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).


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