Thursday, 25 April 2013

Why Am I Attacking That Guy?

Insert yo broodmama jokes....NOW!!
I am the Warden and I hate video games again!!

Back story. For the past couple of months, I've returned to the world of Dragon Age. Electronically, that is, in the form of Dragon Age: Origins for the Xbox 360. It's not my first time, but I've enjoyed it immensely more than my first time out due to two simple factors. One, elves aren't the glorious immortals made out in every other fantasy campaign known to existence. And two, I'm a rogue.

Yet last night's events have threatened to derail my efforts to finish this fucking game once more by striking at my weakest point: reminding me that it's a video game. During all three efforts to take on the infamously nippled broodmother (pictured above), my elf rogue continuously changed his mind on who he was going to attack, wandering off to get into some bizarrely accurate position against a tentacle or approaching shriek and throwing my entire plan of attack on its arse. Which is exactly where all my party members ended up, except dead.

I'm not sure if it's a glitch in this particular skirmish or intentionally done to complicate matters, but it broke the veil of fantasy and reminded me that I'm holding a controller in my hands and the commands and options presented are only limited to the decision put forth by the creators of the game. It's not the first time it's happened to me during a video game and it always leads to my dismissal from the game's presence, but this one was personal. I thought we had something, Dragon Age and I.

Right up until last night - and into the future, as I'm not a total dick willing to forego all of its accomplishments - I believed Dragon Age: Origins was one of the best tabletop-simulating RPGs around. You could interact with your party members, working through co-ordinated actions, and yet remain at each other's throats, disagreeing over crucial choices, even face mutiny. Interaction in the game is incredibly fluid and natural and the level of detail in the setting can blend into the background when you need it. I was thoroughly enjoying my experience... right up until last night.

Lack of control is the key factor behind my dislike of video games and it's what sends me over the edge every single time. Anything to the effect of "Why the (insert expletive) are you going over there?!!" can only lead to the controller being thrown forward or over my shoulder onto the couch. There are two times when that lack rears its ugly head in a video game: during a fight or while interacting with your environment or characters.

While I could go on a rant about this a little longer - or a lot longer - that's not the reason for today. Something I'm trying to keep in mind is reconsidering what I know, think, or believe in my favourite games. If lack of control exists in video games, does that mean tabletop RPGs are immune? As much as I'd love to believe they are, it may not be that simple.

Ever played in a campaign where the GM restricted your moves based on his/her interpretation of the rules or setting? Dwarves can't use magic and suddenly they can't reap the benefits of a healing potion, for example. Hey, it's happened. Or your attempted action is not allowed because of the GM's ruling and you're sitting at the bottom of the pit trap regardless of your rogue's innate ability to react with lighting speed. In those cases, lack of control comes close, but it's not quite there. In this case, it's about permission and it's a struggle every player and GM has with tabletop RPGs, whether it's due to personal translation or the conditions of the rules themselves.

Think about it. If your game's only reference to jumping requires a dice roll, are you able to make a simple leap over a small wall without having to roll dice? Surely there's a time and a place where it's safe to assume someone capable of killing a dragon or dropping a 50' mech with a grenade launcher can hop over the waist-high stone wall of an English farm? It seems not, as I learned five years ago during a game. Maybe there is a similarity between the two gaming genres than I would like, but here's the kicker.

In a tabletop game, I have the option and ability to discuss the matter with my GM and either try to make him/her realize what I'm trying to do without breaking the game or understand why the GM has made such a ruling. There's back and forth. Not in a video game. I have to suck it up and simply accept what's happening against my will or toss that controller. In the same stroke, a tabletop game facing such restrictions to the point of destroying my enjoyment of the game can lead to the same reaction: quitting the group. It's a decision I'm sure we've all had to make in our gaming careers and it sucks because it's a failure of expectations.

But that's not what's bugging me about this particular incident. To be honest, I'm not sure what it is exactly. Perhaps it's because I thought I'd finally found a video game I could trust, one I could roleplaying (and I did, playing up on my hatred of humans for what they did to my fiancee and my people). I thought the doors opened in this game, unlike any other before, was a sign of answered prayers. Maybe I was a bit foolish to hope or far too generous with my expectations that they could only end up stepped on.

Will I return to the broodmother fight again? Let's keep our fingers crossed and pray my anger allows the controller to land on a soft pillow instead of a plastered wall.