Are Games Really That Interactive?

The introduction of the Nintendo Wii, Xbox Kinect and Playstation Move signalled a new era for video gaming. This suave new technology sought to improve player interaction with the games on their television screen, trading in the traditional controller for a highly sensitive sensory system that allowed the real-world movements of players to manifest themselves as in-game actions. Geared up to facilitate a more realistic gaming experience, anything from a user’s punches (in the case of Wii Fit’s boxing option) to their speed and agility could affect and defeat an on screen opponent, taking interactivity to a higher level.

However, despite an ability to faithfully mimic intricate human actions, gaming technology still has much to improve on before capturing the complexity of the human condition, at least from a psychological and emotional perspective. Indeed, realism is often hindered by the rigidity of the inner mechanics of a computer-based console game which can usually only travel in a linear fashion and adhere to strict rules to guide the player to the game’s conclusion, interrupting the creativity, spontaneity and innovation of the individual. Take, for example, Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Vegas, a title with highly sophisticated graphics but one with a lone premise, to shoot and defeat terrorists and do so minus the emotional trauma that should accompany acts of murder. The narrow nature of the game is such that it constructs clear binary opposites between good (the player as a member of Rainbow Six team) and evil (subversive, stock character terrorists), creating a rather limiting and one-dimensional universe.

It is fair to say that this variation of game is much more popular than Japanese release, Way of the Samurai 3. This game is unique in its dexterity and density as, instead of training your character to swat aside all opposition, users can make informed choices to surrender or apologise to fellow combatants. Here, a player’s choices enhance the in-game reputation of their character, their acts of heroism venerated but acts of treachery and violence leading to scorn and hatred. This feature ensures of a deeper emotional development of character, and one that directly affects the direction of the game’s plot, a player’s actions resulting in one of over fifteen alternate story lines and conclusions. A rejection of pre-determined plot adding to the realism and fluidity of the game.

Unfortunately, games that explore the inner psychology of their characters and analyse the morality of their actions as the story line progresses are all too rare. Grand Theft Auto: V, notable for its nihilism and immorality but jointly recognised as a social satire, is soaked in a culture of violence and sexual depravity. Some have claimed that this merely follows the trend of investigating society’s anti-heroes such as television drama, Breaking Bad’s, Walter White but the game’s active encouragement to murder a prostitute and kill enemies by offering trophies as rewards, seemingly validates, and prohibits the player from questioning, this gratuitous behaviour.

Away from the content of a game, developers are however utilising the latest technology, particularly in relation to mobile applications, to optimise a player’s overall gaming experience. Whilst the majority of these games follow a conventionally linear and fixed plot, the rise of push technology is breathing new life into formulaic titles. This is the philosophy behind Dojit-notify, which sends out personalised push messages in relation to a user’s in-game location and their skill level or ability. Designed to help developers liaise directly with a mobile player by helping them through difficult portions of a game, this service adds a further dimension to, and bolsters interaction with, mobile phone games.

Player interaction with games is certainly a multi-faceted beast with some interactive elements displaying far more progression than others. Physical interaction has definitely reached its zenith in the sophistication of Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony’s movement-detector consoles and devices and developer-consumer interaction is advancing healthily with the rise of push technology. However, the most difficult variant of player interaction remains that of emotional mimesis. The dominance of games that substitute the liberty and morals of the player for the fulfilment of a basic, unalterable plot should be a clarion call for all aspiring developers to design a game that grants players freedom of action rather than bowing to the tyranny of tradition.