Ever since I got my new laptop I’ve been playing video games. I’ve always liked video games and because my new laptop has a bitchin’ fast i7 processor and a nVidia GeForce GT 635M, a real graphics card, I can now play the cooler games. Or at least games which are made in this decade.
First off I tried out Shogun 2 and I realized how I completely lack the attention required for any kind of grand strategy and warfare. So I became bored and uninstalled it. Besides, I’ve always preferred Tactical RPG strategy games. Those games get you up and close with your warriors and at least they’ll keep some kind of a story or pretense for it. In Shogun 2, it feels like you’re being stalked by wolves as the CPU keeps ganging up and declaring war on you the moment you decide to prioritize giving your farmers some better farmland rather than recruiting yet another line of musketmen.
But you know, maybe that’s the whole point of the Sengoku Jidai – some asshole sees you’re trading with Koreans, so he’ll come just up and make your day. AI doesn’t care about you, it wants to rule Japan!
Here are the games that have actually kept my attention. I’ve got to know these games usually through browsing /v/, so when certain names keep popping up, I just try them out to see how it goes.
(Chatting it up with the ladies after a satisfying karaoke session singing 80’s pop songs… I guess!)
In Sleeping Dogs, I’m playing as Wei Shen and he’s a cocky loose-cannon undercover cop with a criminal past. In a spectacular game of wits, Wei Shen, your character who had been to USA because his sister had a drug addiction, is seemingly bust for drug dealing, but that’s all a pretense for Wei Shen to go to jail at the same time as Jackie Ma, Shen’s childhood friend, who will invite Shen to join the gang and relive the times of when they were small time crooks in a gang as kids.
Of course the game reels you in with the whole cyberpunk Asian setting, playing vaporwave as you drive and getting you into nitty-gritty fights in the rain on a backdrop of the neon lights, sometimes you just step back and realize how nothing really make sense anymore. Things like how a club is way too big or how you commit murder in front of two girls after a street race and they’re completely cool with it or how Wei Shen arrives to a drug deal with a cop car and then the guys go like “Hey Wei I hope you’re not a cop okay? You know what we do with rats?” I know, it’s a gameplay kind of an issue, you can be as crazy as you want, but come on. At least it leaves the player the choice to play the character they are with the costumes he wears, allowing the player to create personal headcanons.
I was pretty impressed by Equilibrium back when I was 12, so this suit allowed me to play a gun-kata style advanced reflexes bad-ass cop, breaking legs and shooting people in the face. All he does all day is bust drug-dealers, infiltrate gangs and walk the thin line of under-cover copness, trying not getting too involved but still having to keep it real. And then all this falls apart as you go to a karaoke bar with four girls and a professional rapper from USA and they ask Wei Shen to sing karaoke. And of course, the player has to play a guitar-hero like minigame while Wei shrieks out Pat Penatar’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot”. I mean, what the fuck? A minigame with a voice-cracking karaoke? Good lord!
So you get pretty involved with the gang and no spoilers intended, Wei’s supervisor threatens to take him off the case many-many times, every time pointing at Shen and saying “You’re crooked! The guy who shot your mob-boss on his wedding day has gone missing and all fingers point at you, you’re off the case!” Of course Wei retorts with a witty “Look, I am the boss now!” to which the inspector backs down like the spineless shit he is, because he really wants to climb up that career ladder.
Loads of sex and violence, but now I’ve also grown bored of it. It kept my attention the first few districts, but the whole game has been “go to place A, mix the following: race/chase, beat up a guy, shoot a guy, run and jump somewhere really fast in any order, mission complete.” Then you go to these awful dates with girls and because no matter what it’s always raining in Hong Kong, so you have to take pictures of your date as she’s posing cutely on the backdrop of a smoggy megalopolis. It’s kind of sad how Shen’s story of revenge reflects in the crappy environment around him and how his cocky attitude is just a facade to cover up the fact that his personal life is crumbling down in a middle of a turf war.
Maybe it’s just game of its times? Sleeping Dogs was released in 2012, so probably it started its production a few years earlier – smack dab in the bottom of the recession. Those times were tough indeed, people were losing their jobs, divorces, whatever. So instead of allowing Shen to just take some time off and really figure himself out, he’s just the avatar of the player, allowing him to blow up all the problems and frustration in his life.
Now it’s the kids born in the 90’s who are stepping into the gaming scene. Because it’s impossible to do a large-scale original RPG or farming simulator without it being a tie-in to an already-existing franchise, they’re mostly getting into the indie scene. Since there’s this generational shift, the values, themes and gameplay styles are quite different from what we’re accustomed to. First off: Stardew Valley
(Grandpa is laying down some truth bombs to the player before he passes. Of course 20 years later the grandson winds up with a crappy cubicle job, some things never change!)
In Stardew Valley your grandfather gives you the deed to his farm and tells you to move there when you feel trapped in your life. You use your chance and move into the farm. You’ll meet strange new people, but everything’s fine. You can go adventuring, farm all day or just go for a walk and talk to people. There’s literally no pressure to do anything inside the game, because you don’t have to pay rent for upkeep and you can always go scavenge for some berries and throw into the bin and let the Mayor collect it at night. Yes, the Mayor will buy your foraged berries at a premium!
Already the game illustrates its times. Since millenials have so many problems, the whole game is about escaping your mundane life and heading off to a simpler, more wonderful life in a rustic farm, where you’ll be the king of your domain. A noble king of a farm painted with warm colors, where everybody is really nice to you all the time. The town life is vibrant and it has all sorts of cuties just hanging around, waiting for the player to woo them with wonderful gifts such as flowers and blueberry pies.
I mean, it’s fun and all, but pretty much all you do in the game is hoard things and distribute those scavenged items to the unsuspecting town people so their heart meter would go up. That means your relationship with the character has grown! That also means they’ll finally start saying different things.
While Sleeping Dogs scratched the itch to blow your way into the big leagues, starting with small-time boosts culminating with epic betrayals and constant paranoia, Stardew Valley is all about taking the literal time off from the mundane real life and going to a place where you’ll be accepted no matter what. So for triple A games, escapism is the aim, for indie games, escapism is the plot device.
(As your character struggles to climb out of a literal hole, he must first defeat really scary monsters such as depression.)
Finally comes Undertale, the real champion of these times. It’s kind-of Tumblr: the RPG for me because everybody’s really (ironically and/or genuinely) sad and most of the storyline revolves around self-identification, acceptance and fear of rejection. The game is all about the human emotions and interactions. Undertale goes against the idea that monsters = enemies and so you can go through the entire game without killing anyone. Hell, you’ll even make a few allies on the way. It’s all for and about pacifism and the value of friendship.
Of course if you’re the person and fights with everybody, then it’ll ask you but who’s the real monster, man? Kind of trite, I know. But both of these indie games are built on the same premise: it accepts the player whoever as they may be and encourages the player to be as accepting toward other beings as well. Direct conflict and going in balls-deep guns-blazing has been replaced with attempts to make contact and actually understanding the other person. There’s no facade of hardness, but it brings the player the sincere, vulnerable side of the hero. That’s what makes indie games different from sure-fire triple-A games: instead of giving a distracting juvenile fantasy, indie games take on and analyze the times we’re most insecure in life.
So that’s why I’m stoked up for video games. Instead of focusing on the action, games are becoming more human and they allow the gamers to grow as they play. Instead of the just cool, it allows the player to play an entertaining game and then reflect on their own situation. If this isn’t true craftsmanship and artistry, then I don’t know what is!