You Did WHAT for Ten Hours?

Just a quickie this time, okay? So, I was sitting here, reading some articles, getting ready to play my before-bed Ildefonse, when I was struck by the strangest of thoughts. First, a little background.

I listen to a lot of reviews on-line and read my fair share, as well, so I get to hear a lot about set-piece events. However, oddly enough, they’re correlated with games that are sometimes described as being forgettable. Not the game itself, mind, but the game-play. Gears of War. Halo. More recently, Ryse. These are THE Xbox franchises, of course, so they get a lot of press, but that’s not the reason they’re popular. They’re polished to a mirror’s reflection, and they play very well. So, why would people be describing the game-play as forgettable? Why would anyone have trouble remembering epic moments like the pitched battles in Halo or whatever happened in Gears of War 2?

I’m sure this isn’t universal. Like I said, it was a mere correlation, but what if there’s something there? Even if you didn’t read my previous rant on sequels, you probably already know that movies and games engage in very different ways. You watch movies. You play, you interact with, games. In essence, you are projecting yourself into the game world. When you’re playing a game like Far Cry 3, you’re actively listening to the jungle and trying to figure out the best plan of attack. Assassin’s Creed is full of dynamic escapes and brilliant, sometimes sloppy, kills. Super Meat Boy takes the full engagement of your platforming spirit and reflexes to conquer. In all of these cases, you have to actively figure out what to do next. Where to go. How to deal with the present environment. How do set-pieces measure up?

They’re directed moments of game-play that are often quite epic, so, they’re not totally mind-binned. I vaguely remember the giant pitched tank battle from CoD2 and the scarab fight from Halo 3. The scarab fight more, because I spent a good deal of time trying to figure out how I could get on top of it to go for a ride, then extract its cannon for my personal use. The CoD2 tank fight comes to mind quite easily, but I don’t remember what I did. I just recall that there were lots of tanks and that I won. It was epic; shouldn’t I remember more?

It could be that these set-piece battles are a little too much like watching something. It’s pretty easy to figure out what you have to do, even if the game doesn’t wrestle the camera away from you. Often, they involve large events and scripted scenes, but you’re not at the dynamic heart of them. Yeah, I zen-out while I’m picking in Minecraft, but I remember many of those torch-lit dives into the earth. There, I am the earth-mover and the world-shaker. So, can you make set-pieces engaging? I absolutely believe so. Even though they’re scripted, they can still be dynamic, especially if that script remains true to the core engagement of the game. Hell, Heavy Rain is almost entirely scripted, but I still remember that quite well. Clock Tower 2 has moments that, years later, are still riveted in my memory.

I guess, at the very heart of it, it’s neurological. New memories are easier to create when you have to think about what you’re doing. This is something akin to depth-of-processing, and it’s why you should always do your homework. Most heavily scripted sequences are familiar to players or don’t require you to think, so you just fall into a routine. Perhaps, the familiar sequences are all just running together. I’m sure there are a hundred other Minecraft tunnels I don’t remember, because I didn’t do any thinking while I clunked through the stone. Still, memory is a tricky bugger, so take this with a grain of salt.

Even so, I’m quite sure that the most memorable games, the ones that we’ll vividly remember years later, will be the ones that challenge us to think. To solve a problem. To consider a philosophy. To fend off an encroaching army of Shoggoths with only a year remaining. But, I don’t WANT to be King!

Sorry, Fable-Flashbacks.

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