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.
While playing Portal an interesting thought came to mind. I have a tool which allows me to bend space-time, yet I can’t make a whole THROUGH a wall. That’s a pretty useless space-time-manipulation-tool if I’ve ever used one. But then another, even more interesting thought came to mind. That’s the point! It’s a useless tool. … Continue reading ““The Gun Is a Lie” -MIsHOS”
While playing Portal an interesting thought came to mind. I have a tool which allows me to bend space-time, yet I can’t make a whole THROUGH a wall. That’s a pretty useless space-time-manipulation-tool if I’ve ever used one. But then another, even more interesting thought came to mind. That’s the point! It’s a useless tool. A lie. Just like the cake. However there’s one difference, the cake is a much more overt lie. The player is hardly fooled by the cake as incentive, especially since it’s a virtual cake which has no means of actually rewarding the player. The gun on the other hand is the obscure lie, the one we’re not supposed to notice, the one that’s meant to fool the player. Why it’s hard to notice the gun’s shortcomings is because unlike the cake, the gun is rewarding to the player. The gun is able to induce all sorts of good Ilinx and Agon feelings and its successful use is addicting. The player is awed and distracted by the gun’s pleasurable aspects that its confining nature remains subverted. Its confining nature being that its a tool that behaves in an entirely linear manner, within a set of rules, dictated by the authority of your circumstances, GLaDOS. This in turn spawned another interesting thought.
What if that’s the reason behind Portal’s widespread appeal? Its relatability, and more importantly its optimism (more on optimism in finale). Our lives are very linear in a number of ways, and in many circumstances we feel impotent and incapable of controlling aspects of our society, and even our own lives. We have our own tools which many times seem to act within the confines of the choices of a higher authority. A simple example (out of many) would be the illusion of choice in voting. It makes sense that due to the constant limitations we feel in our daily lives, that literally being put in a linear confined testing center, we don’t really feel too far from home. But more interestingly, is the optimistic aspect of Portal, which is what makes the entire experience a pleasure.
Chell is about to be incinerated, and the player must use their wits to escape imminent doom. The only available tool is as described earlier, good at bending time-space, but not so good at bending rules. However, with the now obvious realization that GLaDOS has cheated, the player can break rules as well. Grabbing life by the reins, the player is now liberated from rules, and the gun becomes actually useful to the player’s endeavor. In fact, only at this point of realization does the tool actually become the player’s, up until then, it was a tool of the system. Relating this back to the parallel to our own lives, only once a person becomes aware of their social limitations, are they actually able to break free from them. This awareness of one’s own circumstance and life is a necessary step for progress, and it is perfectly simulated in Portal, where the player uses their meta-awareness to save Chell’s life. For this reason, Portal is clearly not just a puzzle game, but a relatable experience with a (somewhat) happy ending.