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Friday, Jul 23, 2010
It seems impossible to tell a story within the strict rule set of a competitive online game until you play Left 4 Dead or its sequel.

A couple weeks ago I wrote about how giving shooters a real world context could make their violence feel more real and less like mindless entertainment (“Why Do I Cheer For War?”, PopMatters, 9 July 2010). So I was very interested in trying out the Medal of Honor multiplayer beta because the game seems very committed to its realistic setting, separating players into teams of US forces and Taliban soldiers. I was curious to see if fighting against the terrorist group and not just vague “insurgents” would add some kind of poignancy to the common emergent stories of multiplayer shooters.


This did not happen. All poignancy is lost within the strict rule set of a competitive online game. In fact, it’s specifically because it’s competitive that the game part of the experience takes precedent over everything else. While not surprising, this tendency does expose the inherent limitations of storytelling in multiplayer games. You can’t tell a story in a competition; the message gets drowned out. That’s why most emergent stories that come out of multiplayer games are really just “cool moments.” There’s no narrative arc in a match, no rising and falling action, no climax, and it seems impossible to accomplish until you play Left 4 Dead or its sequel.


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Friday, Jul 16, 2010
Breaking up the party helps us identify the characters as individuals rather than as just parts of a whole.

In Final Fantasy XIII, most of the cast is introduced in the very beginning. Rather than spread these introductions out over the course of the game like other RPGs, the cast comes together after just a few hours and then breaks up again. It’s a strange series of moments, seeing your party systematically disbanded, but the reasons behind these divisions are very personal, and as we watch each character go their separate ways, we learn a lot about their inner thoughts and desires.


First some background information on the world of Final Fantasy XIII: the game takes place in Cocoon, a protective sphere separating humanity from the dangerous outer world of Pulse. The fal’Cie are powerful magical beings that reside in Pulse. They attacked Cocoon a thousand years ago and were repelled, but the attack left humanity paranoid and forever fearful of these creatures. Adding to these fears is the ability of the fal’Cie to turn humans into servants, the l’Cie. When branded as l’Cie, you’re given a vague vision of a task that you must complete. If you’re successful, you turn into crystal; fail, and you become a monster. Either way it’s a death sentence, and one more reason to fear the fal’Cie. Yet ironically, Cocoon was built and is still maintained by these magical beings. They control everything from day and night cycles to weather patterns.


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Friday, Jul 9, 2010
Leigh Alexander wonders, "Who cheers for war?" As someone who enjoys shooters, I do, but even I recognize the disturbing fact that no matter how gritty, violent, dirty, bloody, or realistic a war game gets if I can respawn it’ll be pure fun.

Recently Leigh Alexander wrote an article for Kotaku questioning the popularity of war games. She asks, “why is our most common gameplay choice the pursuit of war?” but then confesses, “I don’t understand the continuing appeal; I don’t understand the unquestioning audience” (“Who Cheers For War?”, Kotaku, 30 June 2010) As someone who enjoys shooters, perhaps I’m in a position to answer her question, though I can only speak for myself. It’s not something that I’ve ever specifically thought about, but I now ask myself—why do I love shooters?


It should be noted that between bouts of Bad Company 2 that I’ve been playing Final Fantasy XIII and loving it as well. I bought enough point and click adventure games during the recent Steam sale to last me well into next year. I also love the strategy of Risk: Factions, the arcade racing of any Burnout, and the platforming of Prince of Persia. With that said, does my love of shooters stem from some innate tendency towards violence, “maladapted people seeking maladaptive coping” as Leigh puts it, or is my love of the genre just an extension of my greater love of gaming in general?


Tagged as: modern warfare 2
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Friday, Jul 2, 2010
My version of a story is bound to be different, but as co-author of my experience, it’s just as relevant as the developer’s version.

This post contains spoilers for multiple games.


Red Dead Redemption feels like it has multiple endings, three to be exact, but only after the third one do the credits finally roll. That’s when you’ve reached the end of John Marston’s story, but your story can continue for as long as you want it to. Games have always been fickle with their endings like this, offering multiple endings, secret endings, joke endings, and more, and through all of them there’s a constant disconnect between the developer’s desired ending and the player’s desired ending.


Fallout 3 is a now classic example of this disconnect. The game was released with a fixed ending that forced people to stop playing. There was a backlash against this sudden conclusion to the player’s story, and eventually the ending was changed through DLC to let us keep playing beyond the developer’s intended end. A recent patch for Portal shows this same conflict from a different angle. The original ending was satisfying and critically well regarded, but the patch changed it to set up the sequel. In both instances, the original ending was changed, one at the request of gamers and the other by the developer themselves, but in both cases, it’s worth noting how the change was met with praise. No one seemed bothered by the fact that the original vision for the story was altered, but this makes sense considering that original vision is still just one version of the story. My version of the story is bound to be different, and it’s just as relevant as the developer’s version.


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Friday, Jun 25, 2010
The first level of Indigo Prophecy represents the Holy Grail of branching narratives.

Inspired by L.B. Jeffries’s post last week (“Plot Twist Overkill in Indigo Prophecy, PopMatters, 15 June 2010), I replayed a fair bit of Indigo Prophecy, and as much as I enjoy the game, his critique of it is spot on. The game’s narrative downward spiral is infamous amongst the gaming community, and it stands as a powerful reminder of what not to do with a game’s story. However, the reason that its ending is so confusing and so infamously bad is because it has such a strong beginning. The first level of Indigo Prophecy represents the Holy Grail of branching narratives; it presents you with a problem and gives you a variety of ways to solve it. However, every choice has obvious pros and cons. Unlike most games with branching paths, there isn’t a “best” choice given the situation. The game’s lack of direction in telling us what to do and our own lack of certainty regarding what we should do make the opening scene of Indigo Prophecy one of the most memorable moments in gaming.


Tagged as: indigo prophecy
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