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.