“A noob by any other name would die as sweet” — xXBillShakespur1616Xx
Let’s face facts: we can stand in our digital ivory towers all day and preach about the artistic merits of video games, but that doesn’t mean that the millions of people who bought Call of Duty, Medal of Honor or Halo: Reach give one lick about plot, character development, etc. I’m not saying that these or similar games are all fluff (some people can make that argument, but that’s not my point here). I’m just saying the hundreds of thousands of people playing Team Deathmatch on a daily basis aren’t exactly in it for the story.
And many (not all, but many) of those diehard fraggers don’t care about games such as Limbo or Braid or Heavy Rain. I know there is plenty of overlap, but the “artsy” games aren’t exactly flying off the shelves like this year’s Call of Halo: Modern Combat Evolved 10. The plot-driven games occasionally do sell well, but what prints the money are novelty, adrenaline-pumping experiences. That’s fine, and I’m not hating on First Person Shooters. I love Halo: Reach for its well-designed experience, but it’s not exactly the campaign I’m playing through again and again.
So, enter stage left William Shakespeare. Game developers, take note, because there’s something to learn from the best English playwright in history. Even if your experience with Shakespeare is nothing more than hating every moment of high school English literature class, you have to admire a man who could not only appeal to the intellectuals of his generation, but to the most common people as well. He did this by weaving bawdy puns, ridiculous characters and special effects into his productions.
The Globe Theatre sold out. Shakespeare was no dummy, and he knew to fill the theatre, he’d have to do a bit more than have a murder-suicide or some wife-swapping. He penned characters like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern for some chuckles while also telling some of the most compelling stories of all time. Shakespeare productions were the video games of his generation. You want to talk about Triple-A titles? How about As You Like It or A Midsummer Night’s Dream?
What game developers face nowadays is a bit different. There’s plenty of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s. Now all we need are some interesting stories, character development, etc. That doesn’t mean fun has to be sacrificed. We can still tear across unnamed Middle Eastern towns mowing down all the terrorists and scoring one for America, but give some gravity to our actions. Make us regret not covering our squad mates—right now I feel more compelled to team-kill just to stop the one liners. It can’t all be about teabagging and banana peels.
Halo: Reach tries to do this by giving the Spartans faces and personalities, but I needed a bit more. The emotional build up was cut a bit short by feeling rushed to the next exciting set piece. And yes, they’re exciting moments, but sometimes I wanted to stop and look up at the plasma-soaked sky, reminiscent of a J.M.W. Turner painting and ponder:
NOBLE SIX: What light through yonder skybox breaks?
It is a drop ship, and I a Spartan!
Arise, fair foes, and kill the piteous Reach,
Who is already sick and pale with grief,
That thou, her fiend, art far more doomed than she.