#1 Edited by minivan (173 posts) -

I'm reading Tom Bissell's "Extra Lives" and got stuck on this quote from chapter 3 where he's describing an intense L4D experience when he barely saved his friends at a safe house entrance in versus mode:

Left 4 Dead offered a rare example in which a game’s theme (cooperation) was also what was encouraged within the actual flow of gameplay.

What are other games that do this? Alternatively what would have to change in a certain game's narrative or gameplay to make the themes match?

#2 Edited by hencook (175 posts) -

The Battlestar Galactica board game was like the show. In the show, Cylons are robots that are indistinguishable from Humans. In the board game, players are either humans or cylons, with the cylon players trying their best to blend in with their human adversaries. Accusations are thrown across the table. The themes of betrayal and cooperation are seen in the show and very well emulated in the game.

Most horror games emphasize narrative. Some games only allow narrative to influence only a limited degree, like Fallout. While at first the game feels desolate, as you go on, it's very easy to survive as the only adversaries are the ones that shoot you rather than the environment or the radiation that can be easily removed. Fallout certainly visually looked bleak, but the mechanics emphasized fun over theme. I remember playing a certain mod that bumped up the survival factor of the game, and it helped.

"Alternatively what would have to change in a certain game's narrative or gameplay to make the themes match?"

My first example marries theme and mechanics just right. It was unique too, okay maybe there are others like it, but it succeeded with innovation. The Jedi Knight series doesn't really feel like you're in the shoes of a peace loving Jedi, because it seems like you're running around killing countless stormtroopers and that you're a BAMF (to which I guess Mace Windu was anyways). But I'd rather be playing Kyle Katarn's version of Jedi Knight than play "Jedi Master" as Yoda.

Don't worry, we'll all get to experience companionship as soon as The Last Guardian comes out.

#3 Edited by Daneian (1207 posts) -

Hotline Miami's theme on the nature of violence is defined and encouraged by the visceral fast paced combat which leaked out into its world.

#4 Posted by TheManWithNoPlan (5214 posts) -

Batman Arkham Asylum and City really reinforce the theme of being the goddamn Batman!

#5 Edited by Dagbiker (6939 posts) -

Spec ops: the line made you feel like shut for doing shity things. It was great.

#6 Posted by minivan (173 posts) -

@hencook: I need to check out that Battlestar board game.

As for Fallout, that disconnect between mechanics and theme bothered me as well in 3. I haven't played New Vegas yet, but apparently the "hardcore mode" in that game makes surviving much harder.

#7 Edited by ll_Exile_ll (1430 posts) -

This is a weird question, because for the majority of games the theme is defined by the gameplay in the first place. The reason the theme of L4D is cooperation is because it's a co-op focused game, so obviously the gameplay reinforces the theme that is itself defined by the gameplay. Unless I'm misunderstanding the quote, it's not rare at all for the theme of a game to be encouraged by the gameplay, especially in more gameplay focused games (as opposed to story driven games) like Left 4 Dead.

#8 Posted by Video_Game_King (35981 posts) -

Persona 3 and Pandora's Tower come to mind.

#9 Posted by Grissefar (2842 posts) -

@minivan said:

I'm reading Tom Bissell's "Extra Lives" and got stuck on this quote from chapter 3 where he's describing an intense L4D experience when he barely saved his friends at a safe house entrance in versus mode:

Left 4 Dead offered a rare example in which a game’s theme (cooperation) was also what was encouraged within the actual flow of gameplay.

What are other games that do this? Alternatively what would have to change in a certain game's narrative or gameplay to make the themes match?

I've nothing against L4D but I don't know man, sounds like some writer pulling words out his ass, but God knows we need people in this industry who writes stuff beyond the standard ass review/preview treadmill and shit like "5 reasons to be excited for GTA". Or perhaps I'm not sure what he means. The theme of Call of Duty is being a soldier and you shoot the enemy soldiers. How does it not apply to ever game in the world ever?

#10 Posted by BeachThunder (11689 posts) -

This is a weird question, because for the majority of games the theme is defined by the gameplay in the first place. The reason the theme of L4D is cooperation is because it's a co-op focused game, so obviously the gameplay reinforces the theme that is itself defined by the gameplay. Unless I'm misunderstanding the quote, it's not rare at all for the theme of a game to be encouraged by the gameplay, especially in more gameplay focused games (as opposed to story driven games) like Left 4 Dead.

Yeah, I think the given example is a weird one. It's like saying the theme of a single-player game is to solve the game's problems by yourself, which is reinforced by solving the problems yourself.

Anyway, I get the gist of the thread's question. A good recent example would be Outlast - you are a unarmed journalist; you are physically vulnerable and only have a camera. In terms of gameplay, your vulnerability is expressed by having to hide under beds or in lockers; often your only means of navigation is using your camera's night vision - also, your camera can also be used to record important events.

#11 Edited by Grissefar (2842 posts) -

@ll_exile_ll said:

This is a weird question, because for the majority of games the theme is defined by the gameplay in the first place. The reason the theme of L4D is cooperation is because it's a co-op focused game, so obviously the gameplay reinforces the theme that is itself defined by the gameplay. Unless I'm misunderstanding the quote, it's not rare at all for the theme of a game to be encouraged by the gameplay, especially in more gameplay focused games (as opposed to story driven games) like Left 4 Dead.

Yeah, I think the given example is a weird one. It's like saying the theme of a single-player game is to solve the game's problems by yourself, which is reinforced by solving the problems yourself.

Anyway, I get the gist of the thread's question. A good recent example would be Outlast - you are a unarmed journalist; you are physically vulnerable and only have a camera. In terms of gameplay, your vulnerability is expressed by having to hide under beds or in lockers; often your only means of navigation is using your camera's night vision - also, your camera can also be used to record important events.

Oh that sounds fantastic.

Oh it's that new game I remember Adam Boyes talking on the E3 stage about how he shit himself because it was so scary.

#12 Posted by Sinusoidal (1283 posts) -

Demon's/Dark Souls. Absolutely dismal fantasy world in which you die brutally and often. They force you to play extremely cautiously if you don't want to lose, and even then circumstances will often conspire to screw you. (I just lost 7000+ souls early game and my humanity that I just consumed items to acquire so I could summon some help to beat the bell gargoyles after being invaded by some jerk rocking amazing equipment at low level [seriously, I was on fire and poisoned at level 12] while trying to get to my blood stain!!) They're both very thematically consistent games.

Misery, beautiful misery.

#13 Posted by ProfessorEss (7278 posts) -

I thought Just Cause 2's over-the-top gameplay supported it's cheesy, over-the-top action movie theme better than any poorly acted cut scene ever could.

#14 Posted by JasonR86 (9604 posts) -

Last of Us, Brothers, Thomas Was Alone, Journey, others that aren't coming to me first thing in the morning. I think the theme of a game is represented in gameplay much more often then not. Exceptions prove the rule and what not.

#15 Edited by BeachThunder (11689 posts) -

@beachthunder said:

@ll_exile_ll said:

This is a weird question, because for the majority of games the theme is defined by the gameplay in the first place. The reason the theme of L4D is cooperation is because it's a co-op focused game, so obviously the gameplay reinforces the theme that is itself defined by the gameplay. Unless I'm misunderstanding the quote, it's not rare at all for the theme of a game to be encouraged by the gameplay, especially in more gameplay focused games (as opposed to story driven games) like Left 4 Dead.

Yeah, I think the given example is a weird one. It's like saying the theme of a single-player game is to solve the game's problems by yourself, which is reinforced by solving the problems yourself.

Anyway, I get the gist of the thread's question. A good recent example would be Outlast - you are a unarmed journalist; you are physically vulnerable and only have a camera. In terms of gameplay, your vulnerability is expressed by having to hide under beds or in lockers; often your only means of navigation is using your camera's night vision - also, your camera can also be used to record important events.

Oh that sounds fantastic.

Oh it's that new game I remember Adam Boyes talking on the E3 stage about how he shit himself because it was so scary.

Possibly.

Patrick has played through quite a bit of it on camera, which I assume you haven't watched. However, he's allegedly going to do a review of the game soonish. If you enjoyed Amnesia 1, I would definitely recommend it, it's one of my favourite games from this year.

#16 Posted by Veektarius (4585 posts) -

I can think of a couple examples of games not doing this. For example, Halo: Reach was a game with a theme about losing a battle, and yet you never lose battles yourself. Most RTS campaigns also make little sense within the auspices of the story set out for them.

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#17 Posted by Milkman (16515 posts) -

I don't really understand completely what you're asking but Brothers came to mind immediately.

#18 Edited by hencook (175 posts) -

Theme usually comes at the expense of fun.

Call of Duty is somewhat thematic, because you're shooting bad guys in a military op. Arma is more thematic. America's Army is very thematic, as you cannot even play the insurgents, and you must pass a training course to become a sniper or a medic. While Call of Duty makes me feel like I'm owning people by getting kill streaks, in America's Army, I'm treated like a soldier in training.

Imagine if you played COD, except when you get shot in the leg, you fall over and just sit there for 10 minutes waiting for someone to pick you up. You try to pick up your gun and defend yourself, or even crawl around a little, but your player character gives up and just sits there nursing his wound. The game would be very thematic, but not very fun. Instead COD has you respawning in random areas, five seconds away from your next target. COD is fun, but not thematic.

Theme usually comes at the expense of fun, but it doesn't have to. Dark Souls is an excellent example as described by sinusodial.

#19 Edited by Hamborgini (21 posts) -

Final Fantasy 7 is all about dealing with changes to one's identity. Every major character's story arc deals with identity in some way. Some notable examples: Cloud spends much of the game pretending to be someone else before having a bit of an identity crisis and rediscovering who he actually is. Through the destruction of his home town, Barrett is labeled a terrorist. Having lost everything, he adopts the identity that Shinra gave him and becomes a terrorist. Red XIII's short arc involves the identity of his father - a brave warrior who died protecting his people, rather than the coward his son thought him to be. Yuffie's entire country is dealing with being turned from a military power into a toothless tourist nation. Cait Sith has his whole spy robot thing with Reeve, and so on.

When playing, any character can be assigned any skills and abilities you want through the materia system. Their identies are flexible and never permanent. Cloud could be a healer just as easily as he could be a fighter or a mage. The same goes for the rest of the characters. The limits of the three-character battle system and flexibility of the materia system actually make it beneficial to change characters' roles, as well. See also: Cloud's cross-dressing in Sector 5, Cloud's disguise in Junon, everyone's disguises on the boat to Costa del Sol, the changing forms of the recurring Jenova boss, and, in a meta kind of way, how the expanded universe turns Cloud into a brooding kind of person that he never was in the main game.

#20 Posted by CaLe (3910 posts) -

The Last of Us, specifically on the harder difficulties. Managing very little resources, scraping by, improvising and barely surviving all fit with the theme of the world and the story.

#21 Posted by JazGalaxy (1576 posts) -

This is a weird question, because for the majority of games the theme is defined by the gameplay in the first place. The reason the theme of L4D is cooperation is because it's a co-op focused game, so obviously the gameplay reinforces the theme that is itself defined by the gameplay. Unless I'm misunderstanding the quote, it's not rare at all for the theme of a game to be encouraged by the gameplay, especially in more gameplay focused games (as opposed to story driven games) like Left 4 Dead.

I completely disagree. In most modern games the theme is completely contrary to the gameplay.

I think a lot of people miss the point when they say "the theme of survival is enforced in Tomb Raider because it's a survival game". That's kind of missing the point, really.

To answer the OPs question, I really found a sense of theme become apparent in ShadowRun Returns.

The point of Shadowrun is that you play a ShadowRunner, who is a mercenary. You are a loner who lives life alone and has no one to trust. The story begins when an old acquaintance of yours calls in a favor, but you can't really trust anything about him or his situation even though he says you were the only person he felt like he could trust. Shortly into the story, your character comes into contact with a bar called The Seamstresses Union where a woman has created a surrogate family for misfits. This place becomes your base of operations for the duration of the adventure.

Due to the course of gameplay, you keep returning to this basecamp between missions and talking with the various characters. The interactions are so authentic, and the relationships formed ring so true that you really begin to think of this place as home. I think that's definitely an instance where the game structure tells a story alongside the actual dialog and event driven narrative.

#22 Posted by beeftothetaco (420 posts) -

Dark Souls.

#23 Posted by BisonHero (6154 posts) -

I sort of think this is bullshit, but I'll submit that the theme of No More Heroes is something about gamers/otaku being suckers who can be manipulated to go through a bunch of tedium that has a minimal payoff. In the actual game, you spend a TON of time grinding for arbitrary amounts of money to advance the story (terrible mini games and fights against fodder enemies) and then the payoff is the later portions of the game which are increasingly random twists and anticlimaxes. The payoff that Travis expects (becoming no. 1, sexing Sylvia) either don't happen or prove to be meaningless/impossible.

Or maybe that game is tedious because it's just poorly designed. It's hard to say.

#24 Posted by audioBusting (1477 posts) -

Far Cry 2 (another game mentioned by the book) pushes its theme of chaos so much into both the narrative and gameplay that it almost feels bad to play the game, but it is beautiful for that.

#25 Posted by minivan (173 posts) -

I'm thinking about this in context of some of my favorite games.

Mass Effect's biggest theme is conflict between organics and synthetics. In dialogue trees you can explore and express a pre-written opinion on this theme, but nothing in combat makes you think about this conflict. Two smaller themes (heroism, teamwork) are built into combat I guess.

I think the organics vs synthetics theme could've been explored more in gameplay if Shepard didn't kill every enemy she encounters. What if it was standard protocol to incapacitate organic opponents, but kill synthetics? The Legion storyline could make Shepard rethink how she deals with every enemy synthetic (even reapers). This would also make for meaningful encounters when you have no choice but to kill. But is that a better or funner game? I don't know.

Team Fortress 2, like Left 4 Dead, is all about cooperation but in a friendly team objective space instead of tense horror. The class system, game modes, dialogue, and backstory all match the theme. You could argue the cosmetic item economy detracts from that.

#26 Posted by minivan (173 posts) -

@hencook said:

Theme usually comes at the expense of fun.

Call of Duty is somewhat thematic, because you're shooting bad guys in a military op. Arma is more thematic. America's Army is very thematic, as you cannot even play the insurgents, and you must pass a training course to become a sniper or a medic. While Call of Duty makes me feel like I'm owning people by getting kill streaks, in America's Army, I'm treated like a soldier in training.

Imagine if you played COD, except when you get shot in the leg, you fall over and just sit there for 10 minutes waiting for someone to pick you up. You try to pick up your gun and defend yourself, or even crawl around a little, but your player character gives up and just sits there nursing his wound. The game would be very thematic, but not very fun. Instead COD has you respawning in random areas, five seconds away from your next target. COD is fun, but not thematic.

Theme usually comes at the expense of fun, but it doesn't have to. Dark Souls is an excellent example as described by sinusodial.

I think CoD 4's theme is heroic military action in the face of absurd odds. Every time you die it's like a diverging timeline where you failed. The game puts you back at a checkpoint to try again. By the end of the game, you've made this absurd narrative where one soldier kills hundreds of dudes and saves the world.

#27 Posted by hermes (1365 posts) -

@ll_exile_ll said:

This is a weird question, because for the majority of games the theme is defined by the gameplay in the first place. The reason the theme of L4D is cooperation is because it's a co-op focused game, so obviously the gameplay reinforces the theme that is itself defined by the gameplay. Unless I'm misunderstanding the quote, it's not rare at all for the theme of a game to be encouraged by the gameplay, especially in more gameplay focused games (as opposed to story driven games) like Left 4 Dead.

Its not such a weird point. Many games don't reinforce the theme through gameplay, instead taking a template of a used genre and apply it to any given game, even when it doesn't fit. Examples of games whose gameplay doesn't support any theme intended on the original material are the latest Harry Potter games, Dante's Inferno or half the Lego games.

On the other hand, consider Team Fortress 2. In that game, the fact there is a rock-paper-scissor mechanic that ensures no class is overpowered against every other class is made to reinforce the themes of teamwork and cooperation between different classes.

#28 Posted by Captain_Felafel (1552 posts) -

The earlier parts of The Last of Us do a terrific job of reinforcing the concepts of resource scarcity and the dire nature of never fully knowing how a combat encounter will play out. Playing on Hard, I definitely found myself being overly cautious and being unsure if I'd make it or not in a room full of three or four dudes. I can't remember ever playing a game where I found a small handful of dudes challenging enough to cause doubt in myself.

#29 Edited by MrCaptain (364 posts) -

I can think of a couple examples of games not doing this. For example, Halo: Reach was a game with a theme about losing a battle, and yet you never lose battles yourself. Most RTS campaigns also make little sense within the auspices of the story set out for them.

But doesn't that make the theme of the game NOT to loose battles?

#30 Posted by SunBroZak (1015 posts) -

I've already mentioned Extra Credits' "Mechanics as Metaphor" video in the past, but what they talk about in there is exactly what you're referring to. They also recommend you play this flash game, which demonstrates the principal of having your gameplay complement the theme in it's most basic form.

Otherwise, I tend to agree with "The Last of Us" as being a good example. There's an overwhelming feeling of loss and dread in that game, both in how the world looks and the way you interact with other characters. I'd also same the open-world Spider-man games always did a good job of making you feel like Spider-man. (same goes for being Batman, in the Batman Arkham games)

#31 Posted by Nightriff (4911 posts) -

@dagbiker said:

Spec ops: the line made you feel like shut for doing shity things. It was great.

First game that came to mind, absolutely brilliant game that doesn't get enough credit

#32 Posted by Veektarius (4585 posts) -

@mrcaptain: No, the theme of Halo Reach is definitely about losing a battle for a planet. I don't think that's open for dispute. If the game had no story, you could say the theme is whatever the gameplay makes it, but I think for the purposes of this discussion theme = premise ~= story

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#33 Posted by YoungFrey (1321 posts) -

There is an episode of Extra Credits that talks about this in Missile Command. The whole game is about choosing which cities survive a nuclear attack. Played by deciding which missiles coming at cities you want to shoot down.

#34 Posted by bluefish (427 posts) -

Spec Ops: The Line

Braid

Journey

Bioshock, providing I'm understanding the question correctly

Far Cry 2

Oddly enough, maybe GTA IV

My thoughts

#35 Posted by afabs515 (1010 posts) -

Persona 3 and 4: the themes of collective strength and interpersonal bonds are present in S. Linking