How Games can make you cry: Emotional Momentum

SPOILER ALERT!

This article discusses plot developments in games over the last 20 years, INCLUDING recent titles!


A few weeks ago I was engaged in a discussion that I wanted to bring here. Emotional ties to characters, with particular regard to mortality, in video games.

Full disclosure, I’m not much of an RPG player. Combining this with that, comparing the stats of the 200 items in my inventory and equipping the right armor for the boss I’m about to fight, keeping in mind that I’ll get a mana buff if I wear that gauntlet, but it will reduce my character’s charisma… I just don’t give a crap. I’m sorry. But what draws me to games like those in the Elder Scrolls or Ultima series, or even Final Fantasy, are the story lines. I absolutely love a story I can get lost in. Characters I can relate to or at least feel for are key. After playing through games like Crackdown, or even the B-game game MorphX I have no remorse for some characters, no matter where the story takes them.

Enter Gears of War 3. While playing the latest chapter in the Gears of War saga, I met a moment that turned my discussion just a few weeks ago into something tangible for me that I haven’t experienced in over a decade. True emotional connection to a video game. We’ll get to that in a moment.

I’m not kidding, we’re about to get spoiler-rific!

My discussion a few weeks ago began with Wing Commander. The saga that defined the space opera, and not only affected the space-sim genre, but several Sci-Fi TV shows and movies. Wing Commander forced you to get to know the characters. You sat down and talked with them. You had a drink at the bar with them. You got to know their personalities, their flying styles. And, like almost no other game to date, you had to watch your wingmen die at an extraordinary rate. You speak at their funeral, you send them off in to space with a final salute. It is a sincere moment. It’s not just another man down or some kind of game over screen. It’s war. You have to carry on, but only after you pay proper tribute to your fallen comrade.

Wing Commander may have impacted me for several reasons. I was young, I hadn’t yet experienced “death” the way I would later in life (a surreal few years in college had me attending annual funerals for friends, family, and acquaintences). In addition to my youth, I had time to grow and connect with these characters. Some may have died right away in Wing Commander, some in Wing Commander II. Entire carriers and transports are lost, filled with characters you know, love, or maybe just met (or in the case of some civilian transports, haven’t met). Although it can be vague, sometimes it’s someone you’ve flown with for a long time, perhaps for multiple games in the series. Then one day they don’t come back. Wing Commander even made this personal touch part of their introduction for Wing Commander II, stating in their promotional materials:For years, your lightning-quick reflexes and instinctive dogfighting tactics went to waste while the Kilrathi killed your closest friends on the front lines.

Several “indie” games, like Limbo or or Braid try to tug at your heart strings. The end of Braid has that “ah-ha!” moment, where the developers pull a “got’cha!” and you realize you haven’t been the good guy all along. It twists you perception, it may even shock you from a story-telling perspective. But I didn’t really feel any different. The same goes for Bioshock and Bioshock 2 – take the first, for example. The “would you kindly” twist was unexpected. It was an explaination for why you followed a linear story line. It was unlike anything I had experienced before, mind blowing! But killing Andrew Ryan did not impact me in the least.

I was never concerned when I found out that the princess was in another castle. I wasn’t moved at the end of Heavenly Sword when Kai set Nariko out to sea. In Red Dead Redemption your main character is killed off, leaving you to complete the game as your own son. In the Halo trilogy you’re forced to carry on while Cortana torments you from a distance. But I never care. I just trudge along, waiting for the story to resolve itself.

Back to Gears of War 3. I was highly detached from the second game in the series. Kim and Carmine died in the first game. I barely knew any characters in the second (the entire game was built as fluff and filler and centered around it’s multi-player offerings, it did nothing for me and barely moved the story along apart from some predictable and cliche moments, in my opinion). But in Gears 3, which I haven’t even completely finished, my world was rocked. It was predictable, I agree. But it was executed with perfection and precision. Harkening back to the commercials used for Gears of War 2, soft music plays as vibrant imagery fulfills what Cliff Bleszinski has called “destroyed beauty” from the very beginnings of Gears of War.

I could actually feel something. To save his team, Dominic Santiago will scuttle a truck into a tanker of fuel. As soon as everything started building up to this, I could feel myself beginning the five stages of grief. Denial. Then anger. Then bargaining, with myself – mostly, because the cutscene had already begun – but wishing Dom could hear me. Then depression hit me like a rock. I’m waiting for the acceptance part. I’ve stopped playing the game for a few days to really soak in what has happened. Marcus doesn’t get to, in the game. But I do.

During my hiatus, I’ve had time to think. Why does this affect me so much? And I’ve realized a few things. The first is what I call “emotional momentum.” To see if this was a real thing, I searched the term online quickly and came up with tips for texting your way into some hot and heavy conversation, so I highly doubt that it is. Perhaps I’m coining the term, at least in this context. Regardless, emotional momentum is the pace and substantiality on which a relationship is formed. With most video games, you are supposed to bond with and care for characters you are just meeting. Then, somewhere in your six hour adventure, they are taken away and it supposed to shatter you, emotionally. I haven’t played Heavy Rain, but I heard more people cheered when an annoying child was mowed down by traffic, than people who genuinely fealt remorse. There wasn’t a real relationship built, and that which was there was thrown at you with the sole function at trying to make you teary-eyed later. You saw it coming. You haven’t had time to build a relationship, or situations which allowed you to get to know the characters. At least one or the other, if not both, is required – chatter during battle, or a cutscene where you learn your partner’s wife’s name? That’s just not enough.

Wing Commander was different because I had sat down and had drinks with the characters, had conversations with them. Then I looked at that chair they had always sat in, and they weren’t there anymore. Gears of War 3 has made me take pause becase I know Dom. I’ve been with him through his struggles, but we’ve come out stronger after each and every mission. Sure, I mocked him in Gears 2 – I even expected him to die in combat if he couldn’t get his act together. But he always came through for me. We’ve literally defeated hoards of Locust enemies together. I’ve known Dom for the last five years of my life. Yet there he was, one last time, selflessly making sure his squad mates were going to get out of the city of Mercy and carry on toward Azura. He will be sorely missed.

I’m very interested in this topic and may research it further. I would be interested in fleshing this idea out, and perhaps creating a panel to discuss similar events in gaming. What memories do you have? Was there a moment in another game that actually gave you enough time to develop a relationship with a character, only to have it taken away? Final Fantasy VII, I’ve heard, may have had a moment that hit some players. What about you? Please discuss. And if you’ve actually read this far, thank you, genuinely.

Got that Retro Gaming Itch

Another time for a walk down memory lane. Join me. Today’s topic, as every Friday, is gaming.

Sometimes there’s nothing like a classic. There’s just no substitute for reliving the good old days. And while I love the Wii’s virtual console as much as the next guy, the fact remains that I don’t have an NES controller in my hand and I just feel like something is just a bit off. Still, I make due… my NES is safely tucked away, but some day I’m not going to be able to resist it’s calls and I will have to blow the cratridges out just to show them I still care.

Just like this week. When I realized I had a balance sitting in my PayPal account that I had nearly forgotten about. It was like surprise money! Money I hadn’t worked in to my budget, therefore, it was easy to spend. I know. People like me are what’s wrong with the American banking system. But we’re great for the economy! So spend I did!

When I was a kid, I had a Gameboy. I only ever had five games for it. I don’t remember for sure what they all were, but I know there were five, because that’s how many fit in the clear plastic case that came with all of the Gameboy’s in Nintendo’s Play It Loud! series. I had a clear Gameboy, just like the one pictured above. And I had to give in and buy exactly what I had before.

It’s a new era. I could’ve picked up an Advance, a Gameboy Pocket, or even a Gameboy color. But no – I had to relive my childhood, just as it was. Metroid II: Return of Samus, and a Clear “Play It Loud!” big, fat Gameboy. It’s in the mail.

I go through these phases. A few years ago I recalled what rediculous fun the Virtual Boy had been. I now have TWO of the consoles and a substantial collection which may exceed 75% of all of the games ever released on the console in both the United States and Japan.

I often wonder if I’m going to stick with “emulation” and things like the Virtual Console (I like to “go legit” whenever possible, and trying to play ROMs on the PC never had the right feel, to me). But then I get this urge to be a completionist, and I miss the feeling of sliding the power button up on the Nintendo 64, or pressing the Eject button of the Super Nintendo. I even remember buying the “revised” NES console when I was a kid, because I had heard it would have less trouble playing games (the Super Nintendo would play anything you threw at it, almost 100% of the time, why wouldn’t this!?).

I didn’t get very far with my experiments. After a few minutes of trying, the worth-while efforts of blowing imaginary dust off of copper pins were worth every effort, so long as it meant I would be able to use my Game Genie from Galoob! Nothing else mattered to me more – when I realized that the extra width of the Game Genie wouldn’t be accomodated by the new smaller Nintendo Entertainment System, back in the box it went, and I returned it to the store. I wouldn’t do without my unlimited turbo in Excitebike.

I remember all of those things I had throughout the years: the Super Scope Six that I borrowed from a friend, the Game Genies, the Super Gameboy, when my “soon to be ex friend” erased my Super Metroid save files… and the fact that the NES in my parents’ attic (waiting for me to have a more permanent residence) is the same one I’ve had since I was 7, and my dad brought it home from a yard sale after finding it for thirty five dollars. I remember it so clearly – the car was parked on the street out front of our house. I still can’t recall any reason why it wasn’t in the drive way, we only had one car at the time. But he popped the trunk of that Ford Tempo, and there it was. A Nintendo. Two controllers. A gray Zapper. The power brick and RF Switch. And Mario Brothers with Duck Hunt. Throughout the years it had stickers applied to it (stickers from my Dentist Office visits, of Mario and Yoshi holding Tooth Brushes, of course), and removed – but it was never tarnished with a marker, or a name written on it, or manufacturer’s stickers peeled off of it. I’ve always been a bit picky. Games I bought new I kept in pristine condition, boxes, manuals, and any other inserts. Games I bought used I was always a little sad if they didn’t have all of the goods included. I remember my first “other” game was Mega Man III – not even a dust cover for it. I remember the weird line under Top Man’s portrait on the level select screen. I still find it the best in the series, and this strong connection is undoubtedly why.

As you know by reading the about me page, I sold most of my gaming history off at one point. And as I slowly regain it, I wonder if it’s an homage to my nerd past, or just an early mid-life crisis? But either way, I’m glad to be taking part in it. And I’m glad you’re all along for the ride.

Resetting your TCP/IP Stack

People have all kinds of nerdy reasons that they may need to reset their TCP/IP Stack. For me, I was unable o connect to Games for Windows Live. But if you ever find yourself offline and stranded with not internet connection except the browser on your smartphone, it may be a good idea to try resetting your TCP/IP stack!

All of the nerds and geeks on the internet will just tell you that, matter-of-factly, without ever telling you how. Here are some very good basics that you can try to troubleshoot yourself, when you don’t have internet access, network connectivity isn’t working, or when some things work and somethings don’t. Why do these features get so messed up? The world may never know. But it’s good to know there’s a few things you can do to try and fix it, apart from rebooting your modem and router! 😉

The following assumes you have at least local Administraor rights on your computer (most people do, to the distress of millions of IT folk).

First: Reset WINSOCK:
XP: Click Start, then Run, and type in CMD and press enter.
Vista/7: Click Start, then type CMD (in the Search Programs an Files bar at the bottom) and press enter.

This will bring up a familiar black Command Prompt Window. In there, type the following, and press enter:

netsh winsock reset

After rebooting the computer, see if that helped. No? Alright, that was just the WINSOCK portion of things, now let’s try resetting the whole TCP/IP stack.

Open a command prompt, same as above. Then type the following as a single line:

netsh int ip reset c:\resetstack.txt

And, of course, reboot the computer. Did that help? If not, then at least you can say you’ve tried – but I was lucky and this resolved a very strange issue for me where literally everything else I was trying was working, except communicating with the Games for Windows Live service, which is why I have to give credit for the inspiration of this post to a user who calls himself “eastmanblues” on the Xbox Live forums.

Solution to PlayStation Home D4001 Error

I had a PlayStation 3 a few years ago, but I didn’t use it all that much.  I thought PlayStation Home was a neat concept, but apart from that, I didn’t do much with my PS3.  So, after a while, it just gave up on itself.  It froze up and never worked again.  Recently, I went out and purchased a PlayStation 3 “Slim” model…  mostly for BluRay!  But when I got it, I wanted to see what advancements had been made in PlayStation Home.  So I downloaded the installer file and when I tried to connect, BAM.  I got the D4001 error.  It wasn’t helpful or useful, it was a generic error code with no additional information.  I posted in the official PlayStation forums for support multiple times over, never to get anywhere.

Finally I sat down late at night and decided to crack down and figure this one out.  When you read the solution you might roll your eyes, but continue to the bottom to understand where the underlying problem was.  After literally months of frustration and hours of constant troubleshooting, I found my problem.  It seems as though the DNS I had set as my primary (PSU.edu’s 128.118.25.3) was not working correctly (appears to be entirely offline).  My secondary DNS (Google’s 8.8.8.8) was working for PSN, but for some reason PSHome ignores the secondary DNS setting!

In my network connection settings of my PS3, setting my PRIMARY DNS to 8.8.8.8 and leaving my Secondary DNS as all 0’s has resolved the issue, I am signed in to PlayStation Home for the first time in over a year.

Why didn’t it work when I used the easy / auto-config?  Because auto-config settings on the PS3 pull their settings from your home router.  My router had been set up with the same default DNS structure, 128.118.25.3 was my primary, preferred DNS!!  I was creating my own problem.

I have since moved not only my PlayStation but my router and my entire home network on to OpenDNS and have had no problems.

This may not be the solution for everyone, but I sure hope it helps a few of you out!