In any discussion of subjective terms (e.g. good), it is helpful to first define what those terms mean for the purposes of the discussion because subjective terms are easily interpreted differently by different people. A good story may mean one with a focus on romance for one audience, while another prefers explosions to smooching. For my purposes, good means a story that immerses the audience and moves them towards either great emotion or deeper thoughts. In this blog, I have used this definition as a means to select stories that have a profound effect on us that I can present for discussion or analysis.
Yet there is a price in the use of this definition. You see, once we select a definition for a term that we like, we tend to use it. Through long use, that definition seems to us as natural, as if that definition had existed all along and we merely learned it (see Friedrich Nietzsche’s “On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense for more on this codification of language). Because I define the good in this way now, my value system is set and stories must meet it or be lessened. So how did I come to this exploration of definitions for a blog post?
I’ve come to find that most games I play recently are just not “good.”
Using my definition, most stories just do not move me emotionally much anymore. Certainly nothing has moved me like The Last of Us moved me, not in recent memory. I play games like Skyrim or Fallout 4 and they are fantastic games, but the stories do not move me. I am not inspired or crushed. I do not become the character through identifying similar values that I possess or wished I could possess. There is no real romance (a particular complaint of mine against the otherwise utterly fantastic Bethesda) or other moving elements in these games for me. I am left with the thought: has the excellence of certain games like The Last of Us ruined my experience with other games?
Perhaps. I still have not yet finished Skyrim or Fallout 4. I enjoy the gameplay, but I feel a distinct lack of emotional engagement with the stories these games offer. Now this is not to say that there is no emotional engagement, just significantly less opportunity or less depth of engagement than other, rarer, games have offered. In Skyrim, I recently undertook the self-given challenge to play my character without fast travel. The amazing environment and other little fun moments I encountered in the world were very pleasing, but they were little moments. The sight of the majestic scenery of Tamriel is a transitory pleasure; it does not fundamentally tell me about myself or human nature. Seeing Sarah killed by the very government that was supposed to protect her after I had spent some time with her in a loving family situation rips at my core, and causes me to question human or governmental action in a post-apocalyptic situation.
It is definitely possible that I just am too analytical for my own good, and perhaps I should just stop thinking deeply about these stories to enjoy the perfectly placed arrow shot or V.A.T.S. murder spree. But once we’ve been touched that deeply by a story (or a person), does going back to superficiality even become a possibility?
I would really like to know, because I feel unsatisfied with most games these days. I want every one to say something to me as deeply as the story of Joel and Ellie.