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Posted by Forderz

Something I wrote for a college submission portfolio. Not completely related to VIDEO GAMES, but this is a blog, so whatever.

I’m tired of saving the world. Don’t get me wrong, it’s cool and all, with resealing the ancient evil that’s awakened or stopping the megalomaniac that will ‘rule the world or see it burned to ash’. Fun stuff. Judging from the amount of novels, video games, and other forms of media I see with themes of planetary salvation, I think I can safely assume plenty of other folks are in the same boat. But, like a box of cereal you leave in the pantry too long, it's getting kind of stale. Sure, it still tastes okay, and it isn’t going to make you sick or anything, but maybe it’s time to refresh your stock.

It’s been at the point, for a long while now, where the vast majority of mainstream (or popular, if manestream gives you hipster vibes) fantasy has become rather predictable in its storytelling. I’m painting with a broad brush, I know, but that’s my point. No matter what the starting point is, be it a orphaned kid living on dusty desert streets, the capricious tomboy rebelling against her protective father, or a ragtag band of mercenaries hired in a tavern, fantastical fiction seems to always end up with the heroes saving all of humanity.

That’s not to say that epic storylines that deal with the issues brought up by literally having the weight of the world lying on a character’s shoulders can’t be engaging and entertaining. Many are, from modern tales like the Mistborn trilogy by Brandon Sanderson, to the classic fare of Tolkien and all who came after him. Long, grueling tales of heroism, sacrifice, and redemption, with characters fighting for their lives every other page, are quite useful for putting your own problems in perspective. Having Bill, up in marketing, steal your lunch every Tuesday is aggravating, but petty in the grand scheme of things. But, invariably, the vast majority of fantastical fiction published each year deals with saving the world.

Sometimes the story is blatant about it. A Song of Ice and Fire, by George R.R. Martin, lets the reader know in the prologue to the first book that there is a very real and very dangerous threat to the world lurking just past that 700ft barrier of ice. This is a series praised by critics and consumers alike, with engaging characters, rich worldbuilding, and generous servings of sex and violence. Season Two of Game of Thrones is available right now on HBO. It is a series that prides itself on its grey morality, gritty realism, and stunning twists in its narrative. But, the reader knows as soon as soon as her or she finishes the first book, who will save the world.

Books like Mistborn, on the other hand, can be a bit more subtle. The first book gives no impression that the third will end up with the protagonists literally remaking the world after the apocalypse. Mistborn appears as a heist film transformed into a fantasy novel for almost the entirety of the opening novel. A strong female lead, an inventive magic system and a repressive government make for an interesting read. But, it too falls prey to the almost obligatory duty of raising the stakes until the characters become gods. This is a prime example of a point I’m trying to make:

Saving the world dehumanizes all characters involved, and lessens the emotional weight of the tale.

I won’t let it be said that I claimed all fantasy must undergo that escalation. Richelle Mead’s Succubus, a series involving the trials and triumphs of a succubus living a normal life in New York, crafts a compelling story about love, lust, and not giving in to your darker emotions.. Although she fully utilizes the fantastical elements available to her, Mead keeps the story feeling ‘real’ by having her heroine suffer through the daily 9-5 grind, pacifying angry landlords, and other mundane tasks. The most responsibility Mead foists onto her character is saving a single man’s soul.

But that is a common trend only in urban fiction. In full-fledged escapist fantasy, with author-crafted universes, civilizations, gods and histories, that sort of slice-of-life storytelling is fustratingly rare. Perhaps the effort the authors put into their imagined worlds subconsciously guides them to give their characters equally epic problems. If that were true, however, shared-universe fiction wouldn’t have the same issue. The average Forgotten Realms or Dragonlance novel may start fairly low-key, but escalation is nearly unavoidable.

High Fantasy has a dearth of novels that don’t involve world-shattering prophecies or deific warfare. There are some exceptions, of course. A notable one is The Lies of Locke Lamora, by Scott Lynch. A novel about a group of thieves trying to pull off a big score evolves into a crusade of revenge against the crime lord that betrayed them. There’s some magic involved, and the issues involved are deadly serious, but it never pulls the rug out from under the reader with a revelation that everything and everyone depends on the heroes’ success. I consider it one of the greatest books of the last decade.

But for every Lies and Scott Lynch, there are a thousand other novels and authors that insist on injecting drama and tension into the story by raising the stakes until they can’t be raised anymore. I’ve grown increasingly tired of the bait-and-switch, rags to riches story that pervades fantasy. So many writers start their characters off living a normal life in an extraordinary world, then make their protagonists extraordinary themselves. It has become rote. When otherwise exceptional storycrafters do this, it can ruin the experience.

Catherine, a video game published by Atlus, is a personal example of mine. Atlus marketed the game as a dark, urban fantasy puzzles game, and their track record of engaging characters and riveting storylines had me excited for their next project. I kept abreast of any spoilers, and wanted my virgin playthrough to be as entertaining as possible, so I invited some friends over to take turns playing through it. Soon we were enthralled by the chronicle of Vincent, a twenty-something computer programmer feeling trapped by his girlfriend Katherine’s insistence on getting married. He’s afraid to commit, although her loves her greatly, and doesn’t want his ‘pretty awesome’ life to change. He gets drunk at a bar one night, and ends up making some bad decisions, resulting in him waking up next to Catherine, a barely-legal blonde that just wants to have fun.

The story takes a turn into the bizarre by introducing nightmares that plague Vincent every night. His conflicting emotions surrounding, freedom, commitment, guilt, and responsibility are embodied by the twisted demons that haunt his dreams. The story constantly increases the tension by revealing Katherine suspects she may be pregnant, having Vincent discover that Catherine is an obsessive stalker, and that in the city he lives in, young men are being found as dessicated husks in their beds.

Eight hours in, it is four in the morning, and all in attendance that are still awake are glued to the screen. Catherine and Katherine have finally met, and Katherine is understandably outraged. A struggle ensues, and, in the end, Katherine stabs and kills Catherine with a kitchen knife. The entire room was amazed. Video games have long been maligned by much of the public as emotionless escapism, with critics of the medium describing it as ‘desensitizing youth to violence’ and, with less controversy, dismissing the plot of video games as simplistic at best. But here was a video game that had the guts to bring itself down (or perhaps elevate itself?) to the very close, very vulnerable, very un-videogamey realm of love and intrapersonal conflict.

We decided to take a quick break to drive our sleepy friends home, and used that forty minutes to speculate on the Vincent’s future. Would he take the blame for the woman he loves murder, and allow his unborn child to grow with its mother? Would he let Katherine go to prison? Would they both run away, discarding their previous life? Any of these would of been far more interesting than the choice the developers made.

Catherine turned out be a succubus serving Lucifer, and Vincent makes it his duty to save mankind from the punishment of falling to lust incarnate. (Spoiler: it’s death!) The game continued on for another two hours, with Vincent eventually beating Lucifer and saving the males of the world from being sucked dry by agents of Hell, but I didn’t really care after that point. It was like a punch to the gut. I was Vincent, until that point. I knew how it felt to screw up up so royally that someone’s life would change forever, and while I have never violated someone’s trust so horribly, I certainly have felt the touch of betrayal myself in the past.

But as soon as the story transformed from one man descending into a hell of his own making, into a man literally descending into hell to smack Satan upside the head, it lost all emotional resonance to me. If the game had ended on that cliffhanger, it would of been a pinnacle of achievement in videogaming. Instead, the events before that point lost much of their relevance in the endgame, tarnishing their impact in hindsight.

Catherine is merely a clear-cut example, a microcosm of the larger issue. Why do the creators of otherwise compelling fiction feel the need to ratchet up the risks and stakes of their stories, especially in high fantasy? Where is Seinfeld meets Middle-Earth? There is a reason sitcoms and dramas are very successful in modern television: people relate to them, their characters dealing with the issues that pop up in everyday life. I am still waiting for the sitcom that has a hippie, tree-hugging elf dealing with a technology obsessed gnome neighbour insistent on using his trees as fuel. I know why it will never exist on television (period/fantasy pieces are expensive), but in the medium of the written word, such barriers are irrelevant.

When a story slowly ramps up the responsibilities placed upon its characters, instead of opening the floodgates like Catherine did, it is a bit more tolerable. When a narrative has strong characters that play well off one another, snappy dialogue, and all the other elements that make up a good story, the impact of changing the scope of the novel is lessened. But it is still there. When the stakes are raised to a certain point, multiple plot points become much more or less likely: Heroic sacrifices go up in probability, the morality of the characters involved become much more black and white, etcetera. When a story becomes less of a surprise and more of an inevitability, it loses much of its allure.

Much of the criticism I lay upon modern writing cannot be applied to one of the most ancient of texts. The story of Homer’s Odyssey dealt in epic fare, but kept the motivations of its protagonist pure and mundane: Get home. That story of the simplest of desires has entertained audiences throughout the ages, and continues to do so today. Perhaps modern authors could learn from Homer’s example.

Fantasy authors should not feel obliged to match the epic worlds they create with epic tales to match. Far too much of fantasy today is rife with apocalyptic plots and threats of mass extinction. Where are the tales of the layman in an extraordinary world? Why do authors pigeonhole themselves into saving the world when a equally or even more compelling tale could be told about the crazy antics of a womanizing wizard? A single child surviving an orc raid, and never being given the chance to avenge the fallen. A pirate captain not concerned with angry ghosts and cursed treasure, but with keeping his crew in line and securing filthy lucre. Mixing the drama of truly human stories with the wonder and imagination of high fantasy should be a concept embraced, not ignored.

Posted by DarthOrange

Pretty damn good dude! Did you get in?

Posted by JOURN3Y

I agree completely with you. Not every person can save the world and its pretty jarring when it happens in everything that you see. It's nice when the story slows down and the scope zooms back in to the human scale. That was the appeal of Persona 4, it was a bunch of kids trying to solve a murder mystery, the tail end of the story lost my attention a bit when it went for the saving the world thing.

Edited by Jay444111

A save the world plot, I don't even think is used that often anymore actually. At most it is just one action a main character does that happens to save the world.

MGS/MGS3, Snake stopped a nuclear war.

OoT, stop ganon in a world he already controls.

Dead Rising, escape this living hell and show the proof to everyone.

Batman Arkham Asylum, stop the joker and his plans.

A lot of games actually don't do the save the world thing that much anymore. The ones that do have them know it is cliche and do try to change it up into something better.

Or old ones which knew what they were doing.

FF7 at first was about hunting a guy who was supposed to be dead, the next a damn moon is going to crash into the earth! It did the save the world thing amazingly well.

Lost odyssey starts you up as a immortal soldier for hire and ends with a entire group of immortals vs another immortal in a battle to prevent a madman immortal from gaining near infinite power. It does the save the world thing well as well.

Okami, you are a sun God, saving the world from darkness is kinda in the job...

FF10 starts off with a soccer game and ends with stopping a eldritch abomination from killing everyone.

Prey starts off with a guy getting abducted by aliens and ends up with having to try and stop a dyson sphere that is trying to harvest humanity. Another gradual plot about saving the world that started off crazy and ended crazy in a extremely good way.

X-Com, you are a organization that is out to reverse engineer alien tech to try and stop a invasion of earth. Simple plot in the game but can get emotional with your favorite soldiers actually.

...Actually, there are far fewer games about saving the world then I thought, this is all I can think about actually. Most games are about a single localized area that needs to be save then anything else. Saving the world plots aren't bad if one can do them well, Hard to do, but possible.

Hell, Super Paper Mario involves you into saving ALL universes! Yet is still works for that game thanks to the excellent plot and story of that game! (Seriously... I am NOT joking.)

Posted by saroorhai

What does the word "manestream" mean? You used the conventional spelling of "mainstream" just before, so I assume it's intentional.

Posted by null

Great read, and you've given me an interesting list of books to check out. Kudos.

Posted by von_wemberg

Going to pitch in and say also: great read! Really-really good in fact.

I'm tired of saving the world so I'm playing Sands of Destruction, where right now... seems like I'm working towards the destruction of the world, instead of saving it. Some of the characters are stereotypically JRPG-ish but it's an interesting world and I'm probably going to see it through.

Posted by Village_Guy

yay! (minor) shout-out to Bronies :D

And yes, way to often we are set to save the world, it seems like it is usually that or you're the stereotypical anti-hero who wants revenge...

A favorite saving the world story of mine is actually Master Chief from the Halo universe, he didn't really have much of a choice.

Posted by ShiftyMagician

It was a great read and I too would love more stories in a fantasy nature to resist going for what is now the cliche of 'saving the world/universe'. However part of the problem that will never go away is that there is always a good chunk of the paying audience that has not hit that fatigue yet (usually the younger audience) and due to this it will be a while before we see stories relax this trend at least for a little while.

Posted by gamefreak9

Thanks for the game of thrones spoiler...

Posted by Still_I_Cry

I don't want to save the world..

I want to kill everything and everyone at my whim.

Edited by Forderz

@gamefreak9: Its not much a spoiler, dude. Its in the title of the series.

@saroorhai: Oh God thanks for catching manestream. That shouldn't of snuck in there.

@Jay444111: That's kind of my point. The story may start close and personal, but writers, inevitably, expand the scope of the situation until I lose the ability to relate to the problem. There's a reason why we dehumanize people who DO have the capacity to save/destroy the world IRL, like calling Barack Obama 'The President.' Very few people can imagine the kind of stresses that places on a person. Maybe its just me.

Posted by JasonR86

I agree. Saving the world is a boring cliche and a lazy, tired way of adding 'drama' that, to me, never adds tension or excitement because I always know how these 'saving the world' games end; the world is always saved.

Posted by BoG

I absolutely agree. I'm tired of always saving the world. You're right that, with the right events and characters, a tale can be highly enjoyable. I'd love to see fantasy games move in a different direction. Tell me a tell of some political intrigue that doesn't involve the apocalypse or a mind controlling sorcerer. Rather than an entire war, let's focus a game on one important battle, which has stakes for the war, though not necessarily the world. A talented writer can make any objective or end as epic as the end of the world.

Edited by Tennmuerti
@Forderz:
It's kind of a funny coincidence that you are posting this now, when a very good example that takes the other road just got released on the 360
 I'm talking about the Witcher 2 of course. A great example of games (based on books) that instead of having a cliche fantasy plot of saving the world (or everyone) instead chooses to focus on the personal story of a character and keeps the scope of events as they are relevant only to him. The ending (no spoilers don't worry) underlines this even more so, his set of events is finished so the game ends, the final confrontation (or non confrontation) is his and his alone and doesn't concern anyone else. To the world it doesn't really matter in the grand scheme of things. Sure you may have swayed some events one way or another, but those events would have simply been resolved in their own natural ways with or without you.
 
As for the Game of Thrones books, the way George Martin likes to fuck with people, you never know, you may predict that that is who will be the one who saves the world, but that is not guaranteed in the slightest, nor in fact that the world will even be saved, or that it will even need saving, or need saving by that particular party. 
 
@BoG
See my first paragraph :)
Edited by believer258

Homer's Odyssey is an offshoot of The Iliad, which while not quite a world-saving story is nonetheless huge and epic - the very thing you're not looking for.

On the actual topic topic at hand, why would anyone create a huge fantasy world, set up its rules and history, create its characters, and then not explore as much of that as possible? Sure, you could do it across many different books set in the same universe, but you could also detail all of that and then threaten it to create tension. That sounds cheap because it's been done over and over and over but humans love to see the underdog beat impossible odds. We love to see overcoming, and to us a good world-saving story never gets old and the idea of a farmboy saving the world never gets cheap. Frodo Baggins, Luke Skywalker, etc., we just don't tire of seeing the big strong evil guy get what's coming to him, especially by what was once a poor nothing. I, personally, think this is just an echo of our own struggles in life. Life sometimes sucks and we struggle against what we feel is a great, oppressive, black mass of evil that only wants to make us miserable. Overcoming that and beating your troubles into submission feels fantastic, and seeing that echoed in fiction is something we greatly enjoy.

You are right in saying that a slice-of-life fantasy world would be very interesting to see. I do wish that someone would create a great big fantasy world and then explore every facet of it with different stories.

A note: I would say that the reason we see more of what you're talking about in urban fantasy (Succubus) is because nothing has to be created or established. We know what urban fantasy is. We know what a succubus is, or can find out easily. An entire world's history and stuff doesn't have to be detailed, so the author doesn't necessarily want to threaten it all.

Edited by QuistisTrepe

I don't think you understood Catherine very well. The things you're citing as alternatives that would have been better than what the developer came up with were far beyond the scope of the actual plot. Intrapersonal conflict was always the theme of the game, you knew this and then still became disappointed over how it all turned out? It's one thing to have a difference of opinion, but I find your take here bizarre to say the least.

Your citing of Catherine was an unfortunate hiccup in what was otherwise a pretty decent post.

Posted by selbie

@believer258 said:

I do wish that someone would create a great big fantasy world and then explore every facet of it with different stories.

If you haven't yet, check out Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels. One flat world on the back of a giant flying space turtle. So far 39 stories have been told within this world, exploring all kinds of different characters and themes.

Edited by Jeust

While I can see where you are comming from, you are wrong about most of the Catherine plot you analyze. 
 
***Catherine spoilers *** 
 
After Catherine disappears from the story, you aren't going to save the world or face Lucifer. Lucifer doesn't appear in the game at all. The main antagonist is Tomas Mutton, with his own reasons for what he was doing, which are weird but understandable. You don't save the world, as the actions of the prime evil doer don't reach that far. Vincent takes into himself to end the nightmares of his friends and the rest of the people attending the bar, and fix his personal life.
 
*** End of Catherine spoilers *** 
 
While  i can understand your discontent, Catherine isn't the best example for this type of discussion. 

Posted by believer258

@selbie said:

@believer258 said:

I do wish that someone would create a great big fantasy world and then explore every facet of it with different stories.

If you haven't yet, check out Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels. One flat world on the back of a giant flying space turtle. So far 39 stories have been told within this world, exploring all kinds of different characters and themes.

I've heard of them but haven't read them.

Posted by Forderz

@Jeust: To be fair, I played Catherine once, months ago, for 12 hours straight (not counting that one short break) All I remembered about that creepy bartender is that he wanted to punish men for their weakness and inability to fulfil the goal of life: procreation. I remember thinking "Fuck, this duder is worried about UNDERpopulation? What a Japanese viewpoint." This article is less about the particulars of Catherine's plot and more about my personal feelings of frustration with the removal of options that escalation causes. If a god/prime evil/cosmic horror decides to fuck you or your world up, there's no space in your head for second-guessing yourself, no room for compromise with the other party, as you know that it/he/they will remove you from existence or steal your soul or drive you irrecoverably insane.

Thanks for reminding me about Tomas Mutton, though!

@QuistisTrepe: That's the thing, though. I went in completely blind, and thus had no idea what to expect. I hold the Persona team in high enough regard to believe that they would be ballsy enough to whip out a game-changer in the 11th hour In my play-through of the game, when the knife scene played out, I had no idea what would happen next. Then Katherine came with you into puzzle land and my jaw went slack. Even later, before he realizes that the bartender saw Catherine too, and is wandering around town, despondent, I thought that maybe this was it. If the game had ended with Vincent walking through the rain, I would of ordered another copy just to show my respect for the developer. But they had to continue on and plop in a demon lord and the lives of countless future men, completely obliterating the near-cowardice and hesitance that defined Vincent, replacing it with a steely resolve to beat Tomas Mutton, for the sake of his life and the lives of so many other like him. It destroyed my sense of 'self' in Vincent.

Thank you everyone for your responses!

Posted by Jay444111

Again people, there really isn't that many games where you actually do save the world. Most of the time it literally is just about saving a single area that either does or doesn't affect the rest of the world.

Like Prototype, at most you are just trying to stop a super virus that it growing out of control.

Or in Yakuza you just have to find the 10 billion yen that a little girls somewhat knows about.

Or even damn mario and just preventing Bowser from ruling the land.

Not a lot of save the world stories, however the ones that do them well are the most well remembered so I may have some nostalgia goggles going on.

Posted by BraveToaster

"as soon as her or she finishes the first book..."

Oh boy, I hope you fixed that before you submitted this.

Posted by Forderz

@BraveToaster: I did, luckily.

Edited by mlarrabee

An excellent and thought-provoking read.

Proof-reading is unintentionally my "thing," and I noticed this sentence's structure felt a bit confusing.

Would he take the blame for the woman he loves murder, and allow his unborn child to grow with its mother?

Would you consider changing it to: "Would he take the blame for the murder committed by the woman he loves, and allow their unborn child to grow with its mother?"

Again, very well written.

EDIT: Unless it's already submitted, naturally.

Edited by theManUnknown

@Forderz said:

Much of the criticism I lay upon modern writing cannot be applied to one of the most ancient of texts. The story of Homer’s Odyssey dealt in epic fare, but kept the motivations of its protagonist pure and mundane: Get home. That story of the simplest of desires has entertained audiences throughout the ages, and continues to do so today. Perhaps modern authors could learn from Homer’s example.

My thoughts immediately jumped to this subject upon reading the first paragraphs of your post. It's odd, but there's a substantial amount of variety to be found among the epics of old. The Iliad concerns the Trojan war—a world changing event, according the most of the classic epic poems, but not a cataclysmic one. The Odyssey, as you noted, is an entirely personal story.

It continues on even past the Greek epics, however. The Aeneid concerns the founding of the Roman Empire (their explicit destiny being to one day rule the world, not necessarily save it), while the Divine Comedy more focused on being an exploration of Christian theology and the author's own personal development. I'm not capable of commenting on the Italian renaissance epics, but the great English effort of the time, The Faerie Queene, likewise avoids this modern trend of the protagonists ultimately saving the world from desolation. Paradise Lost concerns the fall of man, not its salvation.

I think it is important to note, however, that although none of the protagonists of these works explicitly save the world, they are one in all considered to have a grand destiny that will at least radically influence the entire world. Odysseus's journey may just consist of returning home, but the very gods of creation are nonetheless intimately concerned, interested, and invested in his ultimate fate. All of The Faerie Queen's protagonists explicitly have grand destinies concerning the future prosperity of England, but almost all of their personal story-arcs are journeys of personal growth. Even the Redcross Knight, who does save a kingdom from a dragon in the poem's first book, does so only in its final canto, with all of the other 11 concerning his fall and redemption story.

I have no real argument to make with this—just thought I'd offer some further observations on the matter.

@Jay444111 said:

Again people, there really isn't that many games where you actually do save the world. Most of the time it literally is just about saving a single area that either does or doesn't affect the rest of the world.

The difference is almost immaterial. In most (not all, I'll grant) such examples the scope is still large enough that the basic argument remains more or less applicable. For example, Bowser only generally threatens Peach's kingdom, but until the galaxy games her kingdom might as well have been the entire universe of the Mario games for all the significance the world outside her kingdom had.

But in general I would maintain this trend is mostly a concern in games with a science fiction or fantasy narrative.

Edited by Jeust

@Forderz said:

@Jeust: To be fair, I played Catherine once, months ago, for 12 hours straight (not counting that one short break) All I remembered about that creepy bartender is that he wanted to punish men for their weakness and inability to fulfil the goal of life: procreation. I remember thinking "Fuck, this duder is worried about UNDERpopulation? What a Japanese viewpoint." This article is less about the particulars of Catherine's plot and more about my personal feelings of frustration with the removal of options that escalation causes. If a god/prime evil/cosmic horror decides to fuck you or your world up, there's no space in your head for second-guessing yourself, no room for compromise with the other party, as you know that it/he/they will remove you from existence or steal your soul or drive you irrecoverably insane.

Thanks for reminding me about Tomas Mutton, though!

@QuistisTrepe: That's the thing, though. I went in completely blind, and thus had no idea what to expect. I hold the Persona team in high enough regard to believe that they would be ballsy enough to whip out a game-changer in the 11th hour In my play-through of the game, when the knife scene played out, I had no idea what would happen next. Then Katherine came with you into puzzle land and my jaw went slack. Even later, before he realizes that the bartender saw Catherine too, and is wandering around town, despondent, I thought that maybe this was it. If the game had ended with Vincent walking through the rain, I would of ordered another copy just to show my respect for the developer. But they had to continue on and plop in a demon lord and the lives of countless future men, completely obliterating the near-cowardice and hesitance that defined Vincent, replacing it with a steely resolve to beat Tomas Mutton, for the sake of his life and the lives of so many other like him. It destroyed my sense of 'self' in Vincent.

Thank you everyone for your responses!

I think the presence and threat presented by the deity reflect about the human condition. Man becomes letargic when his life goes without pressure and challenge. When push comes to shove is the moment when the human heart finds resolve or gives up. A challenge that goes over a person's head while still presented with excitement and hope, and safe, provides a powerful Journey, and a situation to feel corageous and capable.

Why is it the second world war the most proeminent theme in war games? Doesn't it provide a clear motivation, exciting and evocative?

Posted by Demoskinos

I agree. And its one of the reasons why I thought Dragon Age II was a interesting story even if some things like reused areas were shitty. The story wasn't about saving the world. It was about Hawke and his/her personal journey over 10 years.

Edited by theManUnknown

@Jeust said:

Why is it the second world war the most proeminent theme in war games? Doesn't it provide a clear motivation, exciting and evocative?

I think it ironic that you should choose that as your example, as I think the persistent criticism of the FPS genre's reliance on WWII as a setting or context up until the advent of Modern Warfare really mirrors @Forderz's own argument rather profoundly. Certainly, the second world war provides an excellent setting for a shooter, as you well argued, but extreme overuse of the period eventually robbed gamers of any appreciation might have had for the setting. It's clear to see an FPS doesn't need to be set in WWII in order to be engaging, and that reality is much the same with fantasy/sci-fi narratives and the specific sort of plot structure Forderz described.

Posted by Jeust

@theManUnknown said:

@Jeust said:

Why is it the second world war the most proeminent theme in war games? Doesn't it provide a clear motivation, exciting and evocative?

I think it ironic that you should choose that as your example, as I think the persistent criticism of the FPS genre's reliance on WWII as a setting or context up until the advent of Modern Warfare really mirrors @Forderz's own argument rather profoundly. Certainly, the second world war provides an excellent setting for a shooter, as you well argued, but extreme overuse of the period eventually robbed gamers of any appreciation might have had for the setting. It's clear to see an FPS doesn't need to be set in WWII in order to be engaging, and that reality is much the same with fantasy/sci-fi narratives and the specific sort of plot structure Forderz described.

It is a persistent criticism because it is terribly overdone. But there are reasons for being a time so well covered in videogames. :p

Posted by NlGHTCRAWLER

SHUT THE FUCK UP.

@Village_Guy said:

yay! (minor) shout-out to Bronies :D

Edited by Forderz

@Jeust: WWII is overused in videogames because anyone with a cursory knowledge of history immediately understands the gravity of peril the player character is in, and exactly what they are fighting for. It's a cheat for developers to add weight to the situation, and, as we all know, gamers love the familiar. But, in each of these games, you are, essentially, a cog in the machine. Your characters motivation might very well be to save the world/jews/AMERICA, but he lacks the ability and strength to act upon his desires unaided. This is very different from a game that involves a singular character or a small group of characters (see: 100% of RPG's) that share that goal accomplishing it. Everyone wants to change the world, to leave their mark in the annals of history, but the anonymous soldiers you play in military shooters will get their medals and then fade into history as a footnote, even if they are instrumental in stopping the Nazis. In an RPG/high fantasy, the character might end the story as a literal god, or a figure of salvation.

And we all know how the WWII Shooter is going to end. Hitler dies. There is no tension or suspense for the narrative at large, leaving the fate of your avatar and his squad the only real uncertainty in the game.

This is also ignoring the fact that most shooters don't put a premium on, real, human characters. We are not far removed from the faceless space marine of Doom. (NOTE: I have not played a military shooter, modern or otherwise, since Call of Duty 5. If the recent entries into the genre have improved their storytelling beyond having an evil Russian/Muslim/Chinese/German dude threaten the stability of the world, let me know!)

I think this is why I loved Battlefield: Bad Company so much. A wacky crew of larger-than-life personalities, petty goals (GET THE GOLD), and a variance, however small, on the setting of most shooters goes a long way in setting it apart from other shooters.

<3 the discussion!

@NlGHTCRAWLER: ??? I accidentally typed in manestream instead of mainstream. I am a brony, so I guess it was an accidental shout out? Also, have you seen my blog's background?

And to address your point about challenges going over heads, I would agree. Putting characters in lethal situation where the wrong move means being maimed or killed brings out the best in good people and the worst in bad. Most stories set in post-apocalyptic or very primitive settings use this to their advantage, keeping the character in a constant state of hyper-awareness. I don't think you need a deity or similar actor to achieve this; on the contrary, I think it lessens the impact, as having such a powerful force actively set against the character limits his or her possibly actions. I have no qualms about the concept of the hero's journey, just in its scope, especially in regards to high fantasy.

If I were to rewrite this article, I would use a less... personally affecting example and replace Catherine with a more applicable High Fantasy example. Maybe... Tales games in general? Most of them follow the same general plot, as entertaining the gameplay is.

Edited by Jeust

@Forderz: True, but like you said, WW2 shooters provide a scenario with which players can empathize and act upon, saving the world. But I think you missed two things, which were rigtheousness, and experience. There is good and evil, and the lines are clearly drawn. While you can't save the world by yourself, you have the feeling that you help in the struggle and the ending was due to your actions. And most of all you survived!

Scenarios like these provide a clear and easily understood goal, and provide with both control and meaning, which makes games unlike the reality we live in. Maybe the key thought is really that one, games that escape the problems of reality. Games are about interactivity, and most searched for is the one that takes us from our mundane lives, and gives our existence a different meaning, and provide control.

Maybe that's why most stories and plots derive from a set of a few scenarios: zombies, WW2, post-apocalyptic, sports, modern warfare, alien attacks ...

Posted by Forderz

@Jeust: I think we might be talking past one another here. The only issue I have with your post is your statement that (I'm assuming here) righteousness is always a good thing. I like it when characters doubt themselves. Drawing a clear line between good and evil removes much of that capacity to question oneself.

Posted by lockwoodx

Saving the world only sucks if the ending sucks. Blame lazy developers because if you look back at Final Fantasy 2 or Chrono Trigger for the SNES  you'll realize that saving the world is perfectly fine. 
 
The real problem is you were born too late with shitty parents in a overly politically correct world.

Posted by BoG

@Tennmuerti: It's a good thing I bought The Witcher 2, then! I need to play through it quickly. I expect story discussion when I'm done!

Edited by TheDudeOfGaming

Saving the world is kind of the point of high fantasy. If you don't like that, overused, plot device, then maybe fantasy isn't for you. But everything you wrote would work perfectly with post apocalyptic games/movies/books. No zombie invasions, no purifying the water, no destruction of an evil legion. Just survival.

Posted by Tonic7

@Forderz said:

Something I wrote for a college submission portfolio. Not completely related to VIDEO GAMES, but this is a blog, so whatever.

I’m tired of saving the world. Don’t get me wrong, it’s cool and all, with resealing the ancient evil that’s awakened or stopping the megalomaniac that will ‘rule the world or see it burned to ash’. Fun stuff. Judging from the amount of novels, video games, and other forms of media I see with themes of planetary salvation, I think I can safely assume plenty of other folks are in the same boat. But, like a box of cereal you leave in the pantry too long, it's getting kind of stale. Sure, it still tastes okay, and it isn’t going to make you sick or anything, but maybe it’s time to refresh your stock.

It’s been at the point, for a long while now, where the vast majority of mainstream (or popular, if manestream gives you hipster vibes) fantasy has become rather predictable in its storytelling. I’m painting with a broad brush, I know, but that’s my point. No matter what the starting point is, be it a orphaned kid living on dusty desert streets, the capricious tomboy rebelling against her protective father, or a ragtag band of mercenaries hired in a tavern, fantastical fiction seems to always end up with the heroes saving all of humanity.

That’s not to say that epic storylines that deal with the issues brought up by literally having the weight of the world lying on a character’s shoulders can’t be engaging and entertaining. Many are, from modern tales like the Mistborn trilogy by Brandon Sanderson, to the classic fare of Tolkien and all who came after him. Long, grueling tales of heroism, sacrifice, and redemption, with characters fighting for their lives every other page, are quite useful for putting your own problems in perspective. Having Bill, up in marketing, steal your lunch every Tuesday is aggravating, but petty in the grand scheme of things. But, invariably, the vast majority of fantastical fiction published each year deals with saving the world.

Sometimes the story is blatant about it. A Song of Ice and Fire, by George R.R. Martin, lets the reader know in the prologue to the first book that there is a very real and very dangerous threat to the world lurking just past that 700ft barrier of ice. This is a series praised by critics and consumers alike, with engaging characters, rich worldbuilding, and generous servings of sex and violence. Season Two of Game of Thrones is available right now on HBO. It is a series that prides itself on its grey morality, gritty realism, and stunning twists in its narrative. But, the reader knows as soon as soon as he or she finishes the first book, who will save the world.

Annnd you lost me. Have you read those books? Otherwise, apart from nit-picky grammar stuff, it was entertaining enough up until that point.

Edited by Turambar

I don't mind saving the world, but the act of expanding the scope to something like that needs to be done well.  No protagonist should start with "I'm gonna save the world" in mind.  The motivation must be personal, and must remain at the forefront even as events unfold and expand.
 
Aside from that, an entertaining read.  It has grammar mistakes that others have pointed out, but a well thought out and put together piece nonetheless.  My own college entrance essay was on what came first, the chicken or the egg.

Posted by Jeust
@Forderz said:

@Jeust: I think we might be talking past one another here. The only issue I have with your post is your statement that (I'm assuming here) righteousness is always a good thing. I like it when characters doubt themselves. Drawing a clear line between good and evil removes much of that capacity to question oneself.

Righteousness is soothing, and pleasurable, in the sense that there is nothing to question. The player in the side of good, and his enemies are bad. Most games, the bigger ones, go for the lowest common denominator, presenting a scenario which is simple, easy to understand and appealing. So morally and psicologically complex stories are few, normally reserved nowadays for Bioware's, CD Projekt RED's and Obsidian's games. 
 
I love rich and varied plots, still that is something I don't think most players are looking or care for.
Edited by Forderz

@lockwoodx: I don't appreciate having my parents called 'shitty,' and both of those games fall into the same trap that befalls any 'save the world' plot. There is no questioning of your mission. You are fighting evil, you are good, everything is black and white. Chrono Trigger, at least, toyed with the notion that perhaps playing around in time could seriously mess up the world, but your characters never seriously stop and consider the harm that could come about from mucking about in the timestream. Much of that could be blamed on the limitations of video games at the time, true, but it doesn't negate the point that Chrono and all his pals never stopped to consider and reflect upon their actions. Why would they? They were fighting to save the future of the world.

My brother purchased the Witcher II, and i'm interested in playing it once he's through. I hope I'll find it enjoyable.

I've always considered the point of high fantasy is to explore the incredible and to provide an escape from the mundane. I'm saying that the ratio of 'save the world' plots, whether they involve saving the entire world, a significant portion of it, or a substantial portion of it populace, versus the tales of the everyday man in a fairy tale world, is anything but close to 1:1. I do very much enjoy a proper post-apocalyptic tale, highlighting the best and worse in people as a shattered world tries to rebuild. You'll find no argument from my corner concerning Fallout 2. It was, and still is, a high watermark for player choice and agency in video games. You were never forced to do anything, and, more importantly, you were 100% free of world-saving responsibility.

I think a discussion about the outcome of two character arcs of a book series is outside the scope of this blog post. May I direct you to http://asoiaf.westeros.org/index.php/forum/20-general-asoiaf/? I think an hour or two of reading will shed some light on the subject of prophecy and destiny within Westeros. That isn't to say that I don't very much enjoy the books, but, in the case of two characters, I know that they can not truly perish until they play their part in saving the world. That sucks out some of the enjoyment I get from the series, but it is only two in a cast of hundreds.

Thanks for your kind words!

Not having anything to question is far from soothing, to me, at least. I'm bored if I can't stop and weigh the good my actions will do versus the bad. I dislike having an ostensibly 'role playing game,' failing to provide me a satisfying role to play. If I wanted mindless adherence to killing the bad guy, I'd play Diablo. But there are plenty of games that fall between the stone-faced automaton that is the player character in Diablo and someone like Geralt of Rivera. I wouldn't use Mass Effect as an example of complex story-telling in this particular context, as Command Shepard lacks the luxury of questioning his mission to save the galaxy from the Reapers. Shepard has a lot of freedom in just how he goes about saving the galaxy, yes, but he is still forced to do so. I, for one, love the universe Mass Effect has built, and would love to play around in it without the hanging threat of mass extinction hanging over my head.

(I love Diablo, by the way. It doesn't try to pretend to have a complex story, and doesn't need to. Just gimme my loot!)

Edited by Blackout62

@Forderz: "Where is Seinfeld meets Middle-Earth?"

Dragon Age II oddly enough. The better part of that game was just television-esque development of your party members' characters over the length of the game. Actually that whole game's story was pretty much bereft of a big save the world goal, only in the epilogue does the conflict even grow beyond the city you're in. Never does the game outright tell you "You need to go stop the bad thing to save the whole world from utter destruction," instead most of the game is just going around growing rather awesome and hanging with your chums. The closest you get is the last act of the story, being highly involved in the localized strife between mages and the church. Only when the game ends do you realize the actions you were a part of sparked a larger rebellion and subsequent war.

Great piece by the way, makes me ashamed that my college admission essay was basically just me saying Top Gun was cool.

Posted by Forderz

if you writing about Top Gun can get you in, I'm confident about my chances.

It's too bad that the story of Dragon Age II was wrapped around repetitive environments and lacklustre gameplay, according to most media sites, GB included. I never touched the game. I did enjoy parts of DA:O, though.

Posted by Suicrat

I have to ask why you want escapism that only escapes the aesthetics of your reality in the fiction you consume. I mean, certainly there's enough anti-heroic, morally ambiguous, non-save-the-world fiction out there. Why would you prefer Walter White make meth using alchemy instead of chemistry? Why would you prefer Friday Night Lights featuring Blitzball but not Football? It seems like a hopeless and silly desire, even if articulated well. After all these genres are fantasy and speculative fiction, the paint on the canvas is composed of imagination, so the chromacy is wild, vibrant and the strokes are far more grandiose than the canvas can contain. That's kind of the whole point. Now, on the other hand were you to raise the criticism of the sameness of the tropes and the blandness of the reasons for conflict in these genres you might have a point, but criticizing fantasy and spec fic for being large in scope and aim seems a lot like criticizing hip hop for its non-melodic cadence.

In the end I'm not sure how much you'd really enjoy Xena: Single Mom-slash-Warrior Princess.

But as for morally black and white I don't ser much of it in the examples you cite: the conflicts are usually ethnic, cultural, or simply geographic; and if the conflict is ideological, the good side is given platitudes by the writers and the bad side receives straw men. Most of the time the good guys are just as bloodthirsty, power-hungry, and irrational as the bad guys except the bad guys are usually depicted to have thrown the first punch, justly incurring the wrath of the equally expansionistic, yet somehow morally-superior good guys. Moral greyness runs rampant in modern fiction of all genres, there is no amorality deficit to speak of.

But in the end if you're simply tired of saving the world there's always Tetris and Realism.

Edited by lockwoodx

Sorry it's the truth kid.
 
Generations since "X" have been pussified and parents are too terrified by a politically correct system to properly raise and discipline their children anymore due to the nanny state we live in. I'm all for tolerance and acceptance but when children can blame teachers for their failing grades rather than the parents responsible for raising them properly, it's a sad bleak world we live in. Back when games like Chrono trigger were created, games were made for pure and simple fun. Boon and Tobias didn't give a fuck if mortal kombat offended people, because children were raised to know the difference between a game and reality instead of blowing the whistle or tattling because they saw something that resembled the bad touch they could point to on a doll. These days now we have homoerotic ponies masquerading as children's shows, limited edition games that come with blow up dolls, and american's youth are so lazy they can't even march to protest anymore. Instead they just occupy. Call me bitter, old, and cranky but I could care less who gets offended when it's the truth. The grass is always greener, and the glory days were always better. Enjoy what you perceive to be your golden era because you'll never get it back as time marches on and the world gets bleaker. Just feel fortunate $DLC will only be a fraction of yours as smart phones take over the gaming industry, because paying for tiny pieces of games is just their way of raping your wallet because publishers didn't have the balls to charge what games should cost up front. The industry is imploding and by the next decade gaming will be a whole different breed you can bitch about to the generation coming up beneath you.
 

Posted by S0ndor

Yep, it can get stale. Kingdoms of Amalur was my most recent world saving adventure that I couldn't care less about, mostly because of boring characters and mediocre presentation.

An odd thing to say about A Song of Ice and Fire, however. The sheer number of giant plot twists and major character deaths that that series dumps on us, makes it quite impossible to predict who will save the world, I think. Especially, after the introduction of the boy in the last book.