Gods may shape the earth and all its rivers and streams, but do they feel responsible for the trials and fates of mortals? With so many games that bestow great power on players, games may offer a unique realm to explore the sensation of responsibility and themes of duty, guilt, and regret. From Dust, which grants players limited divine influence over land and sea, wrestles with the dual task of providing dynamic gameplay in a large scale sandbox while creating an emotionally resonant relationship between god-like players and their aboriginal flock.
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Chapter 16 of Rage Quit as a PDF.
Randal had a problem. Well, two problems. Maybe more, now that he started to think about them all. The first problem was the date on the backup disks. It wasn’t last night or even last week – it was over a month ago. He had no idea how much of the new code that had been written since then was vital for Lea to live, but he was clinging to the hope that if they uploaded the hundreds of gigs of data to somewhere that was not only readable but writable, Lea could pull the same trick she had earlier when they’d done the reboot and re-write the databases as she needed. He assumed that would work, if they ever got to that point.
This discussion of Catherine includes some mild spoilers concerning a few of the game’s early game plot twists.
Quite a few reviews and discussions of Catherine have criticized Atlus’s new title for a disconnect between its gameplay and narrative. Indeed, a review in Game Informer called the game’s block puzzles “shamelessly gamey and [also] out of place in the narrative” (Phil Kollar, “Catherine”, Game Informer, August 2011, p. 108).
Some criticism of the gameplay is unexpected, especially given Atlus’s fairly firm commitment to RPGs (thus, a puzzle game may come as a surprise to fans). Additionally, this game, which has so intrigued gamers and the gaming press since screenshots began surfacing of the Japanese version of the game, is one that also was greeted with some concern when discontent grew among those same players and journalists about the idea that this was just some kind of “box shoving” game.
Which, more or less, it is. Nevertheless, to write off Catherine’s gameplay as somehow disconnected from the sexual politics that is the central concern of the game’s narrative is to miss the most obvious metaphor that the game is interested in generating between plot and game.
This discussion of Catherine includes major plot spoilers.
Atlus games rarely make any sort of practical sense, but they at least possess an internal logic. Towers must be ascended, dungeons must be traversed, and walls must be climbed, if not to thwart ancient eldritch horrors then to peel back the psyche of the self. In this respect, I find that Catherine performs quite admirably, even if it doesn’t venture quite as far in as I might have preferred.
At this point, it would be redundant to mention that video games are more influential than ever. Even without the unprecedented sales and number of players, games are everywhere, even when they aren’t games. Once upon a time a successful franchise was lucky if it could get a kids cartoon or maybe a background shot in a movie. But now even modestly received games are spreading into novels, comic series, anime, table top games, and films. Blizzard even holds an annual writing contest for fans that want to contribute to their favourite game’s lore. But a byproduct of these “extended universes” is games that are contracted and simplified. The original work of art—the game—is left shallower because the deeper layers are reserved for other, more established media.
It should be said that a work of art that migrates across media is not a bad thing; it wouldn’t make much sense to complain about the multiplicity of media in a multimedia column. There are a number of reasons to expand a game into other art forms. It makes obvious business sense and no medium ought to restrict its content just because other media explored a concept first. But games face a danger in dealing strictly with action and leaving all the characterization and drama up to novels, comics, or other means of storytelling. Game developers ought to have enough faith in their games to tell a complete and self-contained story without having to fall back on novels to tell the story for them.
// Short Ends and Leader
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