Some time ago, Alexa Corriea reported on some of Rami Ismail’s thoughts on the first-person in video games. Ismail is one of the co-founders of Vlambeer, a Dutch studio that focuses on creating indie retro games. At IndieCade East in February, Ismail explained to Corriea that he believes all games are essentially first-person experiences, no matter where the cameras are places and who we’re playing as,
“The way you discuss, the way you play, the way you think about games is in terms of ‘I,’ ‘I learned or failed or succeeded.’ That direct link is something no other medium can offer. Books and movies will always have distance between the media and the person [reading or watching]. You don’t read books with ‘I’ as being about you.”
All of which raises an interesting point: what determines the distance between the media and the person? Why do I identify with game avatars in ways that I don’t with the protagonist of say, Moby Dick?
I’m always skeptical of arguments that involve the claim “no other medium.” Rarely, in fact, is there a quality or phenomenon that’s unique to one form. Video games depend on interactivity more than other media, but everything from books to movies still require some amount of it. From the basic interaction of stimuli and senses, to how one interacts on a mental level—it’s not exactly obvious that video games are interactive in fundamentally different ways than other media (i.e. that it’s a difference of kind, rather than just degree).
And what about the “direct link” that Ismail posits? While it’s not common for other mediums to elicit the “I did X” in the way most games do, I can certainly imagine a book wherein the conceit is that I, the reader, am the one who is also being written about, and the acts it chronicles are therefore mine (like Never Ending Story, just less fantastical and more postmodern).
In general though, I think this is a much stronger point than the one about interactivity that’s made more often.
PAX East happened last weekend in Boston, and while there I had the chance not only to hear a lot of interesting panel discussions, but also demo some new games and hardware.
When I first heard about the Nvidia Shield I was kind of dumbfounded. It looked like a handheld screen had been strapped to an old Xbox controller. It was and remains unclear who exactly will be creating software for the Shield. And its two big selling points made it feel too much like a piece of boutique gaming tech rather than an independent handheld like the 3DS or PS Vita.
The Nvidia rep’s explanation at the company’s PAX booth did nothing to alter that impression. He noted, as I already knew, that the device allows you to stream PC games to it as well as play them on an HDTV, but as Grant Hatchimonji writes,
“Yes, that’s a nice feature and all, but it needs to be connected to a PC to do so, and all of the work is handled by that machine before it’s spit out on Project Shield. At that point, it’s little more than a controller with which to play your PC games, and we all know those have existed for quite some time…and for far less money.”
Now we don’t know yet how much the Shield will cost. It could be as low as $99, which would make it an extremely interesting option. That’s also extremely unlikely though.
I’ve spent over 75 hours playing Faster than Light—more than any other game I played last year. And I still haven’t beaten it! So I’ve often puzzled over why exactly it is that I keep coming back. Something one of the game’s co-creators told Polygon’s Tracey Lien in a recent feature helped explain why,
“All we cared about was making the player feel like they were Captain Picard yelling at engineers to get the shields back online.”
A simple idea but a powerful one. Unlike most space games where players are put in the shoes of the pilot rather than the captain, FTL’s Justin Ma and Matthew Davis wanted players to take the role of commander instead. The result is that rather than overcome obstacles through skill alone, players overcome them through a range of possible tactics and underlying strategies.
This helps you own your mistakes. Instead of feeling frustrated when the odds against your survival mount you feel fully engaged and accountable. Where ever you end up in FTL, the choices that get you there are yours and yours alone.
Nate Ferra lives in Arizona and loves arcade claw games. Not only that, he’s also extremely good at them. Until he encountered one that involved live Lobsters rather than plush toys. The novelty of it got him interested but eventually clawing after a living creature who struggled to remain free was just too much. He gave the game up and was relieved that he failed.
“[B]egan as the collective effort of Felix Park, Dan Lin and Michael Lee, three students from Carnegie Mellon University’s Entertainment Technology Center who worked together during their Spring semester at the school to complete 10 standalone games that would be as mechanically and stylistically diverse as they could make them. The idea, they say, was to use games as a medium for communication; to portray meaning through specific attributes that can only be found there.”
Unlike most video game developers, these students are working out something fundamental to the medium as a fledgling new form for art: how to communicate meaning.
Just looking at the the triple A games slated to release this March makes the merits of experimenting with the form in concise and discrete ways clear. The new Tomb Raider has already received a wealth of criticism for the dissonance between the character portrait Crystal Dynamics attempted to depict and the gamified violence and exploration around which the game is centered.
And despite the best efforts of those involved, I’m skeptical that the upcoming Gears of War: Judgement will be any more successful. Indeed, even Bioshock Infinite, a game pressumably built from the ground up around a central creator’s ambitious narrative vision, might not be able to blend its gameplay and narrative as well as it claims. In each case the core gameplay remains surprisingly similar, and in each case the creators are trying to force meaning through a pre-set system of conventions hoping to achieve something more.
Of course, it’s worthwhile that the developers behind these games are at least trying to overcome the problems which plague most games which want to be about something. I enjoy titles that have settled for just being fun, but there have been and continue to be so many games which satisfy that need that I’m more interested at this point in the ones that are trying to push for something weirder and stranger.
Right now Fire Emblem: Awakening is sitting at 92 on Metacritic. That’s extremely good for any game a month out from release, but especially a JRPG that’s tactics-based and sports dragons, magic, and mystical prophesies.
But I don’t understand why. After playing the game for a solid 25 hours I was no more impressed with it then why I started (and in fact a lot less impressed by some aspects of the game I had initially found quite compelling).
Not so for Kotaku’s Kirk Hamilton though. Kirk, whose work I admire and whose opinions I respect, recently wrote about how gripped he was by Awakening’s conclusion,