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Om Nom On Souls avatar 3:58 AM on 12.24.2010  (server time)
Show Me Something Useless

So here's the deal,

Hi, my name is Om Nom, and I like to write blogs, though you probably don't remember that since it's been like three hundred and fifty billion years since I last did so. I know, long time.

But actually, the last month has been kinda hectic, what with exams and a busy work schedule. I regrettably haven't had the time to put out the blogs I used to, and that made me very sad. But now, oh yes, now I'm on vacay with the fams. I'm home in my glorious Vancouver, and the only responsibility I have over the next three-ish weeks is to ensure that I keep myself relatively un-laden with work of any kind. So pull up a chair, the next while will hopefully be very blog filled, and I'm glad to be draggin you guys through the dry, arid desert that is my writing again.

This latest tidbit of insight, and it always is a tidbit, was gained through playing through AC2, and ME2, which if possible is even better the second time through.

Anyway, the tidbit. It seems that if you give a player something concrete to show for their efforts, more concrete than an achievement, that can motivate them to action that has literally no consequence other than the reward.

You can see this in ME2 in the ship models and pets you can collect from across the galaxy. They did absolutely nothing except sit there and look badass, yet I found myself combing every store in the game searching for just one more. My first playthrough, I focused pretty closely on the story. That's not to say I rushed through the game, but I didn't spend a lot of time on sidequests, I think I did probably one or two before going through the Omega 4 relay, but I made damn sure I had every single ship model and little critter I could find.

Does anyone know what that mystery middle peg that goes forever unused is actually for?

It's the same story in AC2; the art collection was largely useless, yeah it contributed to Monteriggioni's value, but what it did give you was peanuts compared to everything else (fun sidenote: as a result of a fatal allergy to peanuts, I find it endlessly satisfying that the word stands metaphorically for 'shit'). I ended up running all over Italy just to complete something that had pretty much no bearing on the game as a whole.

So what does this mean? That we're shallow as gamers? Well, to some extent, yes. I mean, don't tell me you don't get more jazzed over seeing the fruits of your labour than actually just knowing you did it. Why do you think savages and Gary Busey scalp their victims? Well for one of those examples, it's because they've completely lost touch with reality, but for the savages, its because they like to have something to show for 'it.' Of course we non-savages and non-Buseys like it too, we like to have evidence of out accomplishment. But I think this covers something more complex than simply see = good.

I think the reason we seek out these purposeless little trinkets owes more to our sense of control than anything else, let me explain.

Choice in video games isn't really that much of a choice. You don't really have any authority over the story because at the end of the day, you're actually just choosing paths through a game that were laid out before you by the developer; essentially, you can't go anywhere they won't allow you to. But with these seemingly unimportant little statues, ships, pets, or paintings, the developer has put them into the game simply for the benefit of the player. They don't drive the story, they don't help with character development, they're just there for fun, and are completely benign.

First image result in a search for benign. Yeah, the creative juices weren't really flowing on this one

Because the developer has not given these objects significant meaning within the game, that void must then be filled by the player. We get to decide exactly how universe-shatteringly important it is to find every single ship model in ME2, and we get to decide exactly how completely useless it is to go around looking for every last painting in Italy.

I'm assuming of course, and here's where the possibility, nay, probability that I'm reading too much into this kicks in, that most of this happens on a subconscious level. Of course I didn't go into ME2 saying, okay, my Shepard is really freaking into model building and collecting. He has very dextrous fingers, and the shit is like crack to him. That didn't happen. What I believe did happen though was that my brain saw this as an opportunity to make a decision completely its own. It said, Om Nom, you want these ship models, I don't know why, and I don't care, but you're gonna drag your ass around the entire freaking galaxy until you find every last one.

That wasn't the devs telling me that they were important, that wasn't the game telling me I needed them, I made the choice to say okay, this is something I want. The importance of these little acoutrements was assigned completely by me, and the developers served simply to provide me with a means to fulfilling that want, they made no effort to me recollection to push the significance of them on me.

Funny story, that bronzed Adonis you see there is actually me

Now I don't want to be too reductive and say that every time a developer leaves something alone that the player will instantly gravitate toward it like flies to shit, but it's interesting to me that, as a gamer who heavily favours plot driven and mostly linear storytelling, I get a lot of thrill out of an element of a game that was entirely created in my own head and untouched by developer influence.

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