The Spoon-Fed Gamer

November 21, 2008 § Leave a comment

If like me you were pissed as hell when Killzone 2 was delayed to 2009 in favour of releasing Resistance 2 this fall you’ll probably have been keeping up to date with the Killzone backstory being posted over on their official site. The universe of Killzone has interested me since the advent of the first game on the PS2 – more so than the game itself – the universe, the unavoidably evil Helghast, the realistic yet futuristic weaponry, all of this has sucked me into the world, begging for more.

In parallel to this I’ve also been studying Wuthering Heights, and whilst it’s significantly lacking in space marines, it’s nevertheless an amazing book, worthy of a place on anyones bookshelf.

I mention these two things not out of a desire to keep the Internet pointlessly updated on my day to day activities but to illustrate a difference between two mediums. Wuthering Heights has had literally thousands of essays written about it over the years, examining everything from Lockwood’s past, to Cathy’s sexuality, to how Heathcliff can be interpreted by Marxist literary theory and being symbolic of the sinful cities influence destroying the countryside. Contrasty when was the last time you read an essay based on a game? When was the last time you read a university student examine Solid Snake’s soliloquies, and turn them into a description of his past? Unless you’ve gotten very lucky you haven’t. Why? Because games lay out everything on a plate, from fear of an audience numbed with shooter after shooter simply won’t get it.

Maybe developers are right. Maybe we as an audience don’t understand subtlety, won’t catch on to subtle hints of a back story never explicitly mentioned. Maybe not all of us need to. Take the Metal Gear series as an example. This is a series which has long been criticised for its lengthy cutscenes, which even the most fervent of fans must admit long outstay their welcome. Complaints spring mainly from those who simply don’t care about the back story, those who’d rather sit back and enjoy that which is necessary to grasp the game’s central concepts and leave the political intrigue to the Kojima-Cult, the legions of fans desperate to hear about every single step of Solid Snake’s life. Never in a Metal Gear have I experienced narrative during gameplay, always it’s been in a cutscene. Whilst in gameplay I’m in control, I can choose exactly how much I explore, how much I want to learn. In a cutscene however it is Kojima who is in control, and everything he wants us to know is forced down our throats. He’s separated story from game, narrative from experience, consequence from action, and in doing so we gain no more and no less from his game than everyone else, and a brick wall meets any attempts we make to delve further into his world.

Bioshock has made me realise this doesn’t have to be the case. No cutscenes, all gameplay, all story. I wasn’t shown with a PowerPoint presentation how Rapture fell into its hellish state, I experienced it, I can see with my own eyes what plasmids do to people, how they can destroy an entire city. No one told me the citizens tried to escape, but instead I can instead examine the picket signs around the blathosphere, peer at newspaper headlines scattered around the floor. I don’t need to be knocked over the head with huge poorly acted rhetoric, I can read into the world as much as I wish, because I’m involved in this experience.

I’ve enjoyed reading the Killzone back story but in a perfect world it shouldn’t need to exist. I shouldn’t be spending hours trawling the Internet searching for passages to read, I should be trawling the game itself, searching for clues which can help me unearth its world’s own past. What we have now is a separated experience between mediums. Game’s have the ability to tell a deep, engrossing story in just one, but they’re not, and that’s a shame because I really do love playing games.

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