What Another Perspective wants to say is that the the essence of the video game is rooted in interaction. In other words that “You are me. I am you.”
Another PerspectivePublisher: Shaun Spaulding
Number of players: 1
ESRB Rating: N/A
Developer: Shaun Spaulding
Release Date: 2014-08-08
This is more like it, just a bunch of keys. I like Keys. I understand Keys.
-- Another Perspective, Shaun Spaulding, 2014
In his short story The Garden of Forking Paths, Jorge Luis Borges explores the importance of predetermination or the omission of choice or chance on the outcome of storytelling. At one point in the story, Borges introduces and addresses a novel that violates this principle, stating that “In all fiction, when a man is faced with alternatives he chooses one at the expense of the others. In the almost unfathomable [novel of] Ts’ui Pen, he chooses – simultaneously -- all of them. He thus creates various futures, various times which start others that will in their turn branch out and bifurcate in other times. This is the cause of the contradictions in the novel. ”
Borges asserts that narrative relies on specific, predetermined storylines in order to retain significance and to communicate effectively with the audience. For example, when reading Amazing Fantasy #15 (the first appearance of Spider-Man), Uncle Ben is always killed by the burglar that Peter allows to escape. As a result, the story is always able to communicate the iconic message “With great power comes great responsibility.” If this chain of events was not predetermined, if the burglar was captured by the police or if Uncle Ben somehow remained out of harm’s way, the story would lose its intended significance or would fail to communicate its core message.
While most forms of storytelling generally stick very closely to this principle of predetermination (film, literature, and the like), the video game in many ways conflicts with it. Unlike other forms of narrative, video games are interactive experiences that charge their audience with stepping into the story and playing an active role in its outcome. While many story driven games still rely on strictly predetermined narrative or gameplay to communicate with the player, throughout the last decade there has been a surge of games such as Mass Effect, Heavy Rain, Dragon Age, The Witcher 2, or Beyond Two Souls that promote extensive player agency both in developing the narrative and in approaching gameplay (traversing levels, accomplishing objectives) while making claims like “no play through is the same” or “your smallest decisions can change everything.”
So what does this change mean for the future of video games and storytelling? If a game is concerned with clearly communicating story (which all of the aforementioned games are) wouldn’t a constantly shifting narrative be detrimental? If for instance, each time someone read Amazing Fantasy #15 some new or different series of events occurred resulting in Uncle Ben living or dying wouldn’t it be difficult for the story to retain its message and significance clearly or at all? These questions are exactly what Another Perspective explores throughout its own story and its connected gameplay and ultimately aims to resolve.
It is first and foremost important to point out that the core experience of Another Perspective is built upon the gameplay elements and design of early 2-D platformers. In each new section, the player is tasked with navigating their avatar through a room full of obstacles in order to obtain a key, which will then allow them to open a door and proceed to a more difficult room. This core design and other such designs similar to it have served as the foundation for many of the most iconic experiences in early video game history such as Mario Bros., Sonic the Hedgehog, and Castlevania. Given the characteristics of this design, each of these games along with countless others from this period are incredibly linear in nature, with the player being lead through a very specific set of obstacles that require very specific solutions (a specific key for a specific door). This in turn (generally) creates a carefully controlled, predetermined approach to traversing a game that gives the designer an immense amount of control over the player’s experience while also giving the game itself a distinct identity or purpose.
For example, if one watches multiple “Let’s Play” videos of Super Mario Bros., they are almost interchangeable with one another with only superficial differences in a player's actions. Regardless of the player that steps into the overalls of the titular plumber, the game’s experience or what it is trying to communicate will for the most part remain the same. However, if someone did the same thing with Bethesda’s roster of games like Fallout 3 or Skyrim, that individual would find the task of matching identical, overlapping gameplay experiences to be nearly impossible. In these experiences, the game is extensively shaped by the player that enters its world, and as a result, maintaining a uniform, carefully controlled experience of its content is next to impossible.
However, while Another Perspective utilizes this kind of design, the core mechanic of its unique gameplay is the player’s ability to shift between different versions of the avatar as a means of solving puzzles. Each time this happens, the player is presented with a new layout or “another perspective” on the current level that they are attempting to complete while the previous avatar remains frozen in their previous position on screen. This in turn creates anywhere from two to four different versions of the same space that feature different platforms, gravity orientations, or objects (keys or doors) along with the positioned, frozen avatars (when they are not in use) that the player must utilize in order to complete each level.
This mechanic in turn brings the game’s main character (who begins the story in a standard within the confines of 2-D platformer level designs) in contact with the new aforementioned development in video games that promotes a malleable, shifting experience. As a result, the main character begins to have an existential conflict, with him struggling to define both his own and the game’s identity. This conflict is revealed constantly through the game’s dialogue by asking questions like, “Each person sees the world their own way. Right? A new perspective... is a new reality?” or “But wait, I thought this story was about me? I mean all these guys are me right? Shouldn’t we all see the world the same way?”. The dialogue is also used to represent this dilemma through the various versions of the avatar and their shifting, often conflicting viewpoints on ideas or statements introduced by the game. For example, at the beginning of a level a statement about the nature of gaming, like “Also, there’s never a door to go backwards,” will appear in the middle of the screen and underneath it there will be a response, like “I guess that makes sense.” However, when the player switches to the perspective of the second avatar, the response will often take on the exact opposite meaning. In this case, the message would become “That doesn’t make any sense.”
While this conflict is explored throughout the game, this theme of predetermination is clearly presented the moment that the player opens up the main menu. In the center of the screen is the game’s title along with its subtitle “A game about searching,” while on the left side of the screen, the game’s avatar, a door, and a key are positioned on a Penrose Triangle (the simplest form of the infinite staircase illusion). However, fascinatingly once the player begins to interact with the menu, the subtitle being displayed starts to transform into different subtitles such as “A game about something,” “A game about nothing,” “A game about you,” or “A game about me.” Each time this happens, a new scenario is depicted on the left side of the screen with the key, avatar, and door being placed in various positions or even with some or all three of these components being completely removed. This in turn suggests that if a game is truly different every time when a new player interacts with it (as the three essential components from the game being located on the seemingly infinite object would suggest), the experience would then be altered excessively, muting the game’s message and significance and becoming simultaneously “A game about something.” and “A game about nothing.”
After struggling with this issue over the course of the game, the avatar eventually starts to fear that the identity he is searching for does not exist. He begins to view himself as a puppet being manipulated and shaped at the whim of every new player controlling him, constantly being made into something different. However, at this moment the character has a realization that speaks to the heart of what Another Perspective wants to say. Throughout the entire game each of the avatar’s main questions and concerns revolved around him, his place in this shifting environment. However, despite confronting this issue seemingly in isolation, this character’s entire conflict has played out as a dialogue, not a monologue. This leads to him discovering that his identity isn’t entirely his own or the player’s, but instead that it belongs to the synergy that exists between them.
Indeed, perhaps what Another Perspective wants to say is that the the essence of the video game is rooted in interaction and therefore its significance or identity and what it ultimately communicates relies on a partnership between itself and the player who enters it, or as the avatar states during the conclusion of the game, “You are me. I am you.” Ultimately, while the video game may conflict with the principle of predetermination, if a function of narrative or storytelling is to help to frame or to help us to understand the world around us, then a medium that takes into account perspective, choice, and circumstance can do this in a way that other forms of narrative can’t.