Way back in the day, years and years ago, I used to visit these tiny little blogs, always run by one person, that wrote small essays about anime episodes, video games, movies, or whatever else. While the works themselves weren’t all that great, what really enraptured me was the feeling of intimacy I had with someone I’ve never met. These people often loved to use casual language and share personal anecdotes to add to their points, and it created this cozy, “homey” feel to their sites that I loved.
Note: For this article, it’s assumed that you’ve played Persona 3, or at least have a cursory knowledge of the game’s plot, characters, and combat system. If not, you may find yourself a bit lost.
Memento Mori. Remember that you will die. Remember your death.
Riding the train on the way to a new city and new life, we suddenly experience a moment in time where everything twists. The city is bathed in reds and greens, and everyone around us now resides in a literal coffin. To everyone else, this moment in time doesn’t exist. To us, and a select few others, it has a name: The Dark Hour.
This, and the enormous, seemingly endless, tower that dominates the landscape during this time, make up the bulk of Persona 3’s narrative, themes, and play hours. I can’t honestly say that Persona 3 is better than any of the other games in the franchise, but I feel that some aspects of it are worth taking a closer look at.
I felt like I spent a lot of 2017 not doing much. While the Kingdom Hearts Primer rolled in and onward from the previous year, the sheer monotony of the editing process started to take its toll on me. At the same time, I also finally filmed one of my dream projects, LAST NIGHT, that I wrote back when I first started film school. Then I proceeded to barely work on the editing for it, even though I had to take off of school for a while do to financial reasons.
Whether for those reasons or not, not too many games seriously gripped me this past year, but even so, I deeply appreciate the level of storytelling, intimate or grandiose, through writing or gameplay, that video games are coming to consistently achieve.
Here’s a few of those.
VIRGINIA, created by a small handful of devs at Variable State, is a short, two hour, interactive film. With little to no ability to actually control the game most of the time, it’s about the furthest we have seen the bridge between video games and film tilt towards the latter side, yet it does little help guide the narrative or tone, and in places, actually works to its detriment.
The plot of Virginia takes place in 1992, with you playing FBI agent Anne Tarver alongside agent Maria Halperin, looking for a missing young boy. During its run over the course of a week or so, it liberally uses filmlike framing and editing to keep the player invested in the story, but this setup more often than not works against it. The problem is that we often don’t get to control Anne beyond a small frame to move the camera around, because our first instinct when we do is to explore the environment. Look behind us, check the corners of the rooms, explore every square inch before continuing on for tidbits of extra context to the plot. Yet almost every single time, all that’s waiting for the player who excitedly searches for more to learn about this world is a blank, desolate wall, and a now broken pace. At times, we can even miss plot points because we were in one of the few moments where we could actually move around in a full 3D space.
Virginia so desperately needs to played a specific way to be enjoyed completely, and that’s full steam ahead, no matter what. The further we get into the game and stop checking behind us, the quicker the game cuts, the less the music obviously loops.
While I can respect what Virginia is trying to do on some level as a filmmaker myself, it goes much too far in the direction of film that I wondered what I got from actively playing the game at all. The little bits of interactivity come down to a single button press, leaving me feeling like little more than a remote control consistently pressing play because the film wants to make sure I’m paying enough attention.
Author’s Note: I’m well aware that this particular topic has been talked to death at this point, but I think it’s endlessly important to reiterate since it continues to be a quiet but very painful problem in a modern male’s adult life.
I remember the afternoon I was seeing off my old friend Keegan, after he spent the previous night playing video games and watching anime with me. I must have been around 11 or 12 and, without giving any thought to it, I hugged him goodbye. Not some kind of nonchalant side hug, but a real loving one, because he was my best friend and I really cherished him and his friendship. Afterwards my mother took me aside and told me that she thought that was really strange, and that maybe I made Keegan or his mother uncomfortable because of that. While the memory receded quickly, it internally fucked me emotionally up for years.
Season 4 was probably the first time I had a handle of things throughout the post-production process. Editing was really smooth and videos were posted regularly with only one mishap. Recording on the other hand was kind a nightmare.
Starting with my first quarter at the Art Institute of Atlanta, my routines changed a lot last year. I began to work a bit on film projects before and after class. My commute became extremely long compared to my job (which I quit soon thereafter). My number of articles faltered even more than before even as Interactive Friction went on hiatus. But even so, I did get to play some video games.
Upon the completion of writing this I noticed that a lot of the big budget titles failed to impress me, even when they were good, but most of the side projects felt like they had a lot of heart put into them. There may be as many disappointing games on here as favorites, but that’s more because I didn’t have enough time to play everything I wanted to (especially in the ever growing indie-scene). To put it simply: don’t let my list deceive you. This was a fantastic year for games.