Life, The Universe, And Gaming: Going Against The Grain
When I was six years old a friend of mine, also six, took me to her Sunday School one morning where the children there joined in with the teacher to sing a song that goes, “It’s love, it’s love, it’s love that makes the world go around.” Upon completing this song, I put my hand up and stated loudly and proudly to the class that it was not in fact love that made the world go around but gravity. Confused looks were exchanged and I was very awkwardly asked by the teacher to go with it, because love is important and that was what the song meant. I hadn’t yet realised back then that it was the sign of a scientific mind that had yet to actualise its potential but was nicely on its way.
That little anecdote aside, I’ve often found throughout my relatively short existence on this Earth that when there is a common belief, there will usually be an uncommon belief along opposing lines to that common belief. This will naturally create a conflict as the two beliefs reach loggerheads with each other. I don’t need to go further than to simply state the words ‘religion’ and ‘politics’ and we are well on our way to understanding, better, what I’m talking about. Christians, you guys are hopefully aware that some three thousand years ago, your religion did not exist. A little after that, your religion was seen as some newbie upstart that was trying to power its way through long-standing traditions. In the future, there’ll be another religion that will do the same thing and the cycle will continue. If you find this offensive, then by all means, pray for me.
This site is not one based on either religion or politics (we save all of that for our podcast) so let’s bring it back to gaming, and I want to do that by highlighting four games in particular, namely The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, BioShock: Infinite, Dead Space 3 and the recent Call of Duty titles. In each of these cases, there is a definite popular opinion, and then there is an alternative way of looking at it, that is shared by a few. And in each of these cases, daring to mention that alternative viewpoint would lead to a crucifixion that, once again, Christians can quite easily relate to. I’ll stop now.
I’d just like to say before continuing that the message I want to get across with this column, its purpose if you will, is that it’s okay to go against popular opinion. Now let’s get to those examples, shall we?
Dead Space 3
I want to start with Dead Space 3 because that’s the game I’ve most recently played and I went into it expecting to be a little disappointed because of the various criticisms that I’ve heard, of the third game in the Visceral-developed Dead Space series. However while playing the game I found that my experience differed almost entirely. Sure, the weapons crafting system felt tacky and reeked of an excuse to add in microtransactions that aided resource gathering, but it still worked for customisation and I appreciated being able to create the type of weapon that I wanted. Sure the game’s true ending is gated off, requiring paid DLC in order to play through the epilogue and complete the story, proper. That sucked but then I wasn’t really playing the game for its story anyway, so I don’t possess a fervent desire for closure there.
Truth be told, though, I enjoyed Dead Space 3 immensely. I thought that the action was solid and gripping, and I thoroughly enjoyed being able to space-walk my way towards abandoned, decrepit spaceships. The desolation and exploration factor was incredible, and I found myself wishing that the entire game was based on this concept. An open-world action game with space exploration, where you actually physically explored space. And then later on, you land on this planet called Tau Volantis and must navigate the surface, currently in the grips of a blizzard, while battling both hypothermia and hostiles. You have no idea where you are, nor where you need to go. You’re feeling your way forward, with limited visibility and even more limited time. It’s tense and atmospheric and that’s probably the first time in the Dead Space series since the very first chapter of the first game, where I genuinely felt as if I would die a horrible death. Because the truth is, the jump-scares and the over-reliance on stalkers did nothing for me in Dead Space 3. I was more frightened when the game’s part-time co-op character Sgt John Carver popped up from behind me during a cutscene, than when a necromorph or other enemy attacked me. I both understood and appreciated the game’s move towards something a little less Silent Hill and a little more Doom. They pulled it off nicely, in my opinion.
I loved BioShock: Infinite to bits, when I played it. I still think back and have fond memories of the game, and like the rest of the world I am eagerly awaiting some new DLC which gives me a reason to put the disc back into my console, and get playing again. Most of the world would agree that the game has an amazing story, and is easily one of the best experiences this year. But I’ll let you guys in on something: I can’t help but feel that the game is a little on the side of overrated. Whoa! Slow down there, son. Allow me to explain. I’ve actually been working on a feature over the last few months, in which I would go into extremely intricate detail in order to explain why I have this belief but if I may provide a nutshell version: The game plays out like a self-completing puzzle at times, introducing unnecessary amounts of complication while avoiding certain other aspects of basic narrative, such as the fact that for Columbia’s most cherished person, Elizabeth is barely ever even acknowledged in combat, by enemies.
It is my belief that the game’s twenty-minute-long full-blown super-climax of an ending was responsible for mind-fucking way too many people who went away from the game not completely understanding the messages it was trying to convey, nor fully appreciating what the game was trying to do. Effectively then, it flew so far over their heads that they turned around and called it the best game ever, or hated on it in equal amounts, because they didn’t quite understand it. But for the most part, you guys have seen all the near-Perfect ratings that this game got, and I’m here to say that while it’s an astounding achievement in storytelling and intellectual stimulation, it does not deserve that sort of score. Look out for my feature when I finally get around to it, for some better understanding here.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
When I reviewed The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim in November 2011, I made the mistake of giving the game a Perfect rating. That’s not to say that I didn’t think it was a game worthy of the Perfect rating; in fact, I quite stand by that rating as I explained it in the review itself. My mistake, rather, was going against the common denominator which felt that the game was a glitchy and buggy experience which did little for making the player feel as if they had any real lasting impact on the in-game world and still left a lot to be desired in terms of first-person combat.
I had a lot of fun playing Skyrim, and I spent three amazing weeks of my life entirely lost in that world. I experienced a grand total of one glitch and one game freeze, and that was that. I played through all the questlines with the same character, which I admit is a little silly but I appreciated it because it meant that my hundreds of hours of game time would not amount to a game half completed just because I opted to be a sneak thief throughout my game, and then one day desired to be Arch-Mage of the College of Winterhold. As a contemporary open-world RPG, Skyrim is a truly perfect game to me, even if it’s on the glitchy side for some. It’s got so much to offer the player and asks so little from you as a person. Dark Souls, it most certainly is not. But of course, common opinion thinks otherwise, and has attached a certain negative stigma to Skyrim. Perhaps these players have never tried modding the game, or just experienced a maddening amount of glitches. It’s just strange that a game that did so much so well, is criticised for the minor mess-ups that were also a part of the experience. Sorry, Bethesda. Better luck with Fallout 4?
Call Of Duty
It doesn’t really matter which one, although the most recent iteration in the series was Call Of Duty: Black Ops II which I’ve heard amazing things about, in the past few months. Having played the game, I am of course well acquainted with the story and the action set-pieces. I was told recently by a person who did not know that I’d played the game, about how boring Black Ops II was, how confusing and bland it was, and how the only fun that could be found in the game was online. I was beside myself.
Sadly, that is a very common belief of the Call of Duty series. That they’re lacklustre, barely innovating experiences that don’t deserve the ridiculous amounts of profit they make each year. I don’t quite understand how a game can have this level of negative stigma and yet still sell so well, but I digress. The point is that if you’re seen or heard to enjoy a Call of Duty game, that’s like going into a religious establishment and professing your disbelief in everything it stands for. What baffles me is that a lot of people are fully aware that Call of Duty delivers on popcorn action and mindless entertainment, and that when you purchase a Call of Duty game, you more or less know what to expect, which adds an air of security and trust in the series. It’s not like Resident Evil 6, for example, where everyone was expecting Resident Evil and got something entirely different instead. But no, let’s pick on the dog and the token female characters in Call of Duty: Ghosts and then make fun of things that many have spent years clamouring for, ie. Something different in multiplayer, and at last, female playable characters. You know, because gaming!
Now in each of these cases, I’ve presented my personal opinion and attempted to get you guys to see my side of things. The idea here is that as much as there appears to be some ostensible sense of a common belief, that doesn’t mean that it’s the only belief system currently in play. Indeed, you could exhibit a belief system that goes completely against the grain, or one that is neither here nor there. Such examples of this include the aforementioned Dead Space 3, where I am just on the other end of the spectrum when it comes to enjoying the game, whereas in BioShock: Infinite I sit somewhere between the positives and the negatives of the game, for my own reasons.
And it’s okay. It really is. You don’t need to go with the common belief just because it exists. In fact, that’s basically the premise of the internet. I’m not saying that it’s then okay to just go against the grain for the purposes of argument because then you’re not being an individual with their own opinions, you’re just being a dick and a troll and nobody wants you around. However if you, like me, watched Man of Steel and thought it was a truly great rendition of an old and tired superhero, then you are entitled to your opinion and you are more than welcome to share it where sharing it is allowed.
Nobody should attack you for that, and indeed if you’re one of those people who shares in common beliefs, you owe it to yourself to at least try and empathise with others; try and see their perspectives, understand their viewpoints and relate to the direction from which they are coming, with their opinions. Don’t force each others’ beliefs down any throats, though. We’re not religious nor political debaters; we’re gamers.