Tuesday, January 20, 2004

The Distance That Connects

An interesting thing to consider about the four hero types is the ease or difficulty with which each could be made part of a game, say an online computer game. There's no lack of muscle hero-type games, if we broadly consider this type of hero to be any type of head-on skill match. Indeed, this is the vast, vast majority of games. The self-control type, it seems to me, is much harder to simulate, even if we wanted to. That caveat isn't trivial; for cultural reasons, I think, this hero type is less attractive than others, as it lacks the tangible evidence of victory. For that very reason, though, it seems like an interesting challenge.

Trickster might be more possible, indeed, since the challenge moves from simulated strength and skill to the actual tricky (or not) mind of the player. In some sense, this is a purer form of interaction. Similarly, the prophet, at least on the mundane level of discovering secrets, is possible. However, the sort of customized, individual mysteries makes this sort of game scale very poorly. Infocom had some interesting mystery games back in the golden age of text adventures, and there's Law and Order computer games now, but it seems much harder to do in a shared persistent world.

I want to go back to the self-controlled hero. And real hero characters are mixes of the four types, so all heroes to some extent share this issue. The self-control must be self-control over something, or rather against something. The archetype here is Siddharta Gautama becoming enlightened as he is tempted or frightened (or not) by demons, or Jesus in the desert turning down Satan's offers of riches or temporal power. Could these tests, of refusal of appetite, or endurance of pain, be meaningful in an interactive game? Ironically, this is more powerful when witnessed at a remove reading a novel or watching a film. We ache with the character's self-imposed pain ("Must... hold... on...!") or sympathize with hunger. Yet without that remove, moving into first person, it suddenly loses dimension and thus loses power. I call this the "distance that connects," the paradox that by removing the conflict of the hero from the witness, it becomes more empathetic.