|I hope that this GIF of a panda sneezing livens up an otherwise dry discussion of game design stuff.|
Now I want to talk about art, video games, and how emotional effect is generated in an artsy, boring way.
But Back To the Question
It's a great story, but why did The Last of Us need to be a game? Why not a movie? I mean, this thing could have been an insanely cool A&E miniseries.
(Note, for this discussion. I’m focusing on first/third person real-time games. Turn-based more tactical games, like the ones I write, have their own powerful, distinct appeal.)
This perplexed me for a while, because I've long felt that one of the great powers of video games as art is the ability to give the player choices. Last of Us doesn't have any choices of import. My insistence on choices (which, in the end, are usually of a simple Choose Your Own Adventure level of depth) is kind of a dead end for figuring out why Last Of Us is best as a video game.
Except for one key thing:
Every time you touch the controller, you are making choices.
The first thing you learn about making movies is that there are many factors that affect its emotional effect on the viewer:
Pacing - How fast or slow the movie moves.
Editing - What you look at, from what angle, for how long.
Composition - The arrangement of visual elements on the screen.
Framing - Techniques used to focus your attention on one element or another.
These elements dramatically affect your perception of a scene, and thus its emotional effect on you. When you are playing the game (outside of the cutscenes), YOU determine all of them.
In addition, in almost any shooter, there are many ways to approach it. Do you charge in shooting? Or do you approach slowly and snipe? Do you rely on the crafting system if there is one (in Last of Us all your best weapons are crafted), or are you a Gun Guy?
These choices, combined with the way you move your view and the speed you move around, reflect the way your brain perceives things, your chosen way to interact with this fantasy world. They in turn change the qualities of what you are perceiving, changing the way they affect you emotionally. Which, in turn, affects how you play, which affects how you perceive the game, and so on.
This feedback loop, as you make your own movie based on your own perceptions and personality, occurs in every shooter, no matter how linear. Every twitch of the controller is a choice, and those choices change how the game effects you. Everyone who plays Last of Us gets an experience tailor-made to themselves by themselves.
I went through Last Of Us in a very slow, methodical, exploratory, stealth-based way. My Joel was a cautious guy. He liked to make things and set traps. He hated the slightest risk. He was ever eager to run away. This is character development!
My Ellie really liked stabbing guys in the neck.
Your Joel experienced the exact same story as mine, but he went through it in a different (perhaps very very different) way.
I don't have too much more to say about it than that. I think it's an interesting idea. Storytelling is important. Choices are important. However, the many tiny, elemental choices we make when playing a video game, especially one with as complex a presentation as Last of Us, have a huge effect on the experience. An effect that is unique to video games, which is really cool.
I hope soon to write about Saints Row IV, which is basically a Grand Theft Auto V that doesn't make me want to take 50 Xanax.