Thursday, February 11, 2010

Why Video Games Suck

Do you watch movies and play video games, or do you just play video games?

Because if you belong to the former category you're likely to be a little puzzled by the praises being sung for the writing in games like Mass Effect 2 and Heavy Rain. Destructoid nailed it in their review for Heavy Rain: "Less demanding players may be tricked into thinking the game is telling a brilliant story simply because it's not telling the kind of story that gamers are used to seeing, but make no mistake: its naive conclusions and impossibly weak characters would get Heavy Rain laughed out of any serious film festival. " Translation: just because it's new to you doesn't mean that holds true for everyone outside of your parents' basement.

For the record I'm playing Mass Effect 2 now and enjoying it, but I've long since developed a protective reflex that allows me to play games with "stories": whenever I hit any really terrible acting or writing I just ignore it until I can get back to blowing stuff up real good. Much like a nictitating membrane this reflex protects the soft tissues of my brain from the permanent damage that might result from the "dialogue" one could be exposed to in video games. It's served me well and only failed occasionally--most notably for the last Oblivion game where Patrick Stewart mumbled some garbage so insane that I was convinced that whoever was chasing the crazy old bat was doing so with the intention of putting him in a nursing home.

So while I enjoy Mass Effect 2 I don't delude myself about its shortcomings. For instance, whoever provides the voice acting for the main character (Shepard) gives such a wooden reading that I'm always tempted to charge the enemy in firefights to see if they can put down the living dead. And many of the game's heralded elements only serve to demonstrate just how far video gaming as a genre has to go before it can catch up with classics like, say, "The Dukes of Hazard" or Jim Varney's "Ernest" movies. Take, for example, the so called "romances". Movie critics debate things like chemistry when it comes to two actors, video game writers are apparently still trying to figure out how to write dialogue that even comes close to convincing you that two characters might actually sort of, kind of like each other. I decided to romance Jack (aka Subject Zero) because I wanted to see if Shepard would break out a condom before bedding the crazy, drug addled bitch. That would be the only safe thing to do. That and stock up on hepatitis vaccine. Needless to say I found their interaction to be unconvincing. Shepard spends the game telling her to stay off drugs and get her high school diploma and for some reason she decides he's the best thing since sliced bread. He sounds like a high school guidance counselor, for Christ's sake, the kind of person you would imagine a character like Jack would ignore while she was shooting up on heroin. Even I hated him so much after his preachy, white bread sermons that I would run him into the enemy in the next firefight so that they could turn him into swiss cheese. But did he ever learn? Noooooo. I mean, I happen to know tattooed, violent women in real life and as far as I'm concerned the more likely result would be an ice pick to the brain rather than any kissy face.