Thursday, April 8, 2010

Emotion, Representation, and Story

I see a problem in what Soderman and Galloway describe as the most essential aspects of gaming. Both, in one way or another, say that gameplay easily trumps narrative/representation as more important. Galloway takes issue with how “aesthetics are elevated over gameplay” (115) in what he calls the countergaming movement, and Soderman argues that “representation in games is usually superficial, insignificant and generally less meaningful whereas action and gameplay carry the true force of signification.” But then, they both agree that the emotional experience that games offer is what makes them popular and compelling. I don’t believe that a truly fulfilling emotional attachment can be felt when the story is lacking.

Players (and people in general) feel connected to characters overcoming obstacles and going through personal growth. And as much as we like to deny it, appearances are important in our world. If you took an immensely popular game (one with recognizable characters and story, not something like Call of Duty), you would most certainly find that the main characters are humanoid and reasonably attractive. If you took those characters and turned them into grotesque and disfigured monstrous creatures, members of the Ku Klux Klan, faceless shapeless blobs, or some other unappealing or hated thing, I can almost guarantee the game’s popularity would change.

I consider myself a hardcore gamer, and I know that visuals and story are important to me. This isn’t just because I’m female, either, because my male hardcore gamer friends feel exactly the same way. We have all cried, had our hearts pound with excitement, or felt joy when a momentous event happened in the game to the characters we had grown attached to. This “`fun factor,’…the quality of the emotional experience” as Henry Jenkins says, is intricately linked to how the game looks and how the story unfolds. I think that in many games, the gameplay is simply the way through which the story progresses.

A recent example that clearly highlights this issue is the game Final Fantasy XIII. The Final Fantasy series is especially known for having deep, moving plot lines and memorable, relatable characters. The game has been praised for having the most visually impressive graphics ever to appear on a screen, tied with only the movie “Avatar” in terms of looks. In his review of the game for The New York Times, Seth Schiesel said, “the real star of Final Fantasy XIII is its visual design and animation team, which has created some of the most impressive, compelling digital animation on the planet.” My friend, a fellow hardcore gamer and lover of all things gamic, describes the game to me as “totally epic and amazing,” but when I asked him about what he thought the most important part of the game was, he said it was the graphics. He told me that the game just wouldn’t be as good with any lesser graphics. Clearly, representation is a vital aspect of video games, and I think that discussing the emotional effectiveness while disregarding appearance and story is a wrong-minded approach to video game analysis.

Here is the trailer to Final Fantasy XIII (although not quite accurate, because it looks far better on the PS3’s Blueray technology and a HDTV.)

Friday 11 AM Section

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