      I don’t like games where you get repeatedly rewarded for the killing of innocents, like Turok, hunting games, and such. There is a hunting mission in GTA V that I still won’t touch; the thought of it kind of makes me sick to my stomach.


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