30VGC: Days 20 and 21 – Favorite genre and best story

To know me is to know that I love my yearly series, and here’s a new a one! This year I’m taking on the 30-Day Video Game Challenge (30VGC). Though, actually, it’s going to be more like the 26-Week Video Game Challenge, since I’ll only be covering two or three topics from the challenge each month. You can check out my intended schedule in this post. With that, it’s game on!

My favorite video game genre is the RPG.

And if we’re splitting hairs, let’s say sandbox RPGs, the ones that give you lots of space to do your own thing.

Although my gaming plate of the past year or so has been filled with games of all sorts, I still tend to gravitate towards RPGs, and if not strictly them, then games that have RPG elements. As fun as is often is playing as a static character, from independent treasure hunters to sultry, badass witches (and Witchers), I really like it when I have the chance to formulate my own stories for my own characters. Granted, sometimes those stories are based around general premises that need to be applied beforehand (a la Mass Effect, Dragon Age), but those premises really only make up the character’s foundations. It’s completely up to the players as to how the build from there. And the really great thing is that whatever character that comes out of one’s own building process can be as simple or as complex as one likes. There’s no “wrong” way to role-play.

Going beyond games themselves, I especially like RPGs because of how personally reflective they can be. Upon starting an RPG, the first big question to answer is “how are you going to play?” Are you going to play as yourself, taking into account your personal morals and values as you progress, or are you going to play as someone else? A “good” character? A “bad” character? Or some shade in between? I usually start out any new RPG playing as “myself,” and I’m always surprised at where my character ends up. My first Commander Shepard, for example, ended up being far more renegade than I expected she would be. Whereas my first Dragon Age character turned out to be uncomfortably sympathetic. In both cases I thought that my personality had the wheel initially, but somehow things swayed in one way or another. In some games, the sole “good” or “bad” paths don’t always lead to “good” and “bad” endings, and this is what makes some RPGs infinitely replayable, or at least, seemingly so. That drive to uncover all the options come from our need to know ourselves. It’s all very philosophical in the end.

Or not. It is just an role-playing-game, after all. 🙂

My pick for the game with the best story is Bioshock.

I will forever remain in awe of BioShock’s story. I know I still have to get my ass in gear with its sequels, but part of me believes that nothing could compare to the events that transpired in the original game. And not just the events themselves, which were incredible on their own, but rather how they occurred. The manipulation of the me, the player, was so masterful, bordering on mind-boggling, that I just didn’t see how anything, even anything in the same universe, could top it.

Granted, I’m not saying anything here that hasn’t already been said. Since BioShock, video games have offered us stories that rival the best of everything else we see on-screen. This is my own point of view talking, but usually, there’s a wall between the characters we see and the people that we are. For example, although I may feel affected by things that happen to Nathan Drake and Commander Shepard, and as much as I might connect to traits within Jean-Luc Picard and Leslie Knope, these figures are not me. I don’t take it personally when Drake’s dangling from the edge of a cliff. Sure, I have to “save” him, but I didn’t cause the events that put him there. Playing as blank-slate Jack in BioShock, I expected something similar to happen. That I might feel moved by whatever Jack’s fate was in Rapture, but nothing more. After all, I’m not Jack. And before the big twist in BioShock’s story occurred, that’s pretty much how I felt.

Everything changed after the twist. Besides feeling grossly stupid and manipulated, I felt personally angry at Fontaine for using Jack…for using me…without regard. That sense of feeling attacked was unlike anything I’d experienced before in game. That fact that I was completely blind to it up until the twist was revealed only enforced the story’s brilliance. Oh, I was so goddamned fucking annoyed after picking up my jaw from the floor after that fateful scene in Ryan’s office, but my brains was giving the scenario a standing ovation. Bravo, BioShock. Brav-o.

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