Thinking Outside the Console

Last night, I was flipping through a Metal Gear Solid artbook and discussing the game with Laura, as she has never played these games before (hmm… idea for a future GIMMGP entry).  When I turned to the pages featuring the artwork of Psycho Mantis (my favorite member of FOXHOUND), I excitedly recounted the very interesting battle with this Master of Mind Reading.  For those of you who have been so deprived of the fantastic gaming experience that is Metal Gear Solid, allow me to explain why the encounter with Psycho Mantis is so memorable.

When our hero, Solid Snake makes his way to a Commander’s Office to gain clearance to his next objective, he is accosted by his own partner, the plucky (yet cute) Meryl.  The young woman unsuccessfully tries to seduce Snake, and then attacks him with her pistol.  Solid Snake realizes that her mind is being controlled, and manages to gently knock her out (read: punch that chick in the face).  Meryl’s manipulator is revealed to be Psycho Mantis, who is thoroughly frustrated that Snake was able to see through his facade, and decides to demonstrate the awesome strength of his mind.

It is at this moment that the innovation of the Metal Gear development team truly shines.  First, Psycho Mantis decides to show off his telepathic prowess.  He reads the player’s mind, and begins to comment on the sort of games the player enjoys.  Mantis even manages to describe the player as foolhardy or prudent, based on how often he/she saves their game data.  This impressive feat is managed by reading the memory card inserted into the Playstation, and checking for save data of other Konami published games (such as Castlevania).  Psycho Mantis takes his demonstration further by asking the player to place the controller on the ground in front of them.  Using his psychokinetic powers(and the built in rumble pack on Sony controllers), Mantis moves the controller across the ground by sheer will alone!

For the final act in his display, Psycho Mantis taunts the player, claiming that as long as he can read your mind, there is no way a blow will be landed upon him.  After trying to shoot, punch, and even grapple the boss, it becomes apparent that his insults have some weight, as Snake cannot manage to land a single hit.  Anytime a shot should land, the television will seem to switch to another “VIDEO” mode, and Psycho Mantis will have moved to another location on the screen.  At this point, the player can radio for some advice (or check a strategy guide, look up on the Internet, etc) to find out that the only way to defeat Mantis is to switch the controller into the 2nd Player port.  By switching to the second controller port, the player can finally beat Mantis(who seems baffled that he cannot read your mind anymore).

Metal Gear Solid is not the only game to provide the player with moments that occur, “outside the console.”  The early Nintendo DS title Trace Memory presents the player with a puzzle involving an art stamp.  The player is asked to complete a piece of art using a nearby stamp.  The stamp appears on the upper screen of the DS, while the unfinished page appears on the lower screen.  The solution to the puzzle is to close the Nintendo DS, thus causing the top screen to “stamp” the bottom screen, thereby replicating the drawing.  The Augmented Reality Cards included with the Nintendo 3DS directly bring the player’s surroundings into the game using the 3DS camera.  Whatever surface the player sets the AR Cards on immediately sprouts into a target shooting gallery that includes panoramic gameplay.  These are just a few examples of tasks that must be solved by asking the player to consider immersing the world around them into the game’s environment. 

Now, I am sure many of you are thinking, “But Chip, you were just ranting about how games ruin immersion by breaking the fourth wall!”  You are true, faithful reader, but these examples of addressing the player directly stand far away from the realm of frustrating tutorials.  By asking the player to utilize objects that exist outside of the game’s internal environment, the developers succeed in immersing the player even further by giving them a direct role in the game itself.  Psycho Mantis wasn’t reading Solid Snake’s mind; he was reading my mind (I do love Castlevania).  When I put the controller on the floor, Mantis was trying to show me that his psychic reach extends far beyond the world inside my television.  And when I decided to change my controller from one port to another, I was no longer manipulating Solid Snake to defeat Mantis; it was my actions alone that allowed the game to progress.  This sort of immersion provides the player with a sense of pride that no other form of media can hope to achieve.

As the graphical capabilities in video games are getting better and better, it seems there is a push for video games to provide a more cinematic experience to the player.  This shift towards film can clearly be seen in games like Metal Gear Solid 4 and the Uncharted series.  While the media of film can draw in a viewer through a gripping story, interesting characters, and ambient sounds or music, video game developers should not rely exclusively on these means for immersion.  There are so many ways to drop a player into a title by manipulating the environment around them in real life.  Why not an old-school RPG title for the 3DS that asks the player to take pictures of their friends and surroundings at the start of the game?  The pictures that the player took could be used for in-game storytelling, random enemies, or even as final bosses for plot twists (“How could my best friend be the true evil lord?!  Oh cruel fate!”).  It certainly worked for the Game Boy Camera.

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