Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Classical Rhetoric of Video Games

Coming to terms with video games.

I think it is time to get a new video game for my PS3. I've played through the story-line of all of them that I have. So, I need a new one. I'm very open to suggestions, but I don't want to get a game I won't like or that I won't have time to play.

I like games that have a strong aesthetic component. That needs to have two parts to it. I'll call them delivery and style, because I am a classical rhetorician. First of all, delivery, the game needs to be visually appealing. I played the 8-bit games as a kid, and was never too impressed with video games. Then one day when I came home from graduate school and my brothers were playing Final Fantasy X. It was beautiful.  Watching the main character traverse through beautiful forests and sparkling waterfalls amazed me. I went home and blew student loan money and a PS2 that I am still paying for to this day. It wasn't the game itself, it was the beauty, the images, that almost haunted me. The delivery doesn't have to focus on the beautiful. As we know from Longinus, the sublime can be quite terrifying. I liked the more gritty and bloody imagery of Dragon Age II or Arkham Asylum every bit as much as I liked the sparkling waterfalls of Final Fantasy. Remember, this is a VIDEO game, and I need to be amazed by images.

Style is also important. Whether the game is an epic, a tragedy, a comedy a didactic, a jeremiad (that would be something I've never played), an elegy, a satire or whatever, the game needs to tell a fitting story. This is why I do not like "sports" games or "fighting" games as a general rule: "2-3-4 what are we fighting for?" I need to be invested in a reason to do what they are doing. Fighting without reason lacks catharsis and just seems mean. We need a good story. The story should not get too complicated, however. While I loved the graphics of Dragon Age II, the plot line got way too complicated for the way I play. I do not have time to play video games every day. When I do, it might be for an hour or so, and only get a good three hours in one weekend a month. I need to remember what I am doing and why. That is part of the reason I prefer nonlinear gameplay of the classic Role playing games, like most of the Final Fantasy series. Sometimes I have time to complete a quest. Other times, I need to be able to help my character just by gaining some experience points.

I also  need to have what the classical rhetoricians called good "invention," logic, emotion and character. We need coherence. No, it does not have to be fully rational. Magic and superhuman abilities are an important part of why we play. However, if you can fly one minute, you should not be falling the next unless some reason was given as to why you lost that power. If you can knock down one wall, you should be able to knock down similar walls. I need to be emotionally tied to the characters. While an aura of mystery for one or two members of the party are great, I am not going to care that much in the violent world of video games if someone I don't know dies. Finally, the character is essential. There are a number of reasons why video games based on movies are often so bad. The writers assume the characters of the movies and do nothing through game play to flesh them out. Sorry, not interested.

I also need to feel the arc of the story-line, what the ancient rhetoricians called "arrangement." The best arrangement I've found for video games are those that follow the traditional: equilibriumproblemdisequilibriumepiphanyclimaxconclusion model of the contemporary novel. That is not the only choice, and it can be great for us to think we're going to get resolution a few times and be wrong. On the other hand, constantly finding that the princess is in another castle eventually gets tiresome. Give me a beginning which foreshadows the middle which foreshadows the end, please. 

Those of you who are rhetorical scholars know I still have to talk about the final canon, memory. I don't want to have to take notes during a video game. I do, however, want the pleasure of seeing things come together. I love it when things suddenly make sense based on what I remember from earlier in the game. That is awesome.

So, that's what I'm looking for in my next video game. Any suggestions? 

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