Our last deliberations ran a little long because I was away, but I’m now back to make it final: you decided that demos are better than gibs (by a pretty close margin). You have chosen your favourite little bits—of games, not corpses—and our quest resumes. This week, we pick between two forms of really committing to a game’s reality. What’s better: cameras which actually take pictures, or running into a wall so fast you hurt yourself?
Cameras which actually take pictures
If a video game lets me use a camera which ostensibly takes photos, it should actually take pictures and save them for me to see. How wonderful that ghost-hunting game Phasmophobia will save your spooky snaps, so you can prove that ghosties are real (or show your pals their mangled corpses). How delightful that the Yakuza games which have cameras will send you away with holiday snaps of your bewildered beefy boys. How cruel that Grand Theft Auto V saves its phone photos as low-resolution, low-quality versions. And it’s especially good in Umurangi Generation, where you’re encouraged to get creative with lenses, framing, and filters for apocalyptic photography you might want to show off.
Firewatch went even further, and let you order real prints of your photos from the in-fiction developer, Fotodome (actually the game’s publisher, Panic). I did enjoy reading resident shutterbug Pip’s thoughts on that, and why she preferred the prints she had manually made of screenshots she took over the official ones she received.
I’m always disappointed when a game has me snap photos and doesn’t save them anywhere. Buddy, you gave me a camera and told me to use it, you should know I want to use it. I snapped so many mundane photos of leaking pipes, exposed wiring, and crumbling concrete in Infra and would’ve been delighted if the end echoed the start by having Mark give a PowerPoint presentation on everything he discovered (accompanying end credits, maybe?). It’s doubly disappointing when a game does save photos to view in some in-game album but not let me access them outside the game. And I know Life Is Strange’s photos are staged rather than captured live, but I’d still appreciate the touch of the game faking it for me.
Running into a wall so fast you hurt yourself
My favourite moment in System Shock 2—Shodan and flesh aside—was discovering the obvious consequences of its SpeedBoost. Jab yourself with this hypo (“popular among high-school students for a dangerous street sport of ‘Crash Careening’,” the item description says) and you will move at double speed for 20 seconds. With even a middling movement speed doubled, you can deal yourself deadly damage by running into a wall, bumping into a desk, or simply walking up a step. Whether your neck snaps or you stub your toe so hard your brain shuts down, I couldn’t say. Even crouch-walking can lead to a nasty injury. I think committment to the consequences of actions is an important and delightful part of the immersive sim genre, and I appreciate the thought in general.
Lots of games about driving, skateboarding, cycling, and such do this too, of course, but in the language of video games this is to be expected. I especially like when this interaction occurs in places you wouldn’t expect. While Destiny 2 doesn’t let you run into walls so fast you splat, I’m willing to make room for it here because of the most powerful force in its sci-fantasy universe: The Architects (Bungie’s cute enemy label for when physics kill you). Destiny’s undead wizards can tank bullets, break the laws of reality at will, and squish gods down into guns, but we’re helpless against being knocked into a wall at speed. I still find it delightful that an enemy’s shield bash attack can send me flying against a wall hard enough to burst. That’s physics, baby, and as we know: Sir Isaac Newton is the deadliest son of a bitch in space.
I could take a step back and expand this thing into more broadly having a physics-simulated world or something but no, let’s keep it focused: violently stubbing your toe.
But which is better?
I like photography. I like video game photography. But more than anything, I revel in being undone by the consequences of my decisions. Stub me up, baby.
Pick your own winner, vote in the poll below, make your case in the comments to convince others, then we’ll reconvene next week to see which thing stands triumphant—and continue the great contest.