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Brad Rowson

Narrative & Gaming: Morality Tale

GTA IV

Morality is very strange in games to me. Not because I don’t think there’s a place for it, but because I find that often even with the best of intentions, the morality can be very disproportionate. For example, in Grand Theft Auto IV (and probably other ones, but the specific instances I’m remembering all occur in IV), throughout certain points of the game you chase down someone who has done you wrong or maybe has wronged one of your allies, and the game gives you a choice of whether to kill that person or let him go and tell him to never come back to the city or you’ll finish what you started. As I remember it, one of these encounters happens very early in the game, like before you kill anyone early. In my first playthrough I thought this idea was really cool and thought maybe this was a thing you could do throughout the game which could possibly result in you having to kill no people or it being used as a last resort. However, the more you play the game you realize that is not the case and you can become desensitized to all the killing that Nico actually does. This happened to me where when I was prompted later in the game whether or not to let someone go I was like, “Well, I’ve already killed hundreds of people, why does it matter if I kill one more?” And I never let anyone else go when given the opportunity in the game from that point on. The one caveat I will add to this is that if the person is unarmed it may change my decision, but I don’t remember well enough if everyone who you got to choose whether or not they lived was armed.

Mass Effect

However, I feel that it was done really well in the Mass Effect series, probably BioWare as a whole, but I’ve only played Mass Effect and watched walkthroughs of Jade Empire, so I’ll just stick to the Mass Effect series. In these games, you can decide the fate of not only an entire species of like giant space roaches or whatever they were, but how you treat and react to various different alien species affects how you play the game. This is also one of the few games where it seems like the morality of what you’re doing really comes into play. Also, I feel that the moral way you treat the whole situation between the not totally organic life forms (the Geth) and the organic life forms (everyone else, especially the races that hate the Geth) is very important and it turns out to kind of be the whole crux of the series by the end of Mass Effect 3. I think that there’s a way where you could easily fall on one side or the other of the argument, but if you can find a way to make peace between both sides it shows you that choices in games can be completely moral or immoral based on what you do.

Morality

It’s possible that there’s better examples of this, I’ve heard that the morality of Spec Ops: The Line is very well defined, but unfortunately, I have not played that game. I hate to sound so on the fence, but I guess the best way for a company to handle morality is think about the game they’re making. On the one hand if they can make a game where you can either be completely moral and not kill anybody or you can be totally immoral and just kill everyone who gets in your way I think that would be cool. Maybe I just haven’t played enough games where morality felt like it truly mattered, or maybe I just can’t really tell because I always play as a good guy and then usually don’t go back and play as a bad guy, but I do believe that morality is a good feature and it should be in games, just maybe not games where you have to kill countless people regardless but you can choose to save one life every now and again.

Narrative & Gaming: What Choices Really Matter in The Walking Dead?

TWD 1

It took me a while to figure out how to tackle this topic. I mean at first, you could say that the decisions of who lives are the most important decisions in The Walking Dead Season 1. However, as you play it, that decision seems to not really matter a whole lot as the person you save in one episode inevitably seems to die in the next. There’s probably a multitude of reasons for this, it’s cheaper and less time to animate if both of those characters are dead, it gives the opportunity for new characters to be brought in without having too many characters to keep track of, and of course, this is The Walking Dead, people die frequently and even if it doesn’t make sense or if it feels like a wasted opportunity that a character was saved in one episode only to die in the next, that’s just how the world works in this series (Comic books, television show, and video game alike). So, for a while I thought, well maybe none of the decisions matter because no matter what you choose, something is going to happen that you have no control over.

TWD 2

Ultimately, I came up with this thought: the decisions that truly matter are the ones that you allow to define your character. So, if you want your character to be the upstanding citizen, who never tells a lie and is always trying to hold onto his humanity and do what’s best for the group, then the decisions that matter most are the ones where you decide to always do what’s right, especially by not taking the supplies out of the station wagon, you tell everyone in the group the truth about your past when that opportunity is presented, and you do your best to keep everyone alive even when it means that you might be slowed down or that you may put your characters life in danger. This also means that if you choose to be the worst possible person you can be, as long as you always make the most selfish, evil decision, then those are the choices that matter. You’re not always going to succeed, in fact sometimes in Telltale games it feels like they don’t want you to succeed, but if you stay true to whatever version of yourself you want to put into the character and whatever version you want the character to be, then those choices truly matter.

TWD 3

Knowing that in season 2 the player becomes Clementine, I also feel that how a player handles Clementine is very important. I think and played through as though she needed to know how to take care of herself, but I wasn’t too hard on her either. I was always direct and blunt with her, and taught her how to shoot and always took her along with me as long as the game allowed it. I wasn’t treating her as this poor little helpless thing, I was treating her as a child who needed to be a child at times, but also needed to be ready for when she would be the only one there to protect her. I honestly think that though you play as Lee, and he is probably my favorite character of season 1, Clementine is the most important character in season 1. Though I can’t remember if any of it matters in season 2, I like to think that Clementine is more capable when you play her in season 2 if you prepare her well in season 1.

Narrative & Gaming: Party Time

Saints Row

When the first couple Saints Row games came out I saw them as just Grand Theft Auto rip-offs. That changed though with Saints Row the Third. Suddenly, the game seemed to hit its own stride and become much more than just a GTA wannabe. Largely the games still feel very similar, but during the mission Party Time, I felt something different with Saints Row that I hadn’t felt with the previous two and I began to appreciate these games as their own separate entities.

What makes this mission in particular so great is it happens relatively early in the game, but it has such a large scope. You begin the mission in a helicopter on the verge of jumping out to land at a big party in a building with a rooftop pool that appears to be owned by one gang. Your intent is to take control of the building and make it one of your own. The beauty as you glide down to the party from the helicopter is awesome, and then trying to open your parachute at the perfect time and land in the pool is very fun. Then of course there’s shoot outs and you have to kill a lot of people from the rival gang as you make your way inside the building.

Saints Row 2

Once inside, you keep shooting and ultimately make your way to an elevator where the rest of your gang is trying to make their way up to help you. After you’ve killed everyone inside, a helicopter comes in with “the cavalry” and you and your gang have to kill them as well. If you’re good at shooting, you take care of all the enemies pretty quickly and then one of them leaves via the helicopter that brought the rest of the second wave of enemies down. You have to get into a helicopter and follow this guy because he’s the only one who might know how to turn off the bomb that’s inside the building, I suppose the bomb is there as a precaution in case someone tried to take over the building.

Saints Row 3

What’s great about this is you get to fly around all of the city and truly enjoy all the hard work that went into making the city look as stylish and beautiful as it does. You eventually follow him to some sort of abandoned building where he has more cronies for you to shoot down as you chase him trying to figure out how to disarm the bomb.

The visuals and all the crazy stuff you can do in this mission are great, in this Saints Row you can pretty much become a superhero which is really fun. I have to admit though, that while the visuals are great, this scene is so much better because they have “Power” by Kanye West playing from the beginning of the mission until the song concludes, so roughly the first 6 minutes of the mission. Though I admit that I’m not the biggest fan of Kanye, it’s hard to argue that the song doesn’t add to the awesomeness and the epicness of the mission and it makes it even more enjoyable than it would normally be getting to parachute into a rooftop pool, shooting a bunch of people, and then having a high speed helicopter chase.

Saints Row 4

Narrative & Gaming: The Art of Eternal Darkness

Eternal Darkness

In 2002 I was at a friend’s party where later in the evening after watching a scary movie we decided to take turns playing a game my friend had just gotten for his GameCube. That game was Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem. I give you this information as a precursor to say that prior to writing this blog I had not played that game or watched any videos on it since that night. However, certain aspects of the art in the game as well as the visuals of the game I still see sometimes 15 years later though I barely remember the plot of the game or really anything else about it. However, to be sure that this was the game I thought, I did look it up and basically the plot is you play as a young woman whose grandfather was recently murdered and you search around his old mansions for clues as to who may have killed him. You find out that your grandfather was into some H.P. Lovecraft type of stuff and now it is your responsibility to keep the world safe from a creature trying to enter from another realm.

What I do remember and what made the art so interesting to me was that the game had a “sanity meter” in which the character you play as can slowly lose her mind and if your sanity gets too low you would begin to have hallucinations. Walls would bleed, the paintings on the wall would change from normal rich guy paintings to gruesome death related paintings. Players heads would also fall off and you could pick them up and add them into your inventory.

Eternal Darkness 3

The part of the game I remember the most though was not only would your character hallucinate, but the game itself would start to mess with the player. The screen would go blank as if it was broken and the video would stop working even though you would still be able to hear what was happening, and it would sound as if the character you play as was being attacked. Also, if you tried to go to the menu screen it would pull up as if you were trying to delete all the save files you had for the game. The game would even go to a blue screen and make you believe that the GameCube had crashed and was possibly damaged beyond repair. Whether it was the crazy stuff on the walls, or the game suddenly acting like it had crashed, you never truly felt safe playing.

I realize that this is probably not like most of the other entries where people go to great lengths to describe the art and what made it so meaningful to them, but that’s not why I picked this game. I picked it because even though I never finished the game and I certainly do not have the same care for it as I do a game that I would consider one of my favorites, certain visuals still stick with me to this day. I remember being scared to walk down the halls of that creepy mansion in the game because even though the mansion itself seemed kind of normal or I guess as normal as a mansion can be, if your character’s sanity was low enough, it was anything but normal.

Narrative & Gaming: What Do You Theme?

While pondering on this week’s blog subject I found myself just thinking for far too long. What kind of themes in games do I like? Which kind do I not like? Ultimately, I found it very hard to really pick and choose. Not because I haven’t had good and bad experiences with themes, but because most of the time the gameplay mechanics and how a story comes together is what I end up enjoying or hating more than the overall theme of a game. We have discussed in class a few times that the theme of a game I have spent much time discussing, The Last of Us, is love. And I think in the case of that game, it works and it works very well. In the hands of less capable game makers, maybe it would not work so well.

Everyone enjoys a game, movie, television show, or book for a different reason than somebody else does. So, maybe for me a certain theme did not work, but that does not mean it didn’t work for someone else. That’s why it’s hard to decipher what is a good theme or a bad theme in a video game. I think it all depends on who is making the game. I’ll take an example from what we discussed all last week, BioShock: Infinite: though I don’t understand all the themes or even all the story in the game, I totally enjoyed the game. Personally, I think the themes that the game had may have worked better in some other form of fiction, probably a book, but I feel that everyone involved in that game deserved to try and tell a story with a deeper meaning in the video game format.

For better or worse, games are going to have to explore many options and try new things with themes and narratives in order to be taken more seriously as an art form. However, that means that sometimes a game is going to fail in its intentions to create something more meaningful or the theme may fall flat. It does not mean a developer or game designer should give up, it means that they should learn from their mistakes and try again. A game can work for many reasons, but it can also fail for many reasons. There are people who will always only want to just play a game as quickly as possible and try and kill as many people as they can, but there are also those people who will continue to play games multiple times trying to find the deeper meaning or looking for Easter eggs and other things they may have missed. Games are so very hard to fit in with other forms of storytelling because we as players live those characters, and though I know people who claim they can do that with books, I think it goes even deeper in games because you literally become that character and try and think like that character and when the game gives you a  choice that will impact the future of the game, you really think, “well, what would this character do?”

Some themes work better than others, just like some genres work better than others, some games are universally adored and other games maybe everyone but you hates. So, I believe that all themes in games are good if done properly and can affect some people, and they’re bad if they don’t relay the message the developers intended or if it doesn’t connect with at least one person.

Narrative & Gaming: Genres

For this topic, I’m going to go back to a game that I’ve discussed on here before, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. As I stated on the first day of class, this is my favorite game, and I think that in addition to the fun gameplay and the humor and storyline, I think a big reason why is because of the type of story it is. Though I didn’t watch Indiana Jones until I was a teenager, something my friends constantly made fun of me for, the series has become one of my favorite film series I’ve seen. Part of the reason I love the Uncharted series so much is because to me it feels like playing a current day version of the Indiana Jones movies.

In terms of the gameplay, Uncharted 2 is very much a third person shooter. Though there are some puzzles to solve, some of which were very frustrating the first time around, and jumping around to get from one point to another much like a platformer, the thing you do most in the game is fight enemies. There is some form of hand to hand combat, and though it is improved in each installment in the series, your best bet against the droves of bad guys that your main nemesis somehow can easily afford is to shoot them, preferably at a distance and with the help of some form of cover. This is probably the type of game I have played the most. Only recently have I been able to play first person games, I used to get very sick playing them, and though I’ve played a few RPGs and other games where shooting doesn’t take up a majority of your time, I find I get the most enjoyment out of being able to shoot bad guys and stop them from taking over the world or whatever it is that is their goal.

As far as the narrative of the game, Uncharted is very much an action/adventure game, because there’s plenty of both in every game in the series. The locales you visit are also very beautiful and exotic which makes for a much better experience than if you were in the same place for the entirety of the game and it had a bland structure. That being said, I think that Uncharted 2, and all the games really, is a hero’s journey story. Though Nathan Drake could be considered an antihero, he’s a thief and this game as others starts out with him only trying to get himself a big score, I see him as very much a heroic character. He is set off on his journey by two other thieves with the opportunity for a score of a lifetime, he’s betrayed by one of those thieves who he has known for a while, he has a mentor in Sully who we learn in the third game taught him much of what he knows, and though he doesn’t set out to save the world, by the end of the game, that’s exactly what he does. Once he’s in the thick of it, and finds out the villain’s ultimate goal, it would be very easy for him to either decide to turn around and go home, he could join the villain, or he could even try and stop the villain and take the power for himself or just exploit what he knows and finds for monetary gains. However, he decides to stay and fight, and make sure that nobody gets their hands on the power because he knows that even with the best of intentions if somebody had that type of power it would be bad news. Nathan Drake saves the world and most people don’t even know that he did it or what he had to sacrifice in order to do it, and when it’s all said and done, as far as I can tell he doesn’t go around bragging about it to everyone who will listen. He doesn’t ever take the easy way out, and he takes it as his responsibility to do these things because he’s there to stop it and knows what’s right and what’s wrong. That’s the type of hero I enjoy the most, one who does the right thing solely because he knows that it is the right thing.

Writing and My Goals for this Blog

Just a heads up, this is not a blog for my class, this one is a personal blog. All blogs relating to class will be labeled Narrative & Gaming before the title.

Hello, everyone! Well, it sure has been a while since I’ve sat down to do one of these proper. I remember back in 2014 when I told myself I was going to be blogging on Facebook all the time and I kept that up for a good month or two before it fell by the wayside. At least this time around I have to keep my blog going until the semester is over so it’s tied into a class and that will make me feel more responsible for keeping the thing updated every now and again. I think I have to do one a week for class, so I might try and do one every two weeks or something of a more personal blog and not just what is required for class.

Every so often, I tell myself that I’m going to start writing again, and I do, but that usually only lasts for a couple months. So here we are again. I’m hoping that between what I have to write here for class, what I have to write for other classes, and what I write just for my own personal fun, I’m hoping that I can get some good content out of this. The ultimate goal is to both keep those who are interested up to speed on what’s going on in my life and how I’m feeling, while at the same time hoping that by the more writing I do, the more likely I’ll be inspired to write something big again.

Writing is something that I love to do, probably because it comes very easy for me and I just enjoy it so much because you can create your own little world and no one can tell you what to do there because it’s your world. So, I plan on writing everything I can, personal stuff, movie reviews, game reviews, just whatever comes to mind hoping that it will feed into my creativity and help me with writing something I’m more passionate about such as a movie or a television show idea, or even a novel, though I admit I don’t know if I have the patience to write a novel because those things can be ridiculously long and the reason I love writing television and movie ideas is I’m very fond of writing dialogue.

Some of you may have watched my class project videos that I posted last year on my youtube channel (and if you haven’t, you can check those out right here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC8QkQrqoMdIq3mdgUmrJv3A shameless plug, I don’t care, I’m really proud of all of that content on there). I really enjoyed those videos, in fact, writing and filming them is probably some of the most I have really enjoyed my work in years. I truly enjoy writing stuff and what I really loved is how quickly I was able to write all of those videos. I’m hoping to ignite that spark again and make it into something more useful, or maybe just to make more fun and short little videos on youtube. Either way, I have another video production class this semester, so look forward to checking those out in the near future.

That’s really all I wanted to do this time around is let you know what’s going on and what my plans with this blog are for the foreseeable future and hopefully I get into a routine and continue to work on the blog after my class is over. So thanks for taking the time to read and I look forward to having more to say in my next post.

PS: I promise I will never talk politics on here, I think most people know my political views and if you don’t, there’s plenty of other places to get that information, politics have just felt so unnecessarily vicious lately and there’s enough negativity in the world that I don’t need to add to it. I was angry all the time at everybody for everything, I’m tired of that so I’m just going to try and be more positive, which I know I may seem like a grouch sometimes, but pretty much every person I’ve known for a decent number of years (5 or more) says that I have a much different attitude about things and I honestly believe that the guy I used to be was a real jerk whereas now I can be stubborn and I can be dumb, but I don’t believe I come at anything from a place of malice. Plus, we as people should always grow and though it’s not always for the better I think that most of us do grow and become better people.

PPS: I don’t think that I cursed in this post, that was mostly intentional, however, when writing in the future I cannot promise that I won’t curse, it’s a lot easier for me to not do it in writing, but sometimes an F word or other word is really the only way you can emphasize how much you love or hate something. So, that being said, in the future I will more than likely curse, it’s not something I do gratuitously or for shock value, but it will happen, so consider yourself warned. Though I don’t plan on being purposefully mean or anything like that, I also won’t censor myself if I feel something needs to be said. Anyways, thanks for reading again and I hope to have another post real soon.

Narrative & Gaming: Introductory Set Pieces

Of the games that we have gone over in class so far, I have probably played The Last of Us and Uncharted 2 the most. These are two of my favorite games that I have ever played and they have made me a lifelong Naughty Dog fan. Both of these games have such great, and different introductions that it’s hard to choose which I prefer. So, I’ll spend a little time discussing both and why I love them so much.

The Last of Us I first played only really knowing that it was a Naughty Dog game and that it was going to be rated M. As I previously mentioned, due to my love of the Uncharted series, I had decided that I would follow Naughty Dog anywhere. Boy was I not disappointed. The game is great, but even just starting you out, it gives you so much. Having the major outbreak begin the game is something that is very cool because you get to see right when the world begins to go to hell. And it does such a good job of connecting you to the characters by having you start off the game playing as Sarah, the daughter of the main character Joel. So, when you finally take over as Joel around the time he should kill his neighbor who is looking to chow down on Joel and Sarah, you’re just as confused and shocked by what’s going on as both Joel and Sarah are. Then all the craziness that happens of driving through while everyone is trying to get out of town and you playing as Joel just trying to keep your daughter safe. Getting in the car accident is a whammy that you don’t see coming and it makes it even that more heartbreaking when you have to carry Sarah to safety only to run in to that military man who is instructed to kill you and your daughter. I don’t think that any movie or video game has had me crying that early in the process. Watching helplessly as Joel tries to comfort Sarah and tell her that everything is going to be okay, but it very quickly becomes not okay.

Uncharted 2 is such a stark contrast. It too starts you off in the middle of things and in a very crazy predicament. I absolutely loved that at the very beginning of the game they have you hanging in that train car which is about to fall off the mountain. It is something that up to that point I had never experienced in a game, and definitely not at the very beginning of a game. Usually something that big and crazy is saved for closer to the end, but that’s how they wanted to start you off just to let you know what kind of ride you were in for. It also did a decent job of peppering in the backstory of the mission of the game while getting you involved right away. What I love most about the Uncharted series is the humor and even though all this stuff is going on, it still manages to be humorous. I forget exactly what happens, but shortly after you get to safety from the falling train car a bad guy shows up and says something along the lines of “He’s still alive!” Then you kill him pretty quickly and your character, Nathan Drake, says, “Karma’s a bitch!” I believe that though you only get a snippet of the story in the beginning of that game with them flashing back to Drake and a couple other thieves planning a heist that sets the game in motion, this does a very good job of introducing this game as one where you will encounter crazy set pieces but also have a fun time doing so by jumping around dangerous terrain and killing bad guys and cracking of quippy one liners. One of the best things a game can do is get you involved in either the plot, action or characters right away and I feel that both The Last of Us and Uncharted 2 do a very good job of doing a mixture of those in there introductions.

Narrative & Gaming: Brothers Review

brothers-atots

I’ll be honest and say that it took me a longer to get used to the controls of Brothers than it normally would. However, the biggest problem I had with the game was not the controls, but in fact it was that it was weird for me personally that there were no words really spoken. At first I thought it was some sort of foreign language and I just needed to turn subtitles on which I would have been okay with, but once I realized that the language was made up for the game and there were no subtitles available, I was thrown off for a little bit. After the second puzzle of the game, however, I got used to that aspect and then that was when I truly began to enjoy the game.

 The game was so enjoyable that I could move on from the weirdness I felt not knowing exactly what the characters were saying to each other. The relationship between the two brothers was really fun and special and it was cool being able to control both of them when they had to get each other’s backs. I really liked all the different set pieces, the game is truly gorgeous and the progression of all the crazy things that happen really keep you interested in the plot of the game as it goes along. Even though it seems that it’s only about these two brothers trying to find a cure to save their dad from dying, it is about so much more. The progression of moving on to bigger and crazier things that you have to get through to find this magical tree with its life water is very entertaining especially when you have to make your way through the area with all the bodies of the slain giants.

The different conflicts through the game are also very enjoyable. First there’s the main conflict of having to get the life water to save your father, but then there’s the conflict of getting through the village and around the bully. Then you deal with trolls and helping the good troll escape from her cage while also locking away the bad troll. Then you go through the area where it seems like mass suicides happened and there’s the man who appears to have lost everything in the fire who I now wish I’d known you could save after discussing the game in class. Following that we had the previously mentioned troll area and having to maneuver around their dead bodies to get to the next part of the game and of course even having to chop one up to progress forward. You save the girl from that little cult or whatever it is and she seems really cool and even helps you avoid the invisible giant then next thing you know she’s a spider lady and wants to kill your brother.

The death of the older brother was a bummer, but it didn’t really get me until the younger brother had to bury him and he broke down crying after everything that had happened. That’s one of the few games that let you feel the weight of losing someone close to you before moving on and not just being sad for a second and then immediately turning around and keeping the mission going. And the showing of the ghost of the mother and then the brother on the way back to save the father was such a nice touch. And then of course the game ended on a huge sad note, but after everything the game had put you through I didn’t feel bad for the young boy, I felt he could really take anything on now.

I know that games as storytelling are still not quite accepted, but this one truly proves that games can tell great stories, and it does so in an even better fashion because it tells a story without people ever actually speaking a known language. I’m very happy that I got to play this game and I know I never would have if it wasn’t for this class, because though I had heard of the game I hadn’t really seen any reviews or anything letting people know how much of a fun experience it was. Though it probably wouldn’t make its way onto one of my all-time favorite games list, it is definitely a game that I would recommend to people and I could see myself playing again in the future.

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