Friday, 6 September 2013

Socrates Jones

  Recently, I`ve been enjoying a game with a great, simple premise and no presentation bloat.  It used to be that this sort of buzz was common in video gaming; sorry, showing my age.  The game is a loving revisitation of the Ace Attorney franchise.  While making no effort to hide its inspirations, it is its own game, with its own signature name and theme: Socrates Jones.

  The game is a flash program and is available online on Kongregate here.  There is no charge.  Socrates Jones uses the dialog system of Ace Attorney to parse assertions and concepts pushed by famous philosophers, rather than scoundrels.  Socrates Jones needs to examine the philosophical tenets of some of the great philosophers throughout history, luminaries like Thomas Hobbes and John Stewart Mill, and find the flaws in their arguments.  For reasons – it’s a game so no one much minds that the afterlife is a debate hall of incredibly shallow contentions, and escape means picking apart others views apart like a Socratic bully.  This is Socrates Jones` style, and I rather like.  If anyone is interested and wants to read more before jumping in, Gamasutra has a brilliant write up here by Connor Fallon.  Though I haven`t yet beaten it, I don`t expect it will take much longer than the 4 hours I`ve already invested, and most of that is me stepping away from the game to focus on the philosophies outlined to me.

  I hold that this is the greatest attribute of the game; it is a game routed in the commonly available works of philosophers long entered to the public domain, fact tested by Carnegie Mellon philosophy professor Andy Norman.  As far as possible, these are the real tenets of great philosophers, and a massive research budget is unlikely to improve on the end result.  Socrates Jones is true to its philosophers, but also true to Ace Attorney, a fun game about picking apart sworn testimony to get to the truth.  Well Socrates Jones has to pick apart internally consistent logic, spot the weakness, and show up the greatest minds that ever turned to the question of right and wrong.

  For the most part, the games pacing is slow and methodical, a correct tempo for all of the internal contradictions to be found in the text.  SJ has to find them, and some a quite difficult to perceive.  Randomly challenging every statement is not recommended, as each wrong contest costs SJ a part of his Persuasion bar; once it runs out, he, and the player with him, are done!  Graphics and story are kept light and are suitable to this framework, and some of the music, though low quality midi, are kind of catchy.

  The aesthetics of the game favor the following types of play:

  Challenge – this is not an especially easy game, though I have yet to lose even one extra man to a pit.  Players need to interface carefully with the ideas and find logical faults, or else spend a lot of time replaying from start.  Conversely, students of philosophy (of which I`m not, Classics major here) may simply cake walk it from memory.  I might not know the history off by heart, but this is what Wikipedia was invented for.

  Narrative – Light narrative doesn’t mean bad, it means that it sets up the premise, gets out of the way, and periodically checks back in to dangle a mystery or a motivation before the player.  It is what it needs to be and it is not half bad at that.  And for that – respect!

  Discovery – Players learn about specific philosophical ideas from a selection of famous philosophers.  It`s a lot more intriguing than this summary can make it sound.

  Socrates Jones has me thinking a lot in (pseudo) philosophical terms lately.  Before moving on (probably tomorrow), credit for the game should go to Connor E Fallon and Valeria Reznitskaya as the developers. Players looking for something to play should give it a look, as there`s no charge and Kongregate has a lot of good stuff.

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