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Playing It Properly

Ed Smith | 9 Oct 2012 13:00
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I'm writing this to keep me sane. Earlier this evening, I fired up my PS3 and started a new game of Heavy Rain. After five minutes or so, my girlfriend looked up and saw me playing with my virtual kids, and kissing my virtual wife. Surprised by the gunlessness of it all, she put down her laptop and asked if she could have a go. Now here we are, hours later, and we still haven't swapped back.

In a way, I'm glad. Here's somebody who hasn't played a videogame since Tetris, and she's completely immersed in the story and the action. She's not doing badly either; of the five fights she's gotten into so far, only one has ended in defeat. And I'm impressed that she's paying attention to the plot.Last time I put her in front of Battlefield 3, she just sniggered at the dialogue and mashed the skip button. But this time, she's hasn't raised a single objection; the only sound I hear is the occasional coo of approval.

And then it hits me. Like Batman staring down at Harvey Dent's body, I suddenly realize I've become the thing I hate.

So why am I getting stressed out? I know I can be a grump. Watching people play always grinds my gears because they don't do it the way I would. I can't stand to see Niko Bellic ramming his car into a hot dog stand when he should be out soliloquizing with his cousin.

I start to feel like she's playing it wrong. Not badly, you understand, just incorrectly. See, for all its lengthy dialogue and scripted action, Heavy Rain is pretty choice-heavy; you can talk to that guy, or this guy, or neither, and your decisions affect the game. My girlfriend's talking to all the wrong people. Take one of the early levels. As FBI agent Norman Jayden, she's meant to be rounding up evidence from a muddy crime scene. After about fifteen minutes of scanning for fibers and walking around, she's turned up nothing but cop DNA and dead cats. Another detective comes over and asks if she's ready to leave. Shrugging, she hits "yes" and I only just manage to grab the controller before she gets back into her car.

She hadn't even examined the body! I try to explain that she's an FBI agent, that a boy's been murdered; I'll be damned if any serial killer is going to get away with this on my watch. Slamming my fist on the desk like Bernie Hamilton, I tell her to turn around, get back in there and do her job. Grudgingly, she picks up the controller and starts searching again. With a few hints and prods, she eventually finds the body, gets the blood samples and heads back to the office. Crisis averted.

But I still have this nagging feeling that something's amiss. Sure, she's made some sloppy dialogue choices, but I've managed to stop her from doing anything too wacky. So long as I look up every few minutes to make sure she isn't punching a witness or eating some evidence - or whatever - we should be right on track for the good ending.

And then it hits me. Like Batman staring down at Harvey Dent's body, I suddenly realize I've become the thing I hate. Nagging my girlfriend to do what she's told, I'm the scoring system at the end of each level, the angry support character telling you off for doing it wrong. I'm the thing that kills videogames, the prodding performance review that won't let you be.

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