The Trouser Effect

samara 1465704-oak asley High-res_Liara

Is that a gun in your pocket, or are you just pleased to see me?

Years after its release, I finally completed the Mass Effect series last night. On reflection, the game is an astronomical masterpiece of which few games can compare. However, I have been left pondering if the game would have faired better or worse without the Hollywood sheen.

What I mean by this is, for all its emotion, gritty drama and powerful story-lines, it’s played out by a cast of chiselled hunks and alluring women who radiate an air of red carpet actor, as opposed to civilisations actual last hope. Even during their lowest lows, they never truly capture the essence of a desperate struggle for survival, as they deliver their compelling lines, sporting their “fresh out of make-up” looks. With the females in particular, the abundance of voluptuous curves, wrapped in figure hugging outfits, acts only to magnify this effect. Leaving aside any soap box rant about the objectification of women; during the prologue of the final conflict, commander Shepard passes Samara – one of the games supporting cast – who’s dressed more like she’s preparing for a length of cock than a desperate battle from which she’s unlikely to survive. For me, this simply serves to shatter the illusion of tension that is building, and interferes with my ability to get fully immersed.

Fucking computers

Fucking computers

It’s not an isolated incident. This hyper-sexualisation is prevalent throughout the entire game. The guys are all very alpha male, and the women are all inescapably female. Even Edi, the ships AI,  looks more like an Anne Summers model than anything befitting her actual role. Everyone is very clean and perfect: a galaxy of very beautiful people, inside and out. It all feels very Hollywood.

I’m not one to enforce any rules on what a game should adhere to, but I can’t help wonder if the game would immerse the player more if the characters within it were more reflective of the world and situation they faced. If they truly were the broken remains of the galaxy, hanging on desperately to their lives, after losing all they’ve known and loved. These would be people that showed the affects both physically and mentally. Bedraggled, battle scarred soldiers, with thousand yard stares and unpredictable, unhinged behaviours. The figure hugging leather cat-suits would be replaced with dirty, torn fatigues and if there were any “romance” options to be found, it would be the desperate rutting of broken souls trying to fuck the pain away.

But then maybe that just wouldn’t be Mass Effect. Maybe that would be Vietnam in space, and maybe the end result wouldn’t be as good as its more logic parts. Maybe it’s the remarkable characters, with their remarkable resolve and with their remarkable bodies that makes for a remarkable game. Maybe that’s why we play and love fantasy games.

mordin

This blog post was dedicated to Mordin Solus. We would have liked you to run tests on the seashells too.

 

Home Is Where The Heart Is

Emerging into dazzling sunlight from vault 101 and witnessing the vast wasteland materialising in-front of you is a profound moment in not just Fallout 3, but in gaming altogether.  Confronted with this boundless, desolate world is both jaw-dropping and exciting, as you look out and ponder the seemingly limitless possibilities that lay before you. However, not long after I set out, a new feeling started to arise; a feeling of being overwhelmed, lost and alone. I started to feel a bit detached from the game, and wasn’t’ sure I wanted to continue. It was only after doing a mission that rewarded me a residence in Megaton that, in hindsight, I realised this phenomenon had occurred. Once I got my pad the game – or at least my feeling towards it – changed for me. It was still the same game, but now I felt OK with playing it again. I felt grounded, I felt like I belonged. It seems my need to have a place to call home transcends the physical and bleeds into the virtual.

Obviously this doesn’t and can’t apply to all genres of games; but in the open world ones, I’m much more at ease if the game allows my character to have a home. Going back to the fallout example; it’s not like I ever used to kick back in the evening with a beer and watch some TV in my virtual house – if anything it was just a dumping ground for loot and gear – but its mere existence seemed to be very important to me. I wasn’t happy with being the littlest hobo of the wasteland: I needed a place to call home, even if I never spent any time there. I was fine venturing out into the great unknown of this desolate and dangerous world, as long as in the back of my mind I had a place to retreat to; I had my home.

It doesn’t always have to be a home either. In games that don’t offer the player a house, I’ve found that a friendly tavern or Inn can provide the same reassuring respite and sanctuary that I think my subconscious craves; somewhere that acts as a mental counter balance to the intensity, dangers and solitude of the worlds dungeons and the monsters that lurk there. I often find myself visiting these places, whether I have an game related reason for being there or not. Be it indulging in a pointless chat with one of games NPC’s or playing a quick game of either cards with a patron, or hide the sausage with a prostitute.

An Englishman's home....

An Englishman’s home….

There seem to be other factors at play as well. Games where the protagonist is portrayed as strong, or indifferent to the danger they face – The Wither for example – seem to reduce this need for a safe space. The confidence the character resonates appears to transfer to my own personal state of mind. In games were the player character is more of a blank canvass however, it seems the reverse happens and I impart my own anxieties onto the character and the need for sanctuary is increased.

The nature of the world the player is inhabiting would appear to play a significant role also. Again, with the Fallout example: That bleak, hostile and often lonely environment combines perfectly to create an uncertainty that really drives the need to be neutralised by a harmonising force – in this case, my shitty little shack in Megaton. In other games it seems this comfort can be pulled from the environment itself. Fable for example gives the player the option to have many houses, and as nice as the option is, I never felt the need for it like I have in other games. The abundance of pleasant, populated towns and villages created a natural balance to the darker dungeon type areas. The general aesthetic of the game itself is also much less foreboding.

Even in Elite Dangerous – a game I find relaxing and devoid of anxieties – I have the Armstrong station, located in the Cupis system, that I consider “Home”. It has no notable creature comforts, or anything that really differentiates it from any of the other countless space stations in the game, but it still serves its purpose as reference point on the galaxy map: an anchor point in the vast nothingness of space that gives me a perception of here, there and back again. As I primarily play as a deep space merchant and explorer I technically have no need for this at all – I simply go where the profits are – yet I unwittingly did it anyway.

Although I’ve no idea if I’m the only one that has these hang ups, it’s clear to me that the concept of “home” within a game is an important one. Not just in the sense of having somewhere to hang your assault rifle after a busy days killing, but more as a way of binding you to the game world and giving you a sense of belonging.