Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Life-Taking Horrors and Dog Shit

Gaming is a form of escapism - a chance to get away from a not necessarily unhappy but decidedly dull life. Not something to really moan about, but it's either that or you die. You risk your life every time you leave the house. Gap-year students always end up dead somewhere in Cambodia. Sky-diving? Fuck that. Pop down to the shops to get some Frisps? (Do they still make those?) That sounds more like it, but still, there's always the risk of getting run over by a bus. If you don't cross any roads that are on bus-routes, then that particular risk is reduced 100%, but, if you live in the Daily Mail's blinkered view of the world, you could still get stabbed by one of them hoodies what are found on every street corner, injecting heroin into the eyes of innocent children. Nope, stay inside, play games, 'escape' those four walls that keep you safe from the big bad 'outside'. When did anything bad ever happen to someone playing videogames? Can you get thumb-cramp?

The point is videogames are seemingly doing more and more to bring the outside inside without all of the life-taking horrors and dog shit that populate it. But is this a good thing? For instance, a lot of games nowadays seem to give you a very limited amount of weaponry you can hold at any one time, so much so that it seems a rather alien concept for a game to let you carry the arsenal of a small country in your back pocket anymore. The more realistic something is, the better it is, right? What if GTA IV was completely true to life; imagine having to steal a car, and whenever Niko breaks a window with his elbow, he'd be unable to use that arm for about 10 minutes because it caught him right on the funny bone. Imagine if getting arrested meant you'd have to sit through a cut-scene of Niko sleeping in a cell, being taken to court then getting roughly taken from behind in the showers by Big Phil.

Disregarding the fact that, in the Halo games, Master Chief is a super-human and, as well as being able to melee someone while dual-wielding without dropping one of his guns (like a big spaz), he should quite easily be able to carry more than two weapons but doesn't, and it's obvious to see why. When Halo first came along, it brought with it a revolutionary control system that became the unofficial industry standard, and the fact that its weapon management was assigned to a single button was the main reason for this. It liberates the player from having to either scroll through all the weapons they are carrying, or selecting them from a menu. This was often the bane of the average shoot 'em up fan's life; hastily trying to select the right weapon for the job whilst a group of enemies shoot the crap out of you. It also added a little strategy to the game as you had to think about whether the weapon the enemy dropped is worth swapping for one of your weapons, and whether it'll come good in use against possible upcoming enemies. Another thing this does is free up a couple of buttons to be used for other essential tasks and simplifies the control system. This is also quite realistic, as most soldiers in real life only really carry two guns with them; a big one and a little one, e.g. a rifle and a pistol.

It can only be a good thing when a developer takes inspiration from real life to make its game better. There's also the fact that the more realistic a game is – again, take GTA IV as an example – the more satisfying it becomes to do things we'd never do in real life, like go on a high-speed police chase or crash a helicopter into the sea. The better it looks the more immersed you become. But how come the ultra-unrealistic Halo only lets you carry two guns when the ultra-realistic GTA IV lets you carry around 5, as well as a knife or a baseball bat? Niko seems to pull RPG Launchers and the like from out of his kecks! This is all down to ease of play. GTA IV is quite a varied game; whereas one moment could see you having a shoot out with a group of enemies, the next could see you trying to take down a helicopter. You'll forgive this as a minor inconsistency and will thank Rockstar whenever Niko unloads his pocket rocket into the rear-end of someone's chopper.

Realism is arguably at its best when it's mixed with something that is fantastical, impossible or imaginary. One of the biggest reasons why Harry Potter, Star Wars and books or films of their ilk are so successful is because they seem believable. The world of Harry Potter is hidden and runs parallel to ours, so there's an appealing sense that it might be true (even though it definitely isn't). Star Wars felt believable because, Tatooine in particular, felt rustic and lived-in and the Millennium Falcon was falling apart, something that would definitely happen to a space-ship that has been modified illegally time and time again. The same goes for videogames. Mass Effect goes into explicit detail into not only how the human race found the technology to be able to travel to distant galaxies, but it also goes into an almost obscene amount of detail about almost everything in the game from weaponry and space craft, to diplomacy between different space-faring races. There's an underlying sense that if or when the human race is finally able to travel to different galaxies, then Mass Effect is what would probably happen.

And that's what videogames do best. As big a cliché as this next sentence is going to be, it doesn't take anything away from the fact that games do allow you to do anything, possible or impossible, from the comfort of your own home. So let gangsters, criminals, aliens, football players with muddy boots, rock stars, plumbers, bears with birds living out of backpacks, blue hedgehogs, pink echidnas, robots, elves, goblins, wizards and warriors, dragons, eidolons, titans, gods and goddesses, tomb raiders, pirates, ninjas, and gays all into your home. Just make sure that when you do, you're firmly gripping a game controller and that the door is locked. Who knows what could be waiting for you… 'outside'.

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