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.

3 Comments:

At 9:41 PM, Blogger Foopy said...

> The movie got me wondering what
> sorts of gameplay would prompt a
> player to feel lonely or
> alienated.

Alright, this probably isn't what you're looking for, but, well, believe it or not, Half-Life got me feeling this way.

I mean, think about it: you're a guy who never talks. People push you around with their words, telling you what to do, but you never get the feeling through the entire narrative like you have any friends, people you can really trust, or at the very least, people who aren't about to die. Even the end of the game is a sort of spiritual let-down, as you find out that some weird agency of faceless MIB's wants you to be their next super-soldier because you're such a crack shot. Talk about being used.

By not evoking any kind of emotion besides fear, the game's atmosphere and narrative paint an excellent portait of despair, decadence, and loneliness. I've felt this way to a lesser extent with other dismal "you against the world" games like Doom and Quake, but Half-Life was particularly good at it because it actually features awkward social situations that really help amplify the sense of alienation.

Half-Life is pretty good at evoking those feelings, but I don't particularly like them, unless perhaps there's some sort of redemption near the end (actually, this is sort of the goal of American McGee's Alice, which is largely why I found it so compelling). In any case, this is part of why I have very little desire to actually play Half-Life 2--its whole Orwellian theme just seems to build on the endless atmosphere of despair created in the first game and I have no desire to experience that again.

 
At 8:34 PM, Blogger Foopy said...

Oh, I'll have to take back the comment about Half-Life 2... I just got it on a whim a few days ago and it's really, really awesome.

I still stand by what I said about Half-Life 1, though, especially after playing the Source version of it.

 
At 10:02 PM, Blogger Clubberjack said...

So I haven't played Half-Life, but I've played some of Half-Life 2. I think you're dead on about the sense of alone-ness. It's amazing how having the player character remain silent actually reinforces the themes. Logically, removing an avenue of player expression ought to detract from the story (see BioWare's titles of late). However, it succeeds exactly as you mention, Foopy. "People push you around with their words, telling you what to do..." That sounds really similar to the feelings I got from the drug scene in Garden State.

I guess I'll have to play Half-Life one of these days.

 

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