The Dreaded Question: Vol. III
Video games: Can’t live with ‘em, can’t live without them – or in my case, can’t aptly describe them when my wife asks what they’re about. If this intro doesn’t win me a Pulitzer, I QUIT.
Look, by now you probably know the drill. Whenever I start playing a game at home, my wife eventually takes notices and asks the same simple question: What’s it about? Little does she know that her innocuous question kicks off another round of profound internal reflection about
my the video game industry’s frequent inability to follow convey a story.
I already shared my attempted story summaries of The Division 2 and Anthem in longer columns about those games, but they are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to this timeless dance my wife and I do. Here are my best synopses for the other games I’ve played recently.
Far Cry New Dawn
What’s It About?: “Remember the game where I was fighting the crazy cult with Jeff Cork? Yes, the one I didn’t like very much. Well, the world blew up and now I’m trying to help some random people rebuild their community by doing all the same things I did in the last game. Those two women ARE annoying, correct.”
I’ve played enough Far Cry games at home now that my wife doesn’t ask many follow-up questions once she recognizes the franchise – usually from me getting attacked by wild animals out in the woods. She knows I spend most of my time shooting up bandit camps, skinning said animals for fancy wallets, and generally being stupid, which doesn't constitute a particularly gripping narrative, so she tends to tune out. New Dawn’s one exception was its twin antagonists, Mickey and Lou, who still manage to find a few opportunities to monologue their dull post-apocalyptic philosophies at you while being all-around pains in your butt, which my wife found hard to ignore. So much so, in fact, that when I was given the (totally pointless) option of killing or sparing Mickey at the end of the game, my wife interjected, “Don’t you dare let her live. She could come back!” It was surprisingly cold-blooded of her – though after watching me summarily execute Mickey, she followed up with, “Well, you didn’t have to shoot her in the face, GEEZ.” So I guess Ubisoft at least succeeded in making an impression?
What’s It About?: “It’s a racing game. I just have to get to the finish line without dying a horrifi-- I’m dead again.”
For some reason, Trials Rising drew more skepticism from my wife than most games, and elicited the follow-up questions of, “Why do they even make games like this?” and, “Aren’t people going to get hurt after playing this?” I told her I doubt anyone’s going to hop on a motorcycle and jump it into a launching space shuttle because they saw it in a game, and that seemed to quell her fears – that or she just lost interest after watching me restart the same vertical landing test a THOUSAND times. Literally. Like, I reached the hour-long time limit on the course – twice.
Just Cause 4
What’s It About?: “I’m liberating an island from bad guys who are usually dictators, but in this one I think the bad guy is the CEO of a mercenary group? He’s got machines that can control the weather, so he MUST be an evil CEO. Anyway, I’ve got to blow up everything in sight to save the citizens, which may sound counterintuitive, but Rico’s got a plan..."
Little does she know that Rico super doesn’t have a plan, and it’s really just an elaborate excuse to play around with high explosives and rocket boosters. And she thought Trials was a bad influence!
Yakuza 6: The Song of Life
What’s It About?: “Well, it’s the sixth game in the series and I haven’t played any of the previous ones, so I have no idea. As far as I can tell, I seem to be a pretty good mafia guy – which is just blatant propaganda for the yakuza, really – and my kind-of adopted daughter ran away while I was in prison. I’m trying to find her, but so far I’ve only found her BABY, which was quite the twist. So now I’m punching everyone I meet while being the world’s worst babysitter. "
As I’ve mentioned before, my wife tends to judge the quality of a game by how much story it has, and by that criteria, Yakuza 6 would score a friggin’ 500 out of 10. There have been nights where I’ve watched more Yakuza 6 than played Yakuza 6! My wife vaguely paid attention to the plot for herself while I was playing the game, but that turned out to be a double-edged sword, and led to many a conversation that ended with, “Can you just stop playing Mahjong and continue with the story already?”
No. No I can’t.
What’s It About?: “The bald guy is Agent 47, and he’s the world’s best assassin – oh yeah, WAY better than those lame-o Assassin’s Creed assassins. Anyway, I’m hunting down and killing a bunch of guys who are part of some conspiracy that is probably evil, because what conspiracy ISN’T evil? Also, I’m actually a genetically engineered clone, although I don’t know if that’s true in the reboots anymore. Basically, I just have to sneak around and kill my targets without anyone suspecting me.”
That description was then followed by a lengthy explanation of why I was in a hot-pink bird costume, and how said costume actually WAS helping me blend in, despite looking completely absurd. It’s not like I made the game, ya know!
What’s It About?: “It’s Tetris, only the music reacts to you moving the pieces. No, see how the weird gibberish the choir ladies are singing is changing while I move the piece around? What do you mean ‘So’?! How is that not blowing your MIND right now?!”
My wife also doesn’t understand why I don’t want to play Tetris Effect with the sound turned way down, which she feels is a perfectly reasonable request because the bass gives her “an instant headache,” even though dance-competition dubstep apparently doesn’t. Interesting how that works…
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey
What’s It About?: “I’m a Greek lady who was looking for my dad, and when I found him I could’ve killed him, but I didn’t. Now I’m looking for my mom. Also, my brother is a real jerk and threatened to kill me. It’s all been pretty typical ancient Greek stuff at this point, really.”
My wife seems to have a pretty positive opinion on the Assassin’s Creed series as a whole, perhaps because of the historical angle – or the fact that people aren’t constantly getting blasted in the face by guns (at least the hidden blades are quieter). She was also enraptured by Kassandra’s first story cutscene – “The baby fell off the cliff?!”
After that she mostly complained about Elpenor’s chest hair, and the idiotic detours that kept me from progressing through the story. She ain’t wrong!
What’s It About?: “I’m controlling that hole, and the more stuff that I make fall into it, the bigger it gets.”
This one resulted in the obvious follow-up, “Whyyyy?,” to which I could only reply that I thought it was going to be funnier than it turned out to be, but really just left me craving donuts.
What’s It About?: “The little red guy is called Yarny, and he’s kind of the embodiment of human connection – though I guess he could be a possessed voodoo doll for all I know. Anyway, he was in a previous game, and now he’s got a friend with him, and you're that friend – surprise!”
Unravel Two was one of the few games my wife and I actually played together, and it was one of my favorite experiences from last year; the game does a remarkable job of offering challenging platforming sequences and physics puzzles, while still being newcomer friendly by allowing the second player to hop onto Yarny when things get tough (which is also just freaking adorable). She had fun, too, but for the first time got to appreciate my confusion over video game storytelling. “Who are those kids? Are they spirits? Did something bad happen to them? Why are those guys chasing them?!”
What’s It About? Wuw, what is THIS?:
Given my wife’s predilection for awful mobile farming games, I had a hunch Farm Together might strike her fancy, and I wasn’t wrong. Unfortunately, the game launched without local co-op, and had the unintended effect of getting her re-hooked on her dumb town-building game all over again. The result? I haven’t logged back into Farm Together in two months. My wife still checks her mobile game 10 times a day. Maybe I can wean her off with Farm Together’s recently added split-screen mode…
What’s It About?: “Peter Parker is a scientist in this version of Spider-Man instead of a photographer, and Doc Ock is his boss, so that’s obviously a ticking time bomb. Also, Aunt May’s boss – she works in a homeless shelter – is a bad guy that looks like an undeveloped photograph, but no one can tell it’s him because comic books."
Spider-Man is another game my wife was impressed early on by, but unlike most of the other titles on this list, I actually finished it! Every couple hours she’d ask what was going on in the story, and thanks to Insomniac’s topnotch cinematics and clear (if predictable) plot, I had real, satisfying answers for her. Except for the time she caught me taking the above picture for my stupid column. I regret nothing!
Monster Hunter: World
What’s It About?: “Me and those other weirdos with the giant weapons apparently live on a planet full of giant monsters, and we have to defend our settlement from them? Well, actually I guess we’re actively hunting them down and using their body parts to build better weapons – but I’m sure they’re all bad and had it coming. Oh, also I have a sentient cat servant, which is ADORABLE.”
My wife doesn’t really get the whole kill-things-to-get-loot-to-kill-more-things-style game, especially when they don’t even bother with a story and star a silent protagonist. In her defense, an emotionless killing machine violently slicing/gunning down every living being they come across and looting their corpses without speaking a word and for no apparent reason is kind of psychotic – you’d need a real good PR rep to spin that into something redeemable. Monster Hunter: World at least tries to tell some kind of story – not that I can remember a thing about it at this point – but it wasn’t enough to get my wife on board. For some reason she just felt bad for the monsters, even when they were giant demonic-looking beasts flattening me with their stupid whumpy tails. I really need to play more Monster Hunter.
SteamWorld Dig 2
What’s It About?: “I’m a robot who--” Because This Looks Like A Game I Would Play: “Yeah, well, you basically just try to mine more gems by digging deeper and dee--" Seriously, I Want To Play This:
Like Farm Together, I figured SteamWorld Dig 2 might pique my wife’s interest because, once again, her stupid town game has a mining mini-game where you clear out levels and collect gems. The big difference is SteamWorld is an ACTUAL GAME, and not just a microtransaction trap designed to get you to spend real money. My wife never actually followed through on playing SteamWorld, though – she just watched me for a bit and then went back to her mobile game. I should’ve handed over the controller when I had a chance!
Red Dead Redemption II
What’s It About?: “I’m a cowboy now, honey. I apologize in advance for forsaking all of my worldly duties from here on out.”
I’m sure my wife had some follow-up thoughts to my warning when I started Red Dead, but I couldn’t hear her over all my yee-hawing and finger guns. I’ll go ahead and assume whatever she said was supportive of my totally reasonable and mature fantasy, though.