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This discussion contains spoilers for 5 Days a Stranger.

Possession would seem an apt metaphor for gaming given the relationship between the player and the protagonist of a game.  I often use the phrase “inhabiting the main character” to imply something like this idea and to distinguish between the way that games differ from other narratives in the way that they relate their audience to the characters in more traditional stories.  The player takes control of the character, imposing his will on that character and ostensibly on the story to be told because the player will seemingly now be complicit in shaping the world.  A little possession goes a long way in a video game world.

Revisiting the award winning, indie adventure game, 5 Days a Stanger, is initially interesting in this regard, the central plotline of the game focuses on possession.  In this case, the classic mystery chestnut of an isolated space occupied by a few characters that keep getting knocked off one by one is complicated when possession becomes the instrument of the murderer, a ghost haunting the house.

The title of the game implies this possession.  The game’s protagonist, Trilby, does spend “5 days as a stranger”, since he is “not entirely himself”.  Thinking about this from the perspective of the player-character in video games is similarly suggestive.  Video game protagonists, like Trilby, are never entirely themselves, as they are always “possessed” by the player.

Sexuality abounds in video games, but authentic intimacy?  Not so much.

One can’t exactly criticize the gaming industry for a lack of tact in presenting physically intimate moments, though.  It isn’t as if Hollywood and the filmmaking industry as a whole has done a lot better than flash some skin and call it a day, mistaking titillation for an actual representation of a mature sexuality.

“For whom is the funhouse fun?”
—John Barth, “Lost in the Funhouse”

About four months ago, I wrote an essay entitled, “How Games Challenge the Tyranny of Authorship”. (“How Games Challenge the Tyranny of Authorship”, PopMatters, 17 February 2010).  This discussion is intended to be a companion piece to that essay, so if you’re interested in the topic, you may want to check out the aforementioned link before reading this one.  Or, check it out afterwards.  Do what you want.  I don’t want to force you into anything.

Like you, I had heard about the “Dastardly” Achievement, and I thought that it was all kinds of clever. I mean, even the name of the achievement is great.

Of course, how I heard it (several times mind you) was that you unlocked an achievement for tying up a woman in Red Dead Redemption and placing her on railroad tracks.

Horrible? Sure. Over the top? It is Rockstar we’re talking about here.

My thinking on slow starters began with Deadly Premonition.  A student had recommended the game to me because he thought that I would be interested in its metafictive qualities—more specifically the oddly schizophrenic qualities of its protagonist (”But Who Am I?: Schizophrenia as a Metaphor for the Player-Character Relationship”, PopMatters, 12 May 2010). 

What I didn’t realize is how awful the experience that I was about to have would initially be.  The opening hour of Deadly Premonition is absolutely awful, introducing the player to the worst zombie killing simulation ever.  Indeed, the game in general has lousy graphics, terrible combat, and some really poor design choices in terms of game mechanics.  However, it is now probably my favorite gaming experience so far this year.

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