Game… Review?(???)

I think about lot about stuff – video games in particular, but I never write them down. It’s occurred to me that it might be good to solidify them as pixels or ink once in a while.
So if you’ve somehow found yourself in a predicament of watching paint dry or the lawn grow or molasses in January, this wall of text might provide you with slightly higher entertainment value.

I’ve just finished playing Mass Effect: Andromeda and as a fan of the original trilogy (OT), I have many thoughts about it, but as I tumbled the ideas around in my head, I realized my gripes about the game are less to do with this particular title and more to do with open-world games.
And before the internet army decides to nuke me from orbit, this is not a condemnation of open-world games but my ramblings on why open-world games often fail in the story department.

So it goes like this: Role-Playing Games are centered around a strong narrative story and characters, for a story to be considered “good” it must have well controlled pacing – this I believe has been widely agreed upon by lots of people.

Now comes the perhaps radical proposition: I believe that open-world games and well-paced narrative cannot co-coexist, they’re oil and water.

Good pacing demands that the narrative hold a tight leash on the unfolding and passage of events; when to let the leash relax for a short while and then to gently reel – or abruptly yank it back in, creating a roller-coaster ride – a flow of events with contrasting slow and quick passages of time.

What happens when there is no one to hold the leash? The dog (replace with your preferred animal) is free to roam the city streets – it is free to pee on every and any lamp post, it will bark at the oncoming dog who is three times its size, it is free to drop its solid waste excrement where innocent pedestrians will then have their day ruined. Of course, these are just dog things and it will do them with delight.

When on a warm summer afternoon, you give the dog about three dollars fifty and set it on a daring quest to the nearest convenience store to pick up a 1 litre bottle of full fat milk for your mushroom pasta sauce (this is the core story/main quest, and yes I realize the irony that this is a fetch quest), it is going to encounter various bushy squirrels that will lead it to dead end alleyways or running in circles around some large Oak (meaningless side quests), the dog glimpses some kindred dogs in the park and frolics for a while (more meaningless side quests), the dog will befriend a homeless man and bring him a brief moment of warm joy (maybe relevant(?) side quest).

Amongst all this excitement the dog pauses and stares blankly down the humming street towards the asphalt horizon, the dog feels a nebulous wisp of memory whispering something about “one litre full fat milk” but the vaporous thought is dashed to shreds by the abrasive, static sound of a megaphone declaring “hot deals, everything must go! Step inside and see!”.

Maybe the dog is content to forfeit all commitments and spend the rest of its days wandering the marvelous scenes of Skyrim the city streets, but perhaps instead the dog feels a pang of longing for someone to hold the leash so that it could be guided on intricately crafted emotional journey, feel the highs and lows, from the anticipatory tension to the stomach-churning twists to the resolute climax.

Is this about games or dogs? I’m not sure. Thanks for reading if you made it this far.

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