Thursday, 22 August 2013

When Games Are Not Stories

An example of the animus slipping past the sight of
local guards in Assassin's Creed. If only it worked as
well in the game.
I am the Warden!!

Today is a day off to recover from the Return of the Torn Throat. Yes, I'm aware that I'm writing on my blog, so for argument's sake, this is not work. Seems that strep throat wasn't cured after all and has come back with a vengeance. After three nights of very little sleep, my mind was worn down and unable to complete a coherent thought. The majority of the afternoon was spent on the couch playing Assassin's Creed (which I picked up for $10 a couple of weeks ago and haven't been able to play very often until now).

As I write this, I'm knee deep in the middle of the first true assassination in Damascus and loving the fact that it takes place during the Crusades, something I read about extensively back in my post-college days. The graphics are amazing and the controls are very intuitive (assigning each of the four core buttons to the four limbs on the animus' body - head, hands, and the feet). Plus, the idea of playing an assassin sounds fun. Not sure why.

But there's a problem. I'm having a hard time investing myself into this story. It started the first time I saved a citizen's life and escaped from a pair of nearby guards to the roofs of Damascus. Easily making my way to the curtained roof garden, I ducked and covered just in time to remain out of sight... and watched as these "professionals" searched everywhere except the most obvious hiding spot in sight. "Bah! I've got better things to do," one decries and back they go to their post.

Really? (sigh)

These kind of things break my appreciation for video games. Technically, yes, I was hidden, but that's only because of a technicality. If this were any tabletop RPG, I'm pretty sure I'd have to come up with something better than "hiding inside a giant hiding box." Blending into a crowd of scholars doesn't fare much better in my imagination because I'm pretty sure I'm the only one sporting deadly weapons and covered in the (unseen) blood of my latest kill. Or how about the fact that I sudden forget how to fight simply because I've been demoted? And don't get me started on guards on the open road, forcing you to either run for your life or saunter with the pace of a tortoise until it's time for dinner and you have to either leave the Xbox paused for an hour or just quit and lose what little progress has been made. Why? Because... because... actually, I'm not even sure why. It's these quirks that break my suspension of disbelief in video games.

Why? Because it doesn't fit with the story I've built up in my mind. It's an unfair expectation, I know, but one I cannot shake. I constantly have to remind myself it's a simulation and there's only so much today's technology (yes, even today's) can do to handle the intricate details of a real assassin's duty in the ancient Middle East. The problem is not with the games; it's with me. It's the same feeling I have if I'm playing a tabletop game, roll to hide, and the GM simply says "you're hidden." Bleh. How did I hide? Or better yet, let me tell you how I want to hide and we'll use the dice to determine my success or failure, which results in a starting point for the GM to describe the moment. "Oh, you rolled really low. You climb onto the roof of the garden box, just as you described, but there is a flock of birds nesting up there and your activity startles them. The frantic flapping alerts the guards and they know exactly where you are." Isn't that much better?

I'm willing to make certain accomodations and go with the flow on some aspects of the game. Unfortunately, when a game - any game, not just video games - inserts technical aspects simply for the sake of adding on a technical challenge, my interest decreases just a little bit. As an assassin, wouldn't my character automatically blend into a crowd? It seems to me the guy dressed in white with a large sword on his back scaling rooftops and leaping around like a jackrabbit isn't doing a great job of being subtle.

I could possibly go on and on about this for a while. Don't get me wrong, I'm still determined to play this game, but it's an aspect of gaming in general that's always bothered me. Moments that break the story and the character and stop creating an experience and slip into a series of button pushing.

Or maybe it's just that LA Noire has raised my bar of expectation too high.