INSIDE: THE PROBLEM OF PLAYER-CHARACTER DEATHS

In an article about the problem gamic narratives face in representation of death, Jason Tocci writes:

“Here, the object of analysis is not the characters the player kills, but the death of the player’s own character. Death is considered here not as morally problematic or dangerous to audiences, but as an unnecessary narrative disruption due to the typical game structure of trial-and-error, die-and-retry. Video games may be the only narrative medium in which the death of the protagonist isn’t just devoid of drama, but is entirely routine. If players have any emotional reaction, it is usually frustration rather than reflection”

Tocci, I think, raises the issue of playability and narrative thrust/effectiveness. The question becomes: how can I make a playable/entertaining game that, in the case its developers craft it to have a compelling narrative, still renders the player-character’s deaths into meaningful, authentic moments?

Experiments with bombs take place in the background. The force of the explosion causes the boy’s body to be flung like a ragdoll. It’s gruesome, to say the least.

There is this simple fact: death loses its gravitas, its solemnity, when it comes packaged with a quick restart. Even when the punishment for dying is severe (a loss of all of your accumulated gear a la Runescape, or a loss of all of your souls a la Dark Souls), the emotions felt by the player often amount to frustration. It does not feel like a death; it is seemingly impossible to generate the affect of filmic or novelistic narratives. Tocci does allude to the famous Final Fantasy VII death scene. While this sequence proverbially tugs at the player’s heartstrings, the problem remains that, assuming the player has failed previously, those deaths still has not meant much to player other than as a source of frustration. Certain deaths are given more weight than others, but the ones that matter appear to be those the developer has control over. But if you make the game too easy so that the player does not experience an ‘unemotional’ or trivialized death, would the game be any fun?

While I did not find this article prior to writing my close play of Inside, I believe my paper provides an example of a game that works to infuse death with player pain. Inside, despite its trial-and-error mechanic, subverts the trivialization of death, countering the problem Tocci finds in many games. I won’t go into detail explaining how Playdead imbues affect and genuine suffering in their player-character’s deaths as I have already done that in my close play. But even in the case of Inside, if the player dies enough, he/she–I imagine–beings to be desensitized with the protagonist’s deaths. I end my post here still pondering what the best balance is.

A particularly frustrating sequence where a devilish aquatic gremlin killed me numerous times. Frustration definitely trumped any connection I had to the character.

Work Cited:

Tocci, Jason. “You Are Dead. Continue?”: Conflicts and Complements in Game Rules and Fiction.” Eludamos. Journal for Computer Game Culture, 2008, www.eludamos.org/index.php/eludamos/article/view/43/81

 

Source: INSIDE: THE PROBLEM OF PLAYER-CHARACTER DEATHS

INSIDE: CONTROL AS RESPONSIBLITY

Inside is a fitting title for a game with such a focus on the diegetic world. The game does not employ a narrator, nor does it furnish the player with instructions. As I averred in my first game log, Inside eschews anything extra-diegetic (excluding, the menu and sparse audio) that could divert the player’s attention from the gamic world. To use one of Alexander Galloway’s terms, Inside flourishes because of how much weight it places on “diegetic operator acts.” This notion of a player’s control plays into a theme of the game: the loss of individual agency in a state led by a militant, malevolent force (the black, white, and red color scheme are, to me, an allusion to the Nazis and to Schindler’s List).

A ravenous canine chomps away at the protagonist’s neck. Shifting to a diegetic machine act, the player, without the ability to skip, must watch the gruesome scene.

Encountered in select places, a brain-control device hangs. The player can attach the boy’s head to the device, endowing him with the ability to control nearby husks (humans that cannot do anything without someone attached to the aforementioned device). When the player, for example, presses the right arrow key, the boy, legs dangling and head connected to the apparatus, moves his legs as if he were walking right; the husk actually walks to the right. Here, there are levels to this control: the player-operator inputs the command for the boy to move right, and by doing so, sets off a command chain that results in the husk’s movement. This moment bespeaks the relationship between the protagonist and the gamer: we are controlling the boy, a husk that needs a player to animate him.

The mind control apparatus that the player must use to progress through the game.

Yet, while the power dynamic appears in favor of the player, one should not forget that the husks allow for the boy to progress: they are necessary for his salvation. Now, as players, our lives are obviously not dependent on this child. Nevertheless, we cannot gain access into the game without the child; our experience hinges on his survival. To me, this reads as quite selfish and returns me to the game’s theme of control. I ended my first game log on the thought that the player feels responsible for every time the protagonist dies. While I have not finished the game, I find it interesting that the boy’s survival depends on how well we can control him. Perhaps, this is a metaphor for the great influence we have on others’ lives.

Copy the husks or be killed. The player, while still in control, must act according to the others.

Source: INSIDE: CONTROL AS RESPONSIBLITY

INSIDE: THE GAMER, ALONE WITH THE WORLD

The myriad mounds of pig carcasses–a leitmotif of death–can be seen on the left of the picture. Furthermore, the picture captures the color palette well; it’s not vibrant, obviously.

Inside begins in medias res: all the player knows is that he/she controls a boy in a red shirt who must flee from masked men with guns. From its limited color palette (almost completely and deliberately, monochromatic) to its absence of a narrator and dialogue, the game looks and feels sparse. Nothing extra-diegetic invades or frames the world of Inside; the player, dropped into the world sans instructions or an explicitly established objective, simply plays and experiences the game, slowly immersing him/herself in Inside’s rawness. When I characterize the game as raw, I intend to convey how strikingly the developers have depicted the preponderance and iniquity of death as juxtaposed to the sanctity of life. Chilling and unnerving, gray, dull pig carcasses stacked in heaps serve as a leitmotif, a recurring image of death that populates the already desolate and dark landscapes. But in opposition to the image of death, little bright yellow chicks come and go, following the protagonist around, chirping away. In a world washed in black and gray, the golden animals counteract the great many images of memento mori.

A striking moment where light illumines the otherwise bleak world. Of course, the flock of chicks are following the leader/protagonist.

 

As the chicks must be utilized so as to solve puzzles, they function as a way to keep the protagonist alive; they are life-giving and precious–necessary even, to the completion of the game. This notion of the preciousness of life pervades the protagonist’s every action, from his sonorous steps to his fearful breathing. As the player, the individual who controls and dictates the protagonist’s life, you feel responsible for this apocryphal boy. There is no music to distance the player from the character: you are with him, hearing only what he can hear. This proximity or intimacy makes failure even more significant. The responsive controls cease to function when a bullet pierces the boy’s chest. The child’s death can be felt at the player’s fingertips. And he/she–the player– is the one at fault, the one who has caused the demise of life in a world so bereft of hope as it is.

The colossal weeds dwarf the boy protagonist. How vulnerable and small he must feel in this world.

 

Source: INSIDE: THE GAMER, ALONE WITH THE WORLD