Technology doesn’t have to be the sole definition of progress. Bigger budgets, bigger boxes, bigger teams – they only imply bigger, not better, experiences. Progress doesn’t have to be trapped by transistors and other computery-sounding words.
Indeed, for an industry that prides itself on drawing in three dimensions, we don’t half think in one-dimensional terms.
We can’t pretend like we used to. Those awkward animations, that bit of corny dialogue, those boxy hands – their limitations said “Hey, help us out here”. Imagination drew those ethereal fingers; imagination transformed that collection of pre-rendered backgrounds into a world worth saving.
But as technology empowers artists to draw bigger and better blocks, video games are dragged into an increasingly literal world. Developers don’t need the power of the player’s imaginations any longer – they have gigahertz and gigabytes to do it for them. That symbiotic relationship between an artist’s work and an artist’s audience is ever dwindling.
No, we can’t fix things like we used to. But Kara – Kara is different.
Not only did Quantic Dream compel me to care for a digital illusion of a mechanical replica of a human being, it took them just four minutes to do so – that’s the exact moment when the pit of my stomach twisted, and I knew Kara had to be saved.
But it’s fear, not polygons, that humanize her. It’s an emotion we can all identify with. The biggest of us, the smallest of us, the toughest of us, the most fragile – we understand this most basic impulse. It’s not difficult to emphasise with something’s desire to live, even if it is a digital illusion of a mechanical replica of a human being. Without fear, Kara would be just another bundle of pixels.
We’re often presented with likeable characters. Rarely, though, are we presented with believable human beings. Emotions, like fear or doubt or despair, are sacrificed in the name of sheer ‘badassery’. They invest so much in drawing every scar, scratch, bruise and bump that they neglect what some developers have understood since the age of bleeps and bloops: that true immersion lies in attachment. That emotional connection between us and a world’s inhabitants.
But video games have grown up, mostly. They look mature, they swear a lot, they drink on the weekends, they smoke on the weekdays – they even get into the occasional bar fight – but something’s not quite right. They’re still awkward, even shy, in some situations. They don’t know what to say, they don’t know what do, and they don’t know how to act. It’s this – not how many zombies they can draw on a single piece of paper – the industry should pay attention to.
A new generation shouldn’t have to be defined by a new purchase. It should be defined by a collective breakthrough: a technical breakthrough; an artistic breakthrough; an emotional breakthrough – a point where video games portray characters and worlds with as many dimensions as the engines powering them.