Saturday, June 12, 2010

Laughter and Heavy Rain

My brother started playing Heavy Rain when he came over for dinner last night.  It's something I've been trying to get him to do for months, because he doesn't have a PS3, and we may be family, but that's an expensive I-love-you-loan when he shares a house with three other guys.  Plus he's so busy he still has my PS2 and my copy of God of War from two years ago, so the only way I can get him to play a game is to actually sit and watch him.

But, oh, what fun was had.

I don't mean that in the same sense that I do about my students, who tried to break the game, nor in the same sense of Ash's dad from Hey Ash, Whatcha Playin'?. He took everything, or most things, as they should be taken, and the true victory in his playing style was that he hadn't seen it all before.  He was starting from scratch. And he found ways of doing things, and things to do, that I had never even encountered before.

New eyes see the freshest, I know, but with an experience like Heavy Rain, it's somewhat hard to forget.  That means that, even playing it through again, I won't go exploring the way a novice player would, because I know what has to happen, and I'm mainly interested in the story.  My brother showed me there are more story elements to be found by wandering the environment than I could ever have guessed.

For example, I was completely unaware of the fact you could buy candy in the park.  I'd only ever seen someone play with the boomerang once, and then they failed enough times that Shaun gave up and sat back down.  My brother not only played with the boomerang, but taught Shaun how to use it, too.  In the scene before, he'd said things about Shaun, at the psychiatrist's, that I wouldn't have considered, especially with the inkblot tests.  The result was a completely different personality for Shaun at the beginning of the park scene.

I've been so obsessed with playing the dialogue of Heavy Rain, and seeing the different outcomes, that I'd completely forgotten about the story.  I know it sounds strange, but I was goal-oriented - my brother is currently experience-oriented, and his experience is going to be so far different from my own that it's like seeing a whole new game.  I can barely sit still when watching movies, unless its in the cinema.  With Heavy Rain, I can't take my eyes away.

Another thing my brother does is listen to every thought in his characters' heads.  I never did that - I forgot about the function entirely after the first time I heard Ethan's interior voice.  It's so American, I found it entirely unappealing.  But I've noticed that, the more he speaks, the less I mind, and listening to the thoughts running around their heads makes the game take on a whole new light.  You're playing a character, instead of just playing you.  It's an entire dimension I didn't even know I was missing.

For example, Jayden thinks Blake is a bit of a jerk, and says so in his thoughts.  I thought Carter was a jerk, but tried to be friends with him anyway, which made his eventual "F*** you!" all the more shocking.  If I'd been listening to Jayden, I probably wouldn't have been surprised.  But then I might not have taken it so personally, either.  My previous post, about how I felt at the end of Heavy Rain, might never have happened at all.  I don't doubt the game still would have had an impact, but it wouldn't have been about me.  It wouldn't have been my son in the water.  It would have been Ethan's, and I wonder if my sense of attachment would have been lessened.

As much as I hate discussing differences in the sexes as though we're some kind of aliens, maybe there's something to it, at least in this case.  Most of the men I know who have played the game have relied on the thoughts of their characters to determine what they did next, or to inform them of the current political climate.  Of the women I know who have played the game (all 2 of them), they never even thought about getting that extra information. They made their own decisions, based on their own feelings, and had reactions based on that.

I'm not going to make any sweeping claims regarding the ability to distance oneself from their avatar, because I know it isn't true.  The men who have played the game have still been just as engaged as I was.  My friend asked me why, as a writer, I wasn't interested in all the delicious extra information.  My response was that I wanted the story to be about me, not Ethan.  I wanted to experience the game my way, and on my terms.  I can always play through later, listening to their thoughts, but once I've listened to them, their opinion will always influence my play experience.

So it's been wonderful to have my cherished brother over for dinner and gaming, least of all because he, my boyfriend and I all sat spellbound, watching something two of us had seen before, for over 2 hours, when it was already getting late and it was a Friday night after a terrible day at work.  Between scenes, we discussed what had just happened, and some of the possible variations, but mostly we talked about the characters, and their reactions to things.  No one laughed when Ethan and Jason got hit by the car.  I have to admit, I was afraid to play Heavy Rain in a group, but I see it clearly now :

Playing Heavy Rain with your friends is just like laughter.  It's a lot more genuine and a lot more fulfilling when there are other people around to share the experience with.

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