Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Grumpy About Postmodern Cleverness

Going back to the topic of immersion... Deca and I were conversing over IM about the relative intrusiveness (or lack thereof) of in-game characters referencing buttons or other things that exist outside the gameworld. This grew out of Ernest Adams' column about "postmodern self-referencing" which claimed that Metal Gear Solid broke narrative immersion when NPCs referenced the player's gamepad, giving instructions on what buttons to push. [Disclaimer: I've never actually played MGS, so take my thoughts on that particular game with a grain of salt]

I tend to agree with Adams, though I think he's a little more grumpy about it that necessary. MGS is a pretty popular game, so it can't be all bad. For me, the distinction that Adams makes between types of immersion is the key. Deca and I didn't really discuss this, but after re-reading Adams' column, I have to agree that I wouldn't mind the button-referencing in MGS... as long as my goal in playing was to beat the game (tactical and/or strategic immersion). However, I tend to play games looking for narrative immersion, and therefore, I am generally put off by things that draw my attention to the fact that the world is fake.

Now in the case of MGS, many would argue that the self-referencial stuff is clever post-modernism, in addition to being necessary for tutorial purposes. I can appreciate "clever post-modernism," but if it takes away from my enjoyment of the game, I'm not going to cut it much slack. As for tutorial purposes, I prefer overlays, particularly as they are handled in games like Halo. Somehow, I can accept those as removed from the representation of the gameworld, just as I accept the controller as an eventually transparent interface (hopefully).

Monday, October 11, 2004

Loneliness and the Ubiquitous Movie Drug Scene

As is becoming a common occurence for me, I just watched a movie that got me thinking about games. It seems I can't watch a movie without wondering if the same feelings and mind-states could be evoked through gameplay. I am aware of the trap of comparing two very different media, but at the same time, I can't help but dream of gameplay that includes the same emotional connection and punch that film conveys.

In any case, the movie I just saw was Garden State. You may ask, what could Garden State have to do with games? Well, I've noticed that some game developers (Neil Young at EA, I'm looking at you) have fixated on the idea of a game "making you cry." This is generally a metaphor for the challenge of evoking emotion in a player, sadness presumably being a difficult case. Garden State is a movie that deals with sadness, but it also deals with loneliness and alienation. The movie got me wondering what sorts of gameplay would prompt a player to feel lonely or alienated. Would it be enough to have all characters in the gameworld respond to the player character with derision... or just outright ignore the player? Could a relationship between the PC and an NPC be developed to the point that when that NPC stopped reciprocating, the player would feel something? There must be other ways to achieve this effect.

The other thing that Garden State had was a drug scene. A lot of movies have drug scenes, and the one in Garden State wasn't particularly any better or worse than any other drug scene, but I was struck again by the sense of loneliness and the detachment that accompanies the scene. Games have tried drug scenes before. Max Payne had some memorable ones, and I hear that the new NARC game will include drug-themed power-ups. Neither of these addresses the distortion of both physical and emotional distance that being high/drunk/whatever can sometimes include. That's what the movies capture so well. I'd like to try to design a game that alters the player's sense of game time (slowing down and speeding up) as well as the focusing and unfocusing of visual and audio cues. In addition, warping space could add a sense of surrealism. I know it's a weird goal, but I thought it might be fun to try.