01 - Your current favorite game.
Is it weird to say that this is my favorite game right now? I mean, I’ve finished it, I’ve got the platinum trophy for it, I’m done with all existing DLC…and heck, a lot of people don’t really think about it as a game.
But Heavy Rain did something to me. I mean, it caused something more than an infatuation. I finished the game over the course of two weekday nights, with not a lot of sleep. I started the game, played through half of it, got a few hours of sleep and some social engagements out of the way, and then finished the rest of it the next night, playing through until nearly 7 a.m. And my husband sat beside me, watching the whole time. (Have we ever really done that before? Not really.)
Maybe I can just attribute this to my being a woman or something, but…you guys. I cried.
That was a new thing for me. Not in general, of course, but for a game to drive me to that point. No game has ever driven me to really give two shits about the characters before. I mean, I play a lot of stuff, but I’ve never been forced to quickly consider my decisions before. You don’t get a lot of time to make some moves, and when you have a lot more to think about than just plain living or dying, everything you do takes on so much more weight.
At the same time, the control system is ridiculously easy, unless you’ve never held a PlayStation controller or had to use any Sixaxis controls whatsoever. I mean, for God’s sake, I played through on the expert difficulty level the first time, and I never do that. (Though the way it phrases this through getting you to choose your controller familiarity level is quite nice.) What does this do for you? Well, everything you do instantly becomes more of a choice and less of a consequence of inexperience. It’s easy enough to do 90% of the game without making a mistake, so when you decide that a character needs to die, you just sit back and choose not to do anything.
And this is where the real beauty of it comes in. As a gaming culture, I think we’ve been conditioned to expect that games with lots of action consist of nothing but fighting endless streams of enemies until we get to the Big Baddie, and then our challenge becomes beating them. Die? Try again! (And again and again and again until The End.) Some of my other favorite games fall into that category. In fact, most of them do.
But Heavy Rain just says, “Too bad.” You get to keep going, whether your main characters die or not. Getting to an ending - no matter how depressing said ending happens to be - isn’t optional here. As long as you don’t just trade the game in or quit playing, there is an end, and you’ll get there with or without executing everything perfectly.
I finished my first playthrough, and then I told myself that I wouldn’t play it again for another couple of weeks.
I am such a liar.
Within a couple of days, I was on my second playthrough, this time for trophies and seeing all the endings. I normally don’t even care about trophies. At all. Heavy Rain was changing the way I think about games in general, I think. I had another friend watching me that time, and I was making very specific decisions, with a strategic plan designed to get me all of the endings.
And I did.
Midway through, I discovered that the director of the game, David Cage, only wanted people to play through it once. I was doing it wrong. I wasn’t going to stop doing it wrong - I mean, they put the trophies in there for a reason. But at the same time, I could see why he made that statement. Maybe it was just to cover his ass on a few plot holes big enough for a dolphin to jump through as part of a show, but the game itself is closed off. Not any open world like GTA or an MMO. Everything is constantly driven forward and it’s always obvious what your next move should be. Some choices are made for you. But like an abstract painting, we’re all going to get different things out of it. Some people are going to find it enthralling, others mysterious, other people might find it depressing, and still others might just think that it’s a bunch of splatters on a canvas. Especially if they melted their copy and threw it at a canvas. But it can also inspire real discussion in a gaming community that still gets stuck in a rut consisting of fanboy accusations and general idiocy. “You saw what? That wasn’t in my game at all!” No one’s experience is entirely unique, but discovering the differences is part of the fun.
Funnily enough, this was the exact same day that Roger Ebert published his response to Kellee Santiago’s TED talk discussing exactly why games are art. I’m sure, if you’re taking the time to read this, that you know what Ebert’s response was. And even though I like the guy, I just couldn’t agree with him - in this single case only. I mean, here was something that I was deeply engrossed in, that I was finding myself thinking really hard about - and it just happened to be a game. I’m not trying to imply that any game can end up being some kind of high art, but if developers want to make art that is accessible to a lot of the gaming community, making something like Heavy Rain is definitely a start.
It’s not a movie. Sure, it’s enjoyable to watch, but movies don’t do this to you. Most games don’t do it, either. But then again, most games don’t have you mimicking your onscreen behavior in a mature way (as in, not Wii-related) using the controller that just so happens to be in your hand. Most movies don’t have the possibility of several endings - at least, the ones you see in a theatre don’t.
Heavy Rain is, in a nutshell, the art and intelligent discussion a movie can provide, with the interaction that you can only get through gaming and making your own choices. It’s beautiful, and it’s my favorite game of the now. Suck it, Ebert.
(Note: Not all 30 Days posts are going to be this long. I’m just particularly passionate about this one.)