Extra Credits: Call of Juarez: The Cartel

This week, we further examine the "lazy design" we discussed last week by picking apart a specific title: Call of Juarez: The Cartel.

Show Notes:

Please follow this episode's advice and DO NOT play this game. But if you want to know more about the gameplay, feel free to watch the Zero Punctuation review.

Audio Version:

Recent Comments:

  • Could somoene give me the sources for this episode? I'm writing an essay on games so that would be swell.
    Thanks in advance.

  • I joined the forum just to say that I thought this was a fantastic episode. Everything here needed to be said, and I appreciate the outrage I can hear in the writing and voicing of the piece. I've always loved these shows, and this one hit the nail on the head.

    Fantastic job.

  • Secondly, you guys point to the racism in the game using the example that the player shoots a lot of minorities--and go on specifically to cite the "Bad Guy" achievement given for killing 40 people in one of the early missions in the game. Now, I know there's no way I can say this next part without sounding like a cold-hearted and ignorant Fox News pundit (I'm not), but in any case, here goes: who do you think belongs to the Mexican drug cartels? At the end of the day, there just aren't a lot of white people involved in those organizations. To artificially force them in there in the name of "not appearing racist" would just make the game seem MORE poorly-researched and thought out. And outside of the level mentioned at the top of this paragraph, I don't remember seeing a lot of black people.
    But to that point, this is what really got under my skin with this episode--you talk about how bad it is that Techland is "deliberately misleading" their audience (never mind that the entire theme of the episode otherwise seems to be suggesting they're just lazy, rather than malicious.) And then you go on to paint this achievement as a reward for killing minorities. As someone who's played the level, I can attest that the reason it's called "Bad Guy" is because, in the first part of the mission, you're not supposed to shoot anyone. Going out of one's way to engage in combat isn't directly penalized, yes, but you're advised in-game to avoid starting a firefight, for fear of civilians getting caught in the crossfire. While I think you have an excellent point about the developers needing to think about what rewarding this behavior with an achievement might mean, it's pretty crappy that you talk out of one side of your mouth about being misleading and then imply that this level is designed with race killings in mind from the other.

    Responding specifically to the underlined section there, I think you may have misunderstood their point (which is understandable because I think they perhaps didn't do quite as good a job of conveying it through their sense of outrage as they could have).

    The point they were trying to make wasn't that they think Techland was being deliberately racist with that level. It was that Techland wasn't thinking enough about what their systems were implying, unintentionally delivering a very racist-appearing message in the process not with the level, but with the achievement. If there were an achievement in every level for killing X number of enemies, no one would find "Bad Guy" objectionable. The thing that raises eyebrows is when there's only one such achievement, and it just happens to appear in the only level where all of your enemies are black. It more than likely wasn't an intentional message on part of the designers, but I think that if they'd been paying closer attention, they would have caught it and maybe thought "perhaps the implications of this aren't so good, maybe we should just nix this achievement and add another one somewhere else for people to get their 10 gamerscore from."

  • This thread is still going, huh?

    Going out of one's way to engage in combat isn't directly penalized, yes, but you're advised in-game to avoid starting a firefight, for fear of civilians getting caught in the crossfire. While I think you have an excellent point about the developers needing to think about what rewarding this behavior with an achievement might mean, it's pretty crappy that you talk out of one side of your mouth about being misleading and then imply that this level is designed with race killings in mind from the other.

    Okay, I've said it already in this thread - but I understand not actually reading old posts here by this point. This thread has ballooned.

    Anyways, the point wasn't that the level is "designed with race killings in mind" and the episode doesn't state that it is. It merely states that the achievement itself is a very horrid thing when you look at it from a distance and Techland should've picked up on that. The narrative around the level is terrible, but that's besides the point. What this achievement does is give you positive reinforcement for killing 50 people of a specific race, and that's not good. Regardless of the authorial intent of the achievement, the instant you put positive value on it you've given incentive to the player to perform the action, to an extent. As we discussed on the podcast, if there were a means of giving negative gamerscore from the achievement perhaps it would've had the intended effect - but the way it was, it didn't do what it was intended to and just seemed very horrid instead. Lazy design, as I say Techland should've caught it.

    The folks at Techland may simply have not wanted to make a game that tries to wrestle with those questions (or maybe they did, and Ubisoft pushed them away from it.) In any case, saying that there's anything intrinsically morally wrong with presenting a "pulp" version of a real-world conflict is ignoring that great stories can be told in those universes. Case in point: the Second World War was an unprecedented global conflict that killed over 60 million people and saw the rise of one of the most universally reviled groups in human history with the Nazis. That doesn't stop Return to Castle Wolfenstein from being a widely beloved and classic shooter. Maybe I'm crazy, but I feel like there's room for light interpretation of this subject.

    But we're also 60+ years after the fact of WWII, you think Return to Castle Wolfenstein would've been received the same if it were released when the war was still raging and our people were losing their lives to it? I love me some light interpretations of things too, but even as a light interpretation The Cartel falls down.
    Again, there's a difference between a light interpretation of a past crisis and a current crisis, no mistake. However, there's also a much greater difference between a light interpretation done well and with a degree of respect, and a light interpretation that seems to hold no respect for the crisis in question.

    There's an entire genre of fiction, known generally today as "pulp," that has arisen in the 20th century around presenting a glossy, over-the-top version of reality. That doesn't preclude games from examination, sure, but it also means that there's room to attack real issues from multiple angles.

    And even within pulp there're good examples and bad examples. There's a fine craft to presenting a pastiche of our reality. The Cartel didn't do it well, if at all.

    And additionally, I take issue with the somewhat dishonest commentary on the achievement, as described above.

    See above. I think you read their meaning wrong, personally, I saw no dishonesty in their talking about the achievement. It's something that Techland should've spotted, and that it is framed how it is is horrid.

    Someone noted that, "minority groups" are generally the "majority groups" of gangs in Mexico. Will support this point

    Agreed, but the sheer lack of barely any non-minority groups in The Cartel was what shocked me. Even outside of the gangs themselves. It's set, for a good chunk of the game, within LA and we see maybe 3 or 4 white people I could recall off the top of my head right now? Again, it was something we discussed in the podcast with Dan and James.

    I'm all for games exploring potentially offensive subject matter like The Path or (the sadly unreleased) Six Days in Fallujah and Imagination is the Only Escape, however it is critical that such explorations are respectful of the subject matter.

    No it's not. I have to disagree here. And this is where it gets tricky. But remember how I said above that there're different approaches to pulp and light interpretation and such, where amongst those some are bad and some are good?
    It's kind of like that with this, and using the example of ANYTHING that goes on in Saints Row: The Third as being "horribly offensive" is missing a lot of context around the game itself.
    Now let's see...
    For example, apparently there is a mission in Saints Row III where the player breaks into a cargo ship containing women being trafficked to Steelport and can choose to sell them as sex slaves. I could be entirely wrong as I am yet to play the game and am basing this off the review I saw

    You're not entirely wrong, but you're wrong to a degree, here let me give you the full options... (Though in future, you may want to avoid using games you've not played as examples of your point.)
    You decide to steal the prostitutes from a cargo ship operated by a rival gang, and your options are as follows:
    Use them as prostitutes working for you, or sell them back to the people you stole them from.
    Offensive? Oh, terribly so. If taken as it stands, without context.
    That's the thing with pretty much the entirety of SR3 though. You have to bear in mind the context of the game, and that this game operates in the same vein as various exploitation cinema does and is so blatantly self-aware that none of its 'offensive' nature seems to have the same weight as it otherwise would. Some of it isn't executed in the best way, certainly, but that's another kettle of fish and another tale entirely.
    Either way, the prostitutes in SR3 are not meant to be anything even close to a realistic portrayal. In fact, they're pretty self-aware themselves - happy to be prostitutes, I could even go so far as to say proud of their role depending on how literal you want to take some of the dialogue. These really aren't your "sex slaves" from our horrid reality, nor are they meant to be.
    To cry outrage and offence without context is precisely what I'd expect of the mass media though, so am I worried when games like this come out? Sure. But do I think games like this shouldn't exist? Not at all. I happen to adore Inglorious Basterds, despite it not taking the atrocities of World War II at all seriously, as an example. I'm also pretty fond of other examples of pulp and exploitation cinema, but I won't go into specifics here we could majorly derail this topic.
    Either way, the subject of "offensive material" within games such as Saints Row: The Third and its ilk is a topic best left for another time, and not this thread. Because yes, there is a lot to talk about there, but it doesn't relate to what we're talking about here really as the two games are doing completely different things.

    Anyways, herein lies the difference between The Cartel and pulp or exploitation genres, The Cartel has none of this self-awareness or the other nuances that make for a good execution of the genres.

  • So a there was an article written about a game on the PennyArcadeReport which seems to attempt to tackle the drug war with more tact than the eponymous subject of this forum. I haven't played the game, and the article seems a bit spoilery, so here is a direct link to the game itself: It's called NarcoGuerra, it's a strategy game for iOS or Android, only costs a dollar, so ....yeah.

    Once I've played it myself I'll reply again with my thoughts on it.

Join The Discussion: