Empowerment is a funny business. Whenever you build a game around empowerment or a perpetual cycle of giving rather than taking (sexual!) you’re going to end up in a sticky situation. Heh. God I need to get a new set of humour… and teeth… and hands. I’ve been playing through Dead Rising 2 for a while now and if one thing has become apparent it’s that it’s fun to kill zombies. Damn fun even. I relish whenever the game story (which has an interesting way to structure) says “Do you know what, no missions for a little while, go nuts.” The child inside of me comes out to play and proceeds to pick apart a group of zombies bit by bit. Maybe I could use the spiked bat, maybe I could throw a teddy-bear at them, maybe I could just slice them all in half and watch them squirm…
It’s this progressive escalation of Dead Rising 2 which keeps it so fine-tuned with its enjoyment levels. There’s a certain level of intensified joy within an apocalyptic environment, that fine juxtapose between death and fun; something which Blue Castle Games have clearly expertly handled.
I feel like I’m going further and further into the night and becoming one with the game. I’m accumulating Combo Cards, PP and just devouring and eating until there’s nothing left to do or I get bored. For some massive, giant reason I liken this to the metaphor that Katamari Damacy was made to employ; capitalism. I’ll let you think of that what you will. Basically, I’m eating and eating but I’m not putting my weight to the test, I’m not losing weight.
Dead Rising 2 manages disempowerment in that it pushes a unstoppable force (psychopath) towards an immovable object (you). Boom. Chuck doesn’t fall into his lowest points, he doesn’t lose any of his abilities and for the large part he just chips away at their health and then beats them to death with a sledgehammer. There’s no end-game, no Empire Strikes Back. Dead Rising 2 does the perfect job of progression but fails in of itself to capitalise and shift from a game without meaning and into one with. I want the game to be constantly empowering and disempowering me, how so do we do this so it doesn’t remove the basic philosophy of ‘Kill zombies, fun?’
I have a small idea. Why not use that thing called ‘story’, why not use it for something other than a reason to show me a Asian chick bending over and picking a lock so I can stare at her- JESUS CHRIST LOOK AT THE SIZE OF THAT BOOTY. BOOTY LOVIN’. You know what I mean? The story’s only purpose is for itself, it’s not really an exercise in emotion or any character development. It uses techniques such as cut-scenes and text dialogue which makes it sort of obtrusive. The objectification of women is the only thing that has me carrying on. I don’t give a damn about the ‘dead wife’ because she’s not, well, my wife. I only slightly care for Chuck’s daughter because she likes Mega Man and isn’t an annoyance.
Once you put the daughter as my main motivation, then it’s annoying. I have to work hard, blow my cash on Zombrex or scrounge around for it. Not that much work considering all I really have to do is, well, kill zombies. The story of Dead Rising 2 is so useless that they should have just have the Zombrex collecting business and a “Go nuts.” objective… along with something else.
All great games are not just challenges of the player’s skill and all the abilities they’ve accumulated. It’s not just taking away everything and leaving them next-to-nothing (God of War ending, Metal Gear Solid 4 microwave crawling), it’s something more. It’s something that sticks a introspective into the player, not necessarily on morality, but something that makes them ask what on Earth it is that the game wants them to do. Considering this, to test the player’s progression, they should not stop it or hold it back but slow it down using a story element.
Chuck isn’t immune.
Get him infected with the disease and now you have him sharing Zombrex with his daughter. Have the game begin just as she’s a newborn and build a relationship with the character rather than diving in straight ahead. Get some bond or understanding between them and then I’ll be motivated to see her live as well. Introduce the concept of Chuck turning into a zombie and nomming on his daughter or his daughter turning into a zombie and Chuck having to do bad things. In fact, there’s something perfectly brilliant to introduce into a zombie title, get rid of Zombrex. Have me have three days to find a cure, and at the end, make me find out there’s no such thing. Don’t make Chuck shoot his daughter, make me have to aim that gun and watch her scream.
“That’s disgusting and horrifying. It makes me feel… uncomfortable!”
That’s good, because that’s how great games make you feel. Some place else. The point at which all of the Combo Cards, PP and all that jazz seem like nothing. When you see before your eyes that all of that empowerment was absolutely wasteful. Progression is important, it was what keeps us slaying zombies at 3AM in the morning. Progression with meaning, however, is what keeps us thinking over four years later whether or not it was right to slay giants for our own bitter self-pity.
Gameplay progression and story disempowerment do not fit, since it’s the Anti-hero name that everybody gives you in Prototype, you can just go out and slaughter a thousand people with your bare hands. Batman: Arkham Asylum did story progression in tune with gameplay progression (gaining gadgets and abilities). I can’t name many games which do exactly both at the same time but taking away rather than giving and giving. It’s fun to kill zombies, but it’s more important to progress in a game. Whether that be Dead Rising 2 or BioShock, but they should not fall into similar traps. Progression needs to come out of achieving something or succeeding a test of skill or morals, or simply a question. Belittling progression to ‘leveling up’ is belittling the core concept of an interactive medium; which can lead to ‘something more than fun’.
I don’t believe games are headed for an artsy fartsy future, but I don’t want them to end up as small little toys that we can ‘play’ with. Progression with both empowerment, disempowerment and mixing up the pace should use all of a game’s tools that it provides. Agency, immersion etc. all that good stuff. It’s an integral part of any video-game, I just want it to be seen done to a higher degree.