Your Obedient Serpent (athelind) wrote,
Your Obedient Serpent

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The Hoard Potato: If the game doesn't need me, I'll be over here.

Every so often, people will ask me why I have no interest in video and computer games, or insist that I'd like some game or another, if I "just gave it a try". I'm going to try to respond to that. I will try very hard to explain why these games don't hold any appeal for me, without trying to make it sound like you're wrong for enjoying them. It's a hard balance to maintain, so please grant me your pardon in advance if I cross the line.

For the last few days, bradhicks has veered away from his usual political insights to discuss the recent overhaul of City of Heroes/City of Villains.

Please understand, I'm a die-hard superhero fan. It's my genre. If any MMORPG should be able to get my attention, it's this one. The game mechanics sound well-considered, the visuals are impressive...

...and I just have no interest in it. It's the usual rounds of pointless combat and trivial errands that, near as I can tell, characterize pretty much the whole computer "RPG" genre. I guess it's not for me.

Today, Mr. Hicks waxed enthusiastic about "Epic Archetype Story Arcs". In CoX, if you have a certain character class, you get to experience specific adventures that give more detail to the ongoing storyline.

As far as I can tell, though, that storyline plays out the same way no matter what you do, so long as you "succeed". If you don't "succeed" by the set victory conditions... you keep trying until you get it "right". If you don't play at all... it still goes on, as if you had.

I've seen people "play" World of Warcraft by setting their character up in a situation requiring a sequence of rote, repetitive movements, putting a book on the keyboard so the key keeps pressing, and walking away. To me, that captures the essence of the whole process.

I... just don't see the appeal. If the story plays out pretty much the same way no matter who's involved, does it really need me to play it?

Maybe it's not that I "don't get" these newfangled video games. Maybe it's that I don't recognize this as play -- but I don't recognize it as story, either.

For me, "story" is something you observe; "play" is something you do. Role-Playing, for me, has to be a creative act; I have to feel that my presence, playing my character, has generated a story that would not have existed without my participation.

Wandering through toy stores over the years, I've noticed that, the more features and gimmicks a toy has, the less actual participation they require from the child. They aren't designed for kids to play with so much as to have kids push a button and watch the toys play for them.*

It's the same with tabletop game settings like the old World of Darkness, where there's a big, official Story Arc that overwhelmed the whole milieu. If your gaming group relied heavily on stock adventures, then, ultimately, your actions as individual PCs didn't matter much at all -- you either got to be one small cog in the Big NPC Machinery, or you were Out Of The Loop.

The illusion of participation that's the core of most computer games is a big dose of cognitive dissonance for me. If I want to watch someone else's story unfold, I'm happy enough to open up a book or a comic or turn on the TV. If I play, I want to engage my imagination. I want to know that the game has turned out differently because of my participation. If I'm trying to immerse myself in a story, I don't want to be pestered to "interact" with a bunch of predetermined options; it breaks the narrative flow.

So, really. It's not you. It's me.


* Kids being kids, they're sure to find their own uses for things. ("You're playing it wrong!") Still, I think the expectation still bleeds through.
Tags: game design, hoard potato, rpg

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