Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Game of the Year 2008

On Gamespot, users were allowed to vote for their Game of the Year. A Gamespot blog author asked why people voted for what they did. Was it based on what game was the most fun for them? Or the most "artistic"? Or what?

For me, the Game of the Year was Metal Gear Solid 4, even though I'd only give it an 8.5 / 10. It wasn't the perfect 10 Gamespot gave it, but for me it was the best I had played.

Here's what I ended up posting in the comments section after reading how some feel that MGS4 did not use its interactive medium effectively, instead relying more on cinematic storytelling norms.


It's odd. For movies, my favorite movies are usually the ones I have the most fun watching. But for video games, my favorite games are more likely to be less about how much fun I had, but how good their storytelling was. You could almost say that I like my movies to be more like video games, and my video games to be more like movies. I voted MGS4 for GOTY, but I'm not sure if MGS4 was the most fun game I played this year. MGS4 left such a lasting impression that I can still clearly remember moments from it today, even though I haven't played it in months. I think I have more fun playing Battlefield 2142 or COD5 online against people, but ultimately these were just exciting experiences not unlike playing a game of basketball or riding a rollercoaster. Like a game of sports, there's no moral or ideology I'm trying to accomplish in 2142. I'm killing for the fun of killing. It becomes a pointless, hedonistic struggle.

I think another reason why I like movies to be more like games is because when I watch a typical movie, it's hard for me to identify with what the characters are going through. After all, no matter what I do while watching a film, the character will proceed forward to whatever ending is in store for them. The character is in the situation, not me, so I'm detached from the story. I'm powerless to help or hinder the characters in a film. So if a movie is more "superficial and fun", like a game, at least I can enjoy that aspect. Story alone will just leave me with a passive, observant feeling.

But a game's story is totally different. I propel the story forward. Through my struggle, I'm fighting for the story to continue. It doesn't matter if it's told through passive cutscenes or through branching dialogue trees, because the story won't continue without my help. Solid Snake's struggle becomes my own. I think this is why I think story is so important in games for me. I need to say about the character "You're a good person, and what you're trying to do is important, and I'm going to help you achieve your goals." And Solid Snake's goals felt important. Another thing that's important for me is that the struggle I partake as a player reflect the struggle that is happening in the story. One of my probs with Bioware games is that their gameplay is ridiculously easy and simplistic, while their storytelling is great and epic. The former weakens the latter's impact. If I'm mashing buttons in a simple and repetitive way to defeat "The Greatest Evil There Ever Was (tm)", the Evil seems a lot less evil. This is why I don't understand the reverence people have for Bioware, Bethesda, and RPG games in general. Neither company releases games that give me that sense of gameplay struggle and challenge befitting their storylines. The "immersion" of being in a Survival of the Fittest post-apocalyptic wasteland is destroyed when I can succeed in every battle by merely hitting the VATS button.

The Metal Gear series is the strange and unique entry in the action game genre that combines the storytelling you expect from an RPG, with the challenging, fast paced gameplay of an action game. It gave me exciting challenging gameplay experiences, and then made my actions feel important through its story. It's rare that a game does all of that together.

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