Ok, just finished God of War III, and I have to say, one of the best endings to a game I’ve ever played. Although an argument can be made that the complexities introduced to Kratos’ character in the last quarter of the game (that deep down, locked within him, there is some good and that his real weapon is hope) can seem tacked on when viewing the game, and series, as a whole, I had no problem with it. My theory as to why these sort of character inconsistencies never bother me in games has to do with player involvement, being that if a character has you hooked at even the simplest level, it’s easier to project into them your own personality and motivations, and personal contradictions and complexities, regardless of (or at least giving some leeway to) how the character may be written. So when Kratos’ fight becomes something within his soul, as opposed to an arena of demons, on the one hand it feels tacked on, but on the other, I appreciate the effort and I enjoy it immensely, because I really relate to Kratos already, being that I am a very angry guy, but I’m still a human being.
What’s more interesting to me though was that in a sense, moments like God of War III’s trip into the soul, where the player’s interaction with the character becomes in some sense more internal and psychological, has practically become a prerequisite for many ‘Triple A’ games. My four most recent game obsessions, Batman Arkham Asylum, Assassin’s Creed II, Fallout 3, and now God of War III, have all had moments where the player is thrown into the mind of the character, be it due to hallucinogenic drugs, virtual reality, or a plunge into unconsciousness/death. When these are done well, they’re awesome, even if in almost every case that I can think of, the degree of ‘gameiness’ tends to be toned down for a more basic interaction with the ‘space of within.’ In every case, though, the moment is more than just a cinematic or cutscene, and this very basic interaction, which propels the psycho-spiritual events forward, is somehow intensely rewarding.
In Fallout 3, which is perhaps the least internal of these, but which conforms to the requisite of jarringly defamiliarizing the player and game environment, you walk through a Pleasantville ideal that inspires much of the branding within the game’s fictional universe. In Assassin’s Creed II, you pay a hallucinatory visit to Altair, if only to reveal information about his past. In Batman, you take a journey into the world of the mind a few times, but the most memorable is when Batman himself becomes Bruce Wayne in the alley of his parent’s death. In God of War III, Kratos finally forgives himself for murdering his family, and discovers that it is hope, not anger, which has always been his greatest weapon.
While Batman Arkham Asylum’s moment is easily the one with the most impact, if only because there is a rich mythology and the moment has never been captured in a game, most gamers can agree that these moments are prevalent in some of the biggest titles around.
Now I am pretty lapsed, and I missed the PS2 era, in which, I am guessing, these sort of trips into the mind and psychology of the character, where the physical world is left behind for the internal, which is always intensely less familiar to us (but always aiming to feel more familiar, in some deeper or nostalgic way), may have come about to begin with. Regardless, this is an aspect of games that I find tremendously interesting.
The more I think of the possibilities, the more I realize these are just baby steps of a new development in a medium that, as it reaches, ever so steadily, its technical apex, this need and hunger to ask deeper questions and express deeper human needs becomes ever greater. What an exciting time to be a gamer!