How important is the (pre-defined) character you play?

I have a lot of RPG and MMO players who read this blog (well… “a lot” is a relative term) so first to clarify: in this post I’m talking about ‘pre-packaged’ characters like Lara Croft or Master Chief, as opposed to characters you create and are kind of a vessel that you can mold as you see fit.

Back at Gamescom Microsoft showed us a little more of a game called Scalebound. It was about a young man and his dragon companion. Here’s some footage:

After that aired, some friends mentioned they wouldn’t be playing because they didn’t like the protagonist. I thought that was kind of harsh at the time, but now I think I understand where they were coming from.

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve finished two games: Watch Dogs and Infamous: Second Son. In broad terms they’re kind of similar. They’re both open world games that take place in a city. Both offer lots of side quests and both are generally about a lone wolf going up against an organization. I really liked Watch Dogs but I feel pretty “meh” about Infamous: Second Son.

Much of the reason I really liked one game and not the other comes down to the main characters. Aiden Pearce (Watch Dogs) is an adult. He’s also a criminal, and during a heist he unintentionally runs afoul of the local crime syndicate. They put a hit on him, but the hit goes wrong and Pearce’s 6 year old niece is killed while he survives. He is a character driven my anger, guilt and frustration. While I’ve seen players of the game complain about him being emotionless, to me his attitude is that of someone kind of suppressing emotions in order to get a job done.

Delsin Rowe (Infamous: Second Son) is in his early 20s. He is a Conduit, meaning he has what are essentially magical powers that he gets early in the game. He delights in these (I probably would too). In theory he is driven by a desire to help the people of the small town he is from, but we see that at the very start of the game and the very end, and nothing in between. Honestly I’d forgotten about them by the time he returned to them. More immediately he wants to free other Conduits who are imprisoned, but there’s no passion behind that desire. It boils down to “He wants to beat the final boss” really. He’s sarcastic, flippant and a punk. His big brother is in the game, trying to look after him, and Delsin just mouths off to him over and over again.

I hated being in Delsin’s skin. Even though Aiden Pearce is a bad person, I actually didn’t mind playing as him because I could identify with his motivations. Really Delsin is a nicer guy (the way I played him). He can use his powers to directly save lives, for instance. Aiden can stop crimes to get the populace to like him but he does tend to leave quite a body count behind.

But I think it boils down to two things. First, Aiden Pearce feels like a real person while Delsin Rowe feels like a video game character. Second, as an older person I could identify with Aiden’s motivations while Delsin just reminded me of all those damned kids that I’m always trying to keep off my yard.

So yeah, now I’m a little worried about Scalebound too.

Working on a motion (simulator) sickness theory

A few weeks ago I decided to go back and finish Infamous: Second Son. It was a game I’d played and enjoyed early in the PS4’s life span but as so often happens at some point I got distracted and drifted away.

Almost immediately I ran into a problem that I don’t remember having back then: “motion” sickness (which I guess more technically is simulator sickness since of course I wasn’t moving). Second Son was making me physically ill, and not just a little bit. I’m talking about breaking out into a cold sweat and needing to lie down for a while. There was a mid-game boss battle in particular that I just couldn’t get through because I’d get to where I felt like I was going to vomit if I didn’t put down the controller and walk away.

I wrote it all off to old age and uninstalled Infamous: Second Son so I wouldn’t be tempted by it.

Fast-forward a month or two and I started playing Watch Dogs, and having a ball. Then one night, Watch Dogs started making me sick! I couldn’t understand it. I wasn’t doing anything differently, so why all of a sudden was it having this impact on me?

Uncharacteristically, I stopped and thought about it, and two things occurred to me. One was that I was really tired that night. Second was that I had no lights on. And let me explain that.

Not too long ago (but after my Infamous experience) I was finding that by the end of the day my eyes were so tired that they’d start watering to the point that I couldn’t do much more than go to bed. Through some sequence of events that I don’t recall, I discovered that it was my habit of sitting in a dark room staring at a big-screen TV that was causing the fatigue. By turning on a lamp in the room my eye fatigue went away. I guess my mom was right when she’d always scold me for sitting in the dark!

Anyway since then I’ve been leaving a light on while gaming, usually. But that night playing Watch Dogs I hadn’t bothered turning it on. And that was the only night Watch Dogs made me feel ill.

I finished the main story of Watch Dogs a few nights ago, though there is still plenty to be done in terms of side quests and such. But I was ready for a break, and I thought about Infamous: Second Son again. And I thought about the light. So I re-downloaded the game.

Last night I fired it up, with my light on, and beat that boss battle. I still did get a little woozy after some time playing but nothing close to how I’d been feeling when I tried playing just a month or two ago.

[One sure-fire trigger to get me sick is when the camera moves unexpectedly without me moving it, which happens in Infamous because the character is really ‘sticky’ when it comes to surfaces he can jump onto, often grabbing things I didn’t intend for him to grab. I think it’s the same reason I sometimes get car sick (IRL) when I’m a passenger but never when I’m driving.]

I don’t have enough data to state any facts here; this is just a theory for now. Still, I thought it was worth sharing my story just in case anyone else struggles with ‘motion sickness’ while gaming. If you happen to sit in a dark room, try turning on some lights. It really seems to help me, and maybe it’ll help you too!