Week Three – Word Research – “Dystopia”

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Having now examined and expanded on “Dystopia” as a term within a mindmap, I further narrowed the topic down to four more interesting and researchable terms: Oppression, Inequality, Ruin and Morality. During this research post I will further examine these four subtopics and then pick the most interesting or thought provoking one to continue with.

 

Oppression –

“prolonged cruel or unjust treatment or exercise of authority.” – Oxford Dictionaries

As the first of the terms I am looking into in this research post, Oppression is quite an interesting one. It is a frequently occurring term in both non fiction and fiction, which made it a rather intriguing term to research. Oppression is also something that seems to crop up quite a lot in history – an obvious example that popped up immediately when I began researching the term was the Nazi regime in Germany and the terror they enacted for years on their own people. I decided however to dig a little deeper and find something a little more unknown (simply because I and I imagine most people know a lot about the Nazis – I wanted to learn about something different with oppression). What I then found was quite enthralling and surprisingly unknown – especially considering it happened around the same time the Nazi oppression did.

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The Red Terror in 1918 was a period of political repression and oppression enacted by the new Bolshevik (communist) regime in Russia at that time. It was carried out primarily by the Cheka (the secret police – the Gestapo of the Russians essentially) and by the end it was estimated that they had killed between a hundred and two hundred thousand people. The reason for it they claimed was to rid the country of counter-revolutionaries and political enemies – as the Bolsheviks had recently taken power in Russia via the October Revolution in 1917. The Red Terror was essentially a purge of people that could potentially overthrow or otherwise take away the new Bolshevik leadership.

A similar event then occurred in 1937, this time enacted by new leader Joseph Stalin. This era of political repression was simply entitled the Great Purge, but this time the scale of it was much grander. Stalin sought to destroy more than just his enemies, although he did start with them. He first purged his own communist party, in order to get rid of anybody who he thought might attempt to overthrow him. He then began with peasants, and started deporting all ethnic minorities. In a similar manner to Nazi Germany, Stalin had also molded Russia into a police state. The secret police were everywhere, and surveillance of the population was their number one priority. This then resulted in an obscene amount of killings – of “saboteurs” or others that stepped one toe out of line. Stalin was an incredibly paranoid individual, which is probably what made his Great Purge so horrendous. By the end of it, he had killed over a million people.

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In terms of oppression in fiction, perhaps the most notable are the Empire and the First Order in the Star Wars franchise. As you can see just from the image above, the First Order in particular are made to look incredibly similar to the Nazis from our own history. Indeed, they also act like it. Both the Empire and the First Order are essentially tyrannical superpowers, destroying anyone and anything that gets in their way. The stormtroopers are essentially the secret police, monitoring the population of the conquered universe closely and picking out anybody who might be a “troublemaker” (notice any similarities?). Oppression is very much a key theme in this franchise, and it is more than likely that the Empire and First Order are deliberately modeled after the Nazis, considering they were  the most oppressive and certainly well known regime in our history.

Oppression is an incredibly broad word, and I have given just a few examples here of how it can be used. It refers essentially to any “prolonged cruel or unjust treatment” and so can be applied to a wide variety of scenarios – both in fiction and out of it. This makes it a very interesting word in terms of game design, indeed just thinking about it right now lots of ideas for mechanics and writing come to mind. One of the major reasons why the Nazi regime crops up so often in fiction (in both deliberate and not deliberate references) is because of how interesting a story they are, and how you can do so much in terms of a story with a police state or oppressive group (rebellions, wars, terror – so many ideas). Oppression is a term quite literally brimming with potential research avenues, and it would be a great one to take forward.

 

Inequality –

Difference in size, degree, circumstances, etc.; lack of equality.” – Oxford Dictionaries

In a similar manner to Oppression, Inequality is also something that features prominently in a lot of fiction and non fiction. In particular, it plays a significant part in history, as it is an issue that has occurred frequently from all the way back when history was first being documented (BC) to right up in the present day. People not treating each other equally is one of the fundamental problems of humanity as a whole (a bold statement I know, but it’s not a wrong one) and it’s still happening right now.

In terms of research, for obvious reasons there was a great deal to sift through. Initially, like with Oppression I wanted to try and go for a less important or well known inequality event in history along with a fictious example (for the same reasons as before), however I then felt that it is important to acknowledge the bigger ones. The biggest I can think of also happened to be the first major inequality event that came up when I began researching, which was the oppression (link!) of black people up until the 1970s, and how they were treated far inequally for years to white people. Racism, essentially.

Inequality was rife throughout the 20th century. Ethnic minorities were forced to live in segregated areas away from white people, and were also given poor education and the worst jobs. They weren’t really allowed to vote, had to give up seats and spaces for white people in public places and were continually persecuted by their oppressors – being beaten and even murdered quite often with the police often turning the other cheek, simply because they did not care. Before the 20th century it was even worse, with a great deal of ethnic minorities being sold as slaves or being forced to work with little to no pay.
Some organisations arose in the early 20th century (such as the NAACP) in order to try and gain civil rights, but very little change was made. This didn’t change much until the late 1950s and early 1960s, when Martin Luther King came along.

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Martin Luther King was a prominent figure in the gaining of civil rights for black and other ethnic minorities in the 1960s. He planned and carried out a series of campaigns and marches throughout that time with the purpose of raising awareness and hopefully gaining equal rights – so that people of all colours would be treated equally. He delivered the famous “I Have A Dream” speech of 1963 and was one of the most important individuals in gaining civil rights for ethnic minorities. He was unfortunately assassinated during a speech in 1968, but his death then led to Congress passing the Civil Rights Act the very next day, and so one could argue his death was one of the fundamental stepping stones to getting rid of skin colour inequality. He of course wasn’t the only person to help in the gaining of quality, but he played a pretty important part.

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In terms of inequality in fiction, I found a rather interesting narrative involving it, entitled Blade Runner, or Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? by Philip K Dick. The story is set in a post nuclear war dystopian world where Earth has been rendered nearly uninhabitable. Nothing grows on the planet anymore, and most people have migrated to other worlds. The only people that are left are too poor to pay for transport off-world, and so live in slum-like cities. As you can see from the image above, there is a (literally) massive difference between the dark and run down slums at the bottom and the huge, towering skyscrapers owned by the rich corporations at the top. The corporations stay on Earth for the industrial space, as well as the cheap labour force that they see the poor population as. There are essentially two classes of people in Blade Runner; the rich, extravagant upper and the poor, starving lower, with a pretty big gap of inequality inbetween.

From just the two different aspects of inequality I have showcased here I can think of a fair amount of potential ideas. In a similar manner to oppression you could do a lot narrative-wise with inequality, and I imagine there are quite a few ways both directly and indirectly that you could incorporate the idea of inequality into a game mechanic of some description. However, I do also think that it is also quite a lot narrower in terms of idea generation than other words that I have chosen to research, and so perhaps it might be worth taking them forward rather than this one. Inequality isn’t a particularly bad starting avenue, I just think there are some better ones.

 

Ruin –

The physical destruction or disintegration of something or the state of disintegrating or being destroyed.” – Oxford Dictionaries

Ruin is a little different than most of the words I have previously chosen for research. Unlike them it isn’t really a concept (although, I think perhaps an argument could be made) and is instead just a state of matter. What makes it interesting however is how that state can be applied to things, and the implications of it when that occurs. I don’t like to look at games research-wise this early on (as it can have more of an impact design-wise than it should at this stage), but I felt I just had to make an exception for Ruin. So without further ado, I introduce the case study for this term; Naughty Dog’s The Last Of Us.

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I mean, that image alone should be enough to sell you on Ruin. It certainly sold me. It’s a breathtakingly beautiful landscape piece, despite the connotations that come with it; those being that civilisation and indeed humanity as we know it has pretty much died out. The story behind the Ruin in The Last Of Us is a somewhat typical apocalypse story, although it does have quite an intriguing twist. Zombies are essentially the cause behind this worldwide disaster, but they aren’t your average ones. The apocalypse here was caused by a fungal virus that seeps into the brain and slowly drives a person mad. They then go through several stages of infection – running, walking and finally stopping and becoming a part of a fungal infestation as the fungus slowly engulfs their entire body. There is no cure, and humanity was taken over quite quickly when the virus set in, hence the dismal post-apocalyptic images.

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Despite the horrific end that was bestowed on much of the human race in The Last Of Us, there was a massive positive – we got an incredibly pretty, ruined world to explore. The way the grass and trees and essentially nature just takes back what humanity took from it makes for some very colourful and aesthetically pleasing artwork. In addition to the visual appeal that Ruin has, it can also have quite an interesting impact on narrative ideas. Indeed, ff you begin with Ruin as your baseline then you can ask yourself so many really fun and interesting questions – What happened to cause this Ruin? Where did the human race go? What happened to them? How does the world function now? These are just a few of the tens of questions I found myself brimming with just looking at the ruined images above.

11fc9e6d1502a108618add0b666396d1Here’s another really thought provoking piece of ruined imagery (this is a primarily visual researchable word after all), this time from real life rather than a video game. And really, this one just proves my point even more. There is a lot you can do with Ruin, both visually and narrative-wise. In terms of game design, you could incorporate it in some way mechanically – perhaps item degradation becomes a key factor for example. Narrative ideas are fairly obvious – some kind of apocalypse or catastrophic event for instance, or even just explaining why a certain location has become run down or destroyed. The only thing I will say negatively about Ruin is like a few other words I have chosen it does lock you down into rather a specific research and even game design avenue (albeit a very pretty one). There are also other words that are far more expansive, and so despite how fun it was to research I do find myself leaning to other terms more here.

 

Morality –

Principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong or good and bad behaviour.” – Oxford Dictionaries

A particular system of values and principles of conduct.” – Oxford Dictionaries

Ah, Morality. It’s a concept that forms a pretty fundamental aspect of mankind (another bold statement, but again a true one) and is something we continually struggle with. It if of particular interest to me, hence why I leapt at the chance to do some research into it when my mindmap began heading that way. One of my favourite things in life is/are superheroes – books, movies, comics, even just the ideas behind them. I’ve always found the topic intriguing – questioning the reasons why they do what they do, how it must affect them internally, their strategy and motivation behind it etc. Lots of interesting questions, and now I have an excuse to look into the answers.

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Batman is a pretty good example of a lot of fundamental aspects of Morality. He has a very particular set of values, the most prominent of which obviously being the need to stop criminals and enact justice in Gotham City. However, his methods that he uses to obtain said goals are toeing the moral line somewhat, and indeed they have been the subject of many a debate on where exactly Batman sits on a moral compass. He spends his nights essentially terrifying criminals to the point of insanity (even tipping some over it – look at the Joker for example) and using that self-imposed image of terror to scare everybody else out of illegal behaviour.

The Dark Knight also has no problem with delivering pretty serious injuries to those who stand in his way, and even goes so far sometimes as torturing criminals to get information on others. In fact, sitting back and reading everything I just wrote, I’m actually finding it hard to defend Batman. His concept of Morality is most definitely flawed, but then again that is what makes him so interesting a character. He holds true to his particular set of values, and obviously has a pretty set distinction on right and wrong, which leans pretty heavily towards the definition of Morality. However, he also swings on the other side of it sometimes – but only doing so to enact justice, never for fun. That then brings us to a rather philosophical concluding question; do the ends justify the means?

Of course, nowadays the answer to that particular moral question is more often than not a resounding Yes. Living in a particularly cruel world, you often see politicians for example screwing eachother over for a slice of power or police perhaps being a little more excessive than they need to be. More often than not I’ve found both in researching the answer and my own personal experiences that people will quite happily do bad things initially in order to obtain a good outcome. Morality is becoming more and more “flexible” nowadays, and while it absolutely shouldn’t be this does raise a lot of interesting questions regarding the concept, and so makes it a rather intriguing springboard for future research avenues as well as certain game design aspects.

 

Conclusion

This research post has left me with a particularly difficult choice to make. For once I actually liked a fair amount of the four researched words here, and so found it a tough one when deciding which I would be taking forwards. I managed it however, and I’ll now showcase that thought process. Inequality I found myself casting off pretty much immediately, as I found it a bit of a narrow path to go down and also not that interesting personally, which of course is a major red flag this early on in the project. Ruin I liked, but again it was a bit of a narrow one; closing me into a particular street fairly early on when I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do. To make the decision a bit easier I then cast it away. It was therefore then between Morality and Oppression, and while they were fairly equal in terms of researchable ideas I found myself leaning more towards Oppression. I found it more interesting, and also more immediate ideas were springing from it than Morality. It was a tough choice, but Oppression won the day. This has been a particularly long research post (I got carried away), but at last we have the last of the four presentable words.

 

Oppression.

 

 

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