Game Eaters

Sunday, April 23, 2006

A mix of H20, Na+. and Cl-

So I know I'm a total sap, but I just finished Kingdom Hearts II and have to admit that I leaked a few tears at the end. What I can't figure out is why...

Don't get me wrong - I enjoyed the game. The part that perplexes me whether it was the game that provoked my reaction, or was it just the cutscene? It seems nearly impossible to disentangle one from the other, but here goes.

My first instinct is to say that it's the game, but that's more of a knee jerk "We need more games that have emotional impact," reaction. When I step back a little and consider the exact moment of saline secretion, it was one of those classic moments:

Sora: "We're back."
Kairi: "Welcome home."

which I can guarantee in the Japanese version was:

Sora: "Tadaima."
Kairi: "Okaerinasai."

For anyone that watches any Japanese film, drama, or Anime, this is a fairly typical narrative device that wraps up a lot of pent up emotion into a ritualistic phrase. (Note: Not trying to imply here that this device isn't found in other nation's media, just that this particular instance is a quintessential moment in cheesy Japanese dramas.) Despite their cheesiness, these kinds of moments tend to 'get me' more often than not. So maybe it was just the cutscene...

... or maybe not. I invested a solid 35 hours into getting to that one moment. And it wasn't because of the mechanics. The gameplay was tight, but uninventive. More often than not, it's a lot of mashing the X and Triangle Buttons with an occasional nod to the Square and Circle. So imagine this, I was actually playing the game for the story *gasp* and not the gameplay. Does that make all gamey the stuff in between the narrative chunks irrelevant? Or does the investment that one has to make in order to move from one chunk to the next fundamentally alter the reception of the chunk?

David Cage, the self-proclaimed auteur behind Indigo Prophecy, came to MIT, and said that all American games were like pornography - that their stories are irrelevant and trifling, and people generally skip through them because all they really want is the action. While he is right to some degree, it's experiences like the one that I had this evening that make me question the 'disconnection' between cutscene and play. To draw a parallel to film - if you're watching Zatoichi, are you constantly thinking about the reprecussions to the town that Zatoichi's violence will have, or maybe, just maybe, for a few split seconds you think "how @$!*ing cool was that move!" So, does one have to constantly have in mind the particular narrative context that drives their action in order for it to connote truly 'narrative' gameplay? Or is it sufficient to have the context set up the action, and then we resolve the narrative outcome to reflect the new state of affairs that has arisen as a result of the action?

Or is this all moot, Square RPGs don't make people cry, and maybe I'm just a melodramatic simp? ;)


  • Square RPG's don't make people cry. You are just the latest example of a mass-hallucination that's been going on for the last 15 years.

    Your experience should make all the controversy over games and emotion irrelevant. But it doesn't. Lord knows why. Maybe because most of the vocal theorists on this topic have already decided cutscene-heavy games are inferior ludic exercises and, consciously or unconsciously, blow them off. Most often you hear "Cutscenes are terrible! I skipped them all!" or "I tried to play the game, but I couldn't stand the cutscenes so I quit!" So that process of action and reflection you describe is actually a process they have not experienced. To my mind this makes them not the best people to theorize about the dynamics of cutscenes and gameplay.

    I think the general refusal to take the emotion elicited by cutscenes seriously stems from an ideological divide between East and West. From what I can tell, the Japanese view games more holistically whereas we like to view games as the sum of their parts. I think Western designers who work hard at perfecting the parts that, when combined, will illicit emotion balk at the notion that the Japanese can move people by far less sophisticated means. "That's cheating! Those parts aren't really games!" they tend to say. But if you're looking at the game holistically, there are no "parts." Context and action are inseparable.

    By Blogger Matt, at 1:37 PM  

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