Miranda Prescott, Arts & Entertainment Correspondent
With midterms coming up very quickly, students, such as myself, are finding an immense amount of pressure building up on our backs with the workloads we are facing. We students are struggling to find ways to cope with this stress on the basis that anything and everything is due at the exact same time, and the deadline is only a few days away.
Difficult video games are appealing to a lot of gamers for a variety of reasons, like the joy of a challenge or bragging rights, but, when dialogue about the difficulty in video games shifts to accessibility, many people who enjoy games like Dark Souls or Cuphead become filled with such vitriol. They played these games at this level of difficulty, so why should we include anything like an “easy mode” and water down the experience just for the more casual players?
Much of this about the pride of those who can capably play these sorts of games. If you’re having difficulty in, say, Dark Souls, then maybe it just isn’t for you, or you just need to get better at the game. If you insist that something is wrong with the game, rather than your own ability, then perhaps you’re just protecting a wounded ego. After all, other people have beaten these games, so shouldn’t you be held to the same standard?
London’s Metro newspaper, in a 2012 interview with Hidetaka Miyazaki, the creative mind behind Dark Souls and Bloodborne, hinted at potentially making future games easier, to which the playerbase responded with enormous backlash.
But, what do we say when it comes to the matter of people who can never reach certain peaks of performance? Disabled gamers exist. No amount of skill can make abnormally weak muscles perform, rewire malformed nerves, or make perfect use of defective eyes. With this shift in video game culture towards the love of difficulty and no steps towards accessibility taken for disabled gamers, disabled gamers are inevitably left out in the cold. To simply dismiss any attempt at inclusivity as coddling casual gamers is blatantly ableist.
As an autistic gamer, I frequently experience sensory overload playing games with complex visuals. For example, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate’s small characters, bright colors, busy stage backgrounds, and far-away camera view make it incredibly difficult for me to keep track of what’s on screen, despite that I enjoy the game. I can’t play first-person shooters at all because my motor skills are poorly developed enough that I can’t hit anything even with console games’ infamous aim assistance. I enjoy and have beaten games like Bloodborne and the Dark Souls trilogy, but if I even minutely less capable of reacting to their stimuli, for example, if I had a disability that affected my joints, they’d be unplayable.
It is not ableist to enjoy difficult games for their difficulty, but it is ableist to insist that enjoyment is impinged upon by the inclusion of accessibility measures for other people. Pillars of Eternity, a computer roleplaying game released in 2015, included an optional colorblind mode; this was just a box that could be ticked in an options menu for those who needed it. Pillars of Eternity is still a beloved modern classic roleplaying game. Optional features do not weaken the enjoyment one can gain from a difficult game; difficulty mode choices have long been prevalent through the lifespan of the video game artform.
Video games, as games and interactive art pieces, should be fun and interactable, not needlessly punishing and gatekept. “Hardcore” gamers are a minority, not the body of the market that the game industry caters to, so I don’t believe they should be able to dictate the terms by which others may enjoy video games.
So it is finally here my dear friends, Kingdom Hearts 3 is finally here. We have been waiting a very long 6 years for this one, but it finally made it. Since I was lucky enough to pre-order it (first pre-order ever), I thought i might take some time to give you my first impressions. Not a review mind you, that will take time, but a nice little discussion on how it is so far.
First off, we must answer the question: How does it play? The answer is as complicated as you want to make it, just like the gameplay. This game seems to make it its mission to give you as many options as possible. Thanks to athletic flow, you have movement tech in spades. Sora can jump around like a mad man, run up walls, and you get dodge roll and air slide at level 1. I have been telling folks I can’t wait to see this game at a Games Done Quick event just because I want to see how they use all of these options. In combat it’s the same kind of buffet. You can summon theme park rides, transform your keyblades, or just stick to your old faithful strategy of magic and whacking things. It’s all up to the player. Personally, I have found that a good miss works best. All the options come together to make it feel like combat is on your own terms. The player gets to decide how they approach it and that freedom feels pretty good.
Second, we have the story to look at. I won’t spoil anything here, but I do want to say that i am enjoying it so far. The main issue with it is that it expects you to have a basic understanding of things from ALL of the previous games. It helps that Sora himself generally has no clue about it either so you normally get some explanation, but don’t expect it to stop and catch you up. There is the memory archive that tell you basically what has happened and introduces core concept, but it’s far from comprehensive. I do want to say that I don’t see this as an inherently bad thing. If the game stopped and told me the whole story every time something came up, it would drag down the pace and feel bad. So just remember to not be surprised if you feel the need to get a refresher.
I think I will leave you with that for now. I do want to say expect a review in a few weeks though. There are several things like gummi ships, and mini-games that I want to leave for that. This is a game I want to take my time with and really get a feel for before I say anything definitive. Yet, for now this is looking like a game that, at the very least, longtime fans are sure to enjoy.
A transmedia narrative, also called transmedia storytelling, is when a story is told through multiple forms of media. As an example say there is a movie and as a sequel it gets a tv show, some audio dramas, or even books; all telling a continuous and connected story. It is basically a device that allows for a more varied form of storytelling, by using different media one is able to use the strengths of each medium to help how effectively a story is told. This kind of storytelling has become widely used in the video game industry, and its starting to be seen as a problem. Recently, a good bit of backlash has been thrown at Blizzard Entertainment for their use of transmedia storytelling in World of Warcraft and Overwatch, and honestly I don’t think it has been a bad direction to go in.
The main complaint I keep seeing is simply that developers should put all of the story they want to tell into their games. I should be clear on this, that isn’t in anyway unreasonable, yet here I am to argue against it. Allow me to explain. In the past transmedia storytelling has been used when companies have no intention on telling a part of a story in their game. In games like Halo or Gears of War this is primarily backstory that can be alluded to or referenced but could, for good narrative reasons, never be fully explained. Nobody likes exposition breaks in their action shooter games, its a restriction of the genre. Yet while some of Overwatch’s comics and shorts do tell backstory, some actually move forward a story that, if you are just playing the game, you are not even made aware of. Why is that? I see it as a restriction of Overwatch’s genre, a competitive online shooter. The way the game is set up, a series of online matches, doesn’t lend itself to a story.
While the heroes themselves hint at a world with many stories to tell, there just simply isn’t a place to tell them outside of special events. With this in mind, Blizzard seems to have made the decision to tell these stories in the way that makes the most sense for their game, outside of it. While doing this they can also ignore the limitations of the genre. Transmedia storytelling has become, in this case, the technique required to move past a development issue.
Yet, how does this idea of telling a story outside of limitations fit for World of Warcraft? Has the game not been telling stories for 14 years now? Honestly, how this idea is being applied to the game, and the backlash to it are the reason I am writing this. In the new expansion, Battle for Azeroth, the team for the game is interested in telling a more character driven story. This is where the issue of genre comes in again. Massive multiplayer online (MMO) games have a tendency to tell stories through either walls of text or short interactions or cutscenes involving non-player characters. These are fine for very event driven narratives, but not for character drama. In truth, having the player just follow around a few characters as they endlessly talk to each other wouldn’t be very engaging. It would be similar to having a big exposition dump in a film, informative sure but it doesn’t hold the attention. It also has no gameplay potential so it would all around bore players. The solution that seems to have come from this problem is to put actions into the game, yet give extra context in short stories or comics. Players don’t have to seek these things out, but they can if they want to better understand the characters inner motivations. A player that doesn’t care about this, however, still gets the epic cinematics and gameplay they want. It is a way to please two very different kinds of player. It also allows the developers to move past the limitations of their genre, into a region of storytelling they want to explore. In the end, I think that transcendence of limitations in narrative is one of the most interesting ideas that games have for us recently.
What would a person give for their last wish to be granted? What if one’s life ambitions could be reached in their final moments? To achieve this is the job of Dr. Eva Rosalene and Dr. Neil Watts, the protagonists of the video game To The Moon.
Employees of the Sigmund Corporation, these doctors are tasked with entering a person’s memories in order to manipulate them, allowing their clients to experience their life’s ambition before their encroaching death.
The game opens with the dysfunctional colleagues being called to the home of their most recent client, an old dying man named Johnny. Johnny’s ambition is to go to the moon, though he himself admits he does not know why.
After speaking to a memory of Johnny, the two journey back through his life to find out both why he has this dream and how they can make it happen. Along the way, they learn much of Johnny’s life and his interactions with his beloved wife, River.
River and John met while in school and Johnny came to love her despite her sometimes severe Aspergers. Asperger’s Syndrome is an Autism Spectrum disorder that is described as “on the ‘high functioning’ end of the spectrum” by Autismspeaks. It mainly affects social ability and can lead to obsessive behavior that makes the sufferer fixate on very specific subjects, such as trains or certain books. For River, this subject is the local lighthouse which she named “Anya” The lighthouse eventually moves closer to ‘her’ with John so that ‘she’ will not be alone anymore.
River’s Asperger’s and how others react to it is a major theme of the game. It explores how a person can love and be loved by someone who has a massive difficulty understanding and expressing emotion in a way a neurotypical, someone without a major mental disorder, could. In many ways, it is her relationship with Johnny that actually leads to the conflict of the game and the strength of their bond that leads to its conclusion. The game uses this to form a complex story about how what really matters is the love we have for those dear to us and the memories they leave even if one can not admit it.
The game was made using a program called RPG Maker, designed to allow anyone to make a role-playing game with both pre-made and custom made assets. To The Moon makes use of custom assets and an original, beautifully composed soundtrack.
The simplistic gameplay involves wandering around in the environment, finding objects important to Johnny’s life and completing simple puzzles. This marginalized approach allows for more focus on the story itself. Whereas other video games would suffer from this, To The Moon embraces it. The game does not pull the player in with gameplay but instead allows the story to draw one in with a moment based on character depth and interaction.
In his review of the game, Anthony Gallegos of IGN, a gaming news and review website, summed this moment up best.
“Some games are utterly mindless and carried by action or gameplay, but To The Moon’s gameplay moments are reliant on the excellent plot,” Gallegos said.
With all this in mind, it is uncertain if this game can be recommended to everyone. Those who truly wish to see a heartfelt story told with charming presentation and glorious music would love the game. Yet, those who prefer challenging and engaging gameplay will find it lacking in depth and action with the few times the story causes dramatic shifts being too little, too late to satisfy.
To The Moon was released on Nov. 1 in 2011. It is available on the Steam store for Windows and Mac OS X.