Just a Guy Made of Vertices and Splines…
(Excuse the terrible attempt at a They Might Be Giants reference, titles have to come from somewhere, right?)
I’ve been playing quite a bit of Max Payne 2 lately and have been experiencing a not entirely unpleasant, but decidedly odd oscillation of my connection to its world. It’s particularly salient when I’m in the (common) process of shooting a bunch of enemies, perhaps especially when they come running through the door at me, and even more especially when I’m not using bullet time (though that’s getting mighty specific). It feels like about half the time I view these enemies as “people in the world” who I have a kind of relationship with in the sense of their role as mafia or assassins or whatever. At those times I feel a connection to my actions (of killing them) in a story sense.
But then there are these other times when the enemies are so clearly 3D models rushing around in the virtual space that I need to point at and click on. The game dissolves into its abstractions, in other words. It’s not unpleasant, as I said, but feels peculiar. At those times the game is entirely devoid of fiction, it just slips away and leaves the shapes and movements and interactions behind – I point and click efficiently and “get things done” and move forward.
When this started happening I thought it would illustrate very clearly to me how important the fiction is for contextualising your actions and making them meaningful, but it’s been a surprise just how intriguing it is to play these games entirely without that meaning. Particularly single-player, actually, as there’s not even the intensifier or meaning-maker of another person controlling the 3D model – just the code. It seems somehow very pure.