Games

Too Much Play to Pause

The interactivity of video games necessitates that players must always be engaged in action and are seldom given any chance to pause for reflection.

Much of the discourse from proponents of the “video games are art” position is centered on the medium’s interactivity as its distinguishing advantage. Audience participation, as it were, is the reason why games exist. No other mode of storytelling so often depends on the actions, reactions, and experiences of its audience as the work is engaged with. Even the most linear or simplistic game is communicated through the player’s progress in the world, not through passive consumption. But fixating on how the player experiences a work means that the player’s continued entertainment is necessary for the story to progress. In other words, there must always be something for the player to keep doing, leaving only the briefest moments to reflect.

Any form of language requires that a thing is "doing something" in a sentence and any story must communicate in some form of language. Therefore, any story must be about a thing doing stuff. But the way that an introspective paragraph, a lingering shot on a scene, the expression on an actor’s face, or the illustration in a panel in a comic tells a story is a way that often seems too slow for games. Specifically, games seem like they must be fast paced and straightforward. There are plenty of logical plots, interesting settings, strong characters, and poignant themes in games, but they must all be rushed through to serve gameplay [Unless you are Hideo Kojima --ed.]. The assumption seems to be that the player must always have a carrot dangling in front of them at all times.

Consider an extreme example: both Taxi Driver and Crazy Taxi are works about taxi drivers, both of whom could be fairly considered crazy. One is a slow burning character study about a man with a fragmented psychology, the other is a cartoonish romp through an over-the-top city with a high-energy, goofy atmosphere. There’s nothing wrong with Crazy Taxi, but it’s clear which work is a film and which is a game. A game can’t have long scenes of a man practicing threats into his mirror or staring at a crumpled twenty dollar bill.

Games tend to have plenty of direction, it’s just that while we’re keeping the Covenant from finding Earth, building an army to end the blight, or rescuing the princess, we must be continually distracted by the next level, the next sudden objective, the next set of keys that we need to unlock the next set of doors. Any change happens rapidly and continuously.

Even in games where there are only a few major changes in the setting or plot, the immediate takes precedence over the destination. The ultimate goal is only a context for several loosely connected events flashing by. The most breathtaking moments of Half-Life 2 happen in between the action sequences. Seeing the abandoned cottages flanking a radioactive river or the ruins of Ravenholm really strike the player with exactly the kind of world that they are living in. Moments of reflection like these really set the atmosphere and tone, and they make an already well developed cast seem even stronger by giving the player a sense of what’s happened in the world between the first Half-Life and the second.

However, the moments to pause are brief, and before very long, the player is back to hovercraft chases, zombie shootouts, and storming prisons. Even in Limbo, which is probably the slowest paced game that I’ve ever played, the slow industrialization and opening up of the world happens literally in the background. The focus is on each puzzle as it comes up and is left behind.

All stories need a direction of some kind. But all that is important that ever happens in Kafka’s Metamorphosis is described in the first sentence. But the novella is still one of the most important stories written in the last century not because of what it happens, in the way that it happens, who it’s happening to and the meaning that can be extrapolated. It isn’t just about the rush of events as they flicker by. Similarly, the aforementioned Taxi Driver is more about Travis Bickle as a person and the situation that he’s in rather than what he does. In other media, slowing the pace of the crawl does not necessarily make it unapproachable, in fact many masterpieces demand full attention to every incremental step toward the climax.

Games don’t seem to be able to do that, or at least there aren’t many examples of it being done intentionally and with great success. Games, it seems to me, must be fast-paced. There must be something for the player to always do. Players can’t passively absorb and reflect on material while the text is in progress. I get stymied any time that I try to think of a game that successfully demanded that the player take their time with the plot. I have an even harder time imagining what such a game would play like.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image