Poor Impulse Control

A notable moment for me in The Sims 2 is that sometimes a sim will, when feeling particularly peckish, walk to the refrigerator and Stuff Face. It’s exactly what it sounds like, they compulsively snack right out of the fridge. This happens whether they’re mildly peckish or near starving, and I haven’t figured out the exact circumstances that trigger sim face-stuffing. Of course they ignore the countless amounts of “leftover” pre-made delicious (sparkly!) food that’s in the fridge that is available immediately.

The thing is, I do this too. I’ll wake up from a nap or even just arrive home from a weary day and not have time to think about making a proper snack or meal and instead will look at what is available in the fridge. It goes straight from container to face. To be fair, my mother raised me with fruit laying about, so it was normal for me to grab an orange or a banana to take the edge off before mealtime. But now I anticipate my face-stuffing urges, and try to arrange that there is something not-terrible in the fridge with which to stuff my face.

Put in a first-person game, this might speak to that in-between place where habits and needs and impulses trump will-to-act.

Suppose for a second that we have a first-person character, Jim Beam, (no relation). Jim is a typical action dude: He looks like Vin Diesel. He prefers guns to other tools. He’s ex-military, ex-cop, ex-con. His lover and best friend died. It was tragic and haunts him to this day.

~ Beer is important to Jim. Whenever he enters the kitchen, he beelines to the fridge and gets a beer. When he arrives home, beer. Same with waking up. Beer.

~ Jim will track on anything super-duper important that enters his field of view, so long as he hasn’t shot or punched anything for a short while. The reticle and field-of-view will gently pan towards critical visual elements until it leaves view, the player does something or someone nearby notices he’s distracted. If the really hot secretary enters the view, this tracking may even resist mouse movements.

~ Munchies are irresistible. Jim will help himself to a bowl of pretzels in arm’s reach habitually. Also, Jim empties beer bottles in five swigs, and at the bar won’t stop ordering more. The bartender knows he’s good for it, but shouldn’t drive home after three.

~ Jim won’t even point a gun at a child, a grandmother or any other obvious civilian non-combatant. Nope. He’s got a self image to keep and Jim does not lie to himself regarding his questionable aim and fire discipline. There’s no way he’s going to let some player ruin his shtick, and he’s got enough pain as it is, dammit. This becomes especially annoying once mooks figure out Jim is a total sucker for a hostage situation and readily grab a nearby chump to block his fire. Nope. Not gonna do it.*

~ Jim suffers from flashbacks in real time, triggered by flashing red lights and sudden gunfire (i.e. a drastic change from non-combat to combat, such as an ambush). Inebriation, even slight, reduces trigger chance and duration. Hangover makes it worse. A doctor prescribes pills which have no effect. The flashbacks themselves reveal key elements of the circumstances of his lover-friend’s death, and why Jim’s guilt haunts him so.

This is really an extension of design technique used in Left 4 Dead and Left 4 Dead 2 in which zones of levels would trigger dialogues between the survivors, and regarding Elizabeth in Bioshock Infinite who was coded to identify and interact with certain environmental objects to feel as a more integral part of the experience. This is merely extending such elements to the player character.

And this reflects an aspect of the human experience that isn’t yet regarded in games. To Buddha’s chagrin we do not stand in the moment. We navigate our houses and eat our snacks and drive to work and chat up our neighbors on automatic pilot, without actual agency.

As infants one of our first challenges is establishing the physical delineating boundary of ourselves and the world. The rest of our life is spent refining that understanding, including recognizing the boundary of what we intend to do, and what we do regardless.

This mechanism, extended to games not only allows them to explore the personality of the player character, but also would allow an additional look at the human experience.

Or maybe not. Want a beer?

* It surprises me how we’ve still yet to see character-refusal-of-player-action as a means to enforce fire discipline in serious military or police shooters in which civilians and friendlies mingle with hostiles. Early games would heavily penalize players for friendly fire, and later games would make non-combatants immune to player fire. (Borderlands allows one character to heal friendlies by shooting them!).

I’d expect a SWAT sniper (at least a movie SWAT sniper or a trained hostage-barricade specialist) to be more careful than players. Upon the player shooting a friendly, instead he’d just withdrawal, panicked about how he almost just killed a good-guy and ended his career. After spending several seconds calming down, he (and the player) could try again.

It’s a way I think that would bridge the gap between the fire discipline of a highly-trained marksman and an untrained player.

This might be a good all-purpose I’m a trained professional. I should be better than this way to curb player error and mischief. Much better than just making friendlies immune to bullets.

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