Because I'm lazy today but inspired to make a blogging profile here anyways, I'm just going to go ahead and re-post this one here. It's not that old, really, and nobody has read it anyways so it's as fresh as ever.
I just signed up on Twitter and, while figuring out what it’s about, found myself in a familiar trap once again. No, I was not immediately drawn to troll and poke unsuspecting people with sticks like I do, but a more personal kind of familiar trap.
You see, we flock to Twitter to have followers. We dive into Facebook not exactly only to be in regular contact with friends – all 1500 of them – but to enforce them to follow us on our daily adventures. MySpace I won’t mention as it’s completely passé and therefore bad form these days.
Mundane mishap with bacon becomes an adventure for others to reflect upon when it’s written in an appropriately cynical and/or hurt and/or humorous manner. We thrive to be recognized and noticed, and by gods, if someone retweets our daily adventure further down the social pathways, we are accepted en masse, and what could be better than that? Have Justin Bieber answer “<3″ to you?
After indulging in this outright whor- ..selfpromotion that’s quickly replacing the oldfashioned mirrors at home, we settle down on our always socially acceptable Ikea Klippan and grab the latest socially approved game console controller in our hands, or stand around waving hands as per the new trend. We engorge ourselves with arbitrary puzzles, ultraviolent birds or outright mass slaughter, whatever happens to reflect our current needs of latest trend.
Now, one of two things may or may not happen.
For the first option let’s assume we play a game, controlling a character we of course project our needs into, being psychologically weak bags of meat. Our surrogate waddles around the designated game world, doing whatever darkly deeds we make him do within the set limitations. Now, again, in this one thing, one or two further things result. Projecting his daily self (or his need to act like complete opposite of his daily self) into virtual adventureland, our gamer avatar creates a massive mishap and more often than not the surrounding random NPC’s do not reflect on it. Nobody comments “haha lol didnt know you could do that with bacon! is awesome”.
Experience feels detached, unless it feels to the player just like it does in Facebook and Twitter where nobody comments on your antics either, in which case it really is just very sad. Then, if they do react, it’s most likely one spoken line randomized out of list of three after which they fall back into their walkcycles oblivious to the event that should have changed their depicted virtual lives.
Come to think of it, how closely that also matches Your Daily Facebook Experience is just downright creepy.
That’s it. World goes on inside the very tubely shaped game, indifferent as ever, because the characters don’t have to guide you forward – merely provide some mood filler, provide the backstory piece by piece and preparing player for the next level in a subtle, non-intrusive manner.
“Oh, didn’t know bacon could do that. By the way, stranger with a nice face I place my trust upon, did you hear the uberkapitan of our oppressive alien enemy forces has been seen three blocks ahead of you, just now? Can’t imagine anyone would take the opportunity, really, these days. Won’t they think of the future of our children. Goodbye!”
Of course, it doesn’t matter if our player listened to the dead-eyed monologue of future events or not, since he’ll invariably end up three blocks that way anyways, and will end up shooting things until things go away in various fashions. End result is the same. Both ways, our player might feel a bit cheated and dirty for being treated cheaply. Also, the bleak pointlessness of heard-it-already monologues is the reason they get always skipped. They don’t really add anything for most players.
Second option is we get a permission to wander off the plot path into the wild blue yonder of sandbox, a prospect that terrifies the already shambled minds of story- and game designers.
In there, player actually relies on feedback to be kept on the plot pipeline, fending off the dreaded situation where player gets lost, out of sight of any story engine characters and plot points. Of course, rarely such possibility is allowed to happen – you are essentially kept on a steeply inclined surface with nowhere to go but in the generally correct direction.
In here, mishap with a bacon gets commented upon as you need to be coerced into deeper interaction with NPC’s in order to figure out your way. Of course, the bacon that caused your wildest mishap ever was most likely an important macguffin in which case all apparent freedom is just a logical series of traps to lure you forward. All very elaborately designed set pieces one after another to produce an invisible tube you hopefully run through, either straight and ignoring the outside world or zigzagging around to enjoy the inessential.
If a sandbox game world had no lures and traps and big pointing arrows, player would eventually slumber to stop, bored with nothing to do – just like in his real world, except devoid of social networking sites. THAT crap does not sell.
But I’m not really writing about any of that stuff.
What player loves to find in the game world is some sort of recognition and results from his actions. Only a few games have done a longterm cause and effect stuff for the insanely horrible convoluted mess they are to create. You know, stuff like burning a village down making you a bad guy in those parts AND forcing the locals into bitterer and poorer bunch of bastards, planting a tree and coming back in few years gametime to see it has grown, awwhowniceandcute, et cetera.
Of course, those games suffered from other anecdotal mishaps which took over the whole public view and ended up defining the games. Devs just couldn’t put the brakes on after figuring out a nice world to live in, and instead ended up with extra buggery people loved to laugh about.
What happened was social networks, viral, sharing funny screenshots and agreeing with critics to become a popular dude, you know. People happened. It’s why we can’t have anything nice.
Anyways, think about it. What’s important in my mind is that games should retain a tangible relationship with you through your actions. The world you return to after your TwatterFissbookSpace journeys have to feel familiar, with your own proverbial shoeprints all over. I sayreturn to with italics to make a certain point. We return to home. Wereturn to familiarity. We stick to our old shoes because they’re comfortable and they smell only because they’re full of ourself, as horrible as that sounds. We’re on buddy terms with the grime we leave behind. If the game feels like you have left your fingerprints all over, banged the nice old villagers daughter and got even his dog a lasting drug addiction, you’re immersed because shit has just got personal through involvement.
Maybe, one day on your neverending journeys, you return to the same village which you have forgot about in your 15 in-game years of exile and come across a bastard teenage boy NPC with certainly very familiar facial features. Oh, hello, world just dropped you a kiddo bomb and you can take it as a sidekick.
If real life can stab you with a loving knife when you’re not expecting, why shouldn’t game world?
Even better,your character starts an unstoppable aging process from that point on to bring out another “oh okay, let’s watch this one out” trap for the player to keep playing those extra 35 hours.
Then he dies next to his son, in whichever timely manner an old hero would die in.
Game ticks on without falling back to “End Unlocked! Here’s A Badge! New Game? Y/N” trope. Slowly realize your thumb twitch on the controller jolted the old mans’ son who, by now, after accumulating experience with his battlehardened father, is now a formidable character of his own. Sense of involvement through heritage, hoo boy.
It all pans out quite smoothly as a concept. If there’s NPC party involved, you’re the logical next leader again and game flows on without breaking a sweat or beat. If NPC party disagrees, enter the short skirmish among buddies as a player tutorial to your new character skills.
Sure, it’s nigh impossible to create, but I can bloody well dream while running in my tubes shooting things that look different. Maybe next gen allows us to create stuff not as limited by hardware. Maybe next generation of publishers allows us to create stuff not as limited by quarterly fiscals.
On a sidenote, we’re still calling current gen next gen. What’s up with that? Why isn’t there anyone trol-.. prepping us for new stuff already?
“Oh hi, nice blog post, didn’t know you can write. By the way, stranger with a nice face I place my trust upon, did you hear your gaming hardware is well out of warranty and oh right did you hear there is this really cool video leaked where a character in a popular television show is playing a game that looks amazing and it’s something very nextnext gen looking and everyone’s talking about it online..”
We’ll know it’s coming when we scramble to share it to our massive entourage of people who knows us by our links only.
Meanwhile, have a look at none other than Salman Rushdie checking out in-game storytelling where you can deviate from plot path whenever you like.