If you hadn’t noticed yet, video games are getting extremely interesting. The industry is changing and progressing at an incredible rate.
Finally we are seeing games that don’t conform to the typical film style format of ‘here is the plot, follow along and get to the end’. Now we are seeing games being released where you, the player, decide what happens and how.
Now, if you are not already a gamer, let WUWO try and convince you to dip a toe into the new frontier of video games.
A great example of video game innovation is the retro-styled, online game, Sleep is Death. The designer, Jason Rohrer, has produced a game that actively defies all the standards of modern gaming; it has no predetermined narrative, characters or in fact, anything at all. It is a game for two people, one designs the game and the other plays it, in real time. If it sounds strange, it should, because this is uncharted territory. Let’s say you go online and have a go as a player. You find yourself in a world constructed by someone else out there at their computer and then the story of the game is entirely up to you. You can command your player to do whatever you want and then it switches to the narrator who makes it happen. This means that the story is a collaborative effort between the player and the narrator. For example, you are dropped into a room with characters and objects, all of which you can interact with in any way you want and in front is you is a person. What do you want to do first? Do you want to go and talk to the person and find out who they are? Or would you prefer to simply murder them immediately, no questions asked. Alternatively you could tie them to a chair, set fire to the room and then interrogate them, just to make sure they tell you the truth. It all depends on you.
Of course Sleep is Death is not going to outsell Call of Duty any time soon but there are some games who are pushing towards that kind of gaming freedom. One of the first games that I played that offered me real choices was Fallout 3. The game takes place in a post-apocalyptic Washington DC, trying to find your scientist father (voiced by Liam Neeson). The landscape is huge and you are free to travel around it at will and interact with people however you choose. At one point in the game it is up to you to retrieve some children from a gang of slave traders but when you ask them if you can have the children they demand that you at least give them replacement slaves, which would entail you going out to find people, capturing them and then giving them to the slavers. Now, when I first played the game I decided that I would be a paragon of virtue and honour in an uncivilised land, so selling slaves just seemed… out of character. Fortunately, the game allows for a good level of player choice, so instead of doing what they asked, I killed every single slave trader, freed the slaves and rescued the children. There is even whole communities of gamers that play games like Fallout 3 with self-imposed rules to change how the game is played entirely. For instance, normally a big priority in the game is killing your enemies with bigger and more impressive guns as you progress through but it is also possible to play the game without shooting at all, by trying to talk your way though it, choosing the right dialogue options to convince characters to do what you want.
Morality plays a big part of player freedom in a lot of games. In games like Bioshock, Infamous and Fallout 3 you are regularly given the option to either a be the good guy or the bad guy. However this is often somewhat deceptive as the choices you make may change how you get to the end of the story but without actually changing the outcome. Increasingly it appears that gamers are less easily fooled by these hollow choices and especially the black and white approach of good guy/bad guy, without including the grey option in between. In Infamous, if your evil choices cause you to get killed, perhaps because you overzealously abuse an enemy without noticing the guy coming up behind you, you simply start again from the last save and try again with no punishment given for your cruelty.
The release of Heavy Rain was something of a game-changer in this respect, as the game accounted for the player failing a mission by simply incorporating it into the storyline. If one of the four main characters that you control dies then the story simply continues on without them. You could even get to the end of the game and fail to achieve the ultimate goal you were striving for, with your characters left dead, in jail or struggling with withdrawal symptoms from drugs that you decided to let them have so that they could perform better. You selfish person, you.
That excitement of deciding to be evil is undeniable though, nothing feels quite so liberating as playing a game of poker in the western shooter, Red Dead Redemption, losing all of your money, flying into a rage and killing all of the other players and taking your money back. There is something inately satisfying about being bad in video games that give you the freedom to act on all of your worst instincts. In real life, if someone cuts you off in traffic you have to sit there and take it, stewing away in your car. Whereas in Grand Theft Auto you can chase that guy down and take out all of your frustrations on his head.
The question ultimately, is what experience you want from a game. Do you want to be swept away by a well written plot or do you want to go off the grid and explore the massive worlds around you? Do you want to be the saviours of mankind or the destroyer of civilisation? If you pick the right game you can be anything and go anywhere, so what do you want to do?
By Ralph Jones