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protomark's blog

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protomark avatar 11:00 AM on 08.07.2008  (server time)
'Intro' OR 'The World Will Wait For You' OR 'An Argument For Time Limits'

Throughout this summer, there's been a bird nest sitting on top of the light fixture, to the right of the back door of my house. I come out here a couple times a day for a cigarette, and i've been watching the miracle of life blooming right here in my backyard. Almost every time i would come out, there she was, sitting quietly upon her eggs, day after day. I was here when they hatched, too. I was here to watch Mommy pull worms out of the ground to feed her young, and i was here to watch them fly for the first time. I can't begin to fathom why mommy robin was so patient with me, being within arm's reach of her young from the day they were born. I feel rather sad that they're gone now, but also a bit relieved. My dog finally ate them. I'll never look at him the same way again, but at least he stopped barking all the time.

:S hello, dtoid.

I've been active here or there on the forums for about a month now, so I figured I would write a long overdue introductory blog. However, I would feel a bit trite and repetitive if i just yammered on about where i'm from and what games i like.

So, no beating around the bush today.

It's so awkward in the beginning!

There is a vague but totally heavy MGS1 spoiler in here. Just warning you.


Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion isn't any fun. Either that, or i don't get it because I'm no fun.

It's not that it's a poorly designed game. It's pretty impressive, as far as RPGs go. A living, breathing world for you to play in! Create a character and live it! Be anything you wanna be! Make choices! Every player has a different experience! Sounds like a good time!

The problem, though, is that it's a lie. it's dishonest.

Suppose you start a new character. There are an astounding number of choices and combinations, as promised, but that's peripheral to the argument. You start out in a jail, with no real indication as to how or why you're there. The evidently racist guard comes up to you and berates you for a bit, and then King Patrick Stewart comes calling. The next ten or twenty minutes serve as a tutorial of sorts, and as a setup for the plot. It's fairly involving, and provides a context for your adventure in the game world. The sense of urgency is palpable. Oblivion Gates are opening up all over the place, a grave danger to Tamriel as we know it! With this in mind, you find yourself under the sun, in the middle of a vast and ancient world; your playground. And you can do pretty much whatever.

Suppose, knowing that the demons of oblivion are pouring into our world and destruction seems imminent, you decide to take a break. You leave the game on.

For three weeks.

The sun rises and sets, the people go about their business. People have aged, but nobody has died. The Oblivion gates remain open, but the sky remains blue. And it continues, on and on into infinity. Where's the sense of urgency gone? It seems as if, contrary to what you've been told, the world of Tamriel doesn't need you after all. You can interact with the world if you like, you can even change it. The problem is, you can take as long as you want. The world will wait for you.

The Grand Theft Auto games are much the same way; After a little bit of breaking in, you are left standing in this world with myriad possibilities. Sure, you've got a fortune to rebuild, a vendetta to pursue, a city to win back, a reason to be here. But you can just ignore all that. Better yet, there is literally no end to this: at no point does it say 'game over,' at no point does it drop you back to the title screen. The world will wait for you.

Taking a broader look at games in general, this is pretty common. The causal relationship between the player character and the rest of the world is almost entirely one sided - player acts, game reacts. Metal Gear Solid was perhaps the earliest game to address this dynamic directly within its plot; Had Solid Snake/The Player simply neglected to do what he was told, Metal Gear REX would never have been activated, and by extension Shadow Moses/The Game would never have happened. The game requires the player to be proactive in order to have consequence. See what i'm getting at?

In light of this, i feel a bit silly. The game, it is making a fool out of me! You know all that sense of urgency and involvement that plot is supposed to create? Crock, all of it. It seems like there's really no point to it at all, what I'm doing here, both in the context of the game and in the context of myself playing the game. One could write a hundred pages of text concerning the philosophical implications of the preceding statement, but i'm not in that kind of mood today.

The reason plot exists at all within the scope of an interactive medium is to provide context for the actions you take in the game; to provide a good reason to do what you're doing. Thematic and artistic intentions are peripheral to this. It provides a sense of urgency, excitement, resolve, a reason for the player to continue. Plot is important with any narrative medium, but especially so with a game: a movie will end on its own, but a game will not end unless you see it through, win or lose.

Perhaps this isn't the only way.

It wouldn't even have to be stringent or game-altering at all: just a time limit, if the narrative warrants it, within context of the game circumstances. If the bomb goes off in 24 hours, please, would it hurt at all to make the bomb go off in 24 hours? If you're going to bother allowing the player character to age, then why can't he have an expiry date? It's a small thing, but i think it could add a lot to a game's ability to involve the player. There are a few games that already do this in a sense (Dead Rising, off the top of my head) so, i don't see how it's unreasonable.

I've heard that if man were immortal, he would still be in the stone age. I think that's true.

Comments are appreciated.

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