Is Heavy Rain The Start Of An "Intellectual" Genre?
First of all, I'd like to clarify a few things: firstly, I'm not implying that if you're not interested in Heavy Rain, you're some sort of braindead loser. Secondly, I'm not implying that people who play God of War III won't find Heavy Rain appealing (I certainly want to play both). I'm merely looking at the nature of the game in question, and presenting a theory that may or may not hold water. I accept that from the start.
Being a lifelong role-playing fan, I'm always intrigued by the concept of video games that push the envelope in terms of storytelling. This is why I adore the Metal Gear Solid series, for example, and I'm always keeping an eye on how the industry continues to advance in the literary aspect of this interactive hobby. I'm not going to say that games have any chance of approaching other entertainment mediums that rely more heavily upon the written word, like books (duh) and movies. But hey, as the latter has been slipping lately, and I take a deeper look at games like Heavy Rain, I'm beginning to wonder if one day, a video game plot may eclipse that of a solid, well-written movie. Who knows? But the point is, as Heavy Rain seems to be introducing new ideas and expanding on current ideas, I'm beginning to wonder if it will mark the beginning of a genre I'd like to call, "Intellectual."
Perhaps that's too arrogant or presumptuous, especially considering I haven't played this title yet. But after completing the preview and hearing the latest from Quantic Dream, there are several points of interest: first up, we eliminate the traditional yet age-old concept of the "Game Over." Essentially, all we're looking at are a series of branching storylines that we will follow depending on our actions, but we're not forced into any one set path. In addition, we take another step by letting the player fail in a certain task and instead of simply trying again, we simply see something new. This is the primary reason why we should have a completely different experience the second time around. It reminds me of those "Choose Your Own Adventure" books we had when we were kids; "if you want to go into the cave, turn to page 32." Remember? This appears to take that idea and puts it into virtual form.
But the bottom line is that if the story - or in this case, stories - don't come together and don't interest the player, the game fails in its goal. It may be the very first video game that doesn't rely solely on the gameplay to drive it forward, although we could make a similar argument for Indigo Prophecy. Thing is, we've made decisions in games before (like several RPGs), but this is a whole different thing, and the story and plot will be the central focus of Heavy Rain. Almost by default, this means you will have to use your brain more to appreciate the product. I don't wish to alienate people who will claim otherwise, but let's face up to facts: you're going to have a good bit more in the way of brain activity when you read a book than when you play a video game. ...well, provided the book isn't "chick lit" and the game isn't MGS4. Then it might be the other way 'round.
But the point is that when we focus more on our minds than our fingers, the experience will change accordingly. Hence, it's very possible that Heavy Rain may help to usher in a new "branch" of gaming (yeah, see what I did there?) that we haven't seen before.
Related Game(s): Heavy Rain
6/7/2009 Ben Dutka