Pieces of identity in the digital form. (image from Cowboy Bebop)
Do the games we play define who we are? Can you look at someone’s collection and determine who they are? More importantly: can you look back at what you’ve spent your time playing to better identify who you are as a person?
What better place to start asking questions than Google, so let’s start there. Searching for terms like “Your Identity Through…” will auto-populate with “art”. Interestingly enough there could be a lot of parallels between artists and game designers. I’ve been told art is about self-expression. Design on the other hand is problem solving. The debate if games are art usually focuses on consumer/viewer’s value of the product. Art is representation of culture. It reflects the people and time in which it was created. Duke Nukem 3D would not exist or be created today to the praise that it was in the 90’s. It very much told the story of the attitudes of players at the time. Cheap pop references, “ironic” bad ass heroes, and saving babes from aliens. A lot of the circles I observe wouldn’t care much for this being created today and likely would be laughed out of any critical praise. Likewise Minecraft would not have made the impact that it did if it was released in the 90’s. Provided the tech would have existed to support it, the appreciation I don’t think would have been there. The mindset of shared creation, collaboration, gaming as self-expression. Both instances support the notion of games being art. Yet both were built by design. Feedback like a GUI to interpret your state in the world, noises to provide feedback of your interactions in the world, or evil looking creatures to suggest they’re enemies instead of having the friendly looking NPCs be hostile (strippers for game A, cows for game B). All of these are designed to explain to the player how to approach the game. Not that art and design are mutually exclusive terms. Just a thought on the subject of classifying art and how it pertains to video games.
In recent years canon has become a sort of golden bullet point for geek media. I’ve been wondering about how much does canon really matter in a video game series? Or at all really. Obviously within a single game you want it to make sense by it’s own rule set. The player should be able to understand what’s going on, characters that die should stay dead or have an explanation for their return, characters shouldn’t be in two places at the same time, etc. With all the constant reboots between films, games, and comics – Often it comes down to fans fighting over what the true canon is then. Some games in a series get cut from the canon of a series. Castlevania: Lords of Shadow for example isn’t considered continuous with the rest of the series, effectively putting it outside of the canon. Of course there’s the infamous Star Wars canon reboot once Disney took ownership, obliterating all previous titles that were thoughts to be established in that shared reality.
I guess first we should establish if you care about story at all in your video games, or to what degree. While a good story can boost a game, I wouldn’t say it’s necessary to make a game fun. Games like Destiny or Diablo 3 are a great example of fun times with an abysmal narrative. Of course game genres that rely on story to be the driving experience can’t get by without some level of quality to the tale (RPGs, cinematic action games for example). If you game for the sake of interacting with the environment and not giving a hoot about the story, chances are canon is just something you’ll never care about. That’s a completely legit way to experience games in my opinion.
I feel you, Link. All of your 8×4 grid.
Games previously used to just have a plot to connect the stages, serving the gameplay first. Mario is about an Italian plumber that can jump five times his height running through a cursed kingdom, smashing blocks that are citizens of the kingdom, in order to rescue the princess from a fire-breathing dragon turtle thing. No one bats an eye. Even more recent titles like Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare feel like the levels were all created and then a story was created to sticker them together. It gives the player a cohesion within the experience. Somewhere we got lucky though and story started to take precedence, being written before the gameplay is designed. The technology hit a level where games seemed to care more about expression… Whether it be the developer as an artist or character expression to build the story. Link originally had 28 pixels to represent his face. Now with motion capture it’s to the point that games like LA Noire and Grand Theft Auto 5 digitally scan an actor, creating a nearly identical performance. Expressions have become so life like that in some situations I could believe consumers not realizing it’s a rendered character. With the growth of facial expression you have stronger communication to connect with the characters. Now you want to hear their stories.
My father used to tell me that all the time. I’ve talked about my relationship with him a bit previously, and always things are more complicated than originally implied. Yes, he was an alcoholic all my life. The strange part about living with an alcoholic that you never really see on TV though is trying to cope with them essentially being two different people. On one hand, when Paul was sober he was an introverted and reserved man. He loved technology and that was apparent in his purchases for the family and himself. Eventually that appreciation would be passed down to me it seems. The other Paul was the aggressive, selfish, bully that was every bit as vile and abusive as you’d see in the movies. Living with that man was unpleasant (to put it kindly), which broke the family apart and drove everyone away from him. The two men that he was couldn’t be any more different from one another. They also never seemed to be aware of the other’s actions so you could never hold one accountable for the other without him staring back at you confused. It was maddening to have someone that looks like your father have you fearing for your life, then the next day offer to take you to McDonalds for a happy meal.
I remember around age five or six him coming home from work one day with a Nintendo Entertainment System. I’d never seen one before or knew what it was. Apparently we had an Atari before that, but all I remember of video games started when he came home that day. He boasted about how great the visuals and how we all had to try it out. That weekend my two siblings and I kept passing the controller back and forth playing Super Mario Brothers / Duck Hunt. My father kind of just enjoyed watching us play. I was too young to remember much else outside of a few trips to the store with him to pick out new games… Double Dragon 2 stands out in my head, pointing at it behind the glass for the clerk to show us. Looking back I realize now he was just excited to give us something fun to do. My sister even did a mock awards ceremony for “best player” and “best games” one time with the family, makeshift podium and all. I’m the youngest and stuck to games the most so I’m sure it was all done just to humor me at the time.
From time to time he’d jest with me when I’d take it too seriously, “life’s not all about video games, ya know?”
Me clad in Nintendo, life was good.
It’s no secret that Nintendo has fallen from grace. Everyone has their own idea of what Nintendo needs to do to turn it around. While some live in denial, saying to stay the course and quality will win out. Others think they need to abandon anything unique and just become a third PC clone like Microsoft or Sony’s latest offering, but with killer first party games. Here’s my thoughts on what could potentially return them to the console throne.
Full disclaimer (since pitchforks and torches come with every Nintendo system it seems) – I’m in no way disillusioned to think that I’m speaking with any authority on the matter. I know my thoughts put to digital ink changes nothing. I’m just another observer in the world speaking my piece on my quiet little section of the internet. So if you think I’m off my rocker you’re probably right to think so, but please don’t be a dick about it. I also don’t think my approach to fixing the N issue is that radical anyways. A few tweaks that can be made while retaining what works.
Prelude of Thought:
I’m a fairly engaged Final Fantasy fan. I enjoyed the FF13 series, I’ve played nearly all the series to completion (save for FF2 and FFX-2), and I think FF7 is possibly the best example of what JRPGs can be. The mash-ups offered for the series such as Dissidia and Theatrhythm have been preferred portable experiences. I should love this game… So why don’t I?
When FF Record Keeper was announced I was cautiously excited. When Square put out their last mobile offering, All The Bravest, it was miserable. All you did was tap tap tap endlessly, the only variation was when you activated your ultimate attack of “Fever Mode”. Even removing how offensive the random lotto draw of new characters via In App Purchases were, the game was a complete slog.
After the initial launch trailer I really didn’t hear anything. No previews or impressions anywhere. The week Record Keeper launched I was given an older Samsung tablet that I was eager to put to use. Yet with the stealth launch of it onto iOS and Android stores, somehow my expectations managed to sink even lower. Either way it’s free though, all I have to lose is a bit of time so why not dig right in and see for myself?