The Castle Doctrine: I killed Your Wife
What do you do when your pregnant wife is attacked by a dog as you stand by, defenseless, helpless, without so much as a carefully formed string of expletives to hurl? If you’re acclaimed indie developer Jason Rohrer, you make a game. The Castle Doctrine is born of fear, of the dual-edged nature of security, and the simple realization that parenthood effectively changes the game.
An MMO of home defense and robbery, you begin in your box of a house with wife, children, a vault and $2000 of cash to arm your castle and yourself. The strange economy of The Castle Doctrine aside ($150 for a brick), the feeling of euphoria that comes with that much free money is short-lived. This home, this vault, and this family is all incredibly vulnerable - and so a weight settles around your shoulders, hunched toward the screen, as you devise pressure switches, doors and place pit bulls that, well, anybody could get by because you just started playing and frankly, you’re an idiot.
Rohrer loves a challenge, and The Castle Doctrine follows the learning curve labeled “brutally steep”. The often stumbling ascent is that much more rewarding for it, but in the meantime things look like:
and a bit more of this:
If you ask me (and you surely did), as a new player you’re best off grabbing some items for your backpack and going a-robbing just so you can quickly see the sorts of devious traps that work. Or you can give your wife a shotgun and have her kill you on your first ever home defense test run (true story):
You can be killed by your own defenses in an earnest attempt at protecting those most dear, and you can destroy the family of another player (the wife carries half the familial assets, after all) for material gain. In the former scenario you’ll at least find humor in the situation as a wrong turn leaves you trapped with your own pitfall. The message is clear: our security, clearly as illusory as these in-game contrivances, is not without cost. It is not perfect.
Having left hearth and home more or less haphazardly defended, you embark on a robbery. This is a high stakes game, you’ve just spent a good chunk of that now seemingly paltry treasury on things like poisoned meat, wire cutters, and clubs. Failure, through perma-death or fleeing the invaded home, means that with every attempted home invasion you risk losing at the very least those precious tools of thievery. Heart in throat, the fog of war is thick and every step is a calculated bid for survival - because making it out of this house with only the $50 in your own precariously defended vault at home is no survival at all. It’s dark, and then a child approaches, and a wife, and I hit her with a club. She dies. Her children are watching. I am a horrible person.
I'm so sorry.
I posit that if you’re anywhere close to human you’ll feel bad about it, too - and that is at least part of the point. The Castle Doctrine didn’t always have a family, but without them Rohrer realized the stakes were mediocre at best. To really experience the sting of theft, the feeling of unease that trips up your heart when you return to a violated home, there needs to be more on the line than the potential to buy a ladder. Alone in the world, without your better half to shoulder some of the burden of your in-game net worth - and now no net-worth to speak of - how do you pick up the pieces? Or do you just click and confirm that little box labeled “Suicide?”?
Stealth, strategy, and the unrelenting task of puzzling out the best way to economically defend your own home combine in one of the most dire pixelated adventures. Someone will get past your traps (you have to be able to get to your own vault yourself, after all). You will watch security footage as they rob you blind, and whether for your own in-game survival or in the bitterness of loss you will rob them and others into oblivion. Because I’m telling you, having experienced death by pit bull far too many times to count it was with deep and worrying satisfaction that I clubbed these guys into their own perma-death:
An MMO, with the (fictitious) names of the residences you’ve robbed and of the perpetrators to your own home available, revenge is a lure. That player just killed your children, expending the cost of the one-time use clubs to do so, with no ostensible gain. Do you commit suicide and come back to haunt him with your diabolical security and a loaded revolver? Or does paranoia set in, clouding your judgment as you spend all your budget on wire, electric floors and pressure switches, snuggling your new family into a dark corner with a panic button as you count the minutes and wait? This is more than a game of self-defense and robbery, or even of fear. Dread becomes an operative state. The sort of dread that settles low in your belly then grows curling, awful tendrils up into your chest while you realize how very precarious your situation is, and how very little control over the outcome you have.
“Fear is what keeps you up at night and makes you run to check on your house in the morning. Oh, you mean your in-game house? Which house do you check first in the morning?” Read the interview: http://n4g.com/user/blogpos...
The Castle Doctrine, however grim, is a seductively challenging take on reality. In the most benign of scenarios you create your home defenses and wait, watching, for someone to try and rob you. If they succeed, you have failed. If they die, if your defenses introduce them to perma-death, you have achieved the same tainted victory the game’s title promises. You are a killer. You have won.
Day 16 | Jason Rohrer