99 Nights and its potential to improve the world4
Matt posted in Games, Xbox 360 on April 27th, 2006
Tetsuya Mizuguchi has a number of impressive accomplishments to be proud of: Rez, Lumines, and Meteos to name a few. These could all be eclipsed if 99 Nights achieves its desired goal. From the title, his GDC talk about “Next-Gen Character Design” seemed like it would just be about putting normal maps on zippers and skin shaders, but instead he went into an oft neglected aspect of design: not the visual, but their actual “character” itself. (So we’re on the same page, consider reading Gamasutra.com’s coverage) Perhaps the genius of his idea can be best summed up by the genius himself. In his talk, Mizuguchi says, “The source of my inspiration was media reports after 9/11. After the attack, I saw a lot of different news reports from different countries. I was in Tokyo at the time, and learned about this attack through TV. It was really shocking. ‘What will happen to the world? What is going on?’ I was so worried. And at the same time I thought, why do people fight and wage a war? I was seriously thinking these questions while glued to the TV.” His talk explained how he wants to present war – not as good versus bad, but as “two conflicting parties in a war, which both have justice and cause”.
In the example of 99 Nights, there are two warring races: goblins and humans. The game is presented from both sides, but not in the traditional game context – where you can play through as the good guys and the bad guys. Instead, you play as characters that are fully human with all the weaknesses as such. It’s interesting to describe a “goblin” creature as a human, but I’m trying to differentiate what Mizuguchi is trying to do as opposed to the angelic heroes or vilified enemies that appear in most games.
Now that we are on the same page about what 99 Nights is trying to accomplish, let’s talk about how this can change the world for the better. Firstly, it encourages gamers to see other sides to a story. All too often in our society, things are painted as black and white with hardly any shades of gray. The media presents people as monsters, so terrible that they have no humanity left in them. For example, let’s take the Columbine case. I know this has been beaten to death in its relationship to games, but I’ll offer a radically new spin on it. I’m not going to make any excuses for the murderers. Certainly, they did HORRIBLE things. But they were people too. They were the outcasts in there school. They were bullied so much they couldn’t take it any more. Rather than point the finger at video games or paint the killers as demonic hellspawn (which ironically are the things they combated in Doom), why don’t we view them as human beings? Is that so hard to believe? Maybe, but regardless, they were human beings. They were emotionally fragile like all of us at times. They got bullied, and they couldn’t take it. Rather than ban violent video games, why not start awareness programs in school to try to get everyone to be nicer to each other? It’s much easier to view things as black and white – to take away their humanity or to avert their blame elsewhere. Video games are evil. The killers are evil. But, killers are people too. They are people who do VERY bad things, but they are human beings like the rest of us. A game like 99 Nights could help people view others with understanding. I honestly believe if everyone tried to understand each other and where they are coming from, the world would be a much better place.
99 Nights also fights stereotypes. No longer are the goblins beings of great evil whose only joy in life is causing suffering to humans. They have their own motivation. Families of goblins have been broken up just like human families. Creating a game that goes up against common game stereotypes hopefully will encourage people to question common stereotypes in their own lives. If people stopped believing that the world is as simple as stereotypes lead them to believe, that would be a great improvement. For example, let’s say there is a devout Muslim who attends a predominately white school. Let’s say the intolerant and foolish youth spraypaint “Go back to your country, terrorist!” and “We don’t care if you kill yourself, but don’t suicide bomb!” on his locker. How do you think that kid will feel? Maybe before he was victim to the stupidity of others, he proudly called himself an American. After enough abuse, who do you think the student will begin to associate with more: Americans who hate him for his faith, or the misguided terrorists who share his faith and want to make America pay for their perceived crimes against “Allah”? Hate breeds hate. That type of intolerant attitude only makes situations worse, not better. The news we get about religious struggles in the United States is quite one sided, but the recent zeal for Jihad has caused innocent Muslim casualties as well.
I really hope 99 Nights will achieve its desired effect. Not only do I think the world needs to change to be more tolerant or understanding, but I think the medium of video games is a great way to reach out to today’s youth who needs this message more than anyone. Impressionable youth growing up in a post 9-11 world might start associating all Muslims with the proportionally small amount of fanatics who commit these horrible acts of violence. Maybe this type of game can prevent school shootings because people will be more understanding of those who are different. But, even if 99 Nights were to achieve the lofty impact that I greatly desire it to, I suspect video games won’t get the positive press in proportion to the negative press they get when there’s teenage violence. Honestly, how do you measure the POSITIVE impact something has on the world? It’s just as difficult as measuring the negative impact, but the media doesn’t NEED to prove their claims. Pointing fingers worked very well for Joseph McCarthy, and like then, it seems like when the finger points a certain way, it’s accepted as the truth regardless of the lack of evidence. It’s sad but true. Shifting gears, I’d like to reiterate something Mizuguchi said: Akira Kurosawa’s film Rashômon IS a great movie, and you need to see it!