Back in 2007, Peter Molyneux wanted to introduce gamers to a new concept in when playing – emotions. Why? Why bother introducing something which is seen as rather complex in terms of both a programming sense and psychological sense into what is, at its most basic of forms, a simple medium?
“This is my bold claim – I need you to experience something in Fable that you as gamers have never experienced before,” he declared. “Gamers will be able to start a family and watch their child grow over time. Emotional reactions to gaming, such as love, fear and even empathy, remain the holy grail for many developers. Everybody is talking about emotion, story, engagement and narrative,” Mr Molyneux said. “We have tried to approach it in a different way. We are going to explore love.”
Taken from a BBC News Online interview in March 2007
Molyneux pulled off this great innovation with his typical grandeur and style by making bold claims in early development. But this time, against his more usual pattern of letting the audience down by failing to deliver, his team at Lionhead studios created a game that dragged the player into the world they (the developers) had created in Fable 2.
In this world, you had moral choices to make – do I help this stranger with his grand idea knowing it will make me poorer with a chance I may never see this gold again? Or do I keep the money for myself to be spent on newer armour or more powerful weapons?
The game really demonstrates the emotional attachment developed in the finale of the game where your hero now has chased down the main villain and is confronting him at the entrance to the old tomb of the heroes. As the villain gives his speech about how this is the end, he explains the path he took and how he has found your family. He says your actions against him have had grave consequences and, as a result, he has murdered them in cold blood. He then states that he intends to do the same to you.
As he draws his pistol, he takes careful aim, and fire a single shot. As the bullet flies through the air your most faithful companion throughout your entire quest, your dog, leaps into the air to protect you knowing what this means. He takes the bullet and dies right before your eyes.
At this point, I felt anger and rage that this man had taken the life of my in-game family and now shot my best friend in the game. This is precisely what Molyneux was aiming for when developing this; I had grown attached to my family and grown to love them as real people (sort of). I had reacted with a real emotion to something which was simulated and did not occur in the real world.
Clearly, I am not alone in reacting like this to games. Take a look at some comments I obtained from some of my fellow gamers:
(In Bioshock) You first step off that bathysphere at the start of the game after seeing a guy beg for his life through the glass, the only person you think you can trust is on that radio.
Most of the game you have no idea what the hell is going on. You walk round the leaking levels and feel really vulnerable with your wrench and tiny guns against Big daddies and crazy people. Again, that radio is the one sane bit of contact you have, so you follow its guidance. You have it drilled into your head (epic pun alert) that you need to find Ryan and every time you think you are close to him, something happens to screw up your progress.
The back story is built up scarily well with the audio diary clues, the “would you kindly” snuck in here and there with clues to your past. You battle through loads of the game building up a bit of an idea of what’s going on, then just before what you think is going to be a huge boss fight with Andrew Ryan, everything gets explained.
You meet Andrew Ryan, the door opens, you still think there is going to be a fight…. then you lose control of your game character, just as in the game world your character loses control of himself to Andrew Ryan. He explains how you are just a slave to the guy on the end of the radio, the guy you, the player, trusted from the start.. He makes you kill him, just so he can die on his own terms. The game was already really involving and this part made it crazy level immersive.
The second you regain control of your character Atlas comes on the radio you listened to and obeyed for the entire game and says “would you kindly again.”
I did enjoy Heavy Rain. I played through it from my own perspective, acting as close to how I thought I’d act in that situation. It definitely gives you a feeling of worry for the characters during chase scenes or sections where you think the character could. Even more so because I knew I could kill off characters and the game would still go on.
The only game to bring me to tears, Lost Odyssey. (Manly tears though!) By FAR the most powerful story in ANY game I’ve played. Lirum’s death; the main character is reunited with his long lost daughter, only to have her die in his arms. Probably the most powerful scene I can think of in a game, I was bawling like a little girl
(During) Silent Hill 2 “In Water” ending. You learn the truth behind the character and you hear a long letter from Mary that she wrote on her death-bed. All this is seen from an underwater vantage point as its implied (and certain) that James has committed suicide and driven into the lake.
In Gears of War 2, one of the main characters – Dom – is searching for his wife, Maria. About 2/3 of the way through the game you come across Maria in what appears to be a holding area filled with metal cases. Dom begins to frantically search these to find her. When he does we see her as she was in the photos, it is only when Marcus (Dom’s best friend) walks over and places his hand on Dom’s shoulder that we see Maria for what she really is – gaunt, brain-dead, and almost lifeless.
Dom is now in tears and can barely hold it together. The music builds in the background as Dom pulls out his pistol and begins to shake as he raises the gun to Maria’s head. I sat and watched this scene thinking “Will he do this? Really will he kill Maria now he’s found her?” The camera pulls away switches to Marcus who stands alone facing away. The music falls silent for a few seconds and then we hear a single but loud gunshot and you know what has happened.
Dom walks away knowing that he has nothing to live for. Marcus doesn’t say a word as he knows what he has done and that it was the hardest thing any person would have to do.
In truth Peter Molyneux didn’t create something new in Fable 2 as many games have created this emotional bond with the player via other powerful emotions such as fear, but it is through his idea of love that in many modern era games we are able to create bonds with virtual characters for who we know are not real.
With the love of a character we tend to play a game how we in real life would react to the situation if we were faced with the same scenario. Would you have the courage to end the suffering of your wife? Could you knowing kill a small innocent child in order to gain true power? Would you cut off your own finger to save your child?
Overall it’s down to the bond that the person feels with this particular game setting. I’m not saying that all gamers will feel comfortable in some of the scenarios posed while playing their favourite games. After all, this is how misunderstandings can happen and people read beyond meanings. Such as the example with Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, would gamers truly be comfortable shooting an airport full of innocent people all in an effort to make a point? I can’t speak for the masses here but I know most people would create a disconnect with reality here.
In the end it is in the hands of the player to make the connection to the game not for the world to connect to the emotional interpretation.