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What does a game value?

A game's characters may love peace but what does the game they inhabit value? Let's look at Ogre Battle 64 and try to understand what it values and how those values contrast with the values of the game's characters and narrative.

<Mild spoilers for a bit of the early game of Ogre Battle 64>

The main character in Ogre Battle 64 is named Magnus Gallant. He is a military man whose convictions are strong enough that he willingly goes against orders in pursuit of the merciful/just path, for example several times he takes enemy troops prisoner when he has been ordered to kill them all. He is repeatedly shown to hate war and only goes into battle in order to stand up for his ideals. Battle isn’t something he relishes in, it is a cruel means to a necessary end in his eyes.

His fucking huge eyes.

There is a problem with his characterization as a kind and merciful commander though, the gameplay. See, in Ogre Battle 64 you field many groups of units you run around on the map in order to take over towns, castles, and defeat enemies. Units gain exp and level up which unlocks new classes for them become.

The thing is though that the only way to gain exp in this game is to kill enemy units. Not just hurting them or taking objectives, a troop gains exp after a skirmish only if they kill an enemy, and if you kill everyone in an enemy troop you get a free item. This means that the optimal way to play the game is to kill every enemy on the battlefield, not because they are in your way but rather because you need to farm enemies for their precious exp if want to be able to stay ahead of the game’s difficulty curve.

When a troop of enemy units has lost it’s leader (as the this one has) it is not a threat to you anymore because they won’t go after your units (they will always run away) and they won’t try to take objectives (towns, castles…) anymore. They are harmless, but you will chase after and kill them anyways because they have valuable experience and items for your characters to mine.

So while in the story segments Magnus is kind and merciful, someone who takes risks to protect not just his own troops but to protect enemy troops as well, the in game Magnus Gallant is bloodthirsty and cruel as that is how the game rewards the player for acting. When he goes to battle, none of those whom he fights survive.

This isn’t the only game that has this problem, it is frighteningly common. Fire Emblem is another great example of a game where the characters in the story segments are kind and merciful yet because they only get exp by fighting and killing (in addition to being able to get items off their corpses when you kill them) you are continually having these kind characters run down and kill the weak and injured. It seems that every game with violence in it makes committing violence if not the only source then the primary source of gaining power. Being merciful in these games, by compromising to avoid a fight or trying to go around an enemy costs you exp which in Fire Emblem and Ogre Battle 64 there is only a limited amount of enemies to get it from (via their deaths). Not fighting is foolish, just a waste of exp.

Some of you might be saying that it is possible to be kind, to not cull the enemies for items and experience, it is just that doing so is the harder path and requires sacrifice which is the point of the game. Which okay, sounds interesting and is a valid point of view. The thing I’m trying to get at here though is that the world Ogre Battle 64 created for the player only values violence. Not just violence, but slaughter. Anything said in the story about peace, about their being a better way, about compassion are objectively wrong in the world the game creates for the player. Violence is the only path to power, the only way to advance is to not just kill your enemy but to kill all of your enemies. This is the truth of all games that only value violence.

The greatest tragedy of Ogre Battle 64 is that your enemies in the game are the ones who are right about the world they live in and Magnus (the hero) is wrong.

A tragedy that is undermined by the fact that this person brilliantly named Magnus “Goofus and” making him “Goofus and Gallant”.

This is what I mean when I say things like “Games are inherently political”. Gameplay is in fact not a blank slate, it is a system of constraints that define how you can interact with the game’s world and rewards to incentivize the player to act in certain ways inside of this world. Games inherently value certain things and reward players for fulfilling those values.

Civ games value various forms of conquest (military, scientific, economic, cultural) as those are how you win, but it doesn’t value making your citizens crazy happy (it can be helpful to make them happy, but having a happy healthy citizenship is at best a means to an end. Having a civilization that is extremely happy, healthy, and educated is not a win condition for the game). Team Fortress 2 and League of Legends value teamwork and co-operation as you can’t accomplish the goals these games give you on your own. Super Meat Boy values precision and persistence, it doesn’t dwell on failure and rewards hard work by showing the player the culmination of all their hard work in action when they do succeed.

The fact that games don’t openly support a candidate for president doesn’t mean that they don’t have things they values and a perspective they would like to share with the player. And Ogre Battle 64, whether it realizes it or not, values the exact opposite thing as it’s heroes do.

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