Player Choice in Thunderbird Strike

 

Thunderbird Strike (https://www.thunderbirdstrike.com/) allows the player to choose whatever actions they deem appropriate in attaining a narrative outcome. The game’s storyline culminates in the restoration of an oil site from capitalist interests that aim to extract oil and in the process damage the woodland environment depicted in the game. Players can choose to reach this outcome by either destroying construction vehicles, sites, and pipes, by restoring populations of local animals, or by a combination of those options. The game does not penalize players based on the paths they take to progress the narrative. This is reflected in the game’s design, since players cannot lose the game. The interesting choice of LaPensée to build a game that doesn’t ‘judge’ underlies the idea that either a destructive or constructive approach can be used by the player to achieve in-game goals. The player is encouraged to explore the strategies that result in the greatest gain in points.

 

Stauffer writes on page 7: “Hussain writes, “Aerial vision at once expands the range of view and hones in on a perceived target. But this focus inwards, this claim of precise aim, is not just one among other ways of looking. Rather, the accuracy of the drone’s eye structures more than vision; it shapes the way we think about, talk about, and evaluate a bombing.” We take a partial, bird’s-eye, silent, non-communicative view on a complex human scene, and use that as the basis on which to decide how to judge the necessity and outcome of a violent intervention into that scene.” This quote describes how the impersonal viewpoint provided by aerial vision engenders a sort of detachment in people’s decision-making processes in drone warfare. Although drone cameras are capable of scanning scenes and zooming in on specific targets, they do not provide context. Individuals are seen through the drone’s lens as moving targets, not as potential civilian casualties that have unfortunately found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time. Complexities such as determining which targets observed in drone footage are hostile, which are not, or the psychological effects of strikes on innocent bystanders are ignored in favor of binary life-or-death decisions made thousands of miles from the location under surveillance.

 

I noticed that Thunderbird Strike did a good job of providing an alternative for the “violent intervention” discussed in Stauffer’s quote. I was pleased with the option to rebuild populations of woodland animals instead of striking construction sites and pipes with thunderbolts. The Thunderbird, hovering over the woodlands and possessing the ability to strike targets on the ground, is in a sense a drone operated by the player. In allowing players to choose non-destructive means of intervention without judgement, LaPensée communicates–intentionally or inadvertently–that the aerial view characterized by the Thunderbird in the sky doesn’t necessarily have to be a destructive tool.  

 

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