When playing games like Papers, Please, Blackbar, or Redshift and Portalmetal many people during class described a sense of connection with the central character. While a lot of that can be traced back to the way each games platform supported or hindered immersion, I also believe that many people base this connection off of previous experience in their own personal lives. I however, lacked these connections that many people had. I have never been afraid to approach a border post because whether consciously or subconsciously I have trusted in my white skin color to protect me. Similarly I have never suffered due to gender or sexuality discrimination.

I do though understand to some extent the nationalistic basis for discrimination upon which Paper, Please is based. As an Englishman growing up in America, especially in a rather uncosmopolitan place like Phoenix, AZ, and being the only foreign student for years I am very conscious of national boundaries and sentiments. Having or not having the ability to sympathize emotionally with one character or another seems like a very important determining factor for how people interact with the games. Lacking the emotional connection many people had with these games likely caused myself and others to come away with a very different experience.

After I began each of the games it became apparent quite early on, as the central themes became clear, that I did not have a strong connection to them. Without a direct line of empathy with the games I almost immediately began to play the games on a more mechanical and routine manner, playing the game simply for the game. I would not denigrate such action though because i believe the experience of the game itself is equally if not more important than the narratives we attempt to create within it in order to feel that sense of connection. We have often said that the good games often create the illusion of choices in order to make the gamer feel more involved. This same concept can be applied to the emotional and personal connections created between a gamer and a game or its characters. The character or game is based on artificially constructed narrative and setting and is there simply to do its job, namely invest the player in the game. The success of that investment is simply dependent on the audience who are receiving it and their likelihood to be susceptible to that connection.

To return to the earlier mentioned games, it is quite clear that each one has a specific narrative it is attempting to tell through the actions of the player playing it. These games are not unique though, almost any game you play has some kind of story that is being told to the player for a specific purpose. There is nothing inherently wrong in attempting to convince people of certain things during their gaming experience, I simply believe that people should recognize and be aware of the fact. Now as a reader you might be scoughing in disbelief at the idea that almost all games have an inherent view of the world and when played attempt to press that upon you. What you forgot is that games are made by people who have views and opinions of their own. These themes may be nowhere near as overt as those in Redshift and Portalmetal or Blackbar but they are there nonetheless. In addition, it is those subjective viewpoints that make narrative based games so interesting and provide us with the ability to sympathize with them and their characters.

The existence or nonexistence of a personal connection to a game can have dramatic effects on many aspects of a gaming experience including your enjoyment and susceptibility towards a specific narrative theme.

0 thoughts on “Disconnected

  1. Interesting points here. One thing that I like to consider when trying to empathize with a character is whether or not their motivation is clear to me. If I cannot discern a character’s motivations and goals, I find it nigh-impossible to connect with them. This is why I, and I suspect others, had some trouble with Redshift and Portalmetal. It was difficult for me personally to discern the primary character’s reason for traveling, whether they had a specific end goal, and how their relationship to their girlfriend influenced their decisions. Papers Please, by contrast, had clear goals and motivations for the player, namely to keep their family safe and perform their job well. It is those moments where performing their job well involves less than ethical actions that that game truly shines.

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