Sunday, January 30, 2005

Doomed to repeat

, in the right hands, can be vehicles for profound storytelling.

In most hands, however, they manage to be as entertaining as a summer blockbuster, full of sound and fury, signifying marketing.

It seems to me that we work less and less with archetypes and more and more with outright cliches. So many genres are thick and stagnant.

Derivation is inevitable - we tell the stories that fascinated us most as children, creating new details where our imagination desires them.

But much of the industry consists of out and out repetition.

Most of the industry consists of repetition.

The glut of WWII shooters have actually made me bored with the idea of killing Nazis.

We are reducing one of the most varied, frenzied and confusing conflicts in history into an oversimplified shooting gallery.

We expect games to skirt moral decisions and then blame them for being amoral.

Doesn't anyone see even a tiny bit of irony in a game that asks you to mow down wave after wave of Nazis without the slightest twinge of horror at your actions? Or any kind of mental effects?

Games don't have to be heavyhanded. But it would help if they were, uh, handed at all.

Too many games are like slasher films. They specialize in objectified violence. They are still exploring their limits in terms of language and gore. They trade in an adolescent's version of sex and drugs. They present a world of either hero, enemy or victim.

This is not bad in and of itself. Scarface presented a movie world that made drugs and violence seem flashy and appealing; But in the end the 'hero' was brought down by his own hubris.

I don't see this idea in most videogames. The cornerstone of tragedy, one of the fundamentals of drama, and it is neglected in interactive entertainment.

I blame the ego. People expect videogames to place them on an upward power curve, to gain in their abilities until they are fully equipped to survive the gameworld. We don't expect to suffer repercussions.

Would Vice City have been the same game had Tommy Vercetti died on the edge of a dock from a police sniper's bullet with the mansion he stole in flames behind him? Would gamers have felt empowered by the violence, or shocked at its eventual (indeed, inevitable) conclusion?

Whom the gods kill, they would first make mad.

But let's not go out and create a bunch of Max Payne retreads. Please.


Anonymous said...

The problem with sudden tragic endings in computer games (there's an Infocom game that has one, for example) is that the player is supposedly controlling the main character. If a specific plotline is forced (Tommy gets shot) that control is relinquished, and to the player it feels like a bait-and-switch.

In the case of the Infocom game, the death only occurs when the PC walks into the final section and there's no compelling reason why the player has to do so.

If Tommy gets shot on a rooftop -- well, he's been shot *plenty* of times during the game, and the player hit the "reload saved game" button and did things differently. Why should the end be so different?

There are RPGs that manage complex endings by taking to account the entire series of player actions throughout the story (Fallout, Temple of Elemental Evil, and Geneforge, to name a few). This buildup is cumulative, rather than simply the player walking out the wrong door and getting shot.

--Jason Dyer

Deacon said...

Yes, you're absolutely right. GTA was probably a bad example because that game relies on freedom and death does not mean a game over.

In fact, when I think about it, GTA is a damn good example of what kind of repercussions your actions can have - from the first brave cop who tries to stop you for a minor traffic violation to the national guard members putting their lives on the line to bring you down.

What I'd like to know is this: How possible is it to show moral repercussions in a game without making it unbearable to play?

Do we want to play games that are like after-school specials?