Story Beats Bastion Review

What do you think of this?

My first thought is, does he read my blog? I don’t think I’ve seen anyone but myself express the points he’s rebutting. And I was watching Kirbykid stream all the results for dissonance in his Design Oriented Database really recently. Maybe I’m just really bad at finding people on my side.

The core question I gotta ask is, did you feel guilty when you incinerated the companion cube? Did you feel sad either?

I felt neither of these things. I felt amusement. I thought the setup for the scenario was amusing. I thought it was funny.

When I chose to save Zulf on my first and only playthrough of Bastion, I didn’t feel like a hero. I thought, “I think this is the choice the game wants me to make”, same with blasting the bastion off instead of rewinding time. I was trying to choose the option that would have the maximum payoff. I wasn’t proud of myself for taking the high road.

When I played Spec Ops the line, which this video references, I didn’t feel guilty or complicit in a single thing, because I’m not responsible for those things. The game is set up in such a way that all the events of the story are inevitable. And beyond that, I don’t think people choose honestly for themselves, I think people try to win. I think people make these choices because it says something about them, I think they’re curious about what’ll happen if they do this.

In Mass Effect 2, I played Zaeed’s loyalty mission, and I was presented with a choice between saving some people vs catching the villain before he escapes. I thought to myself, “Oh, paragon points, it’ll probably let me catch the villain afterwards anyway.” Turns out you can’t. And you fail to get Zaeed’s loyalty if you make that decision. When I finished the mission, I regretted not letting those people burn, because the loyalty is worth more than a few lousy paragon points. People in general have paragon playthroughs or renegade playthroughs of mass effect. People in general go through visual novel or other moral choice or roleplay type games a few different times, because they want to see what’s in all the different routes. When they want to romance a character, they’ll look up a guide for it, or reload on picking the wrong choice. Each of their choices in the romance tree isn’t thinking, “Am I saying what is appropriate to say? What I would genuinely say?” I think that it’s more along the lines of, “which of these choices is the one the designer decided will lead to my character banging this character?”

I absolutely do think that trying to tell a story in the medium of games fundamentally bastardizes the medium of games or stories (Who is he rebutting here besides me? Who else has made this argument?). Though I also think it’s entirely possible to make a game that tells a story where the story doesn’t get in the way too much and doesn’t compromise too much (like dark souls, unlike modern AAA titles, unlike story focused indie games).

I don’t think the same type of bastardization occurs in films, books, theater, etc, because they’re strictly authored narratives, they are not attempting to reconcile a wide stretching set of possibilities with a strictly predefined set narrative. Game narratives are strictly trying to say that everything you could possibly do fits between and is a part of something that has already happened.

I’m not going to position story versus games as an either/or. You can have both. I am going to say that there is a tradeoff between the amount that a game designer allows a player to do, and the amount that a game designer constrains that to fit with a preset narrative. And this usually scales with the amount of narrative content present.

There are emotions that single player games can make me feel. They can make me feel elation, regret, agony, frustration, contemplative, . They can make me feel things relative to myself, to what I actually did.

I don’t think single player games are good tools for making me feel emotions relative to others, because whatever other they set up defaults to simply being amused at the way the story turned rather than complicit in it. In multiplayer games, I can feel the pain of betrayal from an actual person. I can myself betray an actual person (I’ve done this in dark souls, setting people up to fight enemies like the titanite demon or super ornstein that they cannot defeat alone). I can feel remorse at taking a friend out in tournament, or proud of teaching someone else how to play well enough to succeed.

Of course I’m writing from a first person perspective here about my own experiences and my experiences aren’t everyone’s experiences, however from the way I see other people act, from conversations I have with other people, I suspect that they feel this too, even if they don’t totally realize it.

That and it’s weird he didn’t pick undertale, because the game does come MUCH closer to making you responsible than say spec ops or portal, because you can literally kill everything, or you can literally save everyone, or a lot of permutations inbetween. The trouble is again, I wanted to see both endings, so I reloaded and tried both.

My ultimate conclusion on player complicity as a storytelling tool is, it’s mildly neat sometimes, but it doesn’t actually do the thing he praises it for. For the few people who praise Spec Ops to high heavens, there’s a lot more players with the reaction, “Are you fucking kidding me? You seriously think I’m responsible for that?”

So at the end of Bastion, you pick between walking slowly for a bit, or a fight scene. I should have picked the fight scene and watched the other ending on youtube. Less boring.

One thought on “Story Beats Bastion Review

  1. Jay June 18, 2016 / 2:44 pm

    I feel like single player games can elicit emotions relative to others so long as the game isn’t pushing or even forcing you to choose one particular thing. In Spec Ops, for example, well you have no choice but to kill all the enemies, it’s the only way to progress through the game. So trying to make the player feel bad for it feels very forced and artificial. It’s the same thing with the companion cube in Portal. I honestly felt no attachment to it at all, and felt pretty much nothing when I incinerated it.

    I’ve been playing The Witcher 3, and quests usually present a variety of ways of dealing with it, and the game doesn’t push you in any way. Although you could cheat and look up the rewards you get, and choose whichever gives you the best reward. However, the only varying rewards are generally just exp and money, both of which you have more than enough of. Most side quests really don’t have long lasting consequences, so there’s really no reason to not just choose whichever course of action you feel is the best. You could save and reload to see every permutation I guess, but I really think that kinda ruins the game.

    As far as single player games go, I think eliciting any kind of emotion is dependent on the writing and the characters. Although I can totally understand having the perspective that most characters are just throwaway NPCs so who cares, or it’s just a video game and no real person is being hurt, so you don’t really have an emotional response.

    In multiplayer games, I do feel some sense of camaraderie when playing with others, but betraying others, I really don’t feel bad about it at all. It’s a good laugh, and the other guy usually laughs too. In the end, you aren’t actually hurting them.


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