Activision’s Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventures was one of the hottest trends at the end of 2011 and is gearing up for another possible season of success in late 2012 with a sequel called Skylanders: Giants. In the meantime, Activision will be expanding the current release with the addition of new characters, but unlike a lot of video games these days, the new characters aren’t available as downloadable content. They are physical, and they are fueling a buying spree. It’s a new take on the “gotta catch ‘em all” fever that Nintendo evoked with its Pokémon franchise.
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I’m not what you’d call an optimist when it comes to human nature. All too often, it seems like people default to some state between passively self-absorbed and actively obnoxious. I can’t help but think that the fact that I frequently play multiplayer video games influences this predisposition. Spending a lot of time on the Internet probably doesn’t help either.
Imagine my surprise then when I found myself feeling unambiguously positive about my fellow humans. By the end of Journey, thatgamecompany’s most recent title, I found myself more than appreciative of my fellow gamers’ company. The game’s quiet, simplistic communication system helped me see the only the best that my fellow gamers had to offer.
It might be just me (and admittedly I hear that thanks to a very different vocal performance by Jennifer Hale that playing as a female Shepard creates a very different tone for the Mass Effect series) but on loading up Mass Effect 3 all I could think was, “Damn, this is a macho game.”
Okay, it wasn’t on loading the game up. It was really a sense that emerged when participating in the first in-depth conversation (in-depth conversation being a hallmark of the series and of the Bioware oeuvre) in the game with one of Shepard’s crew members, James, that I started getting this very macho vibe from the game.
When I was a kid, I would dream about driving around an endless road map of streets paved like Rainbow Road from Super Mario Kart. Just cruise around on rainbow turnpikes, drive under rainbow overpasses, cross over rainbow bridges. Not for any real purpose, just for the experience. Rainbow Road really was a fantastic course, wasn’t it? If not for all of the turtle shell battling and frantic tingy-tangy Nintendo music, it would be like some wonderful surrealist dream. Since I was a kid, I wanted a video game like that. Cruis’n Rainbow Road or maybe just The Game Where You Soar Through Space on a Go-Kart. I wanted to travel without purpose, to have the experience. Just to have the experience.
Twenty years later, I think I may have found a contender. It’s not a driving game, but it still gets the feeling right. I’m talking about thatgamecompany’s Journey. I’m not going to go into detail about the content of the game or tell you to go buy it right away. There are plenty of reviews that already do that. And besides, this isn’t a review. I’d like to discuss why I think Journey is so important as a game and as a work of art.
Stoic lone gunmen? Check.
Delicate and sensitive female healer? Check.
Rogue with a heart of gold? Check.
Video games, like most media, draw on some fairly stock types to build their characters. However, since so much of games’ plots and characterization just feel tacked on in spots, sometimes these stock types remain just that—never given the opportunity to grow as characters that we can relate to or representing ideas that we might, likewise, relate to.
Archetypal characters and stereotypical ones populate games, and it may be a fine line that developers walk between characters that personify an idea and characters that are merely simplistic placeholders for more legitimately developed ideas.
// Notes from the Road
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