Video Game Dogma

So I recently picked up a copy of Far Cry 4 and have been playing it a lot.  It’s a great game and just bombastic fun.  But there was something about it that bothered me.

Far Cry 4 is an open-world game, namely a game where you can explore and do tasks within the world at your leisure.  Or at least, I would like to think.  The game has an annoying restriction on it in the sense that an entire chunk of the map is locked off until you get far enough into the campaign.  They do this in the beginning of the game as well, which wouldn’t be so bad if they kept you on a mission the whole time, but they don’t.  So later on, I tried flying over to a marker for a side task, only to find out that it was beyond this invisible barrier the game had set up.  If I crossed that barrier, I had ten seconds before the game yanked me away and placed me back on the other side of the boundary.

My problem with this?  It seems to be at odds with the idea of an “open-world game”.

It feels to me like the whole reason this is happening is because of some assumption of progression, that the game needs to serve the story first and foremost.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love a game with a good story.  A well-told story can provide great motivation for your actions within the game world.  But it annoys me that the game feels like it needs to enforce a linear sort of progression by locking off areas of the game world until you hit that checkpoint so to speak.

And then I wondered something.  Why does this kind of thing happen?  Why do games sometimes hold themselves back from their true potential?

I couldn’t think of a better word for it than “dogma”.

In so many ways the video gaming industry is locked within a certain set of ideas.  Games need to have action.  Games need to have multiplayer.  Games need to have progression and unlocks.  Games need to have at least X hours of content.  This line of thinking is so very limiting.

Take Gone Home for instance, in particular the reception it got from the gaming community.  If you look on the game’s Steam store page, you’ll see that the average user review reception is sitting at a “mostly positive” with currently 79% of the reviews being positive.  Yet, scroll down to the bottom, and you’ll see that the first seven of the most “helpful” reviews are negative.  The opinions vary but they hone in on the same central ideas: the game was boring, the game was pretentious, or the game simply wasn’t a game.

Gamers have this strange dogmatic idea of what a game should be.  A game should have action.  A game should have enemies.  But this doesn’t have to be that way.  Gone Home eschews all ideas of a combat-oriented game in favor of a game that just wants to tell a story.  And it makes for a unique experience that I guess just wasn’t everyone’s taste.  But bringing the discussion into that nebulous territory where the definition of what is a game is thrown into question?  Not a good idea.

How arrogant is it that some people assume that their definition of what is a game is the only right definition?  I mean, really.  We all have our own different tastes in games.  But I digress.  I believe the reason Gone Home was slammed so hard by gamers was because of this dogmatic way of looking at games.  How else do you explain the success of the Call of Duty franchise, a series of games that change hardly at all from year to year and yet each time make millions upon millions.  It’s because of this constrained idea of what a game is.  It’s something gamers and game developers have to move past in order for games to evolve.

Gone Home

No gun, no game. (Gone Home)

It might seem pointless and irrelevant to some to be focusing so much attention on a form of entertainment, but the fact of the matter is that people probably felt the same way about movies and television at one point.  The reason I focus so much time into them is because I believe that games can provide us with experience that we cannot find in movies, books, and television.  But this will happen only if we can shake off these ingrained ideas of what a game “needs” to have.

Not every game needs guns.  Not every game needs multiplayer.  Not every game even needs a story or a single player component.  We should be content to enjoy the games that interest us, and at least accept the existence of the games that bore us.  It’s when we take this closed-minded approach to things that we derail the natural progression of the medium.  Sure, many of us may look wistfully back on the “golden era” of games, when Mario was king and games were still represented mainly in two dimensions.  But we have to acknowledge the fact that while change is not always good, it is necessary.  Instead of holding games back based on old ideas of what they should be, we should embrace the risks of something new.  It’s up to the developers, as well as the gamers themselves, to encourage these ideas to flourish, for better or for worse.

 

Well that’s all I have for this week.  Tune in next Wednesday for another post.  Until then, have a great week everybody.

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Random Questionnaire Redux

Well here we go again.  Considering how much fun I had with this a couple of weeks ago (and how some people told me they really enjoyed it), I decided that it was time for round two of the random questionnaire of randomness.  So let’s get out the random number generator and get to work.

For those of you who haven’t seen my post a couple of weeks ago, basically the idea is that I have this book full of questions and I take numbers from a random number generator and assign them to the book to see what I get.

The numbers this time are: 14, 135, 164, 198, and 161.

 

14. Would you rather be extremely successful professionally and have a tolerable yet unexciting private life, or have an extremely happy private life and only a tolerable and uninspiring professional life?

Oh I see your game here book, hit me with the hard questions first and then move on the the stupid ones later.  I see how it is.  I see what you’re playing at.

In all seriousness the one thing I would love to have in my life would be a career in writing that I could use to support myself.  So in essence I would probably like the former (the exciting professional life) because my own private life as it is right now is pretty unexciting and I’m totally fine with that.

I’ve never really been one for partying the night away anyways.

 

135. Which would you prefer: a wild, turbulent life filled with joy, sorrow, passion, and adventure-intoxicating successes and stunning setbacks; or a happy, secure, predictable life surrounded by friends and family without such wild swings of fortune and mood?

Okay so this time the book is throwing the heavy hitters at me.  It’s a nice change of peace from all the stupid I got last time.

I would honestly prefer the secure life because I’ve never really been one for big action and drama.  I prefer to keep it on the down low.  I’ve never been one to take massive risks like that.  But I guess I’m just predictable in that way huh?

 

164. If someone offered you a large amount of money for some information about one of your company’s products, would you accept it?  Assume you know you won’t be discovered.

Yes.  Give me all the money.  I’m gonna get drunk and make very bad life decisions.  Because it’s cool and stuff.

But in all seriousness, if there was a circumstance in which I could get away with that, and there were absolutely no consequences, I would be lying if I said it wasn’t tempting.  But would I actually do it?  Probably not.

I’ve never really been one to damage someone else’s reputation or livelihood, even if it was beneficial to me.  Such things are the nature of hard-hitting HBO style dramas, where characters become greedy.  But in those shows, they often overreach and end up in a downward spiral that inevitably destroys them.  I prefer to stay out of those downward spirals.  They don’t seem very fun.

And besides, in real life nothing like this would come with zero risk.  The reward is simply not worth the possibility of the consequence (namely jail).  I’ve never been a greedy person, so I wouldn’t ever actually consider something that.  Besides, I want to be a writer, not an office worker or something.

 

198. If you could pass your whole life cared for in every way as you slumbered peacefully, entranced by wonderful dreams, would you do so?

I know there’s some metaphysical argument in there about the nature of reality and is what we perceive any more real than a dream, but mostly I just can’t get this image of a bunch of people hovering over my bed at all hours of the day.

It’s seriously creepy man.  STOP CREEPING ON ME YOU WEIRDOS!

I don’t want to know the things those people would do to me as I sleep…(shudders)

 

161. If you wanted to look very sexy, how would you dress?

Oh god…the stupid is back.

Seriously, I can’t get over how dumb this question is.  It’s not even a hypothetical situation.  It’s just “how would you make yourself look very sexay”.  Like, what in the hell?

I don’t think I have a legitimate answer to this question, because I am mentally facepalming as I write this.

Some days, you think about what you’re going to eat, and how you’re going to succeed in life.  Other days, you think about how best to look sexy.  Because apparently you’re just super vain and narcissistic like that.

What is this I don’t even.  I can’t man…I just can’t…

 

Well that’s it for this week.  We had a more serious round of questions this time (aside from that last one of course).  I mean the book is still a silly piece of crap, but hey it manages to amuse me when I read the questions in it so I’ll call it a win.  In any case, I hope you enjoyed.

Tune in next week for another post.  Until then, have a wonderful week.  Let me know if you’d like to see me do more of these, because I think I could get at least another couple posts out of this thing.  I enjoy doing these as well so all the better.

Movies vs. Television Shows

All of us have seen at least one movie and television show in our lives (except maybe if you’re Amish or something).  We all have our own opinions on which format is better.  Some say movies are better because they have fancier special effects.  Others say television shows are better because they have better realized characters.  In either case you’ll find that people tend to double-dip, watching movies and televisions shows in equal measure.  I know I do.

Personally I have to say that I prefer television shows to movies usually.  I’ve never been too big into the whole special effects business.  I’ve been more of a character enthusiast for a long time, and characters are something that television shows do especially well.  But the real question is, what do television shows do better and what do movies do better?  For that, I decided to create a small list of categories to use.  After each one, I will select a winner.  There will be a tally at the end to see which format is superior (according to one person’s opinion anyways).

If you disagree, I hate you.  Not really.  Maybe…

 

Special Effects

Let’s start with one of the biggest differences between television shows and movies, the special effects.  The winner here is pretty obvious.  Movie budgets are often so much higher than the budget for a TV show, considering they pour all that money into only two hours of footage compared to how long some TV shows can run.  This leads to television show special effects being noticeably lower grade than those in movies.  Have you ever watched a TV show and thought “wow that just looks bad” or “that looks so fake”?  Compare that to how many times you’ve said that during a movie, and you’ll see what I mean.

Look at Guardians of the Galaxy for instance.  The special effects in that movie are top-notch.  That final battle scene in the movie is gloriously crazy, with ships and explosions everywhere on-screen for a good ten minutes at least.  You’d never see that in a television show.  Which is not to say that TV CAN’T look good.  Take HBO’s Game of Thrones.  That show has some very impressive set design for a television show (I can’t speak much for the special effects because I don’t watch the show, but they look good from the brief bits I’ve seen).  Even with that in mind though, the simple fact is that Hollywood has far deeper pockets than any television studio, and will probably always win out in the special effects department.

Winner: Movies

 

Characters

This is a hard one, because it is subjective in a lot of ways.  A good character to me might not be a good character to somebody else.  But there is one thing that I can say when it comes to television over movies.  Television has a lot more time to build up a character than a movie does (seasons of a show compared to a couple of hours in a movie).  I will say that when I think of my favorite characters, a lot more of them happen to be from TV shows rather than movies.  For example, Walter Bishop from Fringe.  His character is a spin-off of the mad scientist archetype.  When Olivia Dunham finds him, he’s been sitting in a mental institution for the better part of two decades, which has left his mind in questionable condition.  Over the five seasons of the show, Walter grows from being a goofy and at times angry man to being this amalgamation of self-loathing and love.  He has one of the more complex personalities I’ve ever seen in a character, and you would be hard pressed to generate that same complexity with only a couple of hours on-screen.

And that’s really what it all comes down to for this category, time.  TV shows have more time on their hands to develop a character.  Movies have to balance moving the plot forward along with developing a character.  TV shows can have standalone episodes that serve no other purpose other than to add depth to a character.  In this way, television shows have much more character potential in them than movies do.

Winner: Television

 

Writing

Now this one is probably the most difficult out of the ones I’ve chosen.  There are so many different tastes when it comes to writing styles that it’s really hard to determine what’s better.

Take for example, the difference between western and eastern animated shows.  Eastern animated shows (particularly anime shows) tend to have a much more over the top writing style, with crazy larger than life characters and fantastical plot points.  Eastern animated shows are also usually much darker and more serious than their western counterparts.  A lot of the animated programs in the west tend to be aimed towards children, which means that they’re much more lighthearted and silly.  So how do you compare the two to determine which has “better” writing?

It’s the same for movies and television.  They both have times where the writing is superb, and times where the writing is absolutely terrible.  It’s really hard to choose a winner between the two, without just giving in to personal prejudices (I guess that’s kind of misleading, considering this entire post is based on my opinion).

If there was one thing I would have to choose that separated the two, it’s consistency of writing.  It’s much easier for a movie to remain consistent in its writing than a television show, and it again has to do with time.  Movies only have to fill up a couple of hours or so of time, whereas a TV show can run anywhere from a single season to upwards of ten (The Simpsons has been around for over twenty years, just to give you an example on the far end).  So movies win out in this category, but only because it’s far easier for them to maintain better quality writing.

Winner: Movies

 

Stories 

I suppose I could have filed this under writing, but screw it.  I wanted another category damn it!

The thing with stories for the two formats is that television has much more time to flesh out a story than a movie does.  Movies have to tell a complete story in two hours, with very little padding.  Television shows on the other hand can get away with having padding because of how much time they have to fill.  It is true that in recent years TV shows have gradually become more focused on being serialized dramas, and I will say that I find myself far more engrossed in those TV shows than I usually do with a movie.  Battlestar Galactica (the 2000s sci-fi channel reboot specifically) is one of the most intense pieces of television I’ve ever watched.  Seriously, if you haven’t watched it before I highly recommend it.  It’s one of those shows with incredibly well-realized characters and surprisingly good special effects for the space battle scenes (the show revolves around a fleet of ships fleeing from their homes after all of humanity is nearly destroyed).  It does things I think no movie could ever accomplish with only a couple of hours of screen time.

This is not to say that movies cannot tackle such complex characters.  It is just far easier to do that in a television show because you can spread out the character development over time to make it more believable as well as introduce little nuances that can pop back up to add more depth.  Not to mention the potential to do multiple intersecting character story arcs.

Winner: Television

 

Variety

This is one where I think that television shows most definitely win out.  I’ve bemoaned for a long time that movies have been rather unoriginal for some time (particularly when it comes to the horror genre).  I mean television shows have their fair share of tropes, like how there’s about five million damn cop dramas out there.  But when I look at shows like FringeAmerican Horror Story, and Battlestar Galactica, I see shows that aren’t just based off of a book or some other form a literature and I see a work of fiction that isn’t quite like anything else out there.  Sure, American Horror Story plays with the conventional tropes of the horror genre, but the stories it tells are far more demented than anything you would see otherwise.  It actually makes me a little squeamish sometimes, which impresses me because of how many horror shows and movies I’ve watched, as well as how many horror games I’ve played.  I’ve seen fathers murder their sons.  I’ve seen people brutally dismembered.  I’ve seen enough gore to last me several lifetimes.  So it’s a surprise to me when I find something that actually puts me a little on edge.

Horror in movies has become so obsessed with demons and demonic possessions that I can’t even consider this category a contest.  Television wins man, just straight up wins.

Winner: Television

 

You might accuse me of being one-sided on this, and you’re probably right.  I just wanted to take a closer look at what separates out movies and television shows.  And hey, they were close there.  Television only won out by one category.  So the final tally is television 3, movies 2.

Both formats have their merits and demerits.  I prefer television shows as a personal preference, but movies still hold a great fascination for me as well.  Also explosions.  Lots of explosions.

Well that’s all I have for this week.  Tune in next week for a new post, and as always, have a wonderful week everybody.

Random Questionnaire of Randomness

So I’ll be honest.  This week I had trouble thinking up anything substantive to talk about (I know elections were this week, but I figured you’ve all been inundated with ads and mail long enough that you really didn’t need me adding to the mix).  That being the case, I decided to play a little game.

My mom recently gave me this book full of questions as a way to try to help spark ideas for this blog.  I’ve flipped through it somewhat, and while there are a lot of questions, I don’t really feel like they generate the kind of contemplation I really want (in all fairness I’ve only read like ten or so of the questions so far, so for all I know the deep ones are in there somewhere).  In that case, I came up with an idea.  I opened a random number generator that I found online, and I used it to generate five random numbers for me.  Get where this is going yet?  My idea is to take these numbers, look up the questions in the book, and then answer them in any way I please, whether seriously or not.

Although with me it will most likely be the latter.

Here are the numbers I generated: 19, 196, 100, 108, and 59.  Let’s look them up and see what we get.

 

19. You have the chance to meet someone with whom you can have the most satisfying love imaginable-the stuff of dreams.  Sadly, you know that in six months the person will die.  Knowing the pain that would follow, would you still want to meet the person and fall in love?  What if you knew your lover would not die, but instead would betray you?

…This is a legitimate question in this book?  Oh for crying out loud…well I chose this.  Here goes nothing.

Better to have loved and lost right?  I guess I would have to say I would take the offer because as human beings, we cannot fathom how our lives would be different without that special someone (barring visiting a parallel universe of course).  It’s one of those things where I would rather see the person I would become after that experience rather than dodging it for fear of breaking under the weight of loss.

Now if this person betrayed me?  I’d still do it.  Because then I could go on a blood-soaked quest for REVENGE, involving lots of fast cars, explosions, women, explosions, guns, explosions, explosions…you get the idea.  I think Michael Bay would be a good choice to direct my biography in that case.

But wait a minute…I know this person will die in six months…and they will betray me….so does that mean I planned everything out from the beginning?  I planned to be betrayed so that I could embark on this bloody CGI revenge fantasy?

Mother of god…I’m a damn genius!

I like it.

 

196. You have arranged an evening with a friend, but on the day preceding your date a special opportunity arises to do something much more exciting.  How would you handle the situation?

What…what are you saying there book?  Are you saying that my friends are boring?  HUH?!  IS THAT IT?!  YOU KNOW WHAT, SCREW YOU BOOK!

Obviously I would bring them along to this “much more exciting” event.  Hey, it didn’t set any criteria for the answer.  I do what I want!

 

100. What do you strive for most in your life: accomplishment, security, love, power, excitement, knowledge, or something else?

Now there’s a question with some actual weight behind it.  It’s hard to put it into one single word honestly.  What I strive for most in my life is being able to dedicate my career to something I really believe in, something I’m passionate about.  That thing is, namely, writing.  My dream job would be to write science-fiction, to be able to write what I want, how I want.  I would love to be able to entertain and fascinate people with stories about fictional worlds and fictional people and fictional things.  I just want to write, plain and simple.

I guess if I had to put a word to it, it would probably be accomplishment, but of a more personal kind.  Most of the time when people talk about accomplishment they talk about earning lots of money or being financially stable or climbing the ladder at whatever company they work at.  For me, I would be happy writing, rich or poor.  Money is secondary to passion.

 

108. You are invited to a party that will be attended by many fascinating people you’ve never met.  Would you want to go if you had to go by yourself?

Oh for…you surprised me with how deep that last question was and then you throw this at me.

First off, I have to question what you mean exactly by “fascinating”.  Some people find serial killers “fascinating”.  Are you implying that if I go to this party, I’ll meet Hannibal Lecter?  Sounds good to me.  I don’t see how this could POSSIBLY GO WRONG.

Next thing you know this party will be at a secluded mansion in the middle of the woods with no electricity.  Because it turns out in the end that all the guests…ARE ME.

Cue dramatic chord, roll credits.

“We give this movie five stars, it’s the new Citizen Kane of our time!” – National Geographic

 

59. By controlling medical research funds, you are in the position to guarantee that a cure will be found in 15 years for any disease you choose.  Unfortunately, no progress on any others would be made during that period.  Would you target one disease?

Okay now these questions are just getting silly.  “You will be in a position to guarantee that a cure will be found in 15 years for any disease you choose”.  Then “would you target one disease?”  I thought I was ONLY able to target one disease.  I thought that was the whole point.  You JUST said TWO SENTENCES ago that I would be able to choose any one disease.

CONSISTENCY, DO YOU SPEAK IT?!

Can I choose politicians as my answer for this one?  Because I really really REALLY want to choose politicians (and here I was saying I wasn’t going to get political…so much for that).

Also, how would I control medical research funds?  That seems like I’d have to have an awful lot of power for something like that.  If anything, I would just funnel that money into my blood-soaked quest for revenge against my betrayer from the first question.  I’m just kidding.

Maybe…

Probably not.

But really I am.

Or am I?

 

Well I hope you enjoyed…whatever this was.  I just wanted to try something a little different this week (and yes, I am going with that excuse).  Hopefully you enjoyed it.  Maybe you didn’t.  WHO KNOWS?!  That’s the mystery of life!

Let me know what you thought in the comments.  Let me know if you want me to do this again.  Let me know if you think I should stop being stupid.  I probably won’t even listen!

But seriously, I value your opinions.  In any case, that’s all I have for this week.  Tune in next Wednesday for another post that’ll probably be more serious than this one (but it might not be!).  As always, have a wonderful week everybody.