EDT791: Choosing a game

Posted by Jeff Beeman on Wed, 01/23/2008 - 16:54

It took me over a week to do so, but I think I've finally chosen a game to play for class. Picking a game was actually more difficult than you might imagine. The requirements are pretty open-ended - the game needs to be something I've never played, and should (hopefully) last me fifty hours or more. The hard part? I have this tendency, due to what I like to call "Gamer ADD," to buy, borrow or rent a game I'm interested in, play it for anywhere from an hour to several or countless hours, and then stop when the next must-play game comes along. The effect of this has ended up being that I've me played a good portion of the games I'm interested in, while having not really played them.

Rogue Galaxy box coverI certainly thought about quite a few games during the process: RPGs such as Rogue Galaxy or Neverwinter Nights 2; MMOs like Hellgate: London or Lord of the Rings Online (LOTRO); or completely non-RPG games such as The Sims 2 or Starcraft. I played a bit of the original Neverwinter Nights several years ago, so it's sequel would have been pretty familiar. I played a demo of Hellgate: London, and reviews have been so mixed that I tossed it off the list quickly. LOTRO was definitely an option... but my countless hours with World of Wacraft (which is why it wasn't an option) spoiled me on MMOs, and would certainly taint my view of the experience. The Sims 2 would probably be really interesting, but it seemed so... obvious; and Starcraft may have been cool, too, but something tells me it could be a bit... scary. So, none of these games would work. Rather, they would work, but none of them felt right, and if I'm going to be given the opportunity to play a game for school, it's got to be perfect.

I decided to make the decision a bit easier on myself. I'd pick a couple of role-playing games that have been on my wish list, and I made sure they came out within the last year. There were two games that had been calling to me for months and, I've got to be honest, they were each at the front of my mind as I went through the exercise of weeding out the other games. But I had to be sure, so I went through the others anyway. I'll preface these two by saying that once I decided they were contenders for my list, I tried to essentially ignore any media coverage about them. They've both been out for months, so I obviously couldn't do so retroactively, but I have a a fairly short term memory, so I was able to approach both games with pretty fresh eyes. I say that to essentially buy myself the ability to be completely wrong about my impressions of the games and have no accountability for it.

The Witch box coverThe Witcher intrigues me to no end. Everything I've heard about it says that it's one of the few mature-rated games that really takes its rating seriously. From the ground up, it's a game built for adults. It's dark, gloomy, curse-filled and violent. The narrative is complex, deep, full of moral ambiguity and tough decisions. It has sex. Gamers I trust recommend it whole-heartedly. As a late-twenties gamer, it's pretty much everything I want in a game, with the veritable cherry on top. As the industry grows, we're starting to see more experimentations and risks with genres and audiences like this. Much in the way the massive size of the film industry allows incredibly niche indie films to find success, the explosive growth of the gaming industry opens up room for games like The Witcher, which is really one of the reasons I'm so interested in the game.

In spite of how badly I wanted (and still want) to play The Witcher, there's a game that ended up calling to me even more: Persona 3 (P3), mostly because of its convenient relevance to the topics of the class. P3 is the latest entry in the Shin Megami Tensei (SMT) series of games, of which I've played (and not yet finished) Digital Devil Saga (DDS). The SMT games all have the same general premise: demons (or "devils") are trying to do something bad, and you're there to try and stop them. The stories are generally fantastic, if occasionally quirky or melodramatic.

Persona 3 box coverYet, however similar the background is, P3 seems to be quite a departure from the DDS-style of presentation. DDS was a hardcore RPG with a story that took itself pretty seriously - occasionally too seriously. P3 seems to embrace the quirky nature of its premise, while also blending role-playing, adventure and simulation genres in a way not really seen yet in the western marketplace. The same "terrible creatures lurk[ing] in the dark" premise exists, along with the fairly standard (yet also innovative in its own way, from what I gather) console-style RPG battle system. Yet, what pulls me to the game, is the emphasis on what happens when you're not battling demons and trying to save the world.

P3 bases a large amount of its game play on the relationships you establish with other characters in the game. During the daytime hours, you play a student (or group of students? not sure yet...) who has to do all the normal things a kid does in at school - attend class, make and keep friends, study, etc. Ideas like this have been explored before to pretty good effect in games like the very misunderstood Bully, but in this case P3 seems to take the general idea of throwing the player into a school environment one step further. I can't say it much better than is written on the back of the game's box, "Tap into the power of Social Links: as your friendships grow stronger, so will your mastery over Persona." Relationships in the Persona universe become vital to the game play. I can infer from this that if I choose to ignore my friends, I will be worse at the game; and, to flip that around, as I strengthen my relationships with my school mates, I will succeed in the game. The implications of this concept are pretty powerful, when abstracted from the game world that it exists in.

So, I've chosen Persona 3 as the game I'll be spending my time playing, analyzing and critiquing for the next few months of class. Throughout the process, I'll cover a bunch of topics, including whether or not my impressions of the game are realized once I start playing it (an interesting study unto itself). One of the incredible things about the process of picking the game - which is not one I generally spend much time thinking about - is the sheer number of things I now realize I subconsciously consider every time I decide what to play next. A lot of this has to do with my identities as a gamer, as a real-world person (who happens to be a gamer) and as the person I want to become (notice how sports, racing and war games weren't even in my list of considerations). But I'll save that discussion for the next post...