I finally got around to installing Dragon Age: Origins over the weekend. I just kept putting it off because personal projects and a lot of other good games were vying for my meagre discretionary time outside of day-to-day work. I loved the look of the game and found the first few hours of game play absolutely enthralling as I made various choices, both moral and banal, to advance the story and determine how my character treated other people.
My room-mate was playing the game too, and her character was much more aggressive and short with various non-player characters in the game so that the attitude of how her character interacted with the world was far different from mine.
And on Sunday evening, just as I am really getting in to the game, and moving towards the “big ritual” I rage-quit during a cinematic.
Yep, I rage-quit a single player game.
This isn’t the first single player game I have rage-quit during a cinematic. Probably my first ever was Half-Life, during the opening sequence that cannot be skipped, that sets up the story, because I have no interest in watching some film school drop-out put his boring ass, directorial debut in to my video game. I took that one back to EB, and when they wouldn’t take it back I left the box on the counter and did a charge back on my credit card.
I don’t play games, emphasis on “play”, to be a passive, non-participant sat docilely at my computer whilst a non-interactive movie plays in the background.
For Modern Warfare 2, from reading the forums before purchase, I understood you could not skip the various movies that play until you had watched them at least once (three times because the stupid game is so prone to crashing on many systems that it doesn’t save your progress).
Ten minutes with a dis-assembler and some NOP instructions took care of that nonsense.
Now I get to play MW2 with no more stupid cinematic sequences along the lines of: “I’m your archetype, gruff voiced Special Forces General here to tell you all about what you need to do. You’re going in there and you’re going to shoot people. And then you’re going to shoot more people. And after that, I’ll ask you to indiscriminately shoot more people. Why? Because it’s an FPS son and that’s what we do. We shoot people.”
If your story/plot/cinematic for an FPS is any longer or contains any more exposition than that, you are seriously fucking over-thinking it.
I don’t need exposition and plot to play Pacman, or Space Invaders, or Tetris.
I don’t need that crap in an FPS either.
Yeah, yeah, very pretty story, bad guys need killing, what was my role again? Oh yeah, I shoot people in interesting ways with high powered semi-automatic weapons whilst running around hallways.
You think the people playing the multi-player version of MW2 give a shit about why they are killing the other players or require ten minutes of exposition on who screwed who?
Nobody cares if they are good or bad. Black, white or yellow. American or Russian or British. My role and your role, in an FPS game, is to kill stuff. Just tell me what needs to be eradicated and give me enough bullets to do the job properly.
But Dragon Age? Ah, that’s a different beast. The cinematic sequences advance the story and are tightly woven in to your decisions. You are presented, at every step, with moral choices that need to be made that shape your character, that determine how the story proceeds, to some degree at least within the confines of what is possible in a badly written branching plotline that ultimately has to be quite linear.
I quit the game, and have no intention of ever returning to it, over a moral choice.
I quit the game because when presented with a moral dilemma. I made a choice that was congruent with my character in the game, with how I wanted to interact with the world. I made a conscious choice to stop the game at that point and effectively initiate permanent character death. I made a moral choice, from the perspective of the game, and the only one I could make. Yes or no? Black or white? Good or bad? Justice or injustice? I chose “No.” I chose “justice.”
My character fought alongside three brave companions. We went in to the wilds together. We slew many beasts and foul creatures together. We gathered the necessary items for the handful of quests laid before us. I was their leader. I made the choices of whether to abandon an injured companion that was slowing me down or heal that person with the rare herbs and poultices available to us. When done with our quests, we all hurried back to town to take part in the secretive joining ritual to become one of the Grey Wardens. The ritual is so secretive they don’t tell you there is a high probability, in this case, 33%, that you could die during it. And they also don’t tell you that after you have been informed you have a high probability of dying, that should you then refuse the ritual, you will be killed.
One of my companions died after ingesting the poisonous blood that is to be drunk during the ritual, and my “trusted leader” stepped over his corpse as it fell, less concerned with his death than if he were a piece of damaged property that was no longer useful.
When my other companion protested this, and fear showed in his eyes, a seasoned knight of battle with a wife and child, our leader gutted him with no more thought than if he were practising his knife skills against a wicker and straw target.
I was bade to drink the poisonous blood that had already killed one of my companions, and as the cinematic began to play. I pressed ALT+F4 and said to myself “No. Here I make a moral choice. Here I change the story. Here is where I draw a line in the dirt. Here I say this is my decision. I will not join a regime, one that proclaims so much goodness against so much evil, that wants to bring justice to everyone, when it conducts such injustices against innocents itself. I raise my blade, and on this spot I will die, but I will die knowing that I stood for what is right and proper, and not because it was convenient.”
When you present someone with moral choices, and put the hype and spin on how wonderful your game is in how those choices can shape and alter the character and the story, but are so lazy that when the choices, for the player, become difficult, and it comes down to “enjoyment of the game” versus “the right thing to do” after preaching “the right thing” for so many hours, you break my suspension of disbelief. You break it so solidly that I have no interest in continuing to hear what you have to say no matter how entertaining you believe it may be.
Some people will overlook the problem, and go on to enjoy it. But if you, as the game designer, find the adulation of the crowd for a flawed product satisfying, perhaps you should consider a new vocation.
In fiction or game design, your world should be consistent and suspend disbelief. If it is not and does not, you are just a lazy hack whose frequent recourse to exploit deus ex machina is laughable. This “device” wasn’t interesting in Greek literature and plays, it is even less so in modern fiction. Fiction which also includes the “detailed and intricate plots” (I find this statement so laughable when I read it on the back of game boxes) found in games.
“Because I said so” makes for a very unsatisfying advancement to the plot. It is, as my old creative writing professor clearly stated, “the hallmark of a lazy hack who will be lauded for his cleverness by the common sheep who bleat because they know no better.”
“But dude, it’s just a game!”
No. It is “entertainment” and all good forms of entertainment, to be successful, to be interesting, to be enjoyable, must adhere to certain inviolable tenets. Anybody who consistently disregards these tenets is forever doomed to remain a “lazy hack.”
It seems, that after reading through the entire plot tree for Dragon Age : Origins, helpfully published online, I can unequivocally state that I would not have enjoyed the game for it’s story. As Dragon Age : Origins is supposedly all about the story, it would have been a frustrating experience to say the least. Glancing at the plot tree there are several “deus ex machina/because I said so” places that do not leave you with any choice but to go along for the ride.
Thing is, I don’t play video games “to go along for the ride.” I play video games to have an interactive experience where I make the choices. If all I want to do is ride, I can visit Disneyland or Universal Studios and be bored to tears because those places are stocked full of non-interactive “because I said so” rides.
Dragon Age : Origins – Enjoyed by sheep.