Playing with Limitations

I’ve linked to Ken Levine’s piece on Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor before, but now that I’ve begun to play the game, an observation struck me.

Levine’s piece revolves around choice in video games, explaining the genesis of the “Would you kindly” moment:

When it comes to story in video games, at best there’s an illusion of choice. At worst, there’s no choice at all. In our work, we tried to say, Well, pal, you really don’t have a choice. So let’s see if we can use that concept to mess with your head. And hence was born the “Would you kindly” moment in BioShock, a moment in video game history primarily remembered for reminding us that, when it comes to player choice in narrative, our medium is limited indeed.

This moment is an iconic take on agency in video games. When playing through Bioshock: Infinite, I took to sniffing out additional commentary on the medium: Does “Booker DeWitt” really mean “Booker, do it,” a nod to “Would you kindly?” Are infinite paths a commentary on respawning? I enjoy the idea of playing with a medium’s limitations rather than ignoring them. SHARP’s Quattron qual pixel technology was a gimmick, but I thoroughly enjoyed the marketing campaign.

In the case of Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, the protagonist, Talion, is merged with the wraith of Elf Lord Celebrimbor, imbuing Talion with immortality. When killed, Talion respawns and the of Orc rankings are stirred, starting with the Orc who slain Talion last. This justifies respawning and retains a consequence for death.

Video games are inherently fantastic. Meta-rules to mask limitations are not necessary, but with increasingly realistic worlds, they certainly make the experience feel tighter.

Naughty Dog better have a good explanation for Nathan Drake’s resistance to bullets.