“The Game Has Virtually Stumbled”

The next essay in “Sherlock Holmes and Philosophy” is “”The Game Has Virtually Stumbled” by Tom Dowd.  I find this essay a bit puzzling, actually, because it talks a bit about virtual worlds and the theory that these are created by everything, including the original books and stories, but mostly talks about how Dowd doesn’t have the deductive ability to be like Holmes and that games not doing or being able to do that when they can for other games like shooters or racing games and so on and so forth.  Games, he argues help us become assassins or race car drivers or soldiers, but they don’t help us become detectives like would be required for Holmes.

The first thing I’d note is that if we want to become those things, the games he mentions in the genres he mentions don’t really do that either.  Games have varying degrees of realism, but the games that most help us do those things tend to be ones that move away from being realistic towards accessibility.  We generally don’t actually go through the steps to reload a weapon to reload it in those games.  Driving is simplified.  Even the romance options that he mentions from Mass Effect are very, very limited compared to doing those things in real life (in general, reduced to saying the right things and pursuing it).  So if you were really trying to be a soldier or an assassin or a race car driver or someone pursuing a relationship, pretty much all games wouldn’t let you really do that either.  So the fact that games won’t let him be Holmes doesn’t actually distinguish those games from the games he mentions.

The second thing is that there are a number of games — perhaps not the Holmes ones — that actually try to do that.  The “Arkham Asylum” games added detective vision which helps the player notice things that they might not notice otherwise, a mechanic that the recent “Spider-man” game more or less copied.  And in Persona 5 the player gets “Third Eye” which lets them see which containers have things in them and the places they can climb or drop from and things of interest so that they stand out.  While they don’t replicate Holmes’ knowledge base, the mechanisms do replicate his ability to scan a room and note even trivial things that are actually important, which does let the player be Holmes in that regard.  So while it may not be in the Holmes games themselves, there are improvements in the genres that Dowd doesn’t mention that could let us be a bit more like Holmes without having to do it all ourselves.

That being said, I think the biggest complaint here is that even with the fact that the deductive requirements of the games being limited — as they are in the adventure genre in general — Dowd still can’t figure them out himself and so feels like the game is requiring him to have more deductive ability than he has to complete them.  The problem here is that those who aren’t as good at FPS or driving games and don’t have the skills to play them would say the same thing about his examples.  I am not great at FPS gameplay, and so often skip the games or can’t complete them even if I like other elements of them (like the story).  I used to love Formula 1 racing games, but had to give up on the more modern ones because the move to realism left me unable to even get around the track in any reasonable way, leaving me frustrated.  And that was almost certainly a couple of decades ago, and so I imagine that any games in that space are even worse today.  And everyone would note that in both those cases the games are still far, far easier and hold your hand far more than reality would.

I could complain that the games don’t handhold me enough.  Or I could take the more reasonable tack and note that I’m just not all that great at that gameplay and either would have to practice more, focus on less realistic games, or give up the genre if neither of those options work for me.  For Dowd, he might be able to help himself by using a walkthrough to get past the things he finds too difficult to figure out.  Because if he really wants the game to get more realistic and properly represent deduction, it would only get more difficult for him, not less.

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