Sunday, September 7

Shades of gray

I received some bad news on Wednesday, nothing serious mind you, just the kind of thing that's enough to spoil your mood and yet not enough to generate any decent amounts of sympathy. Then I rushed the convention style tabletop scenario that I was running on Saturday, the ideas and its implementation was clear in my head, just not so clear on paper. My friends, bless them for liking me, tolerated it. And just now I was watching an episode of Dexter on TV. You can tell then that I'm one of the great unwashed, as no Somebody ever watches anything on TV and even hardly any nobodies watch TV programs at their scheduled time slots anymore.

I enjoy watching Dexter. This isn't a review of that program, nor am I advocating that you watch it. I like it's light and dark moments. I like that each of the supporting cast has their moments, their good moments and their evil moments. Each character is wonderfully flawed, honest, and real, more real than many prime time efforts. I very much enjoy the compare and contrast moments between "normality" and Dexter's private world of blood samples and righteous murder. The normal characters are as fucked up as Dexter in their own ways and it's a pleasant little study on the nature of "normality". It's not without it's flaws though. The first person voice over narration is too helpful, too obvious and too simplistic for my tastes. Like any serial some episodes are well wrought, others are just filler. It's also far too conventional, retreating into safety to protect its audience share where it could offer meaningful insight into its titular character and the lives of his peers.

Isn't this a blog about gaming? Well a "Dexter" game is being worked for the iPhone by Mark Ecko Entertainment. So I could claim that's the reason it makes an appearance. It's not. Though I suspect that game will also be far too conventional. Dexter is relevant because as a game it ticks a few boxes that have come up in discussions of late. It could be used to experiment with cut scene structure in games. It would be an ideal vehicle for exploring the alienation of the player through some sort of Brechtian ideal. Not that there's anything wrong with Aristotle. I even vainly believe that a Dexter game structured with the intent of making the participant step back from the game and "think" would not break the expectations of the player, would support those expectations and if done well would offer some insight into what kind of mind is Dexter's. Unlike my personal experiences with MGS2.

Of course in a market economy where the creation of light entertainment such as video games is driven by the need to make money and please shareholders it is unreasonable of me to hope that the developer will take risks with this (or any other title). So what can we expect? My belief is that it will be a "western" take on the Phoenix Wright series with the occasional throw away line stating that Dexter "isn't like normal people". Mark Ecko and his team may well surprise me, they may take risks, they may seek to push the boundaries of gaming on that proven gaming medium of mature game delivery the iPhone. Then again, like nearly every single development team centred in the west they're unlikely to take any real risks. Instead of black, white and shades of gray all I foresee is beige.

4 comments:

Little Minstrel said...

Wow.. Mark Ecko? Doesn't he put his name on shoes and clothes?

This is weird. What little I know about Dexter, coupled with what little I know about Mr. Ecko, I'm concerned. I should research this further.

Daedalist said...

I too have issues with cross-media tie-ins when it comes to games. I certainly can't remember the last time I played a game based on a movie, let alone enjoyed one. And while the jiggling jubblies in the Dead or Alive movie, it wasn't anything remotely approaching good.

The thing is, as you note with your example about Dexter, that media like TV and film do actually provide good examples of non-Hollywood approaches to narrative, scene, character and style. Gaming technology (whether tabletop or electronic) is certainly at a stage of development where it can deliver the same sorts of experiences, so we should be encouraging developers to do so by any means possible.

Daedalist said...

Actually, now that I bring even a braincell of memory to bear on the question of tie-ins, I realise that I go off all the time about the last one I enjoyed: Knights of the Old Republic 1 and 2

nobody said...

In defense of Mark Ecko Entertainment this game is not yet released and may realise all my fondest wishes. I may also win the lottery.

I agree that gamers of all stripes should demand more of developers, the very notion of game tie-ins with other media as being a chance to produce sub-standard work is clearly an indication of how poorly developers view their buyers.

The Knights of the Old Republic series isn't precisely a movie tie-in. Sure it bears the "Star Wars" IP but it has only an indirect relationship to any established alternative form of entertainment.