Every once and a while, YouTube actually recommends me a video that I want to watch. For whatever reason, they send a lot of really random shit my way. Is it because I watched the music video to GWAR’s “Fucking An Animal” so many times? I don’t know. Whatever the case, I came across a video that is part of a series of videos where a female gaming writing talks about how Feminist Frequency nearly made her quit writing about video games. In the second of her videos, she talked about her perspective with games, and I found it quite fascinating to listen to. But it got me thinking about an issue that I have with how people talk about games and how people perceive them. I’ll let you watch her video first, then we’ll talk.
There has been a lot of push-back against games that have “cinematic” quality. Hardcore gamers who are part of the older demographic are starting to dislike this quality. They prefer games with player agency is a lot of things. While I get this on one level, on another, this perplexes me.
I also heard this concept in a video that Sargon of Akaad did on his channel. He said that in games, he views himself as the character. For a game where you have a lot of choice in the narrative, that makes sense. I view myself as Femshep whenever I play Mass Effect (Femshep has infinitely better voice acting. So sue me). There, it makes sense. But what about games with that “cinematic” quality?
My favorite game of 2013 was The Last of Us. It had no contenders in its class for content. The story was gripping and the characters were all great. Seeing Joel and Ellie’s story play out was emotional and gripping. However, the game was very linear. Sure, I could choose to go around that guard who is patrolling the halls. But it would be a lot easier to simply strangle him to death and minimize the risk of detection. Or, if I don’t have the time to strangle, I’ll just shank him and make it easy. Easier on him, too. His problems, whatever they were, are over. What is the view of the player in a game like that? How do we view players and their agency in a game where you are in a scripted narrative that tells stories through cutscenes? More and more, people don’t like this. Am I just part of a dying breed?
I have no problem with the narratives that both Sargon and Liana put forward with how they view games. It is nice that we have a medium that is so open to exploration the way video games is. In no other medium can we ask the hard questions that they do in games. But where does the gamer who likes a game specifically for narrative come in? Where does this person fit in these ideas that they put forward? Are we simply outdated? Part of a class of gamer that was lost in the 21st century? After all, I liked Gone Home. Much in the same way that I liked Dear Esther. Both told gripping narratives through simple stories. That’s not to say that I don’t like games that push the mold. I have the end of a level screen of Flower up right now, which is a game where you literally play as the wind. It’s gorgeous and thoughtful. It is a lot smarter than you’d think.
Though maybe the best thing is that we can have these debates. Sure, there are the people like Anita Sarkeesian, who wants all games to homogenize for the special snowflakes. But if we learned anything from the terrible game that Brianna Wu made, it’s that gaming doesn’t care about political issues as much as ones that get your brain juices flowing. We want to have elements that makes us question. Be it play dynamics or something else, we want to be questioned. In that way, both Liana and Sargon and I all have our own way of seeing, and no way is really correct.
That said, I still wonder if I am the only one who sees games the way I do. Thoughts?
Until next time, a quote,
“Put three humans in a room and you have ten opinions. I like your species.” -Samara, Mass Effect 2