Friday, 14 December 2012

Falling is Fun, and Fun is Fun

As part of my consistent efforts to be deliberately behind the line and out of the loop, I've recently been playing all of the platformers and puzzle games that everyone was raving about last year, or even earlier. Most notably Portal 2 and Rayman Origins. Now whilst playing these, I noticed all of the normal things that everyone noticed months and months ago about them being really well written, voice acted, innovative, unique, charming e.t.c e.t.c. However, I think I noticed something that no one else has captured quite as efficiently as I hope to in the next sentence. They are fun. That's it. Particularly Rayman. I'd almost forgotten what that feeling was like for a game, and playing Rayman was like experiencing transcendental bliss. At one point I just started laughing and when my co-op partner asked why, I simply told her that I was uncontrollably happy.
This is a candid photo of me, the first time I got a medal. I don't know who took the picture.

So, to me, these games are a shortcut to a zen-like nirvana because of how fun they are. This seems important; let's look at why, or specifically one aspect of why. I think it has to do with the way that they don't punish you, as for some games, punishment is essential. We're all a little masochistic at heart, but these games don't drag you down with realism and as the title of this article suggests, I think that has to do with falling. Fall damage sucks. I've never heard anyone say, 'I hated when the game let me jump off a mountain and be totally fine', but there's plenty of rage and anger directed towards games that make us traverse needlessly thin platforms and then punish us for taking a tumble. I delight in watching Ben play Mario 64 because he gets to exploit the snow mountain level - you start at the top and traverse the obstacles to reach the bottom - except you don't, because if you know it well enough you can just jump straight off at the right moment and land at the finish line. He's earned that privilege by playing the game for years on end and it's fun to watch, I imagine fun to do too. I very sincerely doubt that the game would be made more fun if Mario was punished for this game-breaking, terminal velocity fall by crippling both his health and the rest of his body.
Who would have thought a design this perfect could be flawed in any way?

So in Rayman, whilst there are plenty of bottomless pits that will kill you instantly (and the same is true of Portal), just occasionally you pull off a body-slam or a portal jump in just the right place and get the joy of hurtling towards your objective free from any fear of hitting the ground with a thud. On a related note, I heard a rumour when Portal first came out, that the developers had to go back in and add the foot springs to Chell's feet because testers thought her extreme falling ability was unrealistic...In a game based entirely around a teleportation gun. But why not give these foot springs to all characters from everything ever? Look at every genre you can think of, RPGs, FPSs, Adventure, Horror, Life Simulators, all of these genres could benefit from careless clumsy vertical drops. Why is it that we make certain concessions for things video games are allowed to do - Health Bars, HUDs, timelessness, First aid kits as a universal panacea for gunshot wounds - yet gravity gets such a hard rap in video games? I know I can't actually fall 40 feet and walk away unscathed, but I can't fight a dragon or touch a gun without pissing myself, that's why I'm playing a game.  This is why Rayman is fun. They understand the escapism of games and so just pump it full of joy; if you mess up, it doesn't punish you, and in fact in co-op you turn into a bubble and float around until you're saved, and that's almost as much fun as actually being alive.

They have an underwater level and it doesn't even suck or nothing. In fact it's great! Jesus this game is good. Someone tell 2011.
Look at bungie jumping or freefalling. We all love hurtling through the air, but we all hate liquifying when we hit the ground, that's why we're constantly looking for ways to have our cake and eat it too. But that's what games should be about. Gaming is like a reality in which we get to make up the rules, like a lucid dream. We all have dreams of flying. Sometimes we even have hopes of dreaming about flying; that's how much we love the idea of hitting the ground without consequence and that's a power that games have the chance to grant us, but for some reason choose to ignore most of the time. Have you ever fallen off something and broken a bone? It's quite likely that you have, or know someone that has. Did you, or that person at any point think 'Hey, this is great, I'm having a blast'? If the answer is no, please help me eradicate this sensation from games, and write a letter to your local MP. I'm going to start an internet petition. People listen to those right?