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Video-games have long established themselves as not just tech demos of horse-power or hardware. More than that, they're consistently vantage points for our imaginations. The nature of their experiences, however, could not be more different. From gritty realism to the more fantastical and surreal, video-games are very much a mixed bag of perspectives and outlooks. As the technological improvements of the next-gen approaches us, the topic will only continue to be relevant in the evolving medium that games are made in. Worlds will become bigger and characters will become realer than ever, but upon what will they draw upon from their predecessors? Here I try and make an outline of just some of the opinions I've formed about both genres.
Note that the games featured below are certainly only a few of the examples that could apply to my points, but I felt that they were at least some of the stand-outs.
The Realistic Game
As the title above would imply, the goal of the "real-world" games on store shelves is to capture the life we live in rather than anyone else's. It appearance and visuals capture what senses we have of the world around us already. Their ideals (or lack thereof) reflect our world more uncannily and carry with them more of our same problems. Crime, poverty, and corruption plagues its streets, its characters' lives are and struggles full of betrayal and treachery. At their core, their the art that reflects life the closest, even if that life is one we wish we were out of as we deal with in the present. Any gritty, open-world game like Assassin's Creed or Grand Theft Auto seeks to instill this in their players maybe not to just entertain our dreams of fancy in stirring up trouble in that world, they serve to show us the insanity of what's wrong with it. I respect the importance of realism in games, but it's more often that I want to be taken to someplace else then what's already down our American streets. To me, gritty worlds reflect too many of the unpleasant things I want to get away from.
For many of my favorite game worlds, it's all about excitement and action. From titles like Uncharted to Call of Duty, they're about pumping your blood with the thrills of adrenaline and making you feel powerful. The thrill of doing a headshot on that annoying sniper over your head or mowing down line after line of enemies is usually nothing short of gratifying. Though I love games like them as much as the next player, at the same time, I've experienced that some of those same feelings can limit what I take away from a game. While there's little that will ever change the giddy feelings I get of shooting something and watching it explode into a billion tiny pieces, there's often much that I always fail to get out of these settings. The more enemies that I slay or shoot down, the more faceless they sometimes become. Collectively they're entertaining to defeat, but individually they're opposition to me is a very impersonal one. I view them as fun targets do demonstrate my power against, but I wonder, could I experience more than what I am? Like I say, I still enjoy action, but I believe they're better, more emotional ways of doing them for the generations to come.
One of the very best and worst things to come out of modern game narratives for me has been the choice-making. At their heart, they're as much about player immersion as they are about power-play. There's little else that allows you to feel more like your a game character then telling the story your own way and the games that have it can thrive on it. I love games like Infamous and Mass Effect to death for their characters' abilities to feel connected to me and one another and I enjoy their worlds better for it. Nevertheless, it's also an element that I struggle with in my game experiences. While it deepens your narrative, it can often not go all the way. As many choices as games can give you, a part of me feels that too many of them value quantity over quality. Black or white and hero and jerk are all too common moral choices for story-driven games and I sometimes feel like I'm unfairly trapped between two choices both too limiting to me. More games would benefit from the shades of grey that we really deal with in real life. Morality is something so complex that few games even attempt to master, but I suppose that it's a double-edged sword that I'm always more than willing to experience time and again.
For many other games are just as much about a fight for survival as they are about evoking shock from their players. The threat of death can lie behind every corner and enemies are more frequent than friend. I enjoy facing danger and feeling suspense in the games I play, but at some point, I feel that games that try too hard to shove scares down your throat arbitrarily start to lose a part of themselves just for kicks. The voyeuristic pleasures of watching Kratos or Dante eviscerate their enemies to bloody messes just to share in their glee can be addictive but parts of you just wonder, "Should I want more from this?" Such game narratives feed on more primal emotions of rage or fear as you transform yourself in your battles with your enemies. It can be awe-inspiring and powerful, but all the while a part of me is more disappointed with the experience in what I gained from it. I don't appreciate playing invincible characters as much as I do vulnerable ones and, most of all, I need an amount of soul to them. Call me a wuss if you like, but I want a part of me to have grown more emotionally from my game adventures.
The Fantasy Game
Fantasy games don't always concentrate on the most violence or action, but what they do do best is their sense of exploration and characters. The world doesn't always make sense or have rules that it makes you abide by. There don't have to be grounded relationships or even real-world physics, but a sense of freedom to experience the whimsical and foreign. A talking red boat or a magical kingdom don't have to be real, but they can be fun for their sense of impossibility. Their characters aren't what you are, but what you might want to be. They can carry a rare sense of humor and abstract wit with them that you may not find in the more restricted elements of our world. People like Mario or Link or Ratchet and Clank may not ever exist in reality, but they have a humanity in them that, combined with a human caricature that seems more endearing. In a sense, they embody not what we like to bash, but what we want to love about ourselves.
One huge clash of visions for games has been that of art-direction over graphical-design. For me, the choice between the two has been simple. The aesthetics of many fantasy games aren't about capturing high-res textures and detail. Rather, they're about conveying a mood and a feeling. Games like Okami and Journey don't mind that they resemble a drawing or a painting as long as they accomplish their goal of captivating you with their spiritual depth. Your surroundings feel alien to you and that captivates me more than if I saw them outside my house. It's otherworldly charms that I value greater and remember more than the familiar ones that other games leave me with.
Most of all, the best fantasy games that I've ever played have made an emotional, perhaps a spiritual statement. As Quantic Dream designer, David Cage, expressed with his own standard for game design, "I'm not creating products. I'm trying to make an experience." With games like the Shadow of the Colossus or Journey, you don't feel like your in a game so much as you're in an allegory. You may not know who your character is, or the world you're traveling in, but you know the meaning you feel. The story isn't important so much as the spiritual journey in it is. Your progression is one of emotion. When you kill, it's a personal act that has impact on your connection with the world. When you feel the pain of the weather against your character as you struggle against it, you see a vulnerability in them that you relate too. It's a bigger experience then I get from most games and while I don't discount their peers' attributes, it's this aspect of the fantasy game that I value the most.
No matter what we see in the gaming industry now, In many ways, the industry is still in its infancy. Despite as long ago as it seems, Pong was only released 41 yrs. ago back in 1972, a short block of time historically. By this same time in the film industry, we were still in the era of the silent film with Charlie Chaplin and for the television industry, we had only just gotten past Leave it to Beaver and Lassie. Thus, the only thing we can truly expect from video-games is change, and probably for the better.
Looking forward to what the future the game industry has in store for us, the only thing I truly count on is diversity. I have no desire to see there ever be any hard or fast rule about what developers should and shouldn't make, but the if video-games are to stay an art-form, there's a persistent need for balance. Realism will always have its place in the game medium, but it's that fantastical element that I hope still carries it with feeling and soul. What kind of game experiences do you value the most in gaming? Thanks for reading.