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The Best Amendment Computer Game Analysis
In this paper, selected aspects of the computer game The Best Amendment (Molleindustria, 2013) are analyzed. The analysis is based on the method introduced by Konczak (2002). Only the higher layers (in Konczak’s notation) are considered - gameplay, meaning, referentiality and socio-culture.
The Best Amendment is a computer game in which the player takes the role of an armed combatant in a series of stages with increasing number of opponents. Both the player and the computer-controlled opponents use a selection of weapons ranging from a pistol to a rocket launcher. In each stage, the player must collect a set number of stars in order to advance to the next stage. The game is played in a web browser and controlled by a combination of a keyboard and a mouse. The game is set in an abstract location (presumably somewhere in the United States of America).
The game is distributed in three forms:
- Flash file embedded in a web page
- Mac OS binary
- Windows binary
For the means of this analysis, the Flash version embedded in the game’s home page will be considered. The web page that frames the game is taken into account in some parts of the analysis, since it presumably forms a part of the usual playing experience with the game.
The Best Amendment is intended to be played by a single player.
The game is rendered on a computer screen in a frame embedded in a web page. A Flash player computer program runs the game.
The player uses mouse to control the menu system of the application. The menu system is very simple - for example, entering the game for the first time only requires clicking once anywhere in the game’s window.
Once in the game, the player uses keyboard to control movement of an on-screen character. Pressing the keys W, S, A or D moves the protagonist around the screen. At all times, the protagonist is equipped with a gun that can be fired by pressing the left mouse button. Doing so will fire a projectile (or a round of projectiles) from the protagonist’s gun in the direction towards the mouse cursor.
The in-game characters moves about a simple yellow elliptic arena surrounded by a black border.
The game is divided in stages. Each stage features a time limit of approximately 10 seconds. Once the time runs out, the stage is reset. The player can repeat a stage as many times as she desires without any penalization.
There are two basic goals in the game: reaching the furthest stage possible and collecting as many points as possible. Play styles may differ based on the goal the player chooses to pursue.
The goal of reaching the highest stage possible is implicit. It is suggested by the explicit sub-goal of each stage, which consists of collecting the required number of stars (explained by a message in the first stage). Collecting the stars enables the player to advance to the next stage.
The goal of gathering score points is implicit. It is suggested by the mere presence of scoring system and the conventions of arcade games.
Note that the scoring system of The Best Amendment can be exploited very easily to raise score indefinitely with no risk of losing, resulting in uninteresting play for a player who pursues high scores. The term “score milking” (“Score Milking”, 2013) describes this attribute of games.
The obstacles in the game consist of computer controlled enemy characters. They are represented by dark grey cones similar to the protagonist. Each of them follows the track of the protagonist from one of the previous stages - when a stage is concluded, an enemy character is added in the next stage in addition to the current enemy character and the new character follows exactly the movement and actions of the player from the concluded stage. Note that this is the central feature of the game.
The open knowledge of the game includes the control method (shown in the non-interactive intro) and the goals (revealed in the first stage).
The hidden knowledge includes the set of weapons available along with their characteristics and the mode of the enemies’ behavior.
The random knowledge includes minor divergences in the direction of projectiles shot from some of the weapons.
The player is rewarded for collecting the stars by increasing the score counter.
The player is penalized for getting hit by an enemy’s bullet by losing a life. Once the player loses all three lives, the game is over, meaning the player loses her in-game progress including the stage reached, the enemies’ behaviors and the accumulated score.
The game deals primarily with the private weapons ownership legislation and culture in the United States of America. Numerous signs support this hypothesis:
- the name of the game (“The Best Amendment”) refers to Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, which “protects the right of the people to keep and bear arms” (“Second Amendment to the United States Constitution”, 2013)
- the description of the game shown on the game’s homepage (Molleindustria, 2013) presents the game as “[a]n unofficial NRA game” (National Rifle Association is an organization whose affiliate Institute for Legislative Action lobbies for the legislative power of the Second Amendment (“About NRA-ILA”, 2013))
- a quote from Wayne LaPierre, the executive vice president of NRA, is used in the second stage
- guns are used excessively in the game
- the selection of music (an instrumental bluegrass song) helps set the game in the United States of America, the country of provenance of the music genre
Two other visual cues point to the north american culture, although their connection to the central theme is rather loose:
- the characters resemble conical hoods typical for Ku Klux Klan
- the protagonist is white while the enemies are dark
Another important group of signs includes those that refer to the conventions of games in general and arena shooting games in particular. These include for example:
- the use of stars
- the use of score
- the control method
In order to fully understand the game, it’s necessary to assess the representation and the rules of the game together.
The game plays like a common arena shooter with a simple twist: All the enemies’ behaviors mimic the player’s actions from the previous stages.
In my opinion, the game tries to use the conventional arena shooter qualities to lure the player into the common play style prevalent in most games of the genre, which features nearly constant shooting at the enemies. Throughout the game, the player is gradually confronted with the fact that the enemies’ behavior is actually a direct product of her past actions and that the more she shoots in the initial stages, the more “enemy” bullets she’ll have to avoid with in the later stages.
This assessment is further supported by the message shown after the player loses all of her lives and the game ends. The message reads:
YOU HAVE BEEN ACCIDENTALLY KILLED BY YOUR PAST SELF.
YOU ARE NOT THINKING FOUR DIMENSIONALLY!
Arena shooting games
The game features several classical concepts typical for the genre of arena shooters:
- control scheme combining keyboard and mouse (characteristic for PC representatives of the genre, for example Crimsonland (10tons Ltd., 2003)).
- general gameplay (the protagonist faces many enemies and proceeds to eliminate them using ranged weapons)
The genre of arena shooters started with Robotron: 2084 (Viz Kids, 1982) and has undergone a renewed spur of limited popularity among the independent game developers, starting with Geometry Wars (Bizarre Creations, 2003) and gradually moving to PC with titles like SeizureDome (cactus, 2008).
Meeting past selves
The gameplay includes an interesting twist: The enemies are actually controlled by the player’s past actions. The concept of interacting with previous selves had been successfully used in several previous titles, for example Cursor*10 (NEKOGAMES, 2008). However, all the previous uses seem to have been primarily cooperative, while in The Best Amendment the impact of past selves is entirely negative. Thus, the ironical description “Massively Single Player Game” (Molleindustria, 2013) could be aptly extended with a “Player versus Player” label.
The game lures the player into making questionable decisions by using genre conventions. This approach has been explored numerous times, both in Molleindustria’s own games, for example Unmanned (2012), and games by other developers, for example Jesse Venbrux’s Execution (2008).
The game targets audience familiar with US arms politics and conventional arcade games, as argued in the section about the game’s meaning.
By its usage of rules and signs, the game questions the benefits of the Second Amendment and the gun ownership culture in the US, giving the game a political message.
The Best Amendment is a game with a notable political bias exhibited in both its audiovisual content and rules. The game uses especially text, game genre conventions and innovative gameplay to convey the message that widespread gun handling can go wrong in ways that are hard to predict.
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