07/21/2004: "Do you come here often?"
I started to play Zelda: The Wind Waker the other day. Or rather, I started to play it again. I hadn’t touched the game in months. Getting back in to it was a little awkward. Firstly, I’d forgotten what I was supposed to be doing. Secondly, I’d forgotten how to do it.
I knew I had to ask a boat for assistance. It could give me a hint about my next task. The boat told me what to do. Had I been playing the game regularly I might have understood the hint. As it stands it might as well have asked me to milk an owl with three nipples.
Perhaps I’d have more luck controlling my character than remembering why he was stuck on an island in the first place. “Link, sail the boat.” The boat stood still. “Link, bring up the sea charts.” Link yelped, jumped out of the boat and swam around in circles. He had ADD or I’d been manhandling the joypad.
Eventually I figured out the controls and was back in command of the adventure. I was getting to grips with the game, going where I needed to and solving all puzzles thrown at me. You know what else I was? I was completely detached from the narrative.
It’d had been so long since I’d played the game that I had, literally, lost the plot. When I’d first played Wind Waker, I was doing things because the story wanted me to. Now I was doing things because the game’s structure dictated them. It was a bit like watching the last half an hour of a murder mystery; yes there was danger and excitement, but without a backstory it wasn’t as pleasing as it should have been. I wanted something to bring the game back into focus for me: a reminder about what I’d done before.
Often at the start of US TV serials are clips of what went on in previous episodes. These give new viewers a background to the current plot and remind existing viewers what had already happened. The programmes always start with a particular phrase. That phrase is what was missing from the game. Wind Waker needed a Previously On.
I can’t commit large blocks of time to games anymore. Sometimes I don’t play games for months. I think the situation might be the same for many gamers with jobs. We’ve got other things to do. More important things to worry about. Is it too much to ask for, then, that as gamers (and lifestyles) change, that games designers pay attention to this?
Wouldn’t it be great for a game to be released with a selling point that it will remind you about where you’ve been, what you’ve done, what you’re supposed to be doing and why? A title you can put it down in February, pick up in July , have a ‘Previously On’ and get back into playing, remembering and enjoying the game?
Yes, some games allow us to view cut-scenes again. That’s not enough though. Our interaction with TV shows is passive. Our interaction with games isn't – so why should our reminders of them be? I want to see cut-scenes and footage of my character fighting or solving puzzles. Give me a show reel of my victories and agonizing defeats. Let me use my scenes as training aides so I don’t have to refer to a manual. Let me get back into a game that I enjoyed once and want to enjoy again.
Help me remember what made me start playing in the first place.