Toby wonders where the games that actually make you sweat with tension and fear have gone.
By Toby McCasker on October 30, 2013 at 4:36 pm
Right now I am eating a bag of Blair’s Death Rain Habanero Pepper Cauldron Cooked Potato Chips. I am sweating, man.
The bag itself has “FEEL ALIVE!” down the side and a picture of a little thermometer all the way in the red with “OMG!” written under it. That is how Blair has decided these chips measure on the temp scale: Oh My God. Blair is an honest and fair man. I started seeing through time a while ago. I also started thinking: When was the last time a game made me sweat this much?
People sweat for all kinds of reasons, like if they’re combing their hair pretty fast or sitting next to me on the bus. So I feel this context of sweating must needs be quantified: Tension, baby. The pleasure and pressure of tension. That’s what we’re talking here.
In gaming terms, I s’pose most will instantly equate tension with being about to fail something really difficult for the umpteenth time before being shunted miles back to the last save thing. It’s a complex series of rapid-fire, opposing emotions uniquely evoked by video games, far as I see it. Nowhere else can you be pitted against something only just surmountable that taunts you in escalating degrees via inconspicuous threat of repetition.
There’ve been a litany of platformers satirising the hell out of exactly in recent times. My fave is I Wanna Be The Guy: Gaiden.
Funny as they are, they miss the #realtalk of it. Thing about tension is that for it to be all it can be (ie. you being a sweaty mess), is that it must be built. It builds because there is something at stake (ie. you being a huge loser). Infinite lives do not glorious vidya nerves create. Wolverine health bars, nope, even more generous aim assist, nope nope. I can’t actually remember the last time this gen I sweated it up in this peculiarly gamey way.
It’s not just about games getting softer so as not to scare away all the commercial money, either. It’s about games being serially uninventive in coming up with heavy scenes that give you the sense you’re stepping out onto a tightrope strung between two skyscrapers.
I LOVE THAT FEEL, BRO.
I AM BECOME THAT FEEL, BRO.
RETURN THAT FEEL, BRO.
It’s something Hideo Kojima occasionally opines into the ether too, albeit not in random haiku form. At one stage he actually wanted to make a game where, if you died once, that was it. Back to the menu screen with you, LOSER. Now he’s thought about it some more, he’s probably also decided that after you die once, your copy of the game itself explodes inside your rig and ruins everything you hold dear.
Now, that’s tense. But also annoying. The high risk should not be, “You messed up, so back to an ages-away save or even the very start” but maybe something much more integrated and personal. Maybe if you died horrendously in a gunfight the game all of a sudden stops being an FPS and becomes a life sim where you experience the recovery of an alcoholic war widow? Hey where’s everyone going.