Letters to the Editor

No More Space Stations


In response to “Psycho Mantis, Qu’est-ce que c’est?” from The Escapist Forum: I’m not sure I agree with the conclusions of this analysis. I don’t think Mantis’s aim was ‘break immersion over his knee’ and mock the player for taking the game so seriously *. Rather, I think the effect was to enhance immersion by expanding it into dimensions the player had not previously had a game expand into.

You’re right when you say that Mantis had ‘wormed his way out of the game and into your space’. The entire point of the Psycho Mantis sequence was not the artistic accomplishment of Mantis saying, “So I see you like Castlevania” in and of itself–ie, a fictional psychic character doing something nifty. More, it was the response incited IN players: that gut-level “WHAT THE FUCK” reaction which we all had playing that sequence for the first time. The aim (and accomplishment) was to give players the same blunt-force trauma of having your mind invaded by a malevolent psychic monster which Snake himself might be feeling.

The turning-point here is the switch from action to reaction; receptivity to proactivity, on the part of the player. Like a good Batman fight, the player is overwhelmed in the first act, and must withdraw, regroup, and figure out a new strategy. By the end of the fight, the player has taken back control and beaten Mantis by his own means. As a result, the elicited sense of vindication is more rewarding than any amount of XP or power-ups any game could ever offer.

Leading hundreds of thousands of players to the same emotional response is the epitome of what makes games unique as an artistic platform. While not particularly subtle (and even joked about today) the Mantis sequence is remembered fondly because it was a very powerful baby-step in the right direction — and while it’s popular to put Kojima down for his winding monologues and convoluted narratives, I think it’s important to recognize that his games have achieved such a strong legacy because they offered more of these moments between them than you were likely to find anywhere else. The french word ‘frisson’ comes to mind.

* The Campbell sequence at the end of Metal Gear Solid 2, I think, serves as a better example of this. It offered less of a sense of personal invasion, and more drew the player to feel surrounded/trapped/betrayed. You were being humiliated like Raiden was being humiliated.


One of the truly great moments in gaming history, this. It’s rather difficult to recreate the effect of experiencing it for the first time all these years later, since it has become a part of gaming culture.

For me the purpose of Mantis is exactly the same as that of Bertolt Brecht’s 4th wall breaking theatre. He called his technique Verfremdungseffekt or ‘alienation effect’ and Brendan does a good job here of discussing the various ways Psycho Mantis prescribes to it. For Brecht the intention was political, he felt that true immersion allowed his audience to detach the play from their own world and thereby remove themselves from its politicized message. He therefore set about reminding his audience that they were watching not experiencing events, and force them to act as critics.

We know that Kojima has a tendency to waffle on, one which unfortunately became somewhat ridiculous. The first two Metal Gear Solid games, at least, managed to maintain a semblence of a clear train of thought, exploring the relationship between reality and identity as developments in science threaten to undermine both. Mantis therefore acts to involve the gamer in this discussion by decaying immersion and forcing critique. As someone said above, this was a baby step for gaming into the realms of artist relevance.




In response to “You Can’t Judge a Game By Its Trailer” from The Escapist Forum: Most game trailers do not appeal to me. I must not fall into their target demographic or something. And they lie. O, how they lie.

When the Dragon Age: Origins “Sacred Ashes” trailer came out, I hated it. I had never played a BioWare game before, and everything I’d heard of them had been second- or third-hand, but I thought about picking up DA:O since I hadn’t played a good WRPG in almost a decade. The trailer nearly ruined it for me. That trailer (which was third-party produced and did not feature any direct gameplay) showed some of the characters looking weird and acting like completely confident badasses, and doing things more in line with JRPG/anime characters than serious western epic fantasy (ie, Matrix-style acrobatics). Even when the frakkin’ dragon shows up in the trailer, the characters just shrug and act like hyperconfident badasses for whom this is a daily occurrence. I thought, “if these characters act brazen and confident when a dragon shows up, how can their story be fulfilling or epic? They don’t have to really struggle to accomplish anything.”

But the game was well-reviewed and there was a great Christmas sale, so I picked it up. And the characters were the opposite as portrayed in that bloody trailer: flawed, vulnerable, struggling to make a difference in their own lives or for a better world. And combat could be tough–you couldn’t just plow your way through the tougher fights without some tactics. This game (when including expansions and DLC) has proceeded to consume well over 200 hours of my life, when I’ve rarely played a game more than 20 hours. I’m eagerly awaiting the sequel. And all because I ignored everything that useless trailer told me.


The gaming equivalent of a movie trailer isn’t the cinematic trailer but the demo.

This gets mentioned almost as an aside about halfway into the article and then taken for granted from there (as the article veers into a discussion of how more games need demos), but not much effort is really spent arguing the point, and I’m still left thoroughly unconvinced about this core premise.

Certainly a demo is the best option we as players generally have for getting a feel for what a game’s really like to play, far better than screenshots or trailers (whether mood or gameplay). But it’s the other side of the equivalency that I’m skeptical of – who ever said that the purpose of a movie trailer was to give you the best feel for that the movie’s like? The movie trailer’s job, plain and simple, is to get you to go to the movie. It’s certainly not to convey the plot of the movie, or to suggest similar movies, or to tell you about the movie’s acting or cinematography. That’s not to say that it won’t occasionally do those things, but they’re secondary to the trailer’s purpose.

I would argue that the game demo’s closest comparison on the movie side is the review or the synopsis – both designed to give you a more detailed impression of what you’re in for when you go to the film. The typical movie trailer/TV ad, I’d say, corresponds to the gameplay trailer: both give you enough detail to make a reasonably informed decision without giving too much away. And the game world’s cinematic trailer corresponds to the classic ‘teaser trailer’, be it logo or otherwise: just enough information to whet your appetite about the goings-on.

Can gameplay trailers be deceptive? Absolutely, as can ‘atmospheric’ trailers (though arguably those aren’t deceiving because they’re not even trying to tell you what playing the game is like), and as can demos themselves – people have pointed out Brutal Legend already, but I’ll also point out that a number of reviewers chided Flower when it came out for getting much darker than the previews they’d played had led them to believe. But cinematic trailers can be at least as deceptive; in fact, I’d claim that cinematic trailers are more often cut to be actively deceptive, presenting movies as something they’re not in order to draw more viewers; think of the parody trailers for The Shining, or for a more real-world example the atmospheric trailers for Cloverfield or The Happening that completely omitted those films’ doofy villains. But the point still holds that if you go into a movie having only seen ads and trailers, you’re at least as likely – if not more so! – to be going in with a mistaken impression of what you’re getting than if you pick up a game having only seen gameplay trailers and screenshots. This isn’t even unique to movies; heck, even this article’s trailer could be considered deceptive – I was promised a discussion of why trailers aren’t enough and how to try and judge a game using minimal public info, and wound up with a mini-rant on how more games need demos!

So why do we care so much? Why do we demand demos for games but not, say, extended samples of movies (say, the first 15 minutes or so)? I think there are a couple of factors at play. One, you could make the argument that a 3-minute trailer at least holds a greater percentage of the screen time of a 90-minute movie than the 2-minute gameplay trailer for a 25-hour game does, and that the demo lets you see a comparable proportion of the game’s content. But again, movie trailers aren’t trying to represent the movie’s content; they’re 3 minutes of non-spoiling high points, carefully selected to try and make the movie as appetizing as possible – and I don’t know of many demos that are constructed that way, any more than I know of any movie trailers that are just the first 3m of the movie. (Unless there was a Superman trailer I’m forgetting…)

More to the point, though, the reason that games have demos is because the stakes are that much higher. If you get deceived into watching a Cloverfield because you’re expecting a spooky psychological drama, you’ve wasted ten bucks and two hours of your life. If you get deceived into buying a Brutal Legend by its trailers (or even by its demo!), you’re out sixty bucks, and probably 3-5 hours by the time you realize that you’re not getting what you expected. We demand game demos because we put an investment into games – both financial, temporal, and arguably even emotional – that we just don’t have to lay out for movies.



In response to “The Crystal Ball of Michael Pachter” from The Escapist Forum:

Bruce Edwards:
I still fail to understand why Pachter gets so much attention.

Sure, he’s not a bad guy, but his predictions are no more or less accurate than those of most forum goers.

Really? The average forum goer is on the money when it comes to earnings predictions for billion dollar companies? Because I’m on here a fair bit, and I don’t see many posts about how much EA’s stock price is gonna go up or down in the next quarter.

Not to mention that most of our comments here come when a product is out already or almost so, at which point a quarterly earnings prediction has been on the table for quite some time.

Generally, I would expect an ‘Analyst’ worthy of reporting to provide much more insight than I can get from Google myself.

Well, then you don’t understand how analysts work.

Again: his clients aren’t teen-aged CoD fanboys. They’re people with homes and stock portfolios who spend their time making money, not yammering on gaming forums. They read the Wall Street Journal, not Kotaku. Plus, the man bloody said that his job is basically to add up to zero; he’s gonna be wrong 50% of the time.

There was this famous experiment when they let monkeys and people throwing darts pick out market trends, and they did about as well as highly paid analysts. The problem with the latter is that they take what they know and translate that into predictions – but while you’re gonna be confident about your assessment when you believe that you see 90% of the picture, it’s that remaining 10% which can fuck it up. That’s why those people work those ridiculous hours. You can only go by what you know, and the more you know, the greater the likelihood that you’re right. It doensn’t take multiple degrees to see a huge black cloud and predict rain; these people, however, have to make judgement calls rather earlier than that. If you’re right 51% of the time, your clients have made more money than they have lost, and you’re golden.

It’s like sports betting, at its core. Let’s say that before a basketball game, you know that one team’s starting centre is injured, and that they don’t do well on their opponent’s home court. But then, the other team’s star player has been in a scoring slump lately. So you take what you know, and bet money on it. Are you right all the time? Hell no. Because then, all people who follow sports regularly would be millionaires. And that’s with up to date injury and scouting reports and dozens of previews; now imagine having to predict the results of tonight’s Spurs-Jazz game in fucking September. The job of people like Pachter is to tell people who know little about basketball and have no time to read up on everything their best guess. That’s all it is. Best guess, based on available information. Saying that CoD: Black Ops will sell well is like saying that the Lakers are gonna beat Minnesota tonight – well, duh. But most judgement calls are much tougher.

People who invest hundreds of thousands of dollars into BMW stock aren’t all car fanboys, either. They care about money, not power to weight ratio. So they need people who understand the tech side, the marketing side, and the business side to make sense of what a new, ultra low mpg turbodiesel engine for the 3-series means for their bank accounts – but the point is that those analysts get people to invest that money, which in turn gives BMW the possibility to make better products.

It’s a supremely silly attitude of gamers to think that analysts and stockholders should be fanboys. How many of you own stock in any gaming or tech company? Thought so.



In response to “The Devil Went Down to Nippon” from The Escapist Forum: Interesting article, and certainly a perspective I’ve not heard before backed up with many historical examples – always a good thing. I’m intrigued, however, as to what you think of other more mundane things, like simple fascination of the exotic play? I mean, we get people in the west fascinated with Buddhism and eastern spirituality simply because it’s eastern, and I see no reason why the reverse won’t hold true. I understand your article is narrowly focused (certainly not a criticism) so it was simply not in its remit to discuss that when it’s not a relevant part of the historical narrative and the distinctions between Shinto, but it left me unclear as to whether you’d not considered this fascination, or you consider it negligable? Thanks for writing it! I love these kind of deeper, mature discussions on the philosophy of games, so yay. 😀


It’s funny because the “battle” between God and Satan isn’t really all that “epic.”

Paradise Lost would beg to differ.

Although you raise a good point about the whole “annoying thing”. Since God is all knowing and all powerful there is nothing Satan can do, his rebellion is doomed to fail as soon as it began. Taking it that God knows this it suggests that he created Lucifer just to fall.

So really Lucifer is the prefect villain, he is designed to be beaten. He was designed to fall and to burn, video games just allow something else to throw him into the lake of fire. Every video game does the same thing in creating a villain just so they can fall. In Paradise Lost Lucifer has to more or less lie to himself and, thus, his cohort of fallen angles that they should rebel even though he knows that (in his heart of heart as it were) they are doomed to fail.

Also in Paradise Lost Satan, as he is known after his fall, is actually painted in a much more interesting light. He is shown as “majestic though in ruin” and courageous and cunning. This holds true in a lot of video games. Look at Sephiroth, a one winged angel who may as well be called Satan, I personally find him a much more interesting character then any of the protagonists, all I remember about Cloud is that he has a big sword. One final point concerning Sephiroth, the final encounter with him in FF7 is largely scripted, he has to to fall.


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