263: Schizophrenic Storytelling

Schizophrenic Storytelling

Perspective switches from first- to second- to third-person all within the first five minutes of Max Payne. Robert Buerkle examines this unique phenomenon in videogames and how the blend creates a positive roleplaying experience.

Read Full Article

That was an awesome article. Thanks!

It brings out a point that I hadn't really understood before. Gaming is not about just experiencing new worlds and stories that I would never have accessed otherwise. It's not just about the experience, it is about watching yourself experiencing it. And the game so often makes watching yourself pleasurable. The avatar looks so good and behaves so well, it's a pleasure to watch!

And that's why I think the 3rd person view will never die. Because my arse looks so good in that lycra suit...

Maybe the complicated matter of narrative perspective shows us that we have to rethink what they mean within the gaming space.

That said, in a Game in wich i play a defined character, i'm don't really feel like it's a "first person" narrative experiment, since i usually play such games as an "actor", if that makes any sense, rather than the "character" himself.

Having a family member who is schizophrenic, it really bothers me when people misuse the term schizophrenic when they mean dissociative identity disorder, previously known as multiple personality disorder. Your need to use alliterations just spreads the stigma associated with mental illness.

raynaa:
Having a family member who is schizophrenic, it really bothers me when people misuse the term schizophrenic when they mean dissociative identity disorder, previously known as multiple personality disorder. Your need to use alliterations just spreads the stigma associated with mental illness.

Not neccessarily. "Schizophrenic" is commonly associated with multiple personalities, but that doesn't mean it's about a stigma. It may spread the illusion that that is all schizophrenia is, but it certainly isn't meant in a cruel way. The title simply plays on a common perception of a definition.

I agree, perpetuating the misperception is not good, but let's not over-react here. And for the record, I have a mental illness - bipolar affective disorder II, to be precise, but I don't feel the need to fly off the handle everytime someone gets it wrong about what bipolar really is. It's an opportunity for understanding, not a chance for battle.

raynaa:
Having a family member who is schizophrenic, it really bothers me when people misuse the term schizophrenic when they mean dissociative identity disorder, previously known as multiple personality disorder. Your need to use alliterations just spreads the stigma associated with mental illness.

Don't be bothered by other people's ignorance. Choose to educate! (I totally know where you are coming from).

Some people just don't know, or choose to use the stereotyped point of view without understanding the harm they are causing. Most people wouldn't knowingly offend, help them to understand the difference.

Cripes that was preachy. Sorry!

Maybe it could be how I view myself as a whole, but I've never gotten used to roleplaying the avatar I'm playing. In most situations the game presents, I can't fathom trying to solve everything by myself. I know that being someone you're not is what role-playing essentially is, it's just I can't really relate with it.

Balancing perspective shifts is a difficult feat in any medium. You do a good job of showing us why and giving us examples of how it works and how it doesn't.

Nice work!

An interesting thing to me is that Max Payne is is more properly termed a "third-person shooter", despite the gameplay portion being, as you describe it, second-person. I suppose a real third-person shooter would be a game you fire up and watch play itself.. or perhaps hopping on a multiplayer game and spectating counts as third-person?

Now I'm wondering where to classify PoP (Sands of Time) - you take control of the Prince, view him in the 3rd person (watching from a disembodied viewpoint above/behind the character), and throughout he narrates as if he's recounting the story of what he did in the past tense. Making occasional nods to the camera like "Wait, that's not how it happened" when you screw up and die, that kind of thing.

So in the narrative sense, it's 1st person - he's telling you what happened to him, but also 2nd person - you're playing as the character, and the viewpoint is in 3rd person.

I loved this article! I hope you are asked to write more.

I agree with how well 'Max Payne' blended the three perspectives. I really did enjoy that game and now you have drawn my attention to part of why I enjoyed it years ago.

True enough, raynaa -- I'm very much falling back on colloquial rather than clinical usage of "schizophrenic" here. Much like people use "psycho" to mean someone weird or obsessive rather than genuinely psychotic, and much like half my students tell me "I'm ADD" to mean "I'm not good at studying" rather than actually having Attention Deficit Disorder, I'm using "schizophrenic" in its informal usage, despite its having a significantly different clinical meaning. I actually thought about that very issue when titling the article, but unfortunately, it's the only adjective we have to describe this sort of fractured experience (Multiple Personality Disorder doesn't lend itself quite as well as an adjective!).

The changing usage of the word is very much the same thing that's happened to "first-person" -- while it properly means "telling a story about one's self," it's colloquially come to denote "seeing the visual point of view of a character," and as much as it drives me nuts (especially since I teach in an English department), people are going to keep using it that way. Alas, it's the nature of language.

Terribly sorry to offend! Rest assured, I know what you're talking about, and can only imagine how frustrating it must be.

Determining proper methods for storytelling does change from game type to game type, from game to game. Most of the JRPG games are set in 3rd person, because it's easier to manage that type of story that way. They reason they are called first person shoots is perspective, not storytelling. Most of them are, or should be second person storytelling. I don't think FPS/SPS sounds good though. The closest thing to first person I can think of is a simulator, be it flight, or racing. At least I think that's what I get out of this, I could be wrong.

Very intriguing. When I think about game design (I have a number of game brain-children, though none of them have as yet been fertilized), I often think about the challenge of storytelling in games. I know books and movies can tell very good stories, but I know games can as well. Is the only strength of gaming as an artistic medium in interacting with other people in the context of the game?

I didn't think so, but I wasn't sure exactly how to go about moving the single-player narrative experience forward artistically. How do you give a player free will, allowing him essentially to do whatever he wishes, and yet still tell a coherent story?

The debate rages on, but this article allowed me to see it from a new perspective. Well done.

This article presents a fascinating way to view the handling of narratives in games. Games' are inherently a second person medium, though the stories they tell are almost exclusively third and/or first person stories strung together with gameplay. This contradiction is how we end up with many of the challenges to developing a sophisticated narrative in a game. Look at the Metal Gear Solid games, which tell most of their stories through third person cinematics, limiting the degree to which they utilize the unique perspective of games. Even though MGS uses those cinematics well, it is stuck with the stigma of being more an interactive movie than a game because it's so tightly bound to third person storytelling. Despite how well some games may use these tools to tell their stories, they are at odds with games' inherent strengths, and will struggle to mature as their own medium the way films and novels have.

This disconnect between essentially linear first and third person stories and the more variable second person medium seems to be source of common criticisms (think Ebert). Games are often criticized for focusing on power fantasies because the player controls the central character who generally "wins" the story's conflict when the player "wins" the game. Since no player wants to "lose" the game, a game designer or writer will have difficulty telling a story in which the protagonist is not ultimately the "winner" and still produce a compelling gameplay experience.

Heavy Rain attempted to solve this problem by redefining "win" as the more open-ended "complete." In order for the player to be placed inside the narrative, the story must react to the player's decisions, which are different for every player and every playthrough. The result is a choose-your-own-adventure story that develops according to how the player solves (or fails to solve) problems in the game. This model introduces some problems, including that some players may end up with a narrative arc that is much "weaker" than others by traditional metrics, but it makes an important step in the right direction. In a game structured this way, the player may fail and the story goes on, avoiding the need for the player, and thus the character he is playing, to win every conflict. This disconnect of perspectives is one of the most important issues for narratives in gaming, and it's good to see some games trying new ways to address the problem. It's a sign that the industry is maturing in a very meaningful way

This is certainly... interesting. I never thought of it this way. It makes me think of how in a book a first person perspective is never used for purely descriptive narrative, whereas in games it always is; I'm actually ashamed not to have realized the disconnect earlier! We may see through the eyes of Master Chief and Gordon Freeman, but who knows what they are thiking?

And of course, my favourite comic, which just so happens to be about gaming tropes in a very general fashion, is told in second person. It's obvious that this perspective is what's unique to gaming and it should be explored more. Most experiences that can be described as emotional in games are what I would describe as an application of second person - not to have the character say 'I am sad' while he cries in a cutscene, but to reach a player's emotions through gameplay. There was a great post a while ago about a guy who was playing DEFCON who first felt good about killing millions of people, and then realizing he had just killed millions of people. I think the path towards more artistical storylines in videogames lies that way.

Of course, the problem will always be how to end the game in a way that's interesting for gameplay even if it's negative for the characters. Characters who we know will win from the beginning are seldom interesting.

Errickfoxy:
An interesting thing to me is that Max Payne is is more properly termed a "third-person shooter", despite the gameplay portion being, as you describe it, second-person. I suppose a real third-person shooter would be a game you fire up and watch play itself.. or perhaps hopping on a multiplayer game and spectating counts as third-person?

I guess by that definition a third person game would be somethng like a strategy game, in which you tell your units what to do buy they do it themselves. Especially in games like Dwarf Fortress, in which you can order a job to be done but dwarves will do it at their own leisure.

Interesting article... but Im not sure if I agree with describing the different viewpoints as 1st, 2nd and 3rd person.

Instead it seems to me that the comics are 3rd person, but the cinematics and the gameplay are both 1st person. Rather than changing the descriptive voice, what the game is doing is changing the describer.

The article describes the game as changing from the game saying "I am Max Payne" to the game saying "you are Max Payne", but I see it as a change from the game saying "I am Max Payne" to the player saying "I am Max Payne".

I think its an important distinction because the 2nd person "you are Max Payne" has a lot of connotations of railroading, while "I am Max Payne" implies freedom. Instead of the storyteller beginning to describe what the player does (2nd person), instead the storyteller is giving up their control to the player and the player 'becomes' the new 1st person storyteller. And I think that is a big part of why it work so well and blends so easily.

Sorry, I can't agree with the distinctions between 1st and 2nd person here at all. 2nd person would be where you are being told at every point what to do, the point of games is that you are (at least to some degree) in control of what the character does. It may class as roleplaying, but it's definitely 1st person.

Even "3rd person shooters" are 1st person in terms of narrative. The "3rd person" just describes camera viewpoint. In Assassin's Creed, you are roleplaying as Altair. In Splinter cell, you are roleplaying as Sam Fisher. But the narrative is first person for both of those games.

The vital distinction between 'first" and "third"-person perspective for movies is that in a movie you are being told a story. You have no control over the events. The immersive element of games where you control a character is that they put you into a controlling, first-person POV.

The only way a game could class as "2nd person" is if the whole thing was just one long cutscene. (Come to think of it, does Final Fantasy count in that category?)

Im surprised this article made no mention of moral choices in video games. it further draws you into the character. Not only did Shepard blow up that planet, but he did it because you told him to. Sheppard isnt an asshole, you are for making him do it. The fact that you have "friends" in game making you feel bad for such a decision further pushes the schizophrenic vibes. what kind of a person would do something that disappoints there friends so much.

The discussion about first, second and third person in fiction was very interesting.

Interesting article, and one that brings up quite a few valid points, but I think the discussion about first person shooters is simply too far fetched.

Robert Buerkle:
Let's think about that last example for a moment. "First-person shooter?" Yeah, it's the most prominent genre of the medium and the label will last forever, but truth be told, it's a misnomer. Half-Life doesn't say "I'm Gordon Freeman" and Halo doesn't say "I'm the Master Chief." Instead, they say "You're Gordon Freeman" and "You're the Master Chief."

I disagree. The game's box might say "you are Master Chief", but that's no surprise. The game is talking to you, the player. I respond by saying "yes, I am Master Chief." When I move the analog stick left and the camera pans to the left, I am not being told by the game "you see an enemy approach to your left"; I think "I see an enemy approach." And I think everyone would agree with that. Don't you?

I do agree in general with what you say, but this point.. I just don't buy it.

Wow. What a wonderful take on the way videogames do narrative. In the list of reasons why videogames are art, this perspective is one that should be brought up.

ranger19:

I disagree. The game's box might say "you are Master Chief", but that's no surprise. The game is talking to you, the player. I respond by saying "yes, I am Master Chief." When I move the analog stick left and the camera pans to the left, I am not being told by the game "you see an enemy approach to your left"; I think "I see an enemy approach." And I think everyone would agree with that. Don't you?

I do agree in general with what you say, but this point.. I just don't buy it.

That's an interesting counter but I don't agree-and here's why.

People always invest things into inanimate objects. People don't say 'he hit my car' so much as they say 'he hit me.' (They say both but my point is that people invest in things that are not them.)

The difference is that with an avatar, that object can never really be you, or something you interact with physically. We drive cars. We have special mugs from work we drink from. A videogame never allows us to actually be anything except in our brain--and I think that we are being told "You see an enemy approach" but we shorthand it to; I see that and must destroy it.

However, I don't know that I can properly dispute you-that is, with evidence, only an internal logic that makes sense to me. I say that so you know I'm not trying to start an argument and as an admission that I merely have a point of view that disagrees, not psychological fact that will.

Smokescreen:
That's an interesting counter but I don't agree-and here's why.

People always invest things into inanimate objects. People don't say 'he hit my car' so much as they say 'he hit me.' (They say both but my point is that people invest in things that are not them.)

The difference is that with an avatar, that object can never really be you, or something you interact with physically. We drive cars. We have special mugs from work we drink from. A videogame never allows us to actually be anything except in our brain--and I think that we are being told "You see an enemy approach" but we shorthand it to; I see that and must destroy it.

However, I don't know that I can properly dispute you-that is, with evidence, only an internal logic that makes sense to me. I say that so you know I'm not trying to start an argument and as an admission that I merely have a point of view that disagrees, not psychological fact that will.

Very interesting (and may I say THANK YOU for the intellectual, mature response for what could have been an attempt to start a flame war?).

I suppose in third person games I do refer to "my avatar" or "my character", so that at least would not be first person, but I suppose that's not what's being disputed. And I guess when I'm playing I do think "the enemy is approaching me".

This reminds me of one discussion I read on here about how different people react to normal and inverted controls for first person shooters. I play normal, and (so the discussion goes) that's because I envision myself in the game, and when I want to look up I press up. Others who prefer inverted controls, on the other hand, are more likely to envision themselves standing behind the camera which is the first person view, and when they want to look up, they have to push down on the back of the camera to do so. These players, then, seem to experience more of a disconnect between themselves and the game.

I wonder if this difference might be what's going on between you and I when we play first person games. This might be a long shot, but... you don't happen to use inverted controls, do you?

ranger19:
... you don't happen to use inverted controls, do you?

Actually no, I hate them. Unless I am flying an object in game-then pulling 'down' to go up makes sense.

And I totally get what you mean-I think that's a credit to the immersion level a good game (any game) can put you into. But even when we are in FPS, we don't talk about them with others like it's us unless we're performing the action. In L4D, people constantly refer to each other as the names of the Avatars, not the name we've chosen (for example, people will call me 'Zoey' instead of Dan the Modest) at least until a level of familiarity is reached. But I am not Zoey, I play Zoey. Of course, when a Tank knocks the character across the room, it affects my play and via that, affects me so I say; I've been knocked across the room, or I'm down.

I think it's this separation, albeit a thin one, that keeps this at the 2nd person level.

raynaa:
Having a family member who is schizophrenic, it really bothers me when people misuse the term schizophrenic when they mean dissociative identity disorder, previously known as multiple personality disorder. Your need to use alliterations just spreads the stigma associated with mental illness.

I was about to point out the same thing. I can appreciate your frustration with the misuse.

While I believe the author was using the term Schizophrenia colloquially (he apologizes for this in a comment) he actually inadvertently does use it in a correct clinical sense. The publicly held perception of Schizophrenia is mainly of the Paranoid type, wherein the individual has a, "Preoccupation with one or more delusions or frequent auditory hallucinations." However there are several forms of Schizophrenia. The one that is most relevant to this discussion is the Disorganized type, wherein the individual exhibits:
* disorganized speech
* disorganized behavior
* flat or inappropriate affect
Doesn't that sound like Max Payne!

The author's mistake is not one of clinical misuse, but of non-differentiation.

raynaa:
Having a family member who is schizophrenic, it really bothers me when people misuse the term schizophrenic when they mean dissociative identity disorder, previously known as multiple personality disorder. Your need to use alliterations just spreads the stigma associated with mental illness.

Is that really important? Use it the way people use it or they get confused.

RaphaelsRedemption:
Snip.

Woohoo! Another bipolar person! High-five, brah.

HG131:
Use it the way people use it or they get confused.

Well, the problem is that those people use a clinical term incorrectly. We shouldn't change the meaning of a word to something that it's not just because some people have no idea what the word actually means.

Anyway, did anyone else have "Sweating Bullets" playing in their head while reading this article? No? Just me? Oh well. It's still a great song.

Great article! I've never thought about fps games as truly being 2nd-person, but when you think about it, it's true.

OT: Since you are a professor and all, I would have hoped that you would know this... http://begthequestion.info/

A truly great deconstruction of gaming's second-person nature!

Smokescreen:

ranger19:

I disagree. The game's box might say "you are Master Chief", but that's no surprise. The game is talking to you, the player. I respond by saying "yes, I am Master Chief." When I move the analog stick left and the camera pans to the left, I am not being told by the game "you see an enemy approach to your left"; I think "I see an enemy approach." And I think everyone would agree with that. Don't you?

I do agree in general with what you say, but this point.. I just don't buy it.

That's an interesting counter but I don't agree-and here's why.

People always invest things into inanimate objects. People don't say 'he hit my car' so much as they say 'he hit me.' (They say both but my point is that people invest in things that are not them.)

The difference is that with an avatar, that object can never really be you, or something you interact with physically. We drive cars. We have special mugs from work we drink from. A videogame never allows us to actually be anything except in our brain--and I think that we are being told "You see an enemy approach" but we shorthand it to; I see that and must destroy it.

However, I don't know that I can properly dispute you-that is, with evidence, only an internal logic that makes sense to me. I say that so you know I'm not trying to start an argument and as an admission that I merely have a point of view that disagrees, not psychological fact that will.

I think you just countered your own argument.

Look at your car example. Someone gets in an accident and tells you "that truck just hit me!" That person is "invested", as you say, in their vehicle and see it as an extension of themselves.

The same applies for videogames. Someone is playing Halo and their avatar is "killed" in a match. They say "Darn, that guy killed me!" Again, they are investing in the avatar as an extension of themselves. While the avatar may be entirely digital, they are still sitting in the driver's seat (chair/couch) with their hands on the wheel (controller/mouse/keyboard).

Their may be a real life distinction between digital information and a physical object like a car, but we invest in them the same way. The avatar can never really be you, but nor can the car. We are experiencing the same sorts of physical interaction with our videogames as we do with our vehicles, to stick with your example. Heck, we could even go so far as to sit down in a chair with a force feedback steering wheel and footpedals for controlling a racing game to replicate much of the experience of driving. There have even been arcade cabinets that move and jerk around to simulation real world forces like inertia.

I'd say that as far as inanimate objects go, Master Chief is as investable as a car.

Zom-B:

I think you just countered your own argument.

Look at your car example. Someone gets in an accident and tells you "that truck just hit me!" That person is "invested", as you say, in their vehicle and see it as an extension of themselves.

The same applies for videogames. Someone is playing Halo and their avatar is "killed" in a match. They say "Darn, that guy killed me!" Again, they are investing in the avatar as an extension of themselves. While the avatar may be entirely digital, they are still sitting in the driver's seat (chair/couch) with their hands on the wheel (controller/mouse/keyboard).

Their may be a real life distinction between digital information and a physical object like a car, but we invest in them the same way. The avatar can never really be you, but nor can the car. We are experiencing the same sorts of physical interaction with our videogames as we do with our vehicles, to stick with your example. Heck, we could even go so far as to sit down in a chair with a force feedback steering wheel and footpedals for controlling a racing game to replicate much of the experience of driving. There have even been arcade cabinets that move and jerk around to simulation real world forces like inertia.

I'd say that as far as inanimate objects go, Master Chief is as investable as a car.

Kinda wayback machined here but while I see where you're going, I'm sticking to my guns and here's why:

I think there's two possibles here: 1) age difference. Younger people may be more easily able to identify with a digital avatar, since they grew up with them. I didn't. So more people may start to identify with avatars as time moves forward and this all may be moot.

2) Character. Master Chief is a terrible character--likely because he's meant to be an empty space that players are supposed to 'stand in' for. Except he isn't: he may be a terrible character but he still IS a character and as soon as that character does something--anything, but the larger the disparity the worse it will get--that breaks from what I, personally might do, I cease to identify with that avatar. This is fine if there is supposed to be a full fledged character there because then you've got narrative/story/etc going on. But if the character is supposed to be a stand in for the individual and suddenly isn't, then how do you, as a person, invest in that?

The objects you physically own don't have this issue--and people who find themselves sick with cancer, for example, often feel a great sense of betrayal, because what is theirs has failed them, is trying to kill them, no less. Who has that kind of investment in Master Chief?

Edit: that doesn't mean people can't or won't invest in characters; the howl of betrayals from fans of Star Wars when the original films are tinkered with is clearly an example of this. But all those characters weren't meant to be stand-ins. You could be like Han Solo but you can be Master Chief and I think there's a gap there that I think causes a break but I can't actually prove it. Just that I feel it, myself.

 

Reply to Thread

Log in or Register to Comment
Have an account? Login below:
With Facebook:Login With Facebook
or
Username:  
Password:  
  
Not registered? To sign up for an account with The Escapist:
Register With Facebook
Register With Facebook
or
Register for a free account here