Hideo Bruckheimer

Hideo Bruckheimer
String Theory: The Illusion of Videogame Interactivity

Anthony Burch | 31 Mar 2009 11:45
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With your last ounce of strength, you press even faster and Snake just barely makes it out of the corridor with practically no health left. Both player and protagonist are exhausted; you feel as if you have just barely escaped death, and have now felt the terror of almost letting down all those who were counting on you. Ten years of series history reach a head in that single corridor scene.

And it is a lie.


The grandeur of the scene tricks you into believing that literally every moment of it happened because of your actions, when in reality absolutely none of it did. Snake relies on your input to walk through the first segment of the corridor, but no matter how well you steer him, he will accidentally be shocked by the wall at three specific moments during his journey. Your guilt over hurting Snake is real; your mistake is not.

No matter how fast you press triangle near the end of the scene, the button animation will always speed up, telling you that you are not pressing the button fast enough. In reality, any speed of button mashing, executed with any regularity, will keep Snake moving toward his goal. The images of Snake's friends scored to the game's funereal love theme convince you that their peril is real, but Snake's ever-decreasing health bar cannot possibly reach zero before the end of the corridor so long as you press the triangle button once every few seconds.

In purely mechanical terms, you might as well be holding a DVD player remote that has been jury rigged to only continue playing a film if the viewer presses "play" every so often. Yet, thanks to the grandiose spectacle and emotion of the scene - and the misleading visual cues it gives the player - it ranks among one of the best moments in the entire Metal Gear Solid series.

The word "irony" doesn't begin to describe it. We value games for their interactivity, but the most effective narrative-driven games draw the most emotional impact from wresting control from the player. While neither Half-Life 2: Episode Two nor Metal Gear Solid 4 even begin to quell the conflict between interactivity and narrative, they provide an interesting third angle on the debate. They concede that interactivity can interfere with narrative, but simultaneously show the remarkable emotional effectiveness of giving you a cinematic, controlled experience while making you feel like you're still in charge.

Yes, your agency in a videogame may be a carefully orchestrated lie. But with audience reactions as positive as this, is it really such a crime?

Anthony Burch is the creator of web series Hey Ash, Whatcha Playin', writes a regular column at AMC and is the Features Editor of Destructoid.com.

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