Tuesday, April 14, 2009

On Death and the Need for Mortality: Prince of Persia

I take myself to be a hard core gamer, and despite the negative connotations of video games that resonate with me to this day I do feel a rush of pride to call myself that. At times it's a sense of elitism--a false, empty pride of knowing more useless information about a hobby devoted to wasting time; at other times it's the bravado and dedication that I bring to gaming that elevates me above casual gamers that inflates my ego. All of this still boils down to sitting in front of a screen and buying into an illusion, but the pride is real.

Video games are still quite a young medium but it isn't with a shortage of games. While there seem to be games that really are universal--DOOM, Super Mario Brothers, Tetris--there also are popular games that one simply missed out on. Frequently seen in the only type of article video game journalists are inspired to write, a "Top Ten 10", many gamers will often have their own opinion to games that are important to play, or "games that every hardcore gamer needs to play in order to be called hardcore".

First of all, I resent that statement. Video games don't necessarily define a gamer; it's the attitude you bring to gaming that defines you. Let's contrast two individuals: one owns an Xbox 360 and just about every game availible for the platform, and then the other owns a Nintendo Wii and a Wii Fit board. While the common thinking would to label the former a hardcore gamer, it could very well turn out that the Xbox 360 gamer is some trust fund boy not in possession of "mad skillz, yo" and commits to playing just an hour a week; just the same, the Wii-ist gamer may be exercising frantically every day on the Wii Fit board because the prom and swim suit season is coming up or just generally enjoy waving his arms around in the air and this platform finally gives this personality defect an application.

Tangents aside and the peeving of pets taken care of, there are games that have completely been missed in my illustrious gaming career. I've always heard about the Prince of Persia series but have never played it. It just didn't work out for me, and I figured that it is the type of game one plays earlier in your career to pad out your experience, like joining the peace corp or become an intern. I suppose it can be boilied down to genre preferences; I prefer to spill the blood of my enemies rather than jumping up and down for joy.

However, like two titans on a small rock destined to meet each other, I procured a copy of the latest Prince of Persia called just that, apparently. Whether it is the hideously termed reboot of the series or whether I missed out on the subtitle as downloadable content is lost upon me. And as jumping and Middle Eastern platform games go, it's not bad. There's jumping, it's Middle Eastern and it fits all the neccessary criteria for its subgenre.

But I'll be honest: I didn't finish the game. I just don't want to, and I'm not inspired to do so. Prince of Persia may just be a good game full of exciting story, crisp graphics and gripping action but I just don't care. Really, why should I? As some guy with the internet and a blog I'm not compelled to finish this game and give a definitive opinion whether or not you, the loyal reader, should buy or rent this game. I don't care, and I don't know why people care so much about this opinion. If you're going to have 5 dollars worth of opinion, then I would say make sure your opinion counts about something that matters like about the government of your country, current world affairs or gender or cultural issues; dude, you don't need to have a rock solid reason why this game should be bought or sold.

I mean it. In fact, I encourage everyone reading this to go out and simultaneously buy and rent this game just to spite me and my lack of opinion on the matter. Or rent all availible shelf copies of the game at your local corporate monopoly video store so no one has the ability to rent it. Hijack a truck and ransom your city of retail copies of Prince of Persia so everyone will have to rent it, reluctantly, as you stand at the window of your dark castle on the hill overlooking the scared populace, laughing. Though I will not capitulate to terrorism, neither will I bend from this unpopular opinion of opining.

Video game reviews should be more than a thesis to prove you should either buy or rent a game. The term "review" connotes a judging of good or bad, but it also means a critical analysis. The use of reviewing is an active reaction to the passive experience of playing video games; sure, you're doing stuff and pushing buttons and lol-ing your a55e5 off, but you're not thinking or interpreting the game at all.

So, again, Prince of Persia: maybe a good game, but have stopped playing and not going to continue. Why? Because you can't die.

Immortality is one of those perks of video games, ranging from cheat codes and "god mode" to the entire game of Planescape: Torment. The idea of death and the use of lives as "turns" has long defined video games as games of success or failure. The old school of gaming is merciless in difficulty and forgiveness; the new school is much more accomadating with save points, health bars and power ups.

And then you have Prince of Persia, in which you can't die; any failure, whether from falling from missing a jump to falling in battle, will be compensated by the chick in the white blouse following the eponymous Prince around. This blouse and the chick it houses will grab the falling Prince or pluck him from the reach of mortally wounding weapons just in time. This makes for no break in the game play so you won't be punished with watching yet another loading screen, but this also has the effect of rendering game play unfun. Why? Because death, and the failure it represents, becomes meaningless; that in turn makes life meaningless.

We, as human people as well as electronic avatars, need to die. Yes, it's sad and forces us to wake up early to funerals, but it's necessary and important. Death isn't just a consequence to a decision, it's also an end to a story. Death is grab-bag chock full of meaning for this reason: a miserable person with an anguished existence has a meaningful life is they are somehow able to achieve a happy death, just as those one hundred deaths your character endured trying to reach that ledge will mean something if they eventually get there.

It's the same way when told you have a month or a week or a day left to live; when faced with such knowledge you would be sure to make the last days of your life important and meaningful, shared with your loved ones and those important to you. So if you're told that you better make this jump or else your character will purchase a rural estate in Schnectedy, New York, then you better make this jump.

I'm a hard core gamer. I guess you can say I enjoy death, or more specifically that I enjoy watching loading screens. That defines me.


  1. There are more problems with the new PoP than the lack of death. But, yeah, it war rather pointless to remove the obligatory death convention.

    It served no particular purpose (unlike P:T) and really made the whole thing rather saltless and stale.

  2. Basically, apart from the lack of challenge, three problems. Tone, repetition and art. Tone is a problem, because of the lame feeling of Americanized ICO, repertetion is self explaining. As for visuals, you know, I don't generally agree with you, but this indeed was the case where the visuals felt more like a cold-hearted excercise in design, rather than artistic expression.

    Instead of imaginative locations, recreated with a lot of thought and heart, we just got a conglomerate of.. stuff with some more stuff on the top, and with a little thingy on the side. Technically proficient, yes, but clueless and lame in the end.