For those of you who don’t know, I play a lot of video games. Back when I was 15, the only games I had played were Age of Empires 2 and Star Wars: Math. Considering this, I’ve covered quite a lot of ground in the last 4 years. A consequence of this is I lack the the nostalgia most of my peers seem to hold, and therefore don’t worship IP’s such as Zelda, Pokemon, or Mario. I am also fascinated with the evolution of video games, and how quickly they are developing as an artistic medium, or rather, should be.
A little more context perhaps: my first experience of beating a game from beginning to end (games like Star Wars: Battlefront or Age of Empires don’t really qualify as having an end) was the original Assassins Creed. I knew enough about video games to determine that what was in front of me was the future of the industry. Interactive storytelling, an immersive and complex plot, and a degree of freedom from running across rooftops and stabbing people - that felt truly amazing. The mechanics manifest the central theme of the game. I also recognised it was rather buggy, and had a serious jonesing for some variety to be injected into about 90% of the gameplay.
Some games are pure mindless fun, some bring to bear serious themes and convey deep messages, and some go that extra mile and fool the player into believing the universe they suddenly find themselves in. I find myself inspired by these games, and I cannot help but notice opportunities to produce more are being squandered. Rather, more and more funding is being poured into advertising and graphical upgrades to try and rival Modern Warfare 3’s box office record.
I recognise that companies ultimately want to make money. However, if gaming is to be considered as something more than just a hobby or basic form of entertainment, we have to approach it as not a business, but an art. For that is what it is/should be. At the risk of sounding pretentious (there’s no risk) I will continue to update this blog with what I think are rather artistic or thought provoking games, typically the kind you can play for free in your browser.
However, I’m going to veer off topic slightly and focus on games that have an emphasis on choice, where you can change certain outcomes of the game through your choices or at the very least, have the illusion that your choices make a difference. This, I think, exploits one of the greatest strengths that gaming has as a medium, agency. Despite frustrating mechanics and a horrific UI, Mass Effect was a pretty stand up game. It was in a lore-deep universe with choices that genuinely changed gameplay elements. Spec Ops: The Line was able to drive its point home much more aggressively. [due to the fact] It had often tricked you, the player, into committing the atrocious acts it was criticising rather than showing them in some cutscene.
I personally want to write/design games that focus on the element of choice, then using [that] choice against them later on. However, I recognise that giving players unlimited choice is technically very unfeasible, due to limitations in programming and what-not. This is why I want to learn to program. To learn the limitations that exist, and how to work around them. To learn how to create at least an illusion that the player has complete control over the protagonist and their actions. The more immersed the audience are, and the more they project themselves onto their character, the more shocking it is when you pull the rug out from underneath them.
Imagine a plot like Inception or The Count of Monte Cristo, where you yourself were the main character, driving the plot forward through your own actions. The inevitable tragic end would be completely your own fault, and therefore mean more than just witnessing a fictional character experience these events. Also, let’s be honest, a game of Inception would just be fucking awesome.
Inane rantings by Peter Walter
Edited heavily by Cassandra Polosak