Thursday, November 07, 2013

Who Needs a Story Anyway?

I began to write this a couple of months ago but I never bothered to finish it: I wasn't sure whether I was actually talking about the game in question or just using it as an arbitrary starting point for some philosophical musings which are dear to me. But since I wrote it, and since it doesn’t seem completely without interest, why not put it online? We’ll see how it’ll do. And if nothing, it’ll at least offer some kind of counterpoint to my last posts on cinematic video games, a critical perspective on a game with minimal storytelling. Anyway, here it is: why the Wii U may be the most moving (as in emotional, expressive, beautiful) video game console yet.

I bought a Wii U last spring mainly because of Ian Bogost’s non-review on Gamasutra: a console expressing self-doubt? Color me intrigued. My wallet didn’t approve of my inquiries about the alleged conscience of a video game console, but even though I barely touched it since, the philosophical leanings of my mind were rewarded despite the protestations of my bank account.

Playing solo, the two-screens is barely more than a gimmick, feeling a lot like a DS with your television acting as a bigger version of the upper screen (or at least it felt that way in the few games that I played). And just like the DS, hardly any game uses the two-screens in a meaningful or innovative way. Having a map of your surroundings always open on your smaller screen may be practical, but it’s nothing more than that; it doesn’t affect the gameplay in any way, or doesn’t lead to a new kind of experience. In a game like Mass Effect 3 (which I haven’t played, so, I suppose…), I’m still shooting dudes in the face (as the official saying goes) most of the time, only now I can know exactly where I am when doing so. Sure, this game wasn’t designed for the Wii U in the first place, so it may be normal that the second screen remains unused, but it was one of the most publicized features of this port, and it is the only way most games use this new screen. I still need to be convinced that this screen in my hand enhance my experience somehow, or, better, can lead me to new ones.

But my philosophical investigation was scarcely aimed at the single player experience anyway: I was way more interested in the possibilities offered by the asymmetrical gameplay promised by the multiplayer games. And on this matter, it is, indeed, a whole different affair: the Wii U becomes a perfect, ludic representation of our relation with space and time in our modern digital world.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Honoring cinema

This post and the last one were written for the Blogs of the Round Table at Critical Distance, a monthly invitation for video game bloggers to discuss about a proposed topic. The theme this time was "What's the Story?", storytelling in video games. You can find the other entries by following the previous link.

My last article was a bit dishonest. I almost scrap the entire text a couple of times and instead write about how it would be cool to transfer André Bazin defense of impure cinema to the context of video games, but how it is not quite possible. I do think that video games are fundamentally impure, I love the idea of cinematic video games, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with linear storytelling or with cutscenes in an interactive medium. The problem I had was that as soon as I began to write about a particular game, my “defense” of cinematic video games didn’t look so much like a “defense” anymore. In truth, I am much more ambivalent about the reality of cinematic video games than what my article implied: let’s say, then, that it was an ideal defense of these games.

So, here are the nuances I lifted out last time, with some additional musings on the subject, with an ethical twist, leading to a long coda on the Last of Us.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

For Impure Video Games: In Defense of Cinematic Storytelling

With the critical and detached perspective we can now afford on the video game production of the last ten or fifteen years, one of the dominant phenomena of its evolution promptly appears to us: the resort, more and more significant, to the cinematographic heritage.

This is a video game” can we often read about older games like Super Metroid or the original X-COM, or even with more recent examples like Deus Ex or Dark Souls. Few (or no) cinematics! Expressive and/or emergent gameplay! This is what video games are about! This is their distinctive and unique quality: interactivity, choice, player agency, or something to that effect. The story must be told through gameplay, not through cutscenes! But since cinematic action games are the most prominent form of video games right now on the mainstream scene, and in the public eye, at least when it comes to home consoles, is it to say that we have to forgo the autonomy of our art form? Are video games, or what remains of them, still able to survive today without the crutch of cinema? Are they about to become a subordinate art form, depending on another, more traditional one?

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Imitation of Life (4): Film is Dead, Long Live Video Games!

I opened this series of articles about CGI on the idea that “Video games are not cinematic and they will never be”, a radical statement that I would not repeat today without a load of nuances; here are some of them (a lot of them actually: be warned, this post is very long! So go grab a cup of coffee, or the entire Bodum, just to be sure…)