Supple Think: Bad End

Bad End

by Tupperwarez

Posted on Thursday, October 25, 2007
Labels: , , ,
Lately, I've been thinking of games that end on a downer. Half-Life 2: Episode 2 was what really got the ball rolling, leading me to another replay of The Dark Eye. This is an adventure game from the perspective of a man slowly losing his sanity. Each nightmare scenario that plays out is based on certain Edgar Allan Poe stories, seen once through the eyes of the victim, and again through the eyes of the victimizer. Which means that in one go through you'll be Montresor, walling in Fortunato as he begs for mercy, and again as Fortunato, whimpering as you helplessly watch your tomb being sealed.

And that jolly romp lead to I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream, featuring a cast of characters with deep psychological flaws being tormented by malevolent supercomputer with a burning hatred for humanity. The object of each scenario is to confront the fact that your character is a horrible person and attempt to redeem them. But thanks to the supercomputer's machinations, the closest thing to winning is to 'lose well,' to die at the exact moment you reclaim your humanity.

So you could say I rode the express train to Bleaksville by the end. Pretty invigorating, really. Encountering a game that isn't obligated to make you feel comfortable or shower you with praise is a breath of fresh air. Granted, there is a whiff of grave dirt and misery, but the change is welcome. I mean, since day one games have operated on stringing the player along with treats like high scores, plot exposition, and the venerable bright lights and loud noises. This usually makes the player feel like they're King Bigdick the Badass.

"Well of course, you gin-soaked cretin," you would say. "That's the point of a game: rewards and escapism! No one wants to play a game that punishes and upsets them! They'd rather hammer nails into their urethra!" And you'd be right. Hell, some of my favorite games involve the screen exploding into multi-colored eye-rape (i.e., shoot-'em ups and modern puzzle games).

Goodness knows it's a scheme has worked for years. But there seem to be signs that game makers are starting to chafe at the idea that games necessarily have to be a series of pats on the back. They've all heard that horrible 'A' word and want to make 'interactive experiences' now, and they're wising up to how limited the "Great job for intersecting your vectors with that polygonal solid!" setup is.

I think horror games set off in the right direction, in the sense that they delight in messing with the player's emotions. Good horror games don't have any qualms about fucking with your head. Those good old fashioned gut reactions make for great gaming experiences. However, you'll notice that all the manipulation and mind games are still reined in by the classic setup. You complete a goal, you get a treat, in this case the treat is usually a carefully rationed bit of exposition.

But what element is being reined in, exactly? Shit, I don't know. A wave of games like I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream. Downer games. Anti-rewards. Games that are less concerned with giving you an audio-visual hand job, and more concerned with getting a response out of you, good or bad. I've seen the good side of it a lot, but where the hell has the bad gone? A downer ending doesn't always have to mean that the player failed. Look at the proper endings for Shadow Hearts and Shadow Hearts: Covenant.

I do think that we're getting closer to that point where we can start dealing with uncomfortable subjects with some subtlety. Right now the craft is still a bumbling infant, a toddler at best. There's ham fisted gore, pseudo-intellectualism, 'freedom of choice' that is anything but, puerile attitudes to women and sex, it's a laundry list of failures big and small. The thing is though, is that they're getting better with each experiment. A few more cycles, and they'll get the hang of it, at least I hope.

I liken it to a new technology, as bad of a simile that is. Every time a new technology is introduced to gaming, it's used with shameless abandon, with no regard to subtlety. It's only a cycle or two in that developers really get the hang of things and start to make decent, if not good content. And as the audience grows, so will its capacity to digest this content.

But why has writing in particular been such a miserable bitch to master for video game makers? Mainly because writing is a miserable bitch to master in general. But then you've got additional obstacles. The tradition of showering the player with rewards, the player's ability to murder your narrative in cold blood, gamers being fickle douches--

It's like crawling on broken glass, writing for an audience that's been conditioned to expect happy endings that tie up the loose ends. But again, that's okay. Habits can be broken. Think of it as learning to finish all your vegetables. I look forward to the day when it finally clicks for game makers out there. It'll be like that joyful day when I first saw colored lighting that didn't make me gouge out my eyes. Article Permalink



Decide Weapons

[Supple Think]

...and luck

© Supple Think. Powered by Blogger.