Sunday, 10 April 2011

Playing Games Is Really Hard

So its been just under a week since I began this blog to try and complete (or worst case scenario take a bloody good stab at completing) the hundreds of video games I own. I'm only 5 games in and its taking its toll. Playing games is really difficult. I don't mean due to the challenges of the games themselves, they can all be beaten. I mean actually physically sitting down to play hours upon hours of content, regardless of whether it entertains you or not. That's the hard stuff. The medium is a strange one, in that no other entertainment form asks for the same commitment of time from you. A piece of theatre, or a film or a television programme do not demand that you sit there for 60+ hours. How do people do it? Really. The games I have attempted to play this weekend include Tunguska: Secret Files on the Wii and Kirby's Epic Yarn. The former charging you with challenges such as taking an innertube from a push bike, back with you on a motorcycle to your dad's house, to put it in a bucket of water to find the puncture then combining a marigold you found in a dustbin with some glue you found in a beat up apartment, to make a puncture repair, then taking it back across town on your mo....Hmmmmm. more of a simulation of a Sunday, than a game. Kirby wasn't nearly so bad, but again after 2 or 3 hours of play I'd barely touched the surface, and had surely had enough (for now).

The medium perplexes me often, more so my absolute adoration of it. And yet despite my adoration I don't believe (much despite the oft cited 'Citizen Kane of video games') that video games have truly achieved greatness like film has. To this date there is no 'perfect' game, at least not within the narrative driven games that people are looking for it. Even in the most highly respected, multi-million dollar budget IPs I can still wander around aimlessly looking for the next clue for hours, or break the narrative flow by forgetting something in another room that requires a load screen to go back, or run repeatedly at a wall, with no consequence to my run animation, except I've kind of ground to a halt, bounding at the wall, sort of sliding along it really slowly, while not a single NPC starts laughing, not even a smirk.

I know what you are going to say. Its a different medium to film Matt, don't get all Roger Ebert on us. This is true, and is the argument I always present when trying to explain the joys of it. The modern video game is built on a set of very simple rules, rules that no longer have a place in Narrative driven games. The staples of multiple lives and deaths, high scores, levels and the ultimate goal of completion are archaic when applied to so many modern blockbusters, yet developers just can't seem to let them die. This occured to me most memorably in Alan Wake. When faced with crossing a rocky outcrop over a river I fell in, several 'none plot advancing times', only to be sent back to the edge of the river each time. Leaving my suspension of disbelief, well and truly...errrr...unsuspended. In the minutes prior to these events I had been a grizzly, chizzled and confused thriller author, on the supernatural trail of my missing wife. Now I was bloke sat on a couch playing a video game, wondering if there was anything good on Channel 4.

Perhaps the very notion of narrative driven games is the problem. Afterall that simple rule set was all that mattered before video gaming's Big Bang. The glue that would hold together the most abstract of ideas. Be it an ever hungry yellow disc trapped endlessly in a maze, or a blimp headed creature that had to jump from isometric tile to isometric tile in order to...well to progress to the next level, plain and simple. If there truly is a Citizen Kane of games or anything remotely pushing perfection then it is more likely to be Pac Man than any Ocarina Of Time. The arcade classics represent video gaming in its purest form. Modern games that share in the notion of being a game simply for the sake of it are few and far between. And its no coincidence that the handful of games I had completed before starting this blog adhered to these rules set at the foundations. Vanquish, Super Mario Galaxy and Metroid: Other M engaged you solely with marksman precise control, devastatingly simple yet rewarding game mechanics and storytelling so slight, it only seemed included as a result of peer pressure from the rest of the industry.

Modern video games are just too bloody long, and not until we see game times come down to something more like the 2 to 3 hours expected of a movie am I ever likely to engage completely in their worlds. Just think how much time we could save if we never watched another death sequence or ran whole heartedly yet aimlessly at a piece of furniture. That would shave hours off right away. In the meantime it doesn't bode well for me bringing those reviews to you any faster, but if the blog goes quiet for a few weeks you'll know where I am.

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