Why Major Crimes?

In this comment, Barb asked a question:

This comment has nothing to do with role-playing games. I just noticed your interest in The Wire, Crash, Traffic, et al and want to know – what about these shows/movies interests/attracts you?

PS – I’m intrigued by these movies myself. I hesitate to say “enjoy” because what’s to enjoy about viewing a degraded society…but I’m drawn to these movies. In fact, Crash is one of my favorites.

It’s been a while since she asked the question. In fact, I started writing this post on January 6, 2009. I’m only posting it now. That’s a long time. So long that I’ve changed the name of the game to

Major Crimes. But I digress. The question still deserves an answer.

So, yeah, why would I do this to myself?

First, for the uninitiated, here are some links:

The Wire Season 1 opening credits

Traffic trailer

Crash trailer

I really like the Crash trailer, by the way. The bit at the end where the guy laughs about “people”…it just seems to sum up the movie so well.

And hey, while we’re here, a few clips from The Wire, so as you can get a feel for the show. FYI, these clips do including the use of language, so You Have Been Warned.

Who shot Snots Boogie–the opening scene of Season 1, Episode 1

D’Angelo explains McNuggets

And, one of the conflicted, tragic characters of the show…Bodie. Yeah, spoilers and such:

D’Angelo explains chess to Bodie and Wallace

Bodie and Poot kill Wallace

Bodie and Poot discover that their friend is dead

Bodie’s final moments

Of course, the last two clips are from Season 4, when you’ve almost forgotten that Bodie killed Wallace. Almost….

But hey, this isn’t supposed to be a fanboy post about The Wire. Or Traffic or Crash, for that matter. Rather, I’m supposed to answer the question, “Why are you a fan of these stories?” And, for that matter, why make a game about making these kinds of stories?

First off, these stories are about specific social issues of our day. Traffic is about the effects of the drug war on society, Crash is about the impact of racism on society, and The Wire…well, The Wire is about the failure of social institutions.

In other words, these stories are trying to show the human cost and individual impact of social issues. So, we’re not just talking about “drug addiction” in Traffic; we’re talking about Caroline Wakefield, the daughter of a rich and powerful man who ends up prostituting herself for another high. We’re not just talking about “gang violence” in The Wire; we’re talking about Bodie, a generally motivated kid who fights a losing battle, long after his gang has abandoned him. We’re not talking about “institutional racism”; we’re talking about Officer John Ryan, who first sexually harasses a black woman and then later ends up saving her.

Beyond that, these stories all share a basic philosophy: we are all connected. The choices that we make don’t just affect ourselves. They affect everyone, rippling out from us like waves in a pond.

Yet we rarely consider this simple fact. We are so self-absorbed that we don’t even care about how we are hurting others.

These issues matter to me quite a bit. I am tired of the rhetoric that surrounds these issues. Everyone seems to have a solution, but few care about the human cost of their choices. So, I want people to stop long enough to consider the consequences of their choices. Rather than chanting “Just say no to drugs!” and voting for more police and harsher jail sentences for drug trafficking, I want people to consider the causes that lead someone to become a drug dealer. Why would someone choose that life? Maybe if you understood that, you’d have a different solution.

Along the way, I’d love to deconstruct the American myth of the police. We somehow believe that the police can simultaneously protect us from all harm while preserving our rights. Or, you know, at least the “important” ones. (Yeah, I’ve written about this elsewhere.) As I watched The Wire, I was constantly impressed with the fact that the police officers were just regular guys. They got up and went to work. Sometimes they had a good day; sometimes they had a bad day. Ever make a mistake at work? Yeah, so did they.

And now I’m watching The Shield, which is based on a simple premise: it is impossible to erase crime without becoming a criminal. Depressing, eh? But this is the result of our expectations of the police. We want them to be all-powerful, but then we complain when they take the necessary steps to accomplish the unachievable goal that we set before them. I find myself veering between anger at the police for their actions and sympathy for the impossible expectations that we have established for them.

Maybe more people should watch The Wire and The Shield instead of the quasi-magical CSI.

Once again, I digress.

I make games about issues that I think are important. I enjoy playing games that are just for fun, but I design games that express my concerns. I think that our world would be improved by more people stopping and thinking about these issues. Why do we continue to fund the drug war? What’s so bad about crack? Is the security that we have gained from new police techniques worth the freedom that we have lost?

I have my own answers. But I’m not writing Major Crimes to force my opinions on you. I’m writing Major Crimes, because I want you to have to answer these questions.

(Barb, you might also find “Why I Hate Fun” an interesting read. The author defends the idea of emotionally tumultuous stories being “fun”. Sorry for taking so long to write this for you.)

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