Monday, 28 April 2014

Editorial - The Power of Games & My First Game Experience

According to my mum, the first time I ever played a game was when I was about 2 years old. It was at my father’s office. Dad’s an awesome engineer and always had access to the newest hardware around his office. Well, this one time, he had an interesting piece of software to show me. The game was Prince of Persia (1989). Even though that was about 22 years ago now, I still remember it vividly. Odd isn’t it? I’m no neuroscientist or an expert on how our memory works but doesn't it seem a bit strange that one would remember something like that. Seems like such a small and trivial thing to recall with such impeccable clarity. Do you remember the first book you read? The first comic book you consumed? The very first movie you ever saw in the theatre? I’m curious to know, because I don’t remember any of mine. It’s all a blur to me. I could guess but I doubt I’d be particularly accurate. I do know what my first game I ever played was though and I think I know why it left such a powerful impression on me.

I remember playing it and asking myself: why can I move? I wasn’t thinking about it in the design/story telling or engineering/programming sense but rather on some kind of metaphysical level. Why can I move when I’m not in fact moving? My fingers are moving but the rest is still. My character isn’t moving by me thinking so but rather of me acting upon a keyboard that then sends signals to the Prince. It was all so very complicated and weird. I don’t remember giving it much anymore thought when I went home. The attention span of children is a short one indeed. 

I used to visit my dad’s workplace rather often after that. I guess I was already hooked, way back then. This medium had caught me in its net and wasn’t letting me return to the predictable ocean I was chilling in before. Oh no, I was introduced to a whole new world and it was exciting as all hell. When I was there, I’d play for hours and hours. I’d get a bit further every playthrough. I’d jump, climb, descend, avoid traps, get gored by falling onto a spike pit, get sliced to pieces by an enemy guard, miscalculate a jump and plummet to my death or simply get lost in this ridiculous castle maze I found myself in (seriously, the fucking architect’s probably had a good laugh on my expense!).

As I was trying to master the level and learn how to avoid becoming a permanent part of the decor, I found a sword. I don’t know if I can really express through words what I felt at that moment but ecstatic overjoyment of my uncalibrated senses into sheer explosion of ludohappyness would probably sum it up. Don’t worry about not understanding any of that; just know that I was in a state of pure bliss. I had a sword. I could now be like one of those knights my mom used to read me stories about. I could squint my eyes and pretend to be a Jedi, minus the overpowered force powers. Most important of all however, I could now proceed through the game.

Source: Wikipedia, Prince of Persia Page
You see, there was a guard at the other side of the level. This guard is a badass. Any attempts at running past him, jumping over him, or sneaking around him are foiled by this man. Only way through, is with a sword. Think about this: The only way to proceed with the level is to kill this dude. To kill him you need a sword. To find a sword you have to look around the rest of the level first. You have to do this. Not anyone else. Nobody’s coming to help you. When you do come back to this bastard with a sword, and have a genuinely tense battle (if you die you have to redo the level, no checkpoints back then baby), you feel something that I don’t think a book or a movie could convey: Gratification.

I was the one who found my way through this deathtrap of a wannabe tutorial stage. I was the dude who found the sword and learned to use it. I was the guy who managed to find secret rooms with health potions to help me through the game. There were no annoying tutorial screen popups telling me how to play the game, no scripted set pieces that teaches me each move separately as if I was an invalid or any frustrating cutscenes that broke up the pacing of the game. I was the one who was learning, not just how to play the game, but also to think outside the box and I was rewarded for my active participation in this play experience we call a “game”.

I think that’s why Prince of Persia has stuck with me all these years. The fact that the player is an integral part of the storytelling process and that the main means of communicating something to the player is through gameplay, it was astounding. Remember, back then (the very early 90’s to be more precise) elaborate cutscenes to explain the plot of the game weren't exactly the norm. Hell, Prince of Persia didn’t even have dialogue boxes! The only way of conveying anything, whether it’s an emotion, plot point or state of the world, was primarily through gameplay but also with music and mise-en-scene.

To say that my mind was blown would be an understatement. I cannot believe the potential that this medium has and I feel like it’s wasted nowadays with the safe, bullshit cookie cutter games that hold your hand every step of the way and coddle you like a child when you fuck up. Don’t you see, the player messing up is not a fault, it can be a tool to teach him something, to touch him in a very non creepy way, in a way that other mediums cannot. I guess that’s the reason I started Terminal Obfuscation; to interact with people about this medium, discuss narratives and game design, try to educate myself and others to understand video games better. 

Postscript: So me being late this time, and with being late I mean posting this shit an entire week after it should've been out, is because of uni stuff. And because of the fan in my computer dying. So it really isn't my fault this time!

... I'll try to do better, I promise!

No comments:

Post a Comment