24 June 2009

The silicon portal

Escapism is very much part of my life with fictional works. There are several computer games that offer this to me, games that I play far more for the feeling of being there rather than any abstract challenge, because they offer more than the sum of their parts.

One in particular is, perhaps unsurprisingly. a game with a lot of text in it: Planescape Torment. Never--and I mean never--has an RPG managed to so completely enthrall me. The way the universe works is mind-boggling yet coherent, and the characters entirely believable within their realms. There's an element of black-and-gray morality that lurks here without ever entirely taking over, functioning along with the other aspects of the game that are just as well done, such as the music or the voice acting. This game made me fall in love with the Planescape universe to the extent of reading every single AD&D sourcebook and adventure module backwards and forwards. Sigil is not a happy place, but somehow it makes me want to go there.

Another game is Dreamfall: The Longest Journey, and this one is just...wow. The game is far less of a game than it is an interactive novel; there's not really a lot of freedom in it, and the 'action' sequences are pointless, often literally so, but the story, oh the story. It manages to be compelling and coherent without giving away much of anything, and there are aspects that are almost breathtakingly subtle. The characters are, once again, compelling and believeable, although in this case the main impetus lies in the main character. Zoey could have been a typical buxom action girl heroine, but instead she is a person, specifically a late-teens/early twenties girl who is thrown into a massive situation far beyond her, or anyone else's, comprehension. She solves some aspects but encounters others that seem massively incomprehensible except in the slightest of ways. Being the second game in a planned trilogy, it ends in a manner that is satisfying but piles on the mysteries to the point of making one doubt even the solved portions; I ended up with the feeling that there was something very, very large moving just beneath the surface of the plot, and that takes skill and effort to pull off.

I played the first game, The Longest Journey, after encountering this one, and the parallels between the two are satisfying and stunning in their complexity, a connection that makes both better than their parts. I should also add that both games have a sense of humor about them that is realistic and utterly endearing without going overboard.

The thing that ties both of these, and others, together is their quality of story, of course, but not just that; their problems, protagonists, villains and allies, solutions, and methods are entirely within their universes. Zoey, April Ryan, and The Nameless One face challenges that are complex because of interactions within their world are similarly complex. The Nameless One, for example, literally cannot die, and the player is never penalized beyond having to navigate a couple of screens for doing so--this is literally an integral part of the story, beyond its use as a mechanic. Were one to remove his immortality, the story would make no sense whatsoever. Zoey and April face problems that are on par with the real world's unfortunate tangle of issues; imagine, for example, of the complexities of the American reporters in North Korea and why they cannot, or perhaps just should not, simply be rescued by force of arms, and why Japan would be so worried about the whole issue, and why China is involved, or may be....and so it goes, history, politics, personalities, all tangled together. The universe of The Longest Journey is not reality, but it has that same feeling, and keeps its pace alongside narrative.

Whenever I play these games, I want to go there, wherever there is. They are not fantasy or science fiction, although they both have aspects of such...they are stories, and places, which is exactly what all tales should want to be.

1 comment:

Adam Wykes said...

Lol - so do you take the blue pill, or the red one?