© 2009 The Runner

The Run, Episode Five

I spent the day sat behind a desk answering email and trying desperately not to fix bugs in software. I’m spending the night leaping tall buildings in a bound, a roll and a bodyslam. Jim Rossignol posits in his book, This Gaming Life, that games are good because they relieve the quintessential human disease – boredom.

Jim doesn’t know the half of it.

1

I’m here to follow Jack-knife’s lead and look for Ropeburn, the retired wrestler who knows something about Pope’s murder. His office isn’t far from here, and it might give me something to use.

There are a lot of things games can do to relieve boredom in the player; to excite them, to set their pulse or their mind racing and to take them beyond their desk, chair and monitor. Games like Call of Duty 4 thrust you into a world that is intricately balanced, a set of dominoes waiting to topple as you run past them. You don’t get to push most of them, but that’s not the point – they’re still crashing all around you, and that’s the sensation that sets you off. But I think there’s something more powerful at work here, something that’s unique to gaming.

2

UK games magazine Edge reviewed Mirror’s Edge, and in their closing remarks they make a comment which seemed rather strange: “‬The flight-not-fight ethic … ‬hides an inconvenient truth:‭ ‬it’s more enjoyable when taken at your own pace”. What I think the reviewer means here is that it’s satisfying to take time to assess the obstacles ahead and plan a route, and this is partly true. The first stages of this level see me leaping through rooftops unhindered by the police, a case of just running and jumping. It’s peaceful. But it’s not Mirror’s Edge.

In a film, immersion is a force that flows one-way. It’s sent like a radio signal out from the projection screen onto the audience, through the sound and images being thrown up there. In gaming, I believe, it’s a two-way process. A game cannot immerse you on its own. You have to be willing. We’ll talk about this more later. For now, we’ve found Ropeburn’s office. Pretty simple. He has a chat on the phone with someone, and then leaves in a huff.

4

5

We’ve got our lead on Ropeburn – he’s meeting a friend who seems to know something about what happened, and he admits to framing Kate over the phone. He’ll get his comeuppance in time. For now, we need a route out. The office opens onto a large-plan atrium. There’s an exit on the roof, but by the time we’re halfway up there the Blues arrive.

6

Whilst it would undeniably be nice to take this section at my own pace, the fact remains that I am not an acrobat, or a free-runner here – I’m breaking the law, I’m wanted by the police, I have a role to play in the world. The game does a lot of fill-in for my brain here, it removes a lot of the need for imagination and improvisation. But just as books can’t show me the visual reality of the world, games cannot – indeed, should not – show me the actions of the main character, because it’s my job. I am The Runner.

So I run.

7

This is one of the greatest, simplest truths about games – they offer you a role in the story they’re presenting you. It sounds obvious – it is obvious, and it’s been noted by journalists and gamers for years. But what we tend not to appreciate is what that role entails. Like any role, we’re given a script, a cast of supporting actors, a setting. But we are still an actor, we still have to play the role ourselves. We bring to the game our own imagination, we have to agree to at least try to suspend our disbelief, and to pretend to be the person we’re being offered.

I’m not advocating lazy design. Mirror’s Edge demands of you that you play it with heart. You have to play it like a Runner, you have to play it like Faith. If you don’t, you’ll be left feeling how the Edge reviewer felt. Empty. Panicked. Overworked. Feeling like you need time to breathe or think. You don’t; you just need to try harder to be part of the game.

I say this because a truly exhilarating moment is coming up. But it’s one that is reduced to boredom and mediocrity unless you believe in the game.

8

The police are closing in on Faith, so she needs a quick way out. Merc whispers that there might be exit through the construction site up ahead. There are choppers dropping off armed police all over the shop, though, so the route there isn’t easy. It’s a fight to the top through scaffolding, with a long drop if I make a mistake.

9

I don’t have to run through this. It’s designed as a series of pockets of action, with breathing space in between. But I don’t stop.

9110

It’s not out of impatience, or frustration, it’s because I’m a Runner. This is what I am supposed to do.

11

I reach the top of the crane. The city is huge, bright and wonderful all around me. Gunfire is licking off the metal, and if I stand still for too long to admire the view it’s going to start hitting me. But I’m not standing around. I’m running.

13

14

15

If you calculate that jump, if you think about it or pause even for an instant, almost all of the excitement is taken away. Doing it on instinct, you’re rewarded with an adrenaline hit, and a sense of heroism. The game wants to make you the hero. It’s its only purpose, really. But it can only do that if you’re willing to play the role of a hero, and to play that role the way the game expects you to.

20

It’s one of a selection of astoundingly well-judged moments in the game. All it asks you to do is all games have ever asked you to do – play along with them.

3 Comments

  1. Atlantic
    Posted August 15, 2009 at 5:05 am | #

    Yay! I love that jump in the game. Merc then says somethin like “Did you just…?” Heroic is what it is!

  2. The Runner
    Posted August 16, 2009 at 1:10 pm | #

    Yeah, “Did you just do what I think you did?”. It’s a lovely moment. And then the body slam onto the crash mat. Heroic indeed.

  3. Mike
    Posted January 8, 2010 at 3:30 am | #

    “But it’s one that is reduced to boredom and mediocrity unless you believe in the game.”

    –> In fact, how can ANY game be fun if we don’t put ourselves in the shoes of the character; if we don’t immerse ourselves in the game?”

    Those reviewer from EDGE and many other “professional” reviewers should not be permitted to call themselves professional.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *

*
*

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>