in praise of naturalism in games •

in praise of naturalism in games •

One of my favorite things about games is the feeling of comfort through ‘immersion’. You hear this term a lot in gaming discussions, but every player finds immersion in their own way – some enjoy traveling the open worlds of places like Skyrim, others find immersion in the intricacies of Tetris, or maybe you prefer simulation-style farming games, like the wonderfully serene Stardew Valley.

I actually find some form of immersion in all of this, but I have a particular preference: grounded and naturalistic moments in their portrayal, usually in games that focus on story and characterization. There’s a great display of this concept in Final Fantasy 8, a game where you play as the protagonist Squall, a young student.

In one specific scene, Squall is seated in a vehicle with three others just before a big mission. His posture is coiled and tight – he gazes at the ground as the vehicle moves forward, submerged in itself, you might say. Seifer, another student, sits with his legs spread and his arms draped comfortably over the back of his seat. Zell, the last student there, keeps trying to chat with Squall, his nerves clear, while the teacher, Quistis, is mostly silent, his back straight, a sense of calm about him. Because three of them say very little, you get an idea of ​​how awkward it looks in the car, and we get an indication of all of these characters and their personalities just from behavioral details.

It’s not just FF that proves that naturalism and fantasy can be combined. Link’s reaction at the end of each shrine is a marvel of observation and imagination.

In my favorite part of the scene, Zell, unable to start a conversation, suddenly stands up and begins to bounce in place, shadowboxing – a jab, an uppercut, and a right hook combination. He does it three times, changing position each time. Meanwhile, the other characters say nothing and the screen shakes slightly as the vehicle moves forward. I guess the reason it feels so natural to me is that I actually find myself doing something very similar to Zell when I’m restless or bored – bouncing, throwing combinations. (The difference being that Zell is a real fighter, of course, and I would be far too embarrassed to do that outside of my home.)

Seifer, increasingly irritated, tells Zell to stop, and the ensuing feud is quickly stopped by Quistis. The awkward race continues. It’s a short scene, but it manages to give you both characterization and atmosphere and tie them together in an entertaining and natural way – three kids who can’t get along and a teacher who watches and shakes his head in front of it. their immaturity just before an exam.

ss_b33a742463deb8564a382e1744febceaa91a5babDo you need people to create a feeling of naturalism? Edith Finch suggests otherwise.

Later, Squall is invited to the successful students’ inauguration party – the game requires us to go to his room and put on the formal uniform first, a little moment that I always find strangely enjoyable. It’s not like there’s a complex mechanic behind the change – it’s just walking into the room and pushing a button, and yet it seems to make a significant difference in my immersion, maybe because it tis the preparation for release that many of us have gone through many times in our lives. Later, we see Squall standing alone at the party, until he is dragged onto the dance floor by a character named Rinoa. Fireworks go off outside, and Squall watches them through the transparent ceiling, suddenly unattended, as Rinoa continues to stare at him, as if trying to guess what he is thinking. When she leaves, turning away, we then see Squall staring at her, with a weird expression on his face – maybe annoyance, but I think it’s more likely regret. I’m not really sure, to be honest, but anyway, we’ve been sucked into the emotional texture of the scene through body language and direction, and that moment (created in the late ’90s) still is. charming.

There are other examples I’ve come across that don’t even need to be so firmly rooted in the drama to get a similar sense of immersion. I’ve always especially loved a moment in Final Fantasy 7 where you go to an atmospheric market, and you can visit a small restaurant with an unused stool waiting for you at the bar. You sit down, take your pick from a menu, then wait for a chef to prepare it, with a frying sound effect. Steam escapes from a pan on the hob, while other customers sitting around you eat and another chef comes to collect your meal from his colleague before serving you. (Once you’re done eating, you can even give him your verdict – there’s an utterly ruthless “I had better dog food” option than I’ll ever choose.) I’m thinking of my own. experiences standing in crowded restaurants, trying to stay away while I wait for my order and watch customers chatting around me.

In a short prologue to A Space For The Unbound, currently unreleased by Mojiken Studio, you wait for your friend to arrive while standing outside on a bridge. There’s not much going on – it’s a glimpse into the look and feel of the game, not really something that focuses on gameplay. Cars and scooters pass behind you as you lean over the bridge, and your clothes float in the breeze. The sky, initially a beautiful clear turquoise, slowly darkens, making me wonder if the rain is coming. At first I felt a little dubious as I just stared at the screen, but after a few moments I found that the whole experience reminded me of my own past times when I was strolling the streets of London. , waiting for all kinds of things – a friend to come, a class to go to, a time to hang out and eat something, while occasionally rummaging in my little pockets to check my phone. This in turn helped me connect with what was happening on the screen – it’s immersion through relativity.

None of these examples contain a real immediate threat. They are grounded and naturalistic in a way that captures the less frightening and less jarring aspects of reality; moments of awkwardness, loitering and dismal social interaction. I’m particularly drawn to these moments in any medium, really, be it books, TV, movies or games, because they take me to another place – it’s like Mathilde sitting in her room , using fiction to transport itself elsewhere. It sticks to my skin: years after playing a game, naturalistic scenes with this approach still give me the exact same feeling of wonderful comfort.

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