And Another Thing…

Okay, I realize I’m doing nothing but rhapsodize about video games, but I’m jazzed with adrenalin from playing the end game, and had to take a break before my brain melted, so I went and raked leaves. Which gave me too much time to think, and so I’m inflicting it on you.

Awhile ago, I recall saying that for whatever reason, people will give you more in comic books than they’ll give you in a book. And I wasn’t entirely sure why–part of it’s the visual component, part of it is…I dunno…

I’ll go out and say that people will give you more on a good video game, too.

Ahem. Examples to follow, which include spoilers for–let’s see–Neverwinter Nights 2, Jade Empire, and Shadow of the Colossus, so if you’re planning on getting any of those, I’d sit this one out.

Now, part of this is obvious. A video game is REALLY immersive. It’s all second person. When a character betrays the hero in a book, I go “Bummer,” when a character betrays ME, I shout “YOU BASTARD!” and pound my fist on the keyboard tray/arm of the couch/whatever. (Then I generally laugh, because y’know.)

And–here’s the key bit–this works even though I saw it coming.

Seriously. Chaotic evil ranger, spends the whole time mocking/threatening you, of COURSE he’s going to sell out to the enemy, break the portcullises, and saunter out. (I could wish someone had shown some initiative and fireballed him mid-saunter, but y’know.) If someone did that in a book, I’d call the hero a bloody idiot and throw the book across the room. In a video game…well, see above pounding on keyboard tray. I knew it was going to happen.

In another scene–they really don’t stint on the end game–your estranged foster father, who has been as chilly as a tadpole’s nethers for the entire game, shows up with the metaphorical cavalry and saves your ass. In a game, you cheer. In a comic, I’d cheer. In a book, I’d yell “Do you really think that a handful of freakin’ elven archers makes up for twenty years of lousy parenting!?”

I am, for whatever reason, willing to give a lot more to a comic or a video game. I will accept much more, and I will cheer much more loudly. Maybe it’s because there’s an element of the second person in comics, for whatever peculiar visual reason, that’s really hard to pull into a book. (Choose Your Own Adventure being about as immersive as an injured newt.)

Part of it’s time, too. A book takes me an evening to read. You live with the characters in a video game for thirty, fifty hours sometimes. That’s quite awhile. (Comic books may get this too–you get years while a series goes on, even if an actual comic doesn’t take long to read.) You get attached. You discover how attached you are when the game designers kill ’em off. “AAAGHH! Not Sagacious Zu!” There is more pounding of couch arms.

They don’t even have to have any personality to get attached. Your horse in Shadow of the Colossus is a game mechanic, and often an annoyingly hard-to-direct one. It plummets to its death* on the way to the last battle. I actually cried over that one.

There’s a kind of…something…you get with good video games. A giddy intensity. Adrenalin’s part of it, of course, which is not all that common with books (edge of your seat so rarely is) but there’s emotional attachment…y’know. Sometimes you get it with comics, too. Very rarely do I get it with books, although it’s been known to happen–China Mieville did it to me the first time I read his work.

Tabletop RPGs, of course, you get that all the damn time, if you’ve got a good GM. One of the great advantages of the genre over others. Of course, it’s got all the advantages–it’s immersive, it’s got time on its side, and it’s completely second person. (S’not visual, though. P’raps that’s not as important as I’d think.)

You almost never get that with art. I do occasionally get that making art–the mad, glorious rush of a painting that’s going Really Really Well, which you KNOW will knock ’em dead–that’s pretty close. Which perhaps proves that art really isn’t something you do for other people. I don’t know. The first time I went through a collection of Christensen’s work, I got pretty giddy, but it’s a hard sell.

It all makes me wish I made video games. Of course, that lasts about thirty seconds, because I should have “Does Not Play Well With Others” tattooed across my forehead. (Well, I play fine. I work very badly.) James can sit in an office with twenty people and get a good game out of it–I sit in an office with twenty people and I get an ulcer. And we’re not yet at the point where one person can make a video game on their lonesome, without dedicating their entire existence to it, and…well…y’know. It’s like animation–sure, I’d love to make an animated movie, but it’s not a one-man endeavor done well, and all my endeavors are one-man, because that’s the only way I can manage it.

Oh, well. There’s always comics. And trying to write really good books.

I have no doubt I will keep poking at this idea for several days, but for now…places to go, undead to turn…

*Unless you watch through the whole credits.

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