An Edge of the Internet

…are mass-produced.

by Alex — Wed 26 August 2015

I finally started playing The Last of Us yesterday. It's fair to say it's right up there in the best story-driven games ever made. One thing I noticed was how tempting it is to try to skip past a cut scene that is a little slow, and whose narrative is relatively predictable.

The initial cut scene is probably of that type: we know the cut scene is supposed to introduce us to the relationship between the main protagonist and his daughter. In a film we would have no choice but to sit through the slow development of dialogue. In games we could choose to skip the cut scene (I'm not actually sure whether it is possible in The Last of Us).

But at what price? The deep emotional attachment that this game is able generate relies on slow cut scenes, and close ups on character's faces — techniques used in film making. And very often these cut scenes will, as in film, tread familiar ground in terms of character development. Nonetheless, skipping the familiar ground would rob us of the emotional attachment generated by walking precisely that well-trodden path.

So we are left with a choice: follow the click-bait immediate satisfaction of skipping the cut scene — and missing out on the emotional attachment so vital to this game; or choose to stay on this bus, as it progresses on its route knowing that we could get off at any point, but experiencing a deeper immersion in the game as a consequence.

There are two avenues that open up for me here conceptually:

  1. From the perspective of the games industry, in order to survive in a culture of instant gratification, story driven games will need to develop new techniques, like close ups and pans in cinema, which allow the game to create the emotional connection to the player — but in such a way that the player does not "lose patience".
  2. From the perspective of reflective art, it seems to me that the player's choice to watch a cut scene for its full duration has emancipatory potential. In choosing to watch the cut scene, we make a choice to immerse ourselves in the game, knowing full well, every time we have to make that choice, that we are playing a game. This conscious engagement with our environment — an artistic and emotional exploration that is conscious of its human made, artifical edifice, makes no pretense to be supernatural, mystical or in some other way seamless. The sense of dissonance created by this consciously created tension is akin to the dissonance of conscious engagement with 12 tone music.