I’m one of those people who is genuinely excited for virtual reality gaming, but then I get genuinely excited for any weird new control scheme in gaming, be it a Wiimote, touch screen, analog sticks, pressure sensitive buttons, or any of the other cool and debatably-useful-but-definitely-underutilized controller gimmicks we’ve seen in the past decade of gaming. I even liked 3D gaming, and I wrote a couple articles several years ago about the unique issues facing 3D games. After finally being able to play some VR games at PAX Prime this year, I think that it’s worth comparing and contrasting this new gimmick/hook with that latter gimmick/hook. 3D and VR make for interesting contrasts because they seem to have the exact opposite problem from one another when it comes to selling themselves to a wide audience.
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I was never a very outdoorsy kid. I didn’t climb trees or jungle gyms. The one time that I tried to jump from the top of a tall slide, I landed in such a way that my knee hit my jaw, and I burst into tears. The one time that I tried to jump from a swing, my shirt got caught in the chain and tore as I leapt away. Yeah, I wasn’t a very outdoorsy kid.
I bring this up because it seems the most natural explanation for why I’m so fascinated by climbing in video games. I love climbing in games. It’s part of why I always enjoyed Prince of Persia as a kid, and it’s one of the central reasons that I fell in love with Assassin’s Creed.
I purposefully put off playing Life is Strange for a long time. The premise sounded interesting, but I was skeptical of how developer Dontnod would integrate a sci-fi story about time travel with a high school girl’s coming-of-age story. It seemed to me at first like a cheap way to make a more grounded and mundane story appealing to the gamer nerd crowd. Then I played episode one. There’s a scene early on that justifies this genre mixing, a scene that uses the sci-fi time travel elements to complement and support the coming-of-age story. Every first episode of an episodic series should have a scene like this, one that confidently establishes the game’s tone and its protagonist.
Lifeline is an intriguing high-concept game for mobile devices (even including the Apple Watch). You receive a distress text from the survivor of a crashed spaceship, and over the next few days in real-time, you must help him survive and escape the desolate moon by providing advice and support.
Her Story is a similarly high-concept game: You use a virtual search engine to find police interview clips of a woman who is a suspect in the disappearance of her husband. Watch the clips and piece together the story at your pace, in your own order.
I remember when any system of progression (leveling up, gaining new abilities, stat points, etc) was referred to as an “RPG element” because those systems primarily existed in RPGs. Now, every game has a progression system. Such systems have become so common that we’ve stopped calling them “RPG elements,” which is for the best. It’s not hard to see why these systems have become so prevalent in video games. They play into our desire for growth. We learn more, and we get stronger. These metrics of self-improvement are considered inherently good, things worth striving for.
But the downside to this obsessive self-improvement is that it makes us arrogant and selfish. After all, if some NPC isn’t going to give me a quest, why should I bother talking to him?