Sunday, June 1, 2008

What is wrong with boredom? (spoilers)

I was supposed to be writing a 2500 word essay due on Monday about the construction of the 'other' as relating to 'terrorist' yesterday, but by the time I got up to 1000 I decided to stop.

Instead, I wrote this. Enjoy


I should be writing an essay about the construction of the 'other' in action film right now, but I just can't be arsed.

Instead, I feel it prudent to collate a few thoughts about how our little medium is starting to grow up. In this discussion, I will be referencing two recent monolithic game releases in Bioshock and GTAIV.

We all remember the hype surrounding the release of the two titles. We all remember perfecting our Serbian accents before GTAIV was released and scribbling 'Rapture Rise!' on our notepads in lectures before Bioshock hit.

When these games came out, we found that not only were they excellent titles (not perfect), but they were attempting a serious discourse on gaming, and its direction.

I'll start with Bioshock.

Rapture. The only place it could be built was the bottom of the ocean. The dark depths were the setting for a game that examined the human condition, morality and most importantly for the gaming industry, the conventions of gaming until that point.

I think us all here who have played the game remember the phrase 'would you kindly?' and the reverberations it had.

Until that point, we had been guided by another's motivations, the other's desire for his family, and ultimately for revenge. Flashing lights gave us the objective we had to fulfil in order to advance the plot, and take us the next step on our linear progression.

'Would you kindly?' changed all that. Before that, we were passengers in a deeper struggle between two men, observing the twisted world around us, slack jawed and wide eyed.

After that, the true horrors of Rapture revealed themselves. Instead of a freakshow, we confronted the very real spectre of corruption and the degradation of society into cannibalistic orgy, where the flesh was the keeper of Adam. All for one man's vision, and a hoodlum's greed.

Bioshock took us on a ride and suddenly, oh so suddenly, with one phrase changed the experience for the player. It took us from the passive observer, to critical witness and participant in creating meaning.

GTAIV involved the player in the narrative like no other game has before.

We all remember GTA right? Violence, hookers and blowing shit up? Fun as hell, but kinda shallow.

The parents cried out. They're going to release a game like that!? In hi-def!? When will these game developers realise the consequences of violence?

Those who have completed the main story of GTAIV will realise that they did.

Here we had Niko Belic, coming to America to find the American dream. Now, it would be pretty easy for the game developers to have us digest a story about how petty violence was in this context. Simple as can be, just put in a huge fuck-you bittersweet ending.

Well, they did that. They fully explored the thematic concerns surrounding a gangster lifestyle as portrayed in popular culture. You know, the one where twelve scantily-clad women dance around a guy wearing baggy clothes telling the world about his penis size and how he was gonna cap all the bitches that stood in his way.

GTAIV captured the futility of this lifestyle perfectly in its storyline, but again, if this game were like ones before it, the player's involvement would be passive.

You know what this game did that no other has yet?

Relationships. You were given a phone, and given the chance to engage with the characters outside of the escort mission/ cut scene parameter. What better way to engage the player in the narrative but give the chance for the player to know the characters involved?

Imagine the emotional impact of a certain character's death if you have gotten to know them. Dug deeper than the superficial appearance of AI, and gotten to the real emotional core of the character.

For those of you who had to endure Kate's death. What did that feel like?

Did you shudder?

Did you weep?


Have you ever felt like that before? The heightened sense of tragedy knowing about Kate's family, the McReary clan. Knowing about her relationship with their father, and about her reluctance to trust anyone in her family's gangster life.

On the way to funeral, she finally accepts Niko. Niko accepts and embraces his new, clean life. Away from the killing.

Even after Kate's death, characters call you to offer their condolences.

Without the character interaction, we would just have another predictable tragedy on our hands, but because of it, the player's involvement becomes that much deeper, and we engage with the narrative that much more.


That should be the buzz-word for the next phase of gaming.

You can keep your next-gen graphics, you can keep your audio bells and whistles, you can keep your gun with a chainsaw, I want engagement.

I want a game to engage me.

I want a game to drag me into the world so deep that I forget I'm playing a game. You won't do it with graphics, verisimilitude has to go to the core of what gaming means as an interactive experience.

This thing, this gaming medium. It's the only medium where you can actively participate. It's time for developers to realise this.

Would you kindly?

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