GAMING AIN'T FILM

As I was playing through 2014’s Wolfenstein: The New Order a little while ago it occurred to me that I was playing a great movie. After a few fervent early missions killing robotic mega-Nazis, you enter a peaceful homebase area and interact with a small cast of friendly characters. As I spoke to each of the rough-and-tumble renegades, scoured their candlelit quarters for juicy backstory details, and trawled through countless newspaper articles describing the establishment of the totalitarian Nazi superpower across the globe through the 40s and 50s, I realized I was part of a story that desperately wanted to be told in full. Much like a movie, it felt as if Wolfenstein wanted me to see each minute detail of its story piece by piece until everything came together in my mind. The key thing here is that the game wanted me to SEE these details -- and not PLAY them…

Click  here  for Nazi-approved, German-language Beatl- *aherm* Die Kafer smash-hit, "Mond, Mond, Ja, Ja".

Click here for Nazi-approved, German-language Beatl- *aherm* Die Kafer smash-hit, "Mond, Mond, Ja, Ja".

 

Don’t get me wrong. I really enjoyed New Order overall, and I’d recommend it. But as a game it’s just mediocre. Strip away all these rich story details, tense dialogue exchanges (which you don’t control; you just sort of watch your character talk), and lovable characters, and you’ve got a fairly inarticulate dual-wielding run-and-gun corridor FPS game. If the writing had been weaker, I don’t think I would have been motivated to grind through some of the more tedious “DO THIS THING HERE!” challenges that the game inelegantly chucks you into. But it carries so well as a movie you want to know the ending to, that the anemic gameplay passes as fun a lot of the time. And this identifies a blurring line between games and film as the former continues to balloon as an industry -- what other entertainment medium has grown so large, so quickly?

In the wake of the financial success of consoles in the 90s, the largest budgets for videogame production are rising to compete with Hollywood films, with the star talent, CGI, and marketing campaigns to match. A co-worker of mine told me he’s interested in gaming: he moonlights as a foley guy for TV and commercials, and he suspects that videogames are where the real money is nowadays -- even for an industry as film-niche as sound production.

However I think this is a mistake. I think the real similarity between movies and gaming pretty much ends at budgetary magnitude. To treat gaming as just… home video in a different type of VCR sells it short of its potential, and leads to exploitative licensing cash-ins like the new Star Wars videogame. I do appreciate that some games work well as kind of surrogate films (looking to aforementioned Wolfenstein and Metal Gear Solid) but these linear narratives really feel like they sprawl too wide and deep to be contained in the silver screen; they take advantage of the affordances of gaming to tell a bigger story. And in the rare cases where the depth of gameplay matches the depth of story, nothing’s more fun. These days, many AAA titles aim to awkwardly recreate the cinematic experience through a controller and the result is usually a deadened game and a dull movie. I played through Hitman: Absolution and Deus Ex: Human Revolution when I built my PC last year, and both games seem to sacrifice so much of their well-loved gamey-ness for a dull, mass-appeal movie-ness. No player sits down and hopes not to push any buttons in a 10 minute interval. The difference in appeal between literary depth, and interactive depth, should be respected.

I mean, even in name they indicate something radically different. The whole activity of film isn’t called “movie-ing.” It’s too passive. As a medium, it’s called film or cinema - a simple noun. As a whole activity, the other medium is referred to as gaming - a present-tense verb; something that is being done. There’s plenty of room for flexing the semantics of this distinction but regardless it can be agreed upon that gaming needs to take a different industrial arc than film does, so those massive pools of resources can fuel innovation and interactivity, and not just mass-appeal spectacles.

 

 

 

CHOOSE WISELY

Clearly, with games as large and involved as they are now, us older folks must pick and choose what to play and when- very carefully or else end up with an incredible museum of untouched Relics. Unfortunately, the idealist in most of us is merely a high pitched 'urkelish'  voice that we stamp out so we can continue purchasing games well never-ever finish. Have any of you ever played a game for 10 minutes just because you bought it and, maybe, feel guilty for not ever experiencing someone else's hard work that you paid for?

These choices can become strangely overwhelming. Buying the thing is the easy part. Getting excited about playing them is also the easy part. Scheduling in the time is the quasi challenging adulty part i don't think ill ever fully master.  But choosing something from the expanding library, well, it can be a bit of a motherfucker. Just the other night i had a half bottle of Whisky and some designated game time. I was ready to zone out and play something for a few hours. That didn't happen. In fact not much happened at all. I got the 'fear' you see. The enormous amount of choice before me caused a mental 'GAME OVER' for me before i even picked something out to play. Distantly i  swear i heard a slide whistle being slowly drawn out foir me and my sad attempt. I went through the backlog out loud. By myself. Which i seem to do often now.

This would not make me a happy man

This would not make me a happy man

In this case, on this particular evening i chose non-wisely.

"Metal Gear!?- Yeah, i'm only 10 main missions in. I should catch up a bit..Quiets boobs are awesome. WTF was Kojima thinking?...maybe..."

"Witcher 3?!- SURE! wait....where was i? I'm only 25 hrs in, i should really put in some time here. Nurture it a bit. Give it some attention But then ill run out of money or my sword will break or ill get distracted and start doing shit in the forest.......aw fuck it."

"Dont Starve Together?!- TOTALLY! Such an adorably charming little game, and my Bro just put a new computer together maybe i should call him? "In an hour you can  play!? Sure ill just play something else while i wait....maybe."

"Heroes of the Storm!?- Haven't really go into this yet, I've heard great things, like its a lazy mans DOTA. Built by the actual company that inspired it. Cool, i have not the time nor the patience to DOTA. But wait maybe i should finish....."

"Wolfenstein- Its been a while hasn't it Wolfy? Now where was i here, almost at the end. Right. The hard part and the reason i let you sit on the shelf for too long. Kind of like..."

"Hotline Miami 2- Hrm. Well- i don't know if i'm up for a super unforgiving, intense game. But a friend suggested 'Pillars of Eternity.' Oh shit, 50 bucks! Man, well maybe...But thats another time sink. Oh my bro just got back to me. He can't play."

Aaaaaand now i'm lost and somehow very confused. 

So over about 2 hours i didn't play anything for a variety of different reasons. Something I've notice recently, and its not only to do with games, is the incredible, unfathomable amount of choices we have now for any given item. If your shopping for mustard and your indecisive i pity you. There's like 50 different kinds of mustard out there! Usually i notice my wife trying to make an entree choice at a restaurant. We no longer visit the cheesecake factory for this very reason. She'll spend most of our time there reading through the bible of food and choose nothing. Or choose something thats just 'ok' and spend her meal feeling disappointed that she's missing out on everything else. It's a sickness, you see.  A fear of missing out or 'FOMO' which is a real thing that tends to creep on me with online games. I guess I was so worried about missing out on one particular experience that i chose exactly nothing to play. Under acute circumstances this is was a profound wake up call. PICK A GAME AND SHUT THE FUCK UP TRISTAN.  

At any given time I have about 12 games i really want to play. I'll complete maybe 6 games a year. So mostly i'm biding  my time until the next great game with arbitrary titles i have very little interest in. Out of pure habit i suppose. Maybe my friends are playing something online so ill jump in just for the social aspect and get a few laughs out of it (which is vital). But time is a fickle bitch and the best revenge, seemingly, is to get vigilant and only choose the games we really are interested in.

 

 

I think when i'm truly at my happiest with a game is when I've waited for a great one player experience to come out and just sit on the couch (still the best place to play games) and really tuck into it and see it through till the end; when the disk doesn't leave the console until its finished. All that's  important is that i get an enjoyable experience as a return for hours invested regardless of what could have been or what i could be playing instead.

I no longer find myself hunting for what i want to play. The more games we play the more defined our tastes become. That could be said for anything we spend quality time with. I know i love being scared, the methods may be cheap sometimes but i feel like i get my monies worth if my systolic blood pressure maintains a steady 150. I love a great story and atmosphere above all else. I'll dabble in online competitive gaming but i find i soon become frustrated and consumed with self doubt quite quickly. And the time involved to become better is just a chore for me now.  I gravitate towards a certain type of game, so i  read and research release dates for titles and publishers i respect and make very rudimentary plans about what order what game should be played in. If i have a choice of 5 games to play right now ill go straight for what i know and like vs something completely new. Which now that i think about it creates a very boring image of myself. 

First world problems right!? So choose wisely my friends, time is an diminishing investment. Don't settle for the mundane, be productive and challenge yourself until that next game you want comes out. Then call in sick, ignore your wife and have a drink, heck, have 2.