27 October 2009

The importance of passion...

I went to see The Vampire's Assistant yesterday (it was actually quite good) but it got me thinking about emotions, and the lack thereof, in games. One thing in particular that seems to get left out is passion - and i mean the word in every sense.

Part of this is down to the voice acting, where it's particularly grating when a character sounds dull and lifeless, but another part is the story within the game. How many games have a theme of passion? Passion for a lover, passion for a friend, the passion of a parent/carer. We constantly have the old and terribly simple "passion for revenge" which is so well-worn that it seems every game with violence in it relies on this premise to drive the narrative.

Where is the oedipus conflict? Where is the conflict of taking someone under our wings and protecting and nurturing them? Where is the conflict of being friends with someone that you should hate/be at war with?

I think a really interesting game design would be for the player, who is a powerful entity within the game world, finding and then protecting/raising a youngster where you get to see the growth and development of the youngster as your character becomes older and frailer. Sure, it runs the risk of being one, game-long escort quest but if it's managed carefully then it wouldn't be so bad. You could start off with the child being pretty helpless and they'd stick to you like an AI buddy in any other game (you could give rudimentary orders like fight, run and defend etc) but as they grow and become more powerful they observe you and your actions: They learn from you, the learn to fight and you see that they protect you as much as you protect them.

As the game progresses, the enemies will become more powerful/plenty and as the child grows up and draws close to your character in abilities and power then it becomes an AI co-op game. Then at some point during the game the tables will turn between the character and his charge. The child will become more powerful than your character and the game would begin to change to a ability management system whereby you survive by ordering around your protector.

I think this is an interesting example of where the player starts off strong but becomes weak - without neutering the player's agency in the world. It evolves from being an escort mission (a la Ico) to a co-op game (parts of Fable 2 and other action games?) to being a squad management game (like many of the recent console FPS games). I think this has a lot of potential and hopefully we'll see a game like this at some point.

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