The Humble Bundle. Check it out if you haven’t, already. It’s a wonderful deal and you can support great charities at the same time. I played Trine over the summer, and it was quite fun. It also looked gorgeous, even on my six-year-old desktop.
Anyways, about this “Pentad” thing.
I hadn’t encountered Kenneth Burke’s dramatistic pentad before reading an article from the September 2011 issue of Digital Creativity, but I’m now quite interested in examining it, and perhaps using it, in my thesis. Basically, the pentad, as the name suggests, uses five criteria to analyze a text. These criteria are: act, agency, scene, agent, and purpose. Or, in other words: what?, why?, where?, who?, and how?
The authors apply the pentad to Bioshock, and they come up with some interesting results. As they explain, one of the core mechanics of the game is the choice between saving the little girls you find throughout your adventure, or “harvesting” them. The choice you make affects the amount of ADAM you receive, the game’s currency.
At first glance, this mechanic seems to offer the player a moral choice between saving or killing a child. In terms of the pentad, the authors explain that this is a “purpose-act ratio,” or a struggle between the outcomes of an action and the act itself. They included a very interesting perspective from a priest who explained how he couldn’t bring himself to “harvest” any of the children, since he believed that it was immoral in any situation. This perspective seems bizarre, especially to any veteran gamer, since these children are not really children. This is especially true in a game like Bioshock that operates almost entirely on metaphor.
The authors pick up on this peculiarity, as well, and they offer another perspective from the procedural level. At the level of game mechanics, the choice between killing or saving the children does not involve any moral dilemma at all, but merely a choice of weaponry, since the game ties the decision to a currency exchange. The authors refer to this situation as an “agency-act ratio,” or a potential restriction of your choices in-game by game mechanics. Finally, the authors alter the perspective one more time, to that of the player and their “real-world scene.” Here, they ultimately find that the players’ choice boils down to whatever allows them to have more fun.
This is a really quick gloss of an article that was already a quick gloss of a research project, but hopefully you see the potential of this kind of analysis. It seems especially useful for interpreting the so-called moral choices that appear in most FPS and RPG in recent years.