One of the things I have figured out over the years is that things work really well only if you aren’t thinking about them. For example if I have a repetitive data entry task, I can seem to do it awesome and at full speed… only until I actually stop to think about what I am doing. Hell even typing itself works amazingly well and I can compose perfectly at the keyboard with zero typos… until I stop to think about what my hands are doing. At that point I screw everything up and get the sequence completely out of whack. As a result I try and commit as many things as I can in life to a sort of ritual. This frees me up to daydream about whatever the hell I want to, while still performing the task at hand on autopilot. My morning routine is much like this, a sequence of events that happen essentially on their own, and works awesomely until I am forced to think about it. When I do have to think about whatever I happen to be doing the process breaks down completely.
Each morning I get up out of bed, walk across the room to turn off the alarm clock. I turn on the television, make sure it is on the local news channel, walk to the kitchen and turn on the keurig and then hop in the shower. When I am out of the shower I get dressed, make coffee, deliver a mug to my wife and take mine upstairs into my office where I sit down at my computer and do a blog post. After I’ve finished that I head back downstairs, feed the animals, give our eldest cat her medicine, run back into the bedroom to say goodbye to my wife, grab my chromebook and then leave the house. At which point I head to QuikTrip, grab breakfast and consume said breakfast while I drive to work. Finally about the time I reach work I am capable of physical exertion because my body is for the most part finished “booting up” and I walk leisurely the 1000 steps or so it takes to get into my office. After sitting at my desk for thirty minutes or so checking email and catching up on my blogroll, I am finally at that point ready to engage in conversation. All of this happens pretty much on its own, and any false step along the path causes the whole sequence to fall apart.
The weekends have naturally had an abbreviated version of this process, as a lot of the activities simply do not need to happen. However the last two mornings I have decimated this process entirely, and I have been paying the price. At first yesterday I thought maybe I just was not awake enough to go walking. So I got up, sat up in bed and watched an entire episode of Pokémon, thinking that surely my body was fully awake at that point after having to explain why Ash Ketchum cares about collecting gym badges to my wife. But still, even after that prep work… my body had no clue what in the hell I was doing to it. I feel like maybe I could add a walk into my existing process…. but essentially that would defeat the purpose, since I doubt I would be awake enough to perform until I have at least had a shower and some caffeine. I think today will be the end of this experiment and I will return to my modified weekend process tomorrow, because right now I feel completely out of sorts.
I have to admit that I was never a big fan of the Tomb Raider franchise. Maybe I am not “male” enough, but I didn’t find the previous incarnation with its two big breasts and two even bigger guns that amusing. There were so many times in the games where I had no clue what was going on, and rarely made it more than an hour into the game before giving up. So when the 2013 reboot happened I had no real fondness for the series, and was not even really paying attention to it. That said something interesting happened… all of my friends raved about just how amazing the game was. Even more interesting to me was how most of said friends raving about the game… were Female. So I knew at some point I wanted to give it a try, but that said I have technically owned this game in one form or another for the better part of a year, but this weekend was really the first time I had given it a play.
Traditionally I do not go in for this sort of game. I have tried multiple times to play Uncharted, but the whole “playing a movie” aspect has always been a massive turnoff for me. Something I just realized last night is that for the better part of the last two decades I have had my head firmly in one MMO or another. During that time I have nibbled at single player experiences, but never really sat down to to the buffet. In that time we moved from the golden age of 90s sandboxy rpgs like Baldur’s Gate and Fallout… to a world where most games are cinematic on-rails experiences. The dissonance of this cultural shift honestly took some getting used to. I would poke my head out of MMOs long enough to consume the more free form gaming experiences like Fallout, Elder Scrolls and even to some extent Mass Effect that allowed me to go off the rails and wander freely, but I have resisted giving myself over to the “narrative experience”.
Stop Fighting It
Basically I give up… I cannot fight the direction my beloved game industry has gone in. I have spent my time resisting it, and as a result have essentially turned into an old man yelling at the kids to “get off my internet”. So after hearing yet another friend talk about just how amazing this game was… I decided to give myself over to the experience. To get the full effect, and keep myself from trying to use the old crutch of “mouse and keyboard”, I opted to play this game entirely on my Playstation 3. It was given away some time ago as part of the Playstation Plus package. For awhile I considered trying to pick up the double special extended deluxe remastered edition available for the PS4, but I really don’t care about how pretty her hair is… or how realistic her sweat movement is. The game looks gorgeous regardless of what platform you play it on, and in truth I kind of prefer the “clump” of hair rather than being distracted by seeing each individual particle.
I like this Lara Croft so much better than the previous one. Firstly she seems to have human proportions as well as human emotions. The previous incarnation was essentially Wonder Woman with guns, and felt like playing a guy with tits at times. I actually enjoyed the series of Angelina Jolie movies, but this Lara feels like a product of her circumstances, rather than someone trained and bred to be mind numbingly amazing. In the course of this game, your character goes through some truly horrific things… things no one should ever have to. Each time she becomes stronger for it, and you start out as this visibly naive girl and turn into a woman with razor will and a desire to survive at all costs. Quite frankly… everything about this franchise is just better than the previous incarnations. This is a Lara I would love to see in a movie, but in reality that is essentially what we are seeing… movies played out through our actions.
Many Narrative Elements
One of my favorite constructs in the game is that of the “day camp” system. Every so often in the game there is a camp spot, be it a formal camp or just a clearing with a makeshift fire ring. When you are at camp all of these interesting interludes happen. Sometimes it is interaction between two characters, other times it is Lara talking to herself… and then there is a series of asides that involve her watching pre-shot footage from the video camera of another of the characters. These little moments help to flesh out the story, and the character interactions making them all far more three dimensional in the process. This combined with the various journal entries you find scattered throughout the levels helps to create a very three dimensional feeling of Yamatai and the characters that inhabit it.
I think another aspect that has helped to make me fall in love with this game quickly, is that the setting itself is extremely familiar to me. Playing Tomb Raider is like playing out what happened to Oliver Queen on the island of Lian Yu in the television show Arrow. The fact that the best weapon Lara has at his disposal is a make shift bow… that slowly improves over the course of the levels really underlines this feeling. So it gave me a point of reference that I already cared about that I could latch onto with both hands and use to pull me closer to the story. The funny thing about surrendering to the narrative, is that it has allowed me to do something I rarely am able to… Play a female character and enjoy it. Most of my game play experiences have been about inserting myself into character character I happened to be playing. So as superior as the writing of “Femshep” might be, I could never disconnect myself enough from the character to make that work. Now it is not like I am playing a character, but instead watching a story unfold in front of me… and it is working.
Old Dog Learns New Tricks
Now at this point I want to go back and try again some of the game that did not work for me in the past. So often times I wanted them to “let me play the game” and stop with all the “cutscenes” never really grasping that the game had changed, and I was simply not prepared for that sort of a game play experience. Another thing that has helped this process is that I have forced myself in many cases to start playing with a controller. Earlier this weekend I was playing Bioshock Infinite with a controller, and not absolutely hating it. I still feel like a controller does a poor job at fight targeting control, but for the most part it works well enough, and I have now reached a point where controlling my character with two thumbs has reached a place where I no longer have to think about it. Movement and Aiming is starting to become “ritual” and as such I am rejecting it considerably less.
Not every game is going to work out to be better because of this little revelation I have gone through. I tried to play the original Witcher again last night, and realized that “nope, it still sucks”. That game has one of the most uncomfortable and unorthodox control schemes I have seen in some time. No matter how awesome that storyline is… I will likely never play it, because I cannot get past how horrible it feels. This is the sort of game that I guess “lets play” videos exist, because while I would love to know what happens storyline wise… there is no way I am going to play it. I’ve given it three tries, at separate times and come up with the same rejection. I guess this is literally a case of three strikes and you are out for me. There are many games however, namely console titles that I look forward to dusting off and trying to play again.