Monday, 23 September 2013

Interactivity is a merit on it's own.

People often have this obsession with having games re-made as films, or argue that a game would have been better off in another medium.

In example, I've just read this comment on Kotaku relating to an article about the game Journey;

"Journey was pretty good, but I don't really see why it couldn't have been an actual animated feature instead.
Like, my input into the narrative seemed trivial at best."

The interactivity was a massive part of making Journey as special as it is.
Were watching a film, two characters cheeping at each other and you not having any clue what either was saying wouldn't be that entertaining.
They would either have to give a voice and dialogue to one of the characters or make the cheeps more varied and emotional in tone so that you could get the gist of the conversation similar to WALL-E's robotic protagonists.
Everybody that plays the game has a different experience, despite the narrative events that take place in the game staying relatively the same.
Ahead are minor spoilers for Journey, and major spoilers for The Last of Us.

Ye have been warned.

I've played through Journey and found people I didn't like and abandoned, I've found others I've liked and wanted to stay with.
On my friend Alison's first play through the person she met drew hearts in the sand for her, which is something I've never seen anybody do in multiple play-through's and it's stuck with her constantly ever since.

The fact that you are put with another person and given only the most base form of communication makes the relationships very primal in nature.
It essentially comes down to a gut feeling, where the thing you feel about the relationship may not be the same thing received on the other end.
But that allows those feelings to stay pure and uninterrupted.

You can play through part of the game with somebody you really like only for them to disappear.
To you it's a sad tale of loss, where you and your close friend were separated and were forced to finish your journeys alone.
To them it could be the story of how they finally got away from that annoying prick that wouldn't stop following them.

On top of that, Journey by nature is a game about exploring.
Despite having a very straightforward linear progression, the areas are big and full of things to discover.
Almost everybody who plays the game will inevitably deviate from the path and go to see what else they can find hidden in the desert, and when they come across something they feel like they have accomplished something.
There's also the possibility that somebody else will lead you to something you would otherwise never known was there, which again leads to a very personal reaction.
Most people find it amazing and cool and look up to this person, it makes them more fond of this person just like in the video.
Other people get frustrated because they want to find the secrets on their own and it makes them dislike the person.

Despite the progression of the narrative being a linear thing in Journey, it is certainly not a linear game.
Interactivity is core to the very heart of the experience, and taking the players control out of in in favour of showing somebody the game, even unedited or otherwise, would be massively detrimental to the experience people had playing it.

This is very similar to a debate I was in with another person who argued The Last of Us would be better off as a film.
To even make that claim is practically insanity to my eyes!

Disregarding the obvious fact that The Last of Us is on average a 14 hour play-through on the first go and would need to be cut down to about 2 hours for a film, people seem to lack the ability to realise that despite the narrative not changing in any meaningful way due to your input, the interactivity is still a vital aspect to the effect the game has.

Interacting directly with the characters in a game helps us to feel closer to them.
Ever time you see the option to join in with a conversation, it is you deciding to interact with Ellie or Tess or any of the other characters you come across.

When Ellie holds her hand up for a high five, you can oblige her or you can walk right past her and each leads to a different response that helps illustrate both Ellie's character and the relationship that is growing between her and Joel.

It's an event that could take place in another medium like film or television, but it's one that games can uniquely credit to the audience.
Those few seconds, that small interaction's outcome is down to the player, and though it may not be a massive world changing pivotal plot point like you would find in Mass Effect or The Walking Dead, it is still enough to make your relationship with Ellie and Joel feel much more personal than if we had no input at that time.

Similarly, there is the moment just before the Winter section of the game where Joel is gravely wounded and has to work his way back to Callus the horse.
You're input in that section doesn't change the outcome, you either make it or you don't and you have to try it again.
It is a scene that could play out in another medium and I have no doubt would be just as gripping as it was in the game.
But it would also be lacking in the connection, in the struggle.

It is persistently shown that Joel is a man who pushes through the lows in his life.
When there is trouble of any kind ahead, he does whatever is necessary to get through it and then leaves it in the past. He survived the death of his daughter Sarah and later on the death of Tess, Sam and Henry only to shun them and, for a long time, avoid any topic that might make him dwell on his losses any more than he already does.

During this scene, the player essentially acts as Joel's will to survive.
His fighting spirit that has kept him alive so long in the tortured existence he inhabits.
If the player doesn't pick up the controller and tell Joel to move on forwards he succumbs, and though he falls and struggles to follow your instructions he persists so long as you continue to push him.

Naughty Dog's previous game, Uncharted 3, had a very similar moment where you have to push Nathan Drake to carry on walking through the desert he has been stranded in.
At multiple points he will collapse and say he wants to give in, until the player pushes forward on their analogue stick at which point he will struggle to his feet again and carry on moving.
This scene even includes a number of fading transitions, where the player leaves Nate stumbling through the desert only to return to him crouched on the ground wanting to give in.
Almost as though the player is checking in on an old clock that needs it's pendulum set to carry on counting the seconds.

Every medium has its own benefits and many elements that it shares with other mediums, video games are no exception.
The thing that makes all games special is their interactivity, and even if that doesn't necessarily effect the narrative, it doesn't mean it effects a persons perception of the narrative.
For good or bad, there are a lot of ways gameplay can alter a persons perception of a game, and that is not something to be overlooked during conversations about translating games to different media.

Just as a Lovecraft story will always be better as a book rather than any visual medium, some video games will always be better exactly as that.
Video games.
So maybe it's time to stop thinking about how we can convert games to other mediums directly and instead think about how we can create something that does justice to the ideas behind the source material.

I would rather see a film that tells a story with a different take on the ideas behind The Last of Us or Journey than a film that fails at recreating something that has already been done better than any film could accomplish.


James Lackey said...

Truly an incredible narrative. Thank you for such a sweet tutorial - all this time later, I've found it and love the end result. I appreciate the time you spent sharing your skills.Just as a Lovecraft story will always be better as a book rather than any visual medium, some video games will always be better exactly as that. see here.

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