Escape to a Dream - A Commentary on Adventuring
My wife rolls over at two a.m., raising her head enough to mumble towards my hunched form shadowed by the ambience of the computer screen in our darkened bedroom. "What are you doing still up?"
"Killing a gorgon." I replied. "Go back to sleep."
She lay her head back down and after a moment, I heard her say softly. "I'll go back to sleep...if you'll wake up."
I don't think she meant to say that in particular - sleep-freeze having yet to thaw awareness. In fact, when morning came she had no memory of the conversation at all. But her sleep-statement did have an incongruous logic to it.
If adventure games are escapism, then they are an escape to a dream. I've often thought of them as a synergy of novel and cinema - but now I believe it's more comprehensive to say that they are what our dreams would be were we lucid enough to manipulate them; Carlos Castaneda style.
Perhaps it's voyeurism at its base. Maybe vicarious living. Yet at my very core (probably the giggling inner child) I experience the same thrill at a good adventure as I do when I curl up with a good book from a favorite author. I cease to become myself and am the protagonist. Be it male or female, it is the principled, personification. The more realistic - or at the very least well done - the more my buy-in and thus the level of my thrill.
Which is perhaps why we all feel slightly gypped when voice-overs resemble a jonesing John Tesh or lifeless 911 operator. This is a dream, after all, and dreams seem so real. You were just lying in bed, so why are you sweating? Your mind's buy-in. Jeez that blade felt cold - or that bullet hurt - or [and my favorite] that's what it's like to fly!
None of these issues are addressed by today's video games - and are completely the mettle of adventure games. Perhaps because we are a society leaning towards a reactionary psyche is it easier to smash the 'X' button in frantic succession for a level of particle effects heretofore experienced, than make a choice from a decision-tree based on environment and logic.
Sony's ICO - a puzzle oriented PS2 game: an artistic, emotion-eliciting experience sold 77,000 titles (and I'd venture to say many of those 'X'-smashing owners were overheard stating 'dude, this sucks') with little hope of a sequel. While Rockstar's State Of Emergency, a game catering solely to an appetite for destruction and mass hysteria, sold more than twice that many. Welcome to console.
By the way - does 'Story' mode ever actually contain a story?
Headlong into the fray of this type of meathead marketing - the adventure genre, which seems to be an exclusively PC accoutrement. Like Tarragon into a pot of chili: promising a taste of something more - an experience that will, if it's like my wife's chili, stay with you for quite some time after initial consumption.
The shelf life of good adventure titles (also like my wife's chili) outlasts even the 'best' of the action-oriented video games - no matter what platform. Myst for example. The superlative The Longest Journey and the recently released Syberia, which will surely become a classic. Benoit - you're the bomb.
So if your desire is to step out of character and save twin worlds, or piece together an automaton to help unfold a mystery - or level a conspiracy through exploration and character interaction, go buy an adventure. Lower the shades, open your mind and escape...perchance to dream.