2/8/2017: The Same, But…The Same

It’s no secret that I’m a gamer. I’ve been playing video games since before “video games” was a phrase. I don’t play those online shooters (Call of Duty, Battlefield, Halo, whatever else) as I just…well, I suck at them. Plus they’re not particularly interesting.

I really love story rich role playing games. But not TOO “story rich.” I still love blowing the crap out of aliens, undead, monsters, and bad guys with swords, guns, spells, and artillery.

But if there’s not a plot, I’m not particularly interested. Also, if it’s an open world game (where you can finish the plot line and just keep playing) I have no interest in continuing once it’s nominally done. Completion is a whole other thing.

So I’m a crackhead for things like Saints Row (2-4), Mass Effect, Dishonored, Thief, Skyrim, Tomb Raider (the new ones, not the fancy platformers), and lots more.

They’re good games. In some cases I would suggest they have literary value (I’m looking at you, Mass Effect.)

One of the features of these games that’s taking a greater and greater role as time goes on, is the idea that your choices matter and redirect the river of plot. Favor one faction and it grows in power. Go through the game without killing ANYthing and the ending changes dramatically. Take the “nice guy” options and different dialog choices and affinities open up. Be nice to this or that character and it cascades to who shows up at all in the sequel.

There’s a lot of that and it’s only becoming a stronger aspect as time goes on. As a gamer, this is amazing because it provides replayability. You can just start over, make different choices, and see how things turn out differently.

Or…well…one could.

Dishonored is a great example. It’s a sneaky game where you play an assassin trying to solve the mystery of who framed you for the Queen’s murder. So you have to eliminate targets along the path of discovery, taking out more and more important players in the conspiracy to unlock what’s really going on and who’s behind it.

But “take out” doesn’t have to mean “kill.” Sure, you can run in to the scenario, dispatching guards stealthily, by slitting their throats from behind until you get to the target, who you watch and maneuver around until you can spring on him from behind with a final blow. OR, you have the option to conceal yourself entirely, to go through the whole scenario without being noticed (or escaping when you ARE noticed) and at the end, you’re given an option to “eliminate the target” in a way that’s effective, but not…terminal. And if you go through Dishonored and don’t kill ANYbody, you get a little meaningless achievement. You can even get an achievement for running through the whole game and not being noticed at all. But most importantly (in this tiny little context), if you don’t kill anybody the end is well…good. In your restraint, you didn’t add more darkness and death to the world.

I LOVE Dishonored. It has about half of the elements I look for in a game, but it executes them with absolute perfection. I’ve loved stealthy games since the original Thief game came out, decades ago. So when I learned I could get a “ghost” achievement for not even being SEEN, I was hooked.

I played Dishonored through twice, exactly the same. Complete no-kill, ghost. And it was lovely.

Now, I said to myself, I’m going to do a full blown carnage playthrough. I’m gonna kill ALL those motherfuckers. It’s a whole half of the game I’d never experienced. Kill moves, talents and techniques that had absolutely no place in my previous playthroughs would be available to me as the game progressed.

I remember (this was a couple years ago now, Dishonored isn’t particularly new) starting that first mission, breaking out of the cell and sneaking up on the first guard.

I couldn’t do it.

I was a little shocked at myself (though in truth I’d had the feeling this might happen.) It’s a game. It has no effect on anything. I’ve killed millions of fake bad guys in videogames over the last 40 years, in all SORTS of ways.

But when push came to shove, when given the choice by the game of whether to execute the kill move or to choke him unconscious and drag him to an empty cell to sleep it off, there was just no reason to do it.

And I proceeded to sneak through the mission, not spotted once, and play through the rest of the game that way.

Mass Effect: Andromeda is coming out in…2 weeks I think? So I ran through and played Mass Effect 1-3 over the past couple weekends. I love them. ME2 might be my favorite game of all time.

I started up ME1, went to character creation and… played the default male Shepard, Infiltrator class (the sneaky one) and proceeded to choose the “paragon” options at every turn, leading me to not have to kill Wrex and save Saren (spiritually, he still shoots himself if you talk him down.) Every time there’s a Paragon/Renegade (which are the nice guy/bad guy conversational options) there was no QUESTION. Not a doubt in my MIND. Paragon it is.

I found myself, last night, thinking “Ya know. I’ve never played femshep. I should do that. People say the voice acting is awesome.” (“Femshep” is the affectionate term for playing a female lead character.) I went to character creation in Mass Effect 1 (having gone all the way through 3 with Male/Paragon/Infiltrator), created a femshep soldier and started the first mission.

Within 5 minutes my skin started to crawl and I exited to character creation and started over. “Well, I’ll do male shepard and soldier.” Not that I don’t play female characters. I do that all the time. It just doesn’t feel right for Mass Effect.

I recreated the character and started again.

I got about 7 minute in. “This just isn’t right.” Aaannnnd….exit.

Recreated male Shepard as an Infiltrator, so I could use my sniper rifles, cloaking, and other funky skills.

I started playing and through “wait…wtf is the point of this? It’s the same playthrough I just did.”

Over and over again I do this. Skyrim, Oblivion, Dark Messiah of Might & Magic, Fallout 3 & 4.

I don’t think my enjoyment of the game is any less. Not really. I know what I like and, insofar as I am allowed by the game to play that archetype of character, that’s exactly what I’ll play, and I won’t deviate one BIT. I have probably 8 full playthroughs of Fallout 4 (with a total hour count I’m embarrassed to even post HERE) and the only variation in my character, playstyle, and progression is the sex of the character. Everything else is something oddly close to PRECISELY the same. I even start out each playthrough with a half hearted “Hmm…maybe I’ll do something different this time.”

But now?

Now I just chuckle along with that.

’cause it’s just not going to happen.