I extend both of my middle fingers to the rat bastard that stole my Xbox Live account and tried to run up my credit card with video games purchases. Damn it, the only person who runs up my credit card with video game purchases is ME!
I curse you, your gamertag, and your great grandmother! I hope you experience nothing but getting pwned until you atone for your digital sins. May your Avatar be cast into the Pit of Eternal Damnation, and my your Xbox get the Red Ring of Doom. And when you replace that Xbox, may that one get the Red Ring of Doom too...twice. And may the alternator in your car burn up, and that cheap integrated RADEON video card in your PC burn as well. And may you get Montezuma's Revenge, on your wedding day, hopefully while you are at the alter in front of your friends and family.
Some time ago a friend of mine borrowed Prince of Persia: Sands of Time. He hadn't played it When it was released and since that time it's constructed a very respected legacy. It's one of those games that you just "should" play. To be high-minded about it, Prince of Persia is a "classic." My friend returned it a week. "I'm sorry," he bowed his head in shame, "but I just couldn't do it. I couldn't get over the graphics." His isn't an isolated case, we've been spoiled by increasing production values and better looking and sounding games. It's creates a sort of graphical chauvinism that makes it difficult to appreciate games more than a few years old.
For the last week or so, Joystick Division
has been having a pseudo-conversation about the value of story in video games. While
I think most of us here put a fairly high value on what games have to say, it's
relatively to consider storytelling so heavily. Nobody questioned the value of
"the story" in Bad Dudes: ninjas kidnapped the president and
he can only be rescued two dudes...that are bad. Even though some of the very
earliest games were clearly an attempt at telling a story, any
"story" to speak of was subservient to gameplay. Games are played,
you play them as a game, you don't consume them as a reader of
literature. But the development of more sophisticated fantasies, nuanced plots,
structured narratives and other academic sounding words have challenged what a
video game even is.
As stripping the term down might suggest, a video game is a game played on video. Take table tennis, put the paddles on a screen and you've got a video game. We can call it Pong. You can read the diametric separation of paddles as allegory for the uncompromising competition between feminine and masculine identities in the player but that argument falls apart very quickly (it's also liable to have you permanently uninvited to all future family events). Pong is just a game on video. That's all the term means. But Heavy Rain isn't just a game on video--in fact, as a game, there are significant shortcomings that make it not worth playing at all--Heavy Rain is a story told by a developer and a player. Pong and Heavy Rain are both called "video games" even though they really aren't the same thing at all.
Putting an epic storyline into Pong would be as pointless as it would be absurd, just as much as taking the story out of Heavy Rain would make it unapproachable. But even in the case of Heavy Rain, calling it a "game" means that the mechanics it operates on must, in some way, comply with the design of a game. A game has rules, it has conditions for victory and defeat. If there's any story at all, it must come after the conditions for a game are met. This leads to a false dichotomy between gameplay and story, where priority has always been given to the former--although less since the latter has permeated deeper into the medium. The more control story has over the experience--as in the case of Heavy Rain--the more likely audiences will be to question whether it should even be called a "game" at all.
I declared myself done with video games early on in my undergraduate education. As I saw it, I had spent enough hours of my life rabidly pursuing secret levels and alternate endings and mini-games that - I proclaimed grandly, to myself, in my head - amounted to prolonged digital masturbation. (I won't mention my senior year relapse during which I performed such tasks as essentially being Super Mario World TWICE in a week, due to an accidental file erase.) I travelled for a year right after I graduated, and didn't touch a controller for that entire time. I got philosophical about it -- "Oh, my former self who built a bunker of Link and Yoshi to blind himself from the anxiety-filled ambiguity of modern experience yadda yadda yadda." I convinced myself that listening to Radiohead B-sides while looking at some dry mountains in Chile was what I should actually be doing.
When I returned to the States, I moved to Los Angeles with two actor friends and steeped my days in a soul-crushing mix of menial office work and hours of solitary, misplaced TV writing at assorted Starbucks'. It was soon into this debacle that one of my friends acquired his brother's old Nintendo 64. Larry David was probably somewhere in my peripheral vision the first time we fired it up, and the smell of Stouffer's Dog-Food Lasagna was most likely seeping out from our microwave. All I know for sure is when I wrapped my hands around that triple-stalactite of a controller, my liberal-arts pretentions melted away. I remembered that I LOVED VIDEOGAMES. Simply, truly, deeply. Deliberate identity formation, be damned.
There are a number of ways RPGs can tell a story but for convenience's sake, we'll polarize them in a graduating scale with Elder Scrolls or Fallout style characters on one end and Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest on the other. Bethesda's RPGs feature a faceless set of eyes airdropped into a strange new world; in this world the player is free to wander and change the landscape and politics however they wish. The player and the protagonist are one, they share the same motivations and are driven by the same interests, they have the same knowledge and they are guided by the same morals. Opposite are the Square-Enix heroes that are fully written in a strict narrative. The player and the characters are separate entities experiencing a plot from very different perspective. No matter how convincing the cosplay, there is only one Cecil, and he is not the same person as the player that guides him.More >>