Playing Games Like You Watch TV Or: Why It Took Me Over Two Years To Finish Dragon Age: Inquisition

DAI

I’ve spoken about my gaming habits plenty in the past but I’ve noticed another shift in the last year or so. If I have an hour spare now in the evening I’m much more likely to play an online game, not something single player based.

While it sounds contrary to the above, I feel like I want to invest more time in single player game sessions than ever and really lose myself in that world, which conflicts with my gaming schedule – essentially the odd hour here and there in the evening. I’m finding that I don’t want to play something story based for 45 minutes or an hour. Or at least that’s how I feel about open world games, I’m certainly still happy to play an hour long session to complete a chapter of Uncharted or a main mission in Tomb Raider. More linear games still lend themselves to that style of play. I’ve always played those kind of games like TV shows anyway, a chapter or two at a time over the course of weeks rather than days. I’ve never been a gamer who will rush through a 15-20 hour game in a weekend.

Horizon

Horizon: Zero Dawn is a good example of this new play style, a game I likely would’ve rushed through before is now a title I’m planning to play over the course of months rather than weeks. Crucially, I also feel like I’m getting more enjoyment out of the game by taking the time to explore and discover smaller content along the way.

I think there is an accompanying parallel change in multiplayer games, which are doing a much better job of getting you to come back and play more often. There has been a positive change in a huge amount of games whereby new content (new levels/maps or characters) is being added free of charge for all players. This is important because, firstly, it means the player base isn’t split (some that paid have the new content but others don’t and they can’t all play together) and secondly it gives people a strong reason to come back to games they might not have ever returned to before this trend. In addition a lot of games are rewarding players for logging in and playing, which keeps people interested for longer.  I also feel like there are a ton of pick up and play online experiences that last 5-10 minutes per game, which align perfectly with the time I have available.

If I only have 30-45 mins spare why waste my time on an open world title and have to turn it off just as I’m getting into the rhythm of the game? I’d rather play a few rounds Overwatch and a game of Rocket League. It’s also occasionally quite nice to play something that has a set beginning, middle and end. I guess it’s similar to watching a really good eight episode TV show knowing it only has one season and tells a complete story within that.

OverwatchTV

Big, sprawling open world titles are definitely still attractive to me, Horizon is one of the best games I’ve played in the last 4 or 5 years, but I just need more time to play and invest in them. Dragon Age: Inquisition took me over two years to finish. Why? I suspect the TV season-like structure helped, along with the change in my own gaming habits. What I loved about the structure of Dragon Age in particular was that your main hub in the game was your ‘War Table’, where you and your colleagues/advisors would plan your next tactical move and which mission to take on. On this table you had a selection of smaller missions, including favours for your colleagues that would reveal more about them and strengthen your relationship with them, but also one bigger mission that moved the main story on considerably. So for me, the game became like a TV show in so far as I would spend a few weeks playing side missions, levelling up and getting some character development for my team before doing the big, climatic ‘end of season’ mission and then putting the game down for a month or two.

Another huge title in terms of scale is Fallout 4, which I’m still playing 18 months after I started. Why? Well for similar reasons to Dragon Age but with the added decision from the outset not to follow the direct path for ‘character reasons’. I decided to make my character more selfish than my usual created characters, for example my elf Inquisitor from Dragon Age or Commander Shepherd from Mass Effect. In Fallout, Bella would be a character that was, for the most part, more interested in her own current affairs than any grander goal – which has been great fun and I’d recommend everyone to try playing a character like it at some stage!

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Another issue with mainlining games is burnout, doing the same thing over and over again is certainly not fun and can severely lessen your enjoyment of a game. However, I think there is a huge difference between repetitive gameplay over a longer period of time in hour sized chunks and repetitive gameplay experienced in bigger 3 or 4 hour time slots.  I genuinely believe that the reason I still enjoy long running game series like Assassin’s Creed, where you are essentially doing the same thing in every iteration of the game in a different setting, is because I’ve never really sat down and played them for 4 or 5 hours at a time.

Episodic gaming kind of solves this play style problem, although it doesn’t always necessarily do the best job. Titles like The Walking Dead and Life Is Strange are great games, although each episode usually runs the length of a film which runs into the same problem for me time-wise. Hitman, which is perfectly suited to the episodic format, is another title with lengthy levels (a positive when I have the time to invest) although the inclusion of smaller one off assassinations does mean that is a game you can also dip into here and there.

Life Is Strange 1

Some people are quick to mainline these huge games and I just don’t get it. Why would you want to rush through these big titles? Where Uncharted is like a film, games like Skyrim, Mass Effect or Dragon Age are like having 10 seasons of a TV show in front of you. Finishing these open world games as quickly as possible by doing just main quests would be like having a cut down version of the TV show that just focuses on the main character and no-one else. Sure you’d get to experience the story at the centre of the show but without any focus on other characters. Imagine a Buffy The Vampire Slayer without any development of Willow or Xander? Or an Orphan Black with no focus on Donny or anyone except Sarah? Indeed, imagine a Mass Effect that didn’t bother to flesh out your crew but just double downed on the main story.

I’m as guilty as the next person of binge-watching TV shows but I do feel that for games it is a little different – as I mentioned above my confusion isn’t really based on people playing games quickly, it’s what you might be missing along the way. Even if I binge something like Jessica Jones I am still seeing all the story the creators put in there and want us to see. If you mainline a game you could be missing a wealth of interesting content and potentially things that might be integral to the wider plot of the game.

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Even in this age of on demand binge watching it can be nice to watch a TV show week by week – one of the biggest luxuries of the ‘old’ approach to watching TV or playing games is that you have time to think about and appreciate the content you’re consuming. I’ve found that in games but also in TV. Recently, Legion was a delight to watch week by week and I actually think I needed that time between episodes to process what I’d seen. Sure, there is a rush from getting through something you’re enjoying – it can exhilarating knowing that you are just a click away from another episode or main mission but I’d recommend giving slower paced gaming a shot. It’s definitely a different experience and one, for me personally, that means I’ve gotten more enjoyment out of open world games.

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Marvel’s Avengers Assemble – Review (Film)

 

*This review is entirely spoiler free, for anyone who hasn’t seen the film yet (what are you waiting for? Go now!)*

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Where to start?

The great acting?

The brilliant special effects?

The amazing script?

Ok, ok. Let’s back this up a bit before I fall into an abyss of gushing.

Joss Whedon is probably my favourite person in the audiovisual world – Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Firefly/Serenity, Dollhouse, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along-Blog… the man can do no wrong. He even wrote the screenplay for Toy Story for heaven’s sake!

BUT there is always that flicker of doubt. ‘Joss Whedon to helm Avengers movie’ was the headline. Joy was the initial reaction (although I didn’t have any idea what the Avengers were beyond being a team of superheroes) but as time went on I did think – can he deliver with this? It’s a HUGE movie and look at the people involved.

I needn’t have worried at all – Marvel’s Avengers Assemble (to give the film it’s full title) is an absolutely fantastic movie.

Getting all of these actors – the majority of whom have their own films as these characters already – to team up and share the screen shows some serious management ability.

And they all deliver – I’m not really a fan of Scarlett Johannson but she was great as Black Widow. Mark Ruffalo was the big doubt for me but he is the best Hulk I’ve seen on the big screen. The rest of the cast are all on form – Robert Downey Jr continues to impress me, I used to really dislike him but in the last 4 or 5 years he has won me over.

Speaking with others who’ve seen the film the big hook for everyone appears to be the comedy and wit that flows through the script – it’s classic Whedon for those of us who know his work. The balance of seriousness and comedy is so well done you can’t help but get swept up in the sheer enthusiasm the film has.

I have no intention of discussing the plot or anything that might spoil the film. It’s a nice bit of background to have seen the accompanying films (Iron Man/Captain America/Thor) but by no means essential. This is a self contained film that tells you everything you need to know about what is going on.

Marvel’s Avengers Assemble is the best superhero movie I’ve ever seen. To actually get that many characters & actors together, have them feel genuinely like a team and for the movie not to totally suck is great. Go see it!

Rating: 10/10

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“I’m Not Crying, It’s Just Been Raining On My Face…”

Ghost Whisperer

NOTE: This piece contains potential spoilers regarding the following TV Shows and Games: 

  • Ghost Whisperer
  • Firefly/Serenity
  • Buffy The Vampire Slayer
  • Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles
  • GTA IV
  • Dead Space

If you plan to watch/play these DON’T READ THIS ARTICLE!!!!

So now that’s out of the way let me explain.

A few weeks ago a main character died on a TV show that I watch and I found myself a little choked up. That in itself is not really a surprise as I’m not the most difficult person to get an emotional response from – though we’re talking lump in the throat as opposed to actual tears.

It got me thinking about the reasons I would feel these emotions about fictional characters – was there some sort of checklist the programme-makers tick off to evoke these feelings? Or is it just that the makers/actors create the illusion differently each time?

Likewise with games, although it seems harder to trigger that same response (for me personally) – I haven’t really choked up over a game but I have often found myself shaken, or perhaps stunned is more accurate, by characters deaths.

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I discovered that research into this sort of thing has been going on for decades.

Back in 1956 an article entitled “Mass Communication and Para-Social Interaction” was written by Donald Horton and R. Richard Wohl. They discussed how the general public (or audience) felt connected to the TV presenters at the time because they were addressing the screen (and therefore the viewers) directly.

Research continued in the 70’s and 80’s and the term ‘Para-Social Interaction/Relationship’ came to mean the affection that viewers feel with the characters or personalities they see on screen.

So why was I upset when Jim died in Ghost Whisperer? Or knocked for six when Kate got shot at the end of GTA IV? I am a rational person – I have no delusions that these are real people, so what’s going on?

The answer it seems lies in further research…

Viewers attach themselves to characters – that is an obvious statement. If no one cared about the characters no one would watch the show. However it’s the depth of the attachment and the reasons for it that seem to cause these Para-Social Relationships.

Some people identify with characters, or at the very least facets of them, and invest emotionally because they feel a sense of familiarity when watching.

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Others idolize the characters or see them as role models. Someone they look up to perhaps, or aspire to be like.

Either way you’re drawn to these works of fiction and invest a great deal of emotion and time (especially in TV shows and games which can both last for hour upon hour) in them.

That is certainly a reasonable explanation – especially looking at something like GTA IV where you have crafted out a relationship with Kate for Niko (the character you control) by actually spending time with her and going on ‘dates’ etc. 

Several deaths in Buffy The Vampire Slayer shocked and moved me but for very different reasons.

The death of Buffy’s mother Joyce was possibly more to do with the way it was handled – with Buffy finding her stricken on the sofa, eyes wide open but unresponsive following a brain tumour. It was powerful stuff anyway but the bleakness and honesty of the scene was both upsetting and slightly disturbing. The fact that they showed the scene repeatedly during the episode also made it hit home harder.

Whereas the death of Anya, right at the end of the last season was upsetting in that a) she was a main character and b) in the chaos of the fight she was struck down almost without a death scene as the action continued.

Anya

Having said that Joss Whedon has a history of killing off main characters unexpectedly – in Serenity the ships pilot Wash is killed during a crash landing but at least with that death we got to see his wife’s reaction and emotion.

In Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles, Derek Reese is killed quickly and while the shock did hit home it wasn’t as emotional as the other deaths I mentioned, say Jim in Ghost Whisperer, which had a longer build up.

So is there a reason some deaths effect us more than others? Is it solely down to our relationship with the characters and how we feel about them? Or do the makers of these programmes have some tricks up their sleeves? 🙂

I suspect it’s a mixture of both. Of course the director can use certain shots/angles or a powerful piece of music under the scene to help things along but if the actors don’t put the performances in the response won’t be as strong.

Maybe the groundwork has already been laid by the director in revealing the character to you in a certain light to motivate you to like and identify with them?

Going back to the former point about actors, perhaps that is why the emotions I feel during games are weaker than TV/Film? As great as the graphics are in games these days they are not entirely lifelike and often the person voicing the character is doing so months before the character is even properly created.

I expect you would get more of an emotional tie to a character you’d created, say in something like World Of Warcraft. If a character you’d built up from scratch and moulded however you wanted was killed it would hit you harder I would guess. I don’t play those types of games so I couldn’t answer that question directly.

The closest I’ve ever come to that is when I tried the Sims in 2 player with my wife. We created ourselves but unfortunately I died in a house fire 😮 I certainly wouldn’t play that again 😦

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Either way I’m glad to feel those emotions watching. It restores a little of my faith in TV/Film that these shows can evoke feelings of emotional shock or choke me up – especially when so called ‘reality’ television seems to be taking over the TV schedules more and more all the time. Certainly a worrying trend if ever there was one.

As for games I look forward to increasingly improving stories – more of stuff like Fahrenheit, Bioshock, Infamous, GTA IV and Dead Space. Games that made me feel something.

As the world of gaming evolves even further I think we have plenty of great stories to look forward to playing through. 😎

 

Note: I found the website below really helpful in researching this article and I’m not one to take unwarranted credit so please check it out if you’re interested or want more information:

http://encyclopedia.jrank.org/articles/pages/6428/Attachment-to-Media-Characters.html

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