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Nintendo and Sony have officially entered their prize
fighters into the next console generation championship bout and we all await
the specifications of Microsoft's champion.
Personally, I am not a day one console buyer. One day, in fact hopefully in the next
console generation, but this fall 2013 I will pay my gas bill (my highest
utility bill) and delve deeper into my Xbox 360's backlog.
With the new console releases, after the initial hubbub calms
over hardware specifications and peripheral support our attention turns to the
available games. New consoles infamously
have a gaming library famine whereas the previous console generation ends with
a gaming buffet. We sink tens and hundreds
of hours into our games exploring worlds and progressing through stories. We may debate the most seminal aspect of
gaming from the narrative to gameplay to combat to level design to audio design
and more but we all agree on the inherent value of our cherished passion. How we identify with a game and devote our
precious hours towards any given game is a personal decision.
I considered the games I have left to play in this
generation before adding next generation titles such The Witcher 3. My current generation backlog is overwhelming
when considered solely as the hundreds of hours required to play the titles
before purchasing even one next generation game. I thought back on the recent games that I
have rotated through my disc tray and I wondered why, what hook, kept me powering
up the same game for hours on end.
Gaming dedication resulted in this photo.
Games must balance their purpose as artistic expression of the
developer with each individual gamer's need to own a gaming experience as "my"
playthrough. Perhaps the developer creates
an emotionally taunt narrative but the emotionality of a narrative choice stems
from the hours I spent with the game even outside of the narrative and that
such a connection is possible without a strong narrative. For example, currently, I am alternating my
playtime between Assassin's Creed 3 and Far Cry 3. I am nearly done with both and both as
designed under the Ubisoft umbrella play remarkably similarly. The open worlds are mostly open for
exploration with key areas locked by storyline progression. With a predetermined character I run amok on
the map embroiled in side quests spending the majority of my time outside of
the central story. All that time spent
in the side quests and causing general mayhem, notably be making horses glitch
on purpose and experimenting with the explosions an RPG launcher can cause,
contribute to the emotional pull of the central story when I return to the central
I realized that the value of my time spent playing, my
impetus for returning to these digital universes, ranged from holding my
characters' fates in my hands to custom paint jobs to skillful takedowns to vehicle
control and more. Gaming narratives
range from the interactive story to the threadbare explanation of gameplay
mechanics. Stories are beset with the idea of a developer
gifting us with their artistic storyline.
Yet, we sink hours upon hours into games playing within these digital
worlds. Sometimes merely a character's
nuances remind me that I am indeed in charge and playing through my game.
Make your choice. Just remember that everyone is depending on you. No pressure.
Sure, in a discussion about meaning in video games Telltale
Games' The Walking Dead is an obvious example.
Personally, after the game ended I was conflicted feeling both an
enjoyable experience that I am eager to continue in season two versus a sense
of trickery that I, at best, marginally impacted the overall narrative. I was intrigued at what exactly in The
Walking Dead left me excited about the series because at the end of the fifth
and final episode, for me, the narrative's smoke and mirrors faded away and I
felt duped. I chalked up my minimal
narrative impact to the limitations of game development.
Quick make a decision! Wait! Make the right choice! You waited too long! Everyone is dead. Good job.
After some thinking, I considered that the time limitation
for the narrative options turned an interactive story into "my" story. Pivotal narrative choices are presented with
a timer with no response a valid option.
The real time conversation rather than my character staring idly for an
indefinite period while I grab chips or look up the response outcomes on my
smartphone forced my response. Such a
mechanic imitated the decisions we make every day with little to no time to thoroughly
weigh our options. We must choose and
abide by the outcomes of our decisions.
Innovative gaming removes the pause ability, such as Dark Souls with no
pause feature whatsoever, and The Walking Dead moves forward dragging the
player along disallowing the ability to feel safe. Suddenly, rather than the "big decisions"
dictating a sense of ownership I felt that the constant smaller moments
fleshing out how to raise Clementine in a post zombie apocalypse world and
interactions with others shaping how our group acted within the world's chaos
allowed me to shape the story. The
constant "live or die" choices became irrelevant because, assuming that I survive
the initial apocalyptic event, the narrative becomes how I live my life in this
post civilization world.
Action shots are hard. Master Chief enjoying the ride and Master Chief a mere few seconds into his trip around the battlefield.
However, gaming investment does not require a narrative pull. Currently, I am sporadically playing through
Halo 3's campaign. On one hand, I am apparently
a perpetual Halo noob because I continually become stuck in a large firefight
that requires a substantial effort to get past only to land in another one. On the other hand, the Halo franchise from
Bungie to 343 Industries is notoriously inaccessible for the disabled,
including myself. The increasingly
subpar captions in Halo 3 cause me to resent the franchise each time I must
endure uncaptioned in game dialogue and wonder what my objective is. Somehow, I keep trying because I want the
"Halo" experience and a particular mechanic sticks with me. The ability to commander nearly any vehicle
is great fun but I nearly gasped when realizing that I get to choose where to
sit in said vehicles when multiple options are available. As the heroic Master Chief I can choose to
sit in the passenger's seat and enjoy the ride leaving the driving to the
driver and the gun play to the soldier in charge of the mounted weapon. Granted, the AI may not be geniuses but the
option to sit back in the passenger's side always elicits a grin from me
considering my Master Chief as a galactic savior who does not mind occasionally
relinquishing the driver's seat. Inevitably
after several deaths I take over the wheel driving around the battlefield just
to pick up wayward soldiers as if I am a taxi service. I note that perhaps my playstyle is not
conducive to completing the campaign.
Despite incredibly creeping looking children the choice that never became easy.
With BioShock Infinite's release nearing, BioShock 2 has
climbed up in my backlog. Granted,
BioShock Infinite is not a direct sequel or even from the same development team
but playing the franchise in order allows me to witness the game design's
evolution. Initially, I avoided the
original BioShock on the sole premise that its main characters were dubbed Big
Daddies and Little Sisters. I was unsure
what creepy Freudian experiment was occurring in the game and I wanted no part
of morbid family dynamics. Thankfully,
these are allegorical labels for mutated humans. The Little Sisters harvest plasmids, a
chemical used for leveling up, from bodies while Big Daddies stand guard. This character dynamic is the basis of BioShock's
morality system that distills into "harvest and kill or let live" the Little
Sisters upon a successful takedown of her Big Daddy. This "kill or let live" option occurs
repeatedly throughout the game establishing a black/white morality system that
determines your ending scenes. The
choice is presented continually long after we, the player, determined our
playthrough type for our preferred ending.
Yet, the decision never became rote because each instance forced a visceral
reaction. The animation of a Little
Sister never let the harvest decision come easy as we must witness the act of
harvesting a child and its consequences or know that a deadly enemy is around
the corner but watch our ability to level up run away. This interaction with often nothing but a
repeating animation sequence imbued the Little Sisters as an aloof NPC with
such meaning that in my opinion the "good" BioShock ending is one of the best
of this console generation.
One second you don't see me, the next second I took over your mind. Carry on guard.
Assassination games tend to suffer from a lack of personality. The targets quickly become far removed from
the initial act of violence that spurred our lone wolf hero into action until
the why behind each target is buried under hard to follow layers of political
intrigue. For all of the praise, this
occurs in the celebrated Dishonored which instead specializes in a highly
effective assassin toolset. Dishonored
features many available options for assassinating, not so much for sneaking,
but I most enjoyed possession. With a
minimal narrative that requires intense exploration to fully flesh out, a
successful and skillful takedown provides a sense of satisfaction. Possession added a personal touch to one
digital avatar taking out another. Gaining
temporary control of a guard with NPCs commenting on the guard's changed
persona and interacting with the environment in the new guise allowed for the
setup of any desired takedown from a chokehold to a one hit kill. During possession takedowns I felt the most
like an assassin with supernatural powers slipping out of the shadows emptying an
entire area without being seen. Each
return to Dunwall left me looking my next opportunity to make the world shift
into an eerie green/gray palette as I looked out from another's eyes. Plus, swimming and crawling as a fish and a
rat provided an entire new viewpoint for first person/animal perspective.
I made these myself or stole, same thing.
After roughly 118 hours my wood elf in Skyrim is only level
35 and my recommitment to the central story somehow devolved into the thieves'
guild quest line. Surely, such a nearly
fully customizable game allows the player to own every facet of their game time. Still others criticize Skyrim for an openness
that dilutes player choice into the choice to do nothing meaningful. When I booted up my save file that I
neglected for months, in order to get a grasp on my game I visited my house in
Riften, ran down the stairs, and checked out my displayed weapons. The time and energy spent leveling up,
looting the bow, learning how to enchant, discovering the enchanting spell and ultimately
obtaining the ability to gain an even better bow was all encapsulated in the
bow unassumingly displayed on a plaque.
For a while after I bought my initial house I was unaware of the availability
of the plaques for displaying weapons.
Eventually, noticing the mannequins for showing off armor and clothes
tipped me off that a weapon option must exist as well. Now, rather than cram my once beloved gear in
an overflowing loot chest each goes on display while the bigger and cooler gear
is equipped. Maybe the narrative
delivery is wooden and quests end with the sensation of "Now what?" but all of
those hours spent in Skyrim are embodied in proudly displayed weaponry
showcasing the skills and adventures I had pursuing my next level up.
Follow the message and all will be well.
Every morning, except on Saturdays, I turn on my console and
choose one of the three to four ongoing games.
Sometimes I am in the mood for a run and gun experience, or for walls of
text, or for brain hurting puzzles or for memorized combinations or for a
multitude of other gaming types. Games
are not only experiences built by another but my own design from level editors
to narrative choices to weapon customization to co-op with friends and
strangers and more. Each reason is a
valid foundation of individual ownership and meaning into built digital worlds
compelling s us to devote hours into these creations made by another but shaped
by us. As new generations of games are
developed we will sink our time and energy into these games asking the
developers only that we are provided a sense of ownership in their designed
Thank you to all readers who stopped by.
What gaming mechanic
has made you feel a sense of ownership in a game?
What game do you feel
that you shaped the most?
What game have you
sunk the most amount of time into?
Do you have an opinion
or thoughts about spending so many hours gaming?
Have a great week out there in the big wide world and enjoy
the valuable time that you get in the digital realm!