Things I Hate in Games I Love, Part 2: TWEWY

Hey, duders. So it’s been about a month since I wrote my last blog. When I wrote that last one about Late-Game Collectathons, I claimed that I would be writing four more, for a total of five. Well, it turns out that was a bit of a lie, because at that moment, I didn’t have a concept for even one more, let alone four. But I’m back now, so I guess I just pulled back the curtain for nothing...

Let’s just get to it, then. I have a feeling this’ll be a good one.

The Assimilation Plot

The assimilation plot is a common story point in which, broadly speaking, the "enemy plan" is to create utopia by forcing an entire population into a hive mind--merging everyone into the same mind/body/soul/etc. Said villain's reasoning is usually such that all human conflict is rooted in individuality, and the only way to eliminate conflict is to forcibly abolish individuality.

Most tropes that bother me in games, bother me because I feel they are overused to the point of becoming cliche. But I don't necessarily believe this is the case here, not in games at least. If we were to include, say, manga and anime, then it would be a different story, but I digress. No, the reason the assimilation plot bothers me is because I feel the morals it imparts are trite and boring and unearned. The assimilation plot is a clumsy attempt to externalize a very intricate sociological thesis in the bluntest, most literal way possible, and to me it always feels like a cheat.

CONGRATULATIONS

In nearly every case I’ve encountered, the assimilation plot is a quick way to emphasize the value of human diversity, in spite of the conflict it brings, by using plot magic to juxtapose it with something infinitely more horrifying. Theoretically, this is a very real and poignant theme that is relatable to anyone, especially socially awkward types which may gravitate toward escapist fiction (don’t take offense, I’m describing myself here). The problem is that it’s all unearned. Its implicit moral stance, the one about diversity and tolerance and shit, is frequently stated but rarely is it adequately demonstrated. I don't know why this is definitively, but I suspect the form is at least partly to blame. Because video games are most fluent in the language of extremes, it’s easy to make themes that could be more intimately explored in, say, a novel or a film, seem just plain goofy when plastered up on the canvas we so often see games painted on--world in peril, everything on the line, yada yada yada. Regardless of the reason, I just don't feel this sort of plot development ever works in the way writers intend it to, and I wish they would stop.

How TWEWY Applies

The World Ends with You fits my model of the assimilation plot pretty much exactly. In short, the big bad thinks the world is fucked because people are different, so he’s going to unfuck it by making everyone the same. Granted, TWEWY pulls it off better than most other fiction I’ve seen. There is a moment in the back-stretch of the game, when the enemy plan is becoming apparent, that the game actually conveys quite well the inherent repulsiveness of such a society. Most stories do this by using body horror--witnessing people physically combine into a single being, in the slimiest way possible--but TWEWY employs a somewhat defter touch, at least in the visual sense. Morally, of course, the script is as blunt as ever, with characters literally stating the game’s central thesis while confronting the big bad.

Seriously, though, TWEWY's still an awesome game

On a side note, it really gets my goat when games do this--having the characters engage in a live Socratic dialogue, stating their moral positions aloud before ultimately just settling the dispute with violence. I call it the "psyche-up speech."

So.

Considering that I've freely admitted that The World Ends with You pulls off the best assimilation plot I've ever seen, I think it's likely that I've just seen too many of them, or become so intensely critical of them, that I simply cannot abide a story that even attempts one, irrespective of the quality of execution. I'm willing to admit that this is, perhaps, a teensy bit unfair.

So what about you guys? Is there a specific plot device or twist that drives you up the wall? Do you object to it on logical or thematic grounds, or just because you think it's way corny?

- Jon

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Things I Hate in Games I Love, Part 1: Metroid Prime

As I often see demonstrated on these boards, it's all too easy to rip apart games that you are not at all invested in; it's somewhat more difficult, I think, to level criticism at games that you genuinely love. So I'm embarking on a five-part adventure of shitting on games for which my affection, perhaps, extends into the realm of irrationality. As these are all games I have a very high opinion of, my criticisms simply cannot be sweeping, numerous or comprehensive. Therefore I've instead chosen to focus on specific design elements, or maybe even singular moments, that I find to be the sole blight on otherwise flawless games.

Which leads us to my first thing I hate in a game I love...

Late-Game Collectathons

To understand the late-game collectathon, first you must understand the thing in its entirety. I would define a "collectathon" as any portion of a game in which you are tasked with collecting three or more objects of the same type and function in order to progress along that game's critical path. These objects will often be fairly arbitrary except for the fact that they somehow clear a path that was previously impassable. These will often operate by the Rule of Threes--as in, collect three magic stones to slot into the ancient door to make it open. Still, as tiresome as the Rule of Three has become, you should actually be thankful when it goes this way--it could just as easily be the Rule of Nine.

I find collectathons incredibly aggravating when they appear, not because they are padding, but rather because they are nakedly obvious padding. I can withstand, and even enjoy, a certain amount of padding in my games. I wouldn't be able to play nearly any game otherwise. The collectathon is really just the more shameless cousin to the fetch quest, anyway. But when developers grow too lazy even to convincingly disguise these mechanisms, then padding becomes a larger problem--a problem that stretches me to the very edge of endurance.

Two words: TRIFORCE SHARDS

And so we come to the late-game collectathon, perhaps the most nakedly obvious padding of them all. So, picture this: you've waded through dozens of hours of game to get here, but you're finally here--the final boss's chamber. The story has reached its crescendo, so naturally you're just itching to rip the guy's fucking head off, but wait, there's this thing you've got to do first... Backtrack through the entire game world and collect a bunch of shit.

How Metroid Prime Applies

In Metroid Prime, the shit to collect were Chozo Artifacts. Upon arriving at the crater that houses the final boss, you are prompted to backtrack through the world and collect nine of them, if you hadn't already. When you've collected all nine, which are scattered throughout the world, then and only then can you move on and kick Ridley's mecha-pterodactyl ass.

I fucking hated this part. Even young as I was, the artifice of the game design was just so apparent to me. After wandering the same rooms I'd already explored in my previous adventures, I hopped on Gamefaqs, printed out a guide and banged the whole thing out in about an hour. Not a game-breaking ordeal, ultimately, but I can't say it added anything of value to the overall experience. In fact, I'd say it actually detracted from my experience by sapping the endgame of its forward momentum. One bad design choice turned what should have been a glorious base assault into an interminable slog.

Gotcha! Only eight more to go, sucker!

Frustratingly, Retro made the same mistake again in Metroid Prime 2 (Keys), and yet again in 3 (Energy Cells). If Other M did the same thing, please let me know in the comments, because I've only played the Prime games, and at this point I'm beginning to think it's just a Metroid series tradition.

But even if it is, fuck tradition. Stop it. You're not fooling anyone, Metroid . I know there's not much of you left, so stop jerking me around. Just let me blow up Ridley, please.

So, what about you guys? Can you think of any games you've played that have a late-game collectathon? Do you dread them as much as I do, or do you relish the chance to take one last victory lap around the world before leaving it?

- Jon

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Narrow Horizons: The Games We Cut Ourselves Off From

An Embarrassment of Hats

So about two weeks ago I started trying to get into Team Fortress 2. Not in a particularly zealous way - just a few hours a week as I get a feel for the different classes - but it's kind of a big gesture for me. You see, I tend to think of competitive multiplayer as one of those things I am just incapable of getting into, because there are very few combat loops in video games that I find compelling for their own sake, without some sort of situational context to push me forward. Nevertheless, I am actually enjoying TF2 a whole lot. A lot of the fun comes from the goofy artstyle - also, hat lust- so I doubt I'll be picking up, say, BLOPS 2 this fall, but it's a bit stunning to me that I am now excited about shooting dudes on the internet. I literally never thought that would happen, ever.

Progression in TF2 is a progression toward stupidity

Why We Cut Ourselves Off

That, in turn, got me thinking about the limitations we place on ourselves within this hobby of ours. I imagine there are very few of us who are open to literally any type of game; many of us have specific go-to genres, and several other genres we just don't bother with for whatever reason. It makes sense why we would close ourselves off to things without experiencing them firsthand. After all, no one knows what you like better than you do. So mostly it comes down to personal taste, but I don't think that's the whole answer because I feel it discourages the reevaluation of those tastes.

I think another reason we close ourselves off is for simple filtering purposes. There is too much content being produced for one person to reasonably consume, so we each make cuts according to what we think is worth our precious time. Basically, we ignore a large chuck of the available content so that we're not paralyzed with the need to experience all of it. The reasons we use to justify the cuts are almost irrelevant in this case. It's a basic categorization heuristic, and nothing sinister is involved. Still, it's useful to understand exactly why we close ourselves off so that we can take control of the process.

A Brief History of Shooter-Fear

For the longest time, the only games I played were RPGs - pretty much from the SNES era till when I got a Gamecube. I wasn't sworn against other kinds of games, but the FPS was an source of fear for me - I was genuinely frightened of being snuck up on from a blind spot (yeah yeah, laugh it up). I admit, the idea that an enemy could be lurking outside of my character's peripheral vision, readying some diabolical ambush, still sends a little shiver up my spine. ButResident Evil 4 opened me up to the possibility that I might at least enjoy shooters in the third person, if they were sufficiently crazy. It was only fairly recently, with Bioshock, that I got over the lack of peripheral vision thing. Bioshock still scared the piss out of me, but for different reasons.

CHECK YOUR FUCKING SIX LEON THERE ARE NO SAFE CORNERS IN THE VILLAGE

Now I can play Gears of War with the best of you. Well, not really, because I don't have a Gold subscription. Also, I'm an embarrassingly poor shot. Just terrible. But at the least, I can confidently say that I would not shout in horror if you came up behind me and chainsawed me into soggy little gibbets. It's a moral victory.

Widening One's Gaze

I've been seduced into other seemingly inaccessible experiences the same way as I was with shooters: by playing one exemplary game that proves the viability of the genre. Most recently, I've been playing Telltale's The Walking Dead, which is technically my first adventure game. It's been a blast so far, and now I think I might delve more deeply into the genre, or at least sifting through Telltale's past work. I only picked up The Walking Dead after the bombcrew's repeated praising of the game, which underscores just how important it is to have a like-minded community to turn to.

Of course, I can't just pat myself on the back for being the most open-minded gamer on earth. There are plenty of games that still occupy the "NEVER!" category in my head, like sports, racing, rhythm and visual novel games. I have fairly solid reasons for just disregarding any of those games on sight - at least Ithink they're solid - yet I'm probably just one awesome game away from tossing those reasons out the window.

Well... maybe not sports games, but my point stands.

All that said, a man must draw the line somewhere

So that's pretty much the extent of my thoughts on widening your horizons. I've shared a bit of my gaming history, but what about you guys? Which genres do you consider your favorites? Which do you refuse to even give a look, and why? Do you think you'll ever reconsider the boundaries you've drawn for yourself within gaming? What would it take for you to give something new a shot?

- Jon

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