Recently I went on a 12 day European adventure; towards the end of which I visited Rome for 24 hours.
|Rome. Circa 2011|
I didn't know what I was expecting but I'm sure my desire to visit the place stemmed from its iconic culture, architecture, and landmarks. Images so iconic even my pitiful grasp of history had them branded onto my mental world map. I wanted to wander between Roman temple pillars, brush my fingers against red bricked residences, admire the craftsmanship of statues and paintings, look down upon terracotta roofs stretching out under the sun...and eat a ton of ice cream and pizza. Rome is a city that was home to an empire, a re-birth of culture and science, and now the most influential men in modern religion.
|Bringing Religiosity To The Fuzzywuzzies.|
Visiting some of the religious locations was an intensely ironic experience. Instead of gazing at these incredible feats of architecture and engineering and being awed by God, I was awed by humankind, and the lengths they went to and heights they reached to achieve these literally towering tributes to their God(s).
You may be wondering how this is relevant, or why its on this blog? Well here's the part where I make some tenuous connection to videogames and proceed to draw an elaborate analogy between their current state and that of the renaissance. Actually no, I feel the industry is far from that point, though there are those that can better praise the advances made so far in digital entertainment hailing it not so much as a re-birth, but just a birth. In an interview with Peter Molyneux, Tom Bissell raises this topic and Molyneux's response points out just how far videogames have come since that birth.
TCB: I went to the Hideo Kojima lecture this morning, and he showed slides from the first Metal Gear game and then the most recent, and seeing those images in such close proximity made me realise, "My God- we've gone from petroglyphic rock art to the Sistine Chapel in 20 years!"
|Pretty Much Everything We've Done, We've Invented.|
Molyneux: I'm going to sell this hard because I love what I do and I love this industry. Here's whats even more amazing: if I were to draw on the wall what a computer game character was just 20 years ago it would be made up of 16 by 16 dots, and that's it. We've gone from that to daring to suggest we can represent the human face. And pretty much everything we've done, we've invented. There wasn't this technology pool that we pulled it out of. Ten, fifteen years ago, you couldn't walk into a bookshop and learn how to do it. There weren't any books on this stuff. They did not exist. Painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel? No. We had to invent architecture first. We had to quarry the stones. We had to invent the paint. That really is amazing [...] We're going to change the world and entertain in a way nothing else ever has before.
|Roma. Circa 1500|
While 24 hours in Rome is nowhere near enough, and what I did see was inspiring and thrilling, it made me thirsty to walk into the same city when all these monuments were being built, when these historical figures lived and breathed, when it was on the cusp of just about every field of every area of knowledge. It was an enlightened place. There is only one way I know to quench a thirst like that. Fiction. Immersive fiction.
|Rocking The Robin Hood Look.|
Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood is set during the early 1500's in Roma. It faithfully recreates the city with such authenticity that I could follow the route I took that night past the Pantheon step for step, followed by a scramble up the roof of the Pantheon, clambering down the inside of its vast dome through the only light source of the entire structure: it's central skylight.
For me the appeal of exploring a place thoroughly and outside the bounds of what is socially acceptable has that childhood allure of climbing over the fence into the neighbour's garden just to try their slide (or this is how you justify it but really its the thrill of trespassing), or crossing the stream and looking back, to see what home is like from the outside. The citizens of Roma make Ezio aware of his noncompliance with their approved methods of travel, recreating the very same trespasser's thrill. They remark on how he'll hurt himself if he falls from that height, 'He must be late...or she's very
pretty.' or 'He must be drunk!' All this enhanced my mischievous sense of treading on forbidden ground. Being above the rules. Above the city.
If there were a game to simulate hubris, this does a pretty good job, but it never lives up to the "nothing is true, everything is permitted" motto the assassins hold. But thematically this seems a good thing as the game keeps the warped moral code of the creed at the forefront of the player's mind, preventing a GTA style mess. This double standard also applies to the open world, where whole sections can be cordoned off by the game's translucent white walls making the classic 'invisible wall' visible.
Climbing trees in the garden used to occupy whole afternoons of my childhood. So if a videogame wants to offer that experience, minus funny looks, plus historical interest, then its found its target audience in me. Navigation is something videogames have done since they made the transition into the 3rd dimension, and this franchise has capitalised on that with a convoluted but nuanced control system. Mapping buttons to limbs creates a physicality to navigation that satisfies. For me the combat elements of these games could be entirely removed and they might even benefit from focusing on what they do best.