Tom Bissell at The New Yorker:
My day job, in lieu of teaching creative writing like a normal person, is writing scripts for blockbuster video games. Last summer, while I watched a play-through of the then-unreleased Gears of War 4, for which I was the lead writer, something odd happened. The game’s story called for a massive plane crash, out of which a single robot, operatically aflame, was intended to stride toward the player. Within the game’s fiction, robots have hitherto opposed the player, but we wanted this particular burning robot to pose no immediate threat.
The game programmers had thus switched off the hostility driven by the robot’s artificial intelligence, allowing the player to walk past the hapless robot or shoot it. Most of us on the development team, I think, hoped our game’s future players wouldn’t shoot. Just ahead of the encounter we placed what is referred to, in game design, as a frontgate—a kind of contrived environmental blockage intended to prevent players from rushing too far ahead, which can mess up loading times. In this case, our frontgate was some airplane wreckage, which has to be lifted by two characters. Typically, once the player gets into position, his or her accompanying squad-mate, controlled either by another human player or a non-player programmed to be an ally, joins and helps lift the wreckage out of the way.