This has been an unexpectedly multiplayer-focused summer. I’ve probably put more hours into Splatoon and Rocket League than some people have put into the The Witcher. I’ve gotten familiar with my teammates and competitors’ personalities, but not because I’ve been talking with them. Splatoon and Rocket League downplay verbal communication and the result is an interesting mixture of emergent cooperation and trolling.
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It was the second time playing The Flock when everything clicked, and I reveled in the joy of its asymmetry. When I first come crawling out of some access tunnel in what the developers of the game, Vogelsap, call a competitive multiplayer thriller game, I knew only to move towards a beacon of light. A hideous alien creature, I am able to leap across the level and clamber up rocks and overhangs. I’m quick to pick up the basics of movement, and I’m first to reach the light.
Suddenly I am holding what looks like a huge flashlight with a strange meter. I turn around and the light freezes on an enemy, one of the creatures I just inhabited. Then another one comes from behind. Clever girl.
Her Story makes use of well known storytelling tool. It uses a representation of its own medium to construct a narrative. Like a play within a play or a movie about a movie, Her Story is a computer program in which you navigate a facsimile of an old research operating system and research data base in the hopes of solving a mystery. The computer imagery is very strong, right down to the color palette and arcane noises made by the simulated machine. In fact, it’s so strong that it creates dissonance between the way a real computer would work and the way the game needs it to work.
Warning: This article contains spoilers for Telltale’s Game of Thrones Episode 5: A Nest of Vipers.
One of my earliest memories is trying to figure out how old my parents would be as I aged. I’ve always been bad at math, so as I counted my age each year on my fingers, I accidentally added ten years to my parents lifespan for each one. You can imagine my shock when I predicted my parents would die of old age before I was even ten. I don’t remember how old I was then, but I do remember crying so hard it was tough to breathe. It was terrifying to know I couldn’t do anything about it.
In “A Nest of Vipers”, the latest episode in Telltale’s Game of Thrones series of point-and-click adventure, you can’t do much about death, but you can choose who lives and who dies. During the climax of the season’s penultimate episode, two brothers, Rodrick and Asher, are ambushed by Whitehill soldiers. Their only escape route is under an iron gate, but one brother has to stay behind to hold it open. How do you choose who stays and who goes? How do you decide who lives and who dies?
What sorts of video games represent the best that the entire medium has to offer? I talk to lots of people about games and the various answers to that question often fall into recognizable buckets. Super Mario Bros. or Doom for their ability to withstand the test of time and also for their long reach. Ico or Shadow of the Colossus for their ability to evoke a rich world through understated visual effects and mechanics. Journey for telling a poignant story while seamlessly (and wordlessly) connecting you to other people.
What sort of video game best represents the medium’s potential? It’s a question that inspires high-minded thinking and lots of pondering about the nature of art. It usually doesn’t elicit talk about cars that can do rocket-boosted backflips, but maybe it should. Rocket League is a ridiculous game, and it is a beautiful game.