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I am a staunch non-drinker. In fact, I’m not a fan of anything that alters or limits the way my body feels, even something as simple as Novocaine at the dentist. I’ve been putting off getting my wisdom teeth pulled just because the thought of being gassed makes me shaky and nauseous. Those kinds of things just don’t interest me and even frighten me a little.
I’ve been playing Borderlands 2 a lot recently and ran into an interesting moment I wasn’t expecting. There is a series of sidequests that has you instigating a clan war between two rival families with the final goal of wiping one of them out entirely. You work both sides of the fight, alternating between the two to get back at the other for the last thing you did. Pretty straightforward stuff.
At one point in the chain, you are tasked with infiltrating a wake of one of the clans. The quest giver wants you to sneak in and kill each and every one of the people present. Of course, like most video game quests, it isn’t quite that simple. In order to enter the wake, you have to be plastered enough to fool the doorman.
This objective made me freeze up when I saw it. I started to feel a little anxious at the thought of having to imbibe alcoholic beverages. My first instinct was to skip the sidequest entirely. I didn’t want to do it.
I was astonished when I realized what I was feeling. This never happens for me. I’m terrible at immersing myself in a character, my brain too logical to sink entirely into another world. Somehow, this simple event managed to trigger something in me that I’ve never felt about a game before.
Instantly, I started trying to figure out what it was that had managed to inspire such a reaction. Was it just because of my feelings for alcohol in general? It couldn’t be because I had encountered in games several times before. Granted, most of the time it’s played off for humor but there are games where it is much worse than Borderlands 2. Hell, Grand Theft Auto IV lets you drink and drive. What a horrifying experience that is!
It also can’t be that I’m more attached to this character than any other. I didn’t even get to create this character, only choose her from a list. If any game should have caused this to happen, it should have been something like Skyrim or Fallout: New Vegas. She is a pre-defined character that barely has a personality. How did I attach myself to her?
I still can’t figure it out. I don’t know how such a simple thing could manage to do something to me that no other game has managed, even much more cinematic games like Heavy Rain or the game-spanning Mass Effect narrative? I feel that the key to total immersion in my fiction lies within this moment and I aim to figure it out.