Extra Punctuation

Extra Punctuation
Complacency in Storytelling

Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw | 26 Nov 2013 12:00
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One of the problems with triple-A games I've noticed lately is that they seem to be making an awful lot of assumptions about their audience. It could be a sign of complacency on the part of these creatively bankrupt bastards with too much money that games haven't felt the need to fill in a great many blanks.

This occurred to me as I tried to imagine if Call of Duty: Ghosts would be any less sickening when you subtracted the nationalistic elements from it. A difficult task, because even the title, Call of Duty, has connotations of mindless unquestioning devotion to a country. 'Duty' is one of those words that I group with 'faith': often called upon by authority figures as a substitute for having to persuade with actual reason and logic.

The game's position seems to be that all it needs to do is say that the US is being attacked, and then proceeds with the assumption that you're on board. It doesn't have to establish or build upon anything else, just spend the rest of the time showing off military hardware and going into slow motion every time a building collapses. So if you take out the context attached to the real-world nations involved, all you have left is weapon porn. The few characters in the game that have actual names and speaking roles are all blank ciphers, each with virtually the same physical appearance and genetics and no apparent motivation in life except to do what they've been told to do as melodramatically as possible.

The 'realistic' part of the 'realistic war game' designation is now being played so fast and loose that the games might as well be taking place in a fantasy realm or science fiction future, with all the country names changed to made-up ones. And I'm basically describing Killzone, there, aren't I. Ostensibly a series about a war between the 'Vektans' and the 'Helghast', but the merest of cursory glances identifies them as Americans and Nazis, respectively. And the plot still leaves a bad taste in my mouth, because I read a summary of the Killzone series, and going just from the backstory, I would honestly have assumed that the Helghast were supposed to be the underdog heroes. The running theme is that they get routinely fucked over by the Vektan authorities and we're supposed to hate them for making an issue of it.

Believe it or not, my point is not whether or not the alleged good guys have a claim to the moral high ground. My point is that it's a growing trend that new games can't even be bothered to try to convince you that they do, and simply sweep forward, without glancing backward to make sure you're keeping up. Games are not waiting for the player anymore. It used to be merely that games felt overly linear and that they were pulling the player on a length of rope through a sequence of challenges and set pieces, like a cartoon character being hauled through the workings of a clock. But now, it's almost as if the player has been roped to the game without the game's knowledge, and the game is simply proceeding forwards, oblivious. Sometimes it pauses as the player becomes momentarily caught on something, but then it just gives an extra-strong push and continues. Let me know if I'm not explaining this well.

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