Each week in Play in Process, Richard Clark shares what he’s been playing and why it matters.

Games resonate with us for various reasons. Whether we find them to be primarily fun, satisfying, addicting, peaceful, frustrating or disturbing, we have these reactions to them because they are leveraging a certain truth, whether it be about the world, ourselves, or games themselves. Most often, games are known for being fun; everything else tends to be secondary. That’s because a game relies first and foremost on being played. This is why some of the best games are merely mechanical.

Still, those systems mean something. Fun is actually a word that encompasses all of the others. We enjoy Tetris because we enjoy bringing order to chaos. We enjoy Pac-Man because we enjoy flourishing in the midst of a desperate attempt of survival. We enjoy racing games because they allow us to test our own limits. At least, those are oversimplified guesses as to why we enjoy those things. You get the point.

The latest racing game I’ve been playing, Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit, manages to marry solid gameplay mechanics, setting, and a barebones narrative to create a player experience that is more than simple “fun”. It sticks with you. In Hot Pursuit, you choose between playing the racers or the cops, charged with putting an end to the racing menace. Unlike other racing games, Hot Pursuit focuses on the implications of no-holds barred racing. Even as the racer, you hear police chatter that feels serious and desperate. They talk about the damage done, the out of control nature of the racer. They talk about you. This is so effective that it’s a joy to switch over to police mode and deal out justice.

Ultimately, that’s what the game is about: justice. In Tetris, you bring order to chaos in an extremely abstract sense. In Hot Pursuit, you take practical measures against chaos, or you enact chaos yourself – though all you were really trying to do was win a race. It’s a surreal experience, really, switching back and forth between self-centered psychopath and self-appointed defender of justice and order. That’s a kind of moral whiplash that finds its home deep within our brain – a double empathy that compliments itself.


2 Comments

  1. I haven’t played the most recent release of the game, but for a long time the original Hot Pursuit was my favorite racing game. That was for a couple reasons. One was simple game mechanics. It was a game where you drove a car, not a car racing game. Racing games started getting very elaborate (like the Gran Turismo or Forza series) and they just got too complex. I had a hard time really driving because I couldn’t “feel” it, and a controller is not the same as a wheel.
    The other (more important) reason is because it was simple, stupid fun. It was in essence, a car game of tag mixed with cops and robbers. You couldn’t even be the cop in the original. It was about getting away. Trying to be successful while somebody tries to stop you.
    I didn’t feel like a bad guy though. It’s interesting that in this game one feels like the bad guy (or good guy as it may have it) while playing the game. I wouldn’t feel that a moral implication would be present, but it does pose a good exploration for the player I guess.

  2. @Ben – You’ll want to try the new game. It’s significantly better, particularly because it’s made by Criterion, the burnout guys. They do speed, racing, and a sense of danger well.

    It’s that sense of danger that gives the game a sense of stakes that makes the whole thing feel that much more substantial and meaningful. I would never say that playing a bad guy is bad or anything – but like you said, it’s all about moral exploration in a morally safe context.

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