VR is beautiful. That’s what we notice first about this new technology—it’s visually striking, drawing us into three-dimensional worlds in a way no other medium is able to do. It’s a beauty that can be seen from all angles, and you can inspect it like a sculpture or appreciate its staging like a film.
VR’s incredible visual potential often leads us to assume that graphics are what’s most immersive. And while the way a game looks is not unimportant—in fact, it’s a large part of preventing motion sickness in players—there’s more to VR than that. Immersion goes beyond looks, and the best VR stories are proving that it’s narrative, not graphics, that makes the difference in immersion.
There’s a moment in Life is Strange that reminded me strongly of my own time as a teenager. Not the intense teen drama or the time traveling, but rather one of the spaces in between. The early morning haze, a best friend’s bed, the quiet strains of “Bright Eyes” in the air—maybe this sounds cheesy, but when I played through that scene, I had to let the whole song finish before moving on. Though I had the option to interrupt it at any time, I couldn’t bring myself to end that quiet moment prematurely—I loved it too much.
Fast-paced action may be exhilarating, but there’s something to be said for a more introspective, quiet gaming experience, too. A faster pace lets you experience the thrill of being an action movie star, while a slower pace is typically more about embodying a character or exploring a particular story. Different pacing affects the tone, with each style representing a unique take on video game storytelling.
It’s important to be nice to other people.
Little things like greeting others with a smile, or trying to not invade other people’s personal space, make interacting more enjoyable for everyone. Conversely, inappropriate or confrontational behavior can easily offend others or make them feel uncomfortable.
While being hundreds or even thousands of miles away from someone you care about is never easy, thanks to innovations in communication technology such as Skype, Facetime, and instant messengers, people are able to keep in contact in ways that past generations could only have dreamed of.
After all, it wasn’t that long ago that the only way to keep in contact with someone on another continent was through the postal service. Continue reading
Looking through the eyes of another person is a powerful experience.
It’s often hard to relate to people who harbor a different worldview than us. We tend to wonder why people with different political or religious beliefs see things the way they do. Even when we’re doing our best to sympathize with the trials and challenges that others face, to truly understand a person’s point of view can be challenging when we don’t have first-hand experience of what they’ve been through. Continue reading
If you see a toilet in a game, it must be flushable.
Rarely does an in-game toilet have any bearing whatsoever on gameplay, but if there’s a toilet in a game, you better believe I will try to flush it. Portal begins with an attempt to flush the radio. In Gone Home, I made sure every one of those toilets got flushed. Even in Fallout, proper post-apocalyptic flushing practices must be observed.
At this year’s PAX West, there was a singular moment when I discovered how powerful virtual reality could be. I was playing a demo for a VR title and found myself struggling with the controls, repeatedly moving my hand while trying to interact with an object. After a couple of failures, it dawned on me what the problem was—I was only thinking in two dimensions, not three. Sure enough, I extended my hand a little further and hit the sweet spot, allowing me to continue with the game.
Suddenly, it was like somebody had flipped a switch in my brain. This is what VR can do that no other gaming form can. I’ve traversed a multitude of gaming worlds, appreciated small details in any number of gorgeously-rendered titles, and engaged with more expertly-crafted environments and cohesive worldbuilding than I dare try to count—but never have I felt as though I, personally, was really, physically there. Continue reading
Most stories tend to fall into similar structures. One of the best-known is the inverted check mark, something my writing instructors really hammered into my brain. You start with exposition, move into rising action, peak at the climax, and fall slowly into resolution. This formula, despite its very formal structure, allows for a lot of freedom in its implementation, especially when you consider that not all media need adhere to it in the same way.
Take video games, for example. It’s not out of the ordinary to spend a hundred or more hours in the same game, which can make for a rather strangely-formatted inverted check mark. That’s why games often do things a bit differently. While the traditional storytelling arc might still appear, it often deviates from the way it tends to manifest in books or movies. As games take on new release structures—such as the episodic format—alternate models surface alongside them. The three-act structure and inverted check mark simply won’t work for every story. But how do these varying structures impact the way players feel? Is there really any distinction between each form, or are they all just the same thing wrapped up in different packages?
You know the goosebumps you get when you’re home at night and you hear something, somewhere in the house rattling around? You could know for a fact that it’s your cat playing with a toy, or your roommate moving furniture, or your upstairs neighbor stomping around, but there’s still a part of you that can’t help asking, “What if it isn’t?”
That feeling isn’t blatant fear, not exactly. Moments like these are more unsettling or discomforting than anything else. They come not from what we know to be true, but what we don’t know, and when games aim to capture this feeling, the stories they tell are often more powerful than those that simply try to scare the pants off us.
The difference between fear and being unsettled is subtle. So what is it that goes into making unsettling games over outright horror?
When I think of science fiction, I think of spaceships blasting through asteroid belts, white-knuckled pilots at the helm. I think of colonization and alien diplomacy, of faster-than-light travel, of exploring the unknown with a loyal crew.
Logically, I know there’s more to the genre than that. I’ve never been a huge fan of space opera, so I tend to gravitate toward blends of sci-fi and horror, or stories with time travel, especially if they focus on the human element. Despite the genre’s associations with aliens and space, sci-fi is a pretty diverse field encompassing stories of all kinds; sci-fi subgenres range from subtle shifts in reality to entirely new universes completely unlike our own. Even the all-important spaceship is little more than a tool; the trappings and tropes of sci-fi subgenres are available for many different purposes, making science fiction a genre with incredible potential for diverse, wide-reaching stories.