In his article, “Genre Trouble,” Espen Aarseth argues that games “focus on self-mastery and exploration of the external world, not exploration of interpersonal relationships.” He makes exceptions for multi-player games and those where the player is god-like. However, Dragon Age: Origins falls into neither of these, but defies the second part of Aarseth’s claim, for…
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In his article, “Genre Trouble,” Espen Aarseth argues that games “focus on self-mastery and exploration of the external world, not exploration of interpersonal relationships.” He makes exceptions for multi-player games and those where the player is god-like. However, Dragon Age: Origins falls into neither of these, but defies the second part of Aarseth’s claim, for interpersonal relationships play a key role in the progress of the game.
Players can converse with their companions (and anyone they meet) at will, and those conversations change and develop as the game progresses. Companions gain approval when the player make decisions they agree with, and disapproval when they disagree with the player’s actions. As a result, they either open up to the player, or shut them out. If a player gains high enough approval, they can unlock the companion’s personal quests, providing them with more gameplay material. If their approval falls too low however, the companion may opt to leave the party and the player loses them forever. While the player can monitor approval (and thus avoid these options) certain decisions automatically cause a companion to leave. In other words, companions act as independent people, with their own opinions and actions.
Depending on the answer the player chooses, the character will react differently.
Additionally, one of the companion’s key roles is how their presence alters the options of gameplay. For example, when in the village of Lothering, if the player tries to free an imprisoned man without high enough persuasion, the woman in charge will refuse, and thus he cannot be unlocked as a companion. However, if you happen to bring along Leliana (another companion), the player automatically gets permission to free the man.
The imprisoned man can only be released from the cage (and join the party) if certain decisions are made.
Aarseth would likely argue that these moments fall more under film, rather than his notion of “simulation” which makes games different from other media. Yet, during these “cut-scenes,” the player still gets to choose dialogue options, which the companions then react to accordingly. The player simulates speaking. Granted, Aarseth wrote his article several years before Dragon Age: Origins, and other games like it had hit the shelves. Back then the capacity of choice in games was usually limited to “yes” and “no” answers for accepting quests, or featured dialogue answers that had no real effect on the characters spoken to. However, nowadays, his argument no longer stands as games like Dragon Age, Skyrim, and others have shown.
As Kline describes in Digital Play, video games originated as “the play of an overwhelmingly masculine world, centered around themes of abstract puzzle solving, exploration, sport, and centrally, war” (107). He lists activities that society generally associates with men, and thus, makes the playing of video games a masculine activity. Portal subverts the notion of…
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As Kline describes in Digital Play, video games originated as “the play of an overwhelmingly masculine world, centered around themes of abstract puzzle solving, exploration, sport, and centrally, war” (107). He lists activities that society generally associates with men, and thus, makes the playing of video games a masculine activity. Portal subverts the notion of a gaming community meant for men by manipulating first-person identification.
In film, the viewer identifies with the camera and the perspective it shows, as though the camera itself acts as a character, that character being ourselves. Similarly, in video games that use a first-person perspective, the player identifies with the character they play. Since society takes video games as a male-dominated space, men generally assume companies make games for them, thus, in most first-person games, the player plays as a man. For examples, think Call of Duty and Bioshock. (I literally Googled “first person shooter male protagonist” and got a list of games that have female protagonists, which tells you how much male protagonists dominate the field.) Now, Portal complicates that identification by making the player-character, Chell, a woman. However, the player does not even see Chell throughout the game unless they go looking for her. Since the game lacks mirrors, the player must take advantage of the portals and fire them in such a way that they can look through one and see Chell. Otherwise, one could play through the entire game and not realize her identity, since there is no other indication of her gender. I think it likely came as quite a shock to male and female gamers alike that the character they were playing was, in fact, a woman.
The first-person perspective also prevents player’s from turning Chell, as a female character, into a sexual object. In third-person perspective games, while the player identifies with the player-character, there is a separation between them, as the player watches them, rather than seeing through their eyes. Hence, female characters from those types of games, like Lara Croft, often get objectified and sexualized. Objectifying or sexualizing Chell is incredibly difficult though, because the player is constantly seeing through her eyes. In order to sexualize her, the player must also, in a sense, sexualize themself. Additionally, Chell’s outfit prevents this sexualization because it covers most of her body, and makes her chest flat. It’s through the first-person viewpoint that Portal manages to subvert the first-person shooter genre, by removing the typical male protagonists.