Assisted Suicide

WARNING: The following post contains spoilers for Final Fantasy VI.

Grandpa, no!!! You can’t die! What will I do? How will I live? I need you, Grandpa; you’re all I have left on this island. Everyone else is dead! No, no, not you too! Please, don’t leave me!

But, it’s too late. Grandpa…Cid…is dead.  After the cataclysm, we both woke up here, on this island. We…I…won’t have enough food to last much longer. My friends are dead. There’s no one else here. I have no reason to keep living.

Overlooking the cliff, a soft ballad plays in my head. Soothing, in a way. A fitting end to a broken life. A relic of a forever-unrequited love, it will always remain. Locke…no, I don’t think he ever knew how I felt. But that was back when I knew people among the living. They’re all gone now. They…must be waiting for me, right? It’s time to join them.

A brief surge of hesitation flashes through my mind and body. Is this wrong? Too drastic? I take a step backwards. No. I need to euthanize myself from this pain of loss and nothingness. The best hope for my current life is unrelenting agony, assuming nothing else goes wrong. But then again, what can?

Tears well up in my eyes. The music in my head grows louder. It drowns out all else, allowing me one final auditory glimpse of the past. Goodbye, faded memories. Goodbye, remnants of a promising life. Goodbye, world.

I jump.

This scene from Final Fantasy VI, in my opinion, is the single most compelling example of why a video game’s story can be more important than its gameplay, if executed correctly. Once Kefka (the main villain in the game) deforms the world by disrupting the very fabric upon which it is built, we find the rune-knight Celes alone, save for her former mentor, Cid, on a scarred, deserted island. The two become close; Celes takes to calling Cid “Grandpa” since she never really had a grandfather and needs someone to protect her. Unfortunately, Cid is old and frail; he’s dying. Having just presumably lost everyone in her life, Celes’ only goal is to make sure that Cid lives.

The player’s only available task at this point is to go get fish from the ocean and desperately feed them to Cid, hoping he lives a little longer. Apparently, it is possible to come out successful in this task, and allow Cid to live. However, no instructions are given at all with regard to the mechanics of “getting” a fish, and even when you do give Cid one, his condition doesn’t seem to improve. Indeed, it seems almost as though developer Squaresoft didn’t want the player to let Cid live because of what ensues with his death. I lost this mini-game, and Cid perished.

After Celes finishes mourning, the screen fades. On the next screen, you see Celes, now in your control, standing near the edge of a cliff. No words are used; you know exactly what her intentions are. Instinctively, you try to leave the cliff. The game does not allow you to do this, furthering the sense of Celes’ hesitant determination. In the end, you are left with no choice but to walk to the edge of the cliff and press the A button, causing her to fling herself off the ominous peak.

You don’t want to help Celes kill herself, but you know that it has to be done. Inside,  you completely sympathize with her and understand her reasoning. By having you attempt to keep Cid alive in vain, the game creates a perfect sense of futile desperation. By not allowing you to leave the cliff, this sensation is only furthered. Throughout her suicidal decision, you are made to feel exactly as Celes does.

Could this be accomplished by a book or movie? Absolutely not. I am fully confident that only interactivity could elicit feelings like this. Considering my hatred for the very concept of suicide, the fact that the game was able to make me accept its necessity is simply astounding to me. Never have I felt an emotional connection with a fictional character as strong as I felt at the precise moment I pressed that button, condemning Celes to her fate.

It turns out that Celes does not die from the fall, but all the same, the buildup to the jump is one of the most involving virtual experiences I’ve ever had. Getting that Triple Kill in Halo or 5-starring a song in Guitar Hero just does not satisfy after you have experienced this true potential of gaming. To all who claim that the mechanics of a game are more important than the enveloping narrative, I say this:

You never made Celes jump.

-Billy Bunce

Story vs. Gameplay

When talking about the role of story in a video game, I think it just depends on the type of person you are. For example, many people just play Halo for the shooting and killing. While this is the primary and most fun part of the game, there is a lot more to the game than that. I actually do sometimes stop and look at the “beautifully-rendered trees” and the wide variety of expansive environments. The story is also a lot more complex and interesting than most other games, but it is up to the gamer how much they want to know about it. For example, in Halo 3 there are numerous hidden “terminals” that the gamer can find. These terminals reveal a lot about what happened before the games, especially about the war between the ancient Forerunners and the Flood parasite thousands of years ago. There are also dozens of Halo books that further explicate the history and legend of Halo. It is not necessary to find these terminals, and many people just skip the terminals and cutscenes to just concentrate on the combat. If a player chooses to ignore the story, the game is just an action-packed alien-killing shooting rampage.

Someone in class also said that “no one plays Grand Theft Auto for the missions”, which I completely disagree with. When I first got Grand Theft Auto IV, the first thing I did was go through the missions, because I was interested in what the protagonist, Niko Bellic, would be like. The evolution of Niko’s character really interested me, along with all the shooting, stealing, and car chases the missions involve. I was emotionally invested in his story, and towards the end of the game, I really wanted him to get revenge on Dmitri. After I had completed all of the missions, killing people just wasn’t as fun anymore. Niko was just killing people because he was bored, not because an Italian mob boss was paying him to do it (as in the missions). Sure, it can be fun to drive expensive cars at over 100 mph while running over the pedestrians, but there aren’t really any repercussions to it, and gets boring after while if it doesn’t advance the story. Although gameplay is important, the story is what sets a game apart from others.

– Kashyap Saxena

A New Story

I have never played an online role-playing game, so I was a little confused when I started playing Lord of the Rings online. I didn’t who exactly I was, where I was, and who the people that were running around the map were. I started out as a Hobbit, since that was the race I was most familiar with. When the actual game started, I saw that I was in a small room with a number of other people. I spent about five minutes trying to either leave the room or talk to someone, before I finally figured out I had to talk to the postmaster. I didn’t read what he was saying, because I was anxious to start playing the game. After leaving the post office and meeting Bounder Boffin, I got my first taste of combat. It was mostly just jabbing the mouse button, but it was still fun. I then fought some more spiders, talked to some people, and discovered a town, before getting bored and logging off.

As for my impressions of the story, I didn’t see enough of it to make a judgment, and I did not really see the dialogue because I wanted to see what the game was like.  However, I did like the fact that  you got to make your own character and your own story. If I had been forced to play as Frodo or Sam or any of the other characters in the story, I would have felt I would not be able to make my own choices. With your own character, you can project your own personality and character onto him. Another thing I liked was that I had freedom to walk around and explore the world. I recognized a number of  places from the movies and book, and it was interesting to explore the game’s setting, and I suspect I’ll be able to do quests in a variety of locations on the map.

Overall, I think I’ll like the game. The story will probably get more interesting, the setting is dynamic and diverse, and I have my character just the way I want him: a guardian Hobbit.

– Kashyap Saxena