When there’s too much narrative in a video game

Other than briefly watching friends play Final Fantasy X, this is my first time playing it from the beginning. It was originally released for the PlayStation 2 in 2001. The game has text and voice to drive the plot forward, which I found exciting at certain times and distracting during other moments. During the first 30 minutes of the game, the player is not allowed to skip any film nor save, but at times, is allowed to pause the game while the “background” music continued. In films, the music is always synchronized with on-screen action. But during the cinematic interludes of Final Fantasy X, pausing the game did not pause the music, which not only confused me but gave its game music a fluid identity between the diegetic and nondiegetic world. Another aspect that had a flexible identity was deciding the character’s name; there is a scene in which the character must talk to a group of AI. They ask the character for his name, and a menu pops up to give him a name. The game imitates many features in film, from the camera angles to the montages used for transitions. They were so integrated with one another, that sometimes it was confusing to know when the player should move the character!

The game introduction included more of the player  “watching” than “playing.” That difference is the same distinction that exists between engagement and immersion in video games. Immersion (or spatial presence, as it has been termed by Jamie Madigan) needs the player to believe in the world and its context. On the other hand, engagement is similar to the feeling of “flow” (a psychology term for undivided attention and involvement during an activity). While playing Final Fantasy X, the game created a feeling of immersion but I found myself bored – almost frustrated at times – with how unengaging it was. The narrative drove so much of the immersion that I began to feel bored. Frustration built as I yearned for more game play and not so much watching the cinematic storyline. The characters didn’t help, because they drilled in the plot by saying phrases like “listen to my story” and “this is your story, it all begins here.”

The session ended when the game provided me a “Traveller’s Save Sphere,” which stores the character’s HP and MP and allows the player to save game play. The sphere wants to be a diegetic machinic part of the game, although I did not feel so comfortable with the game’s decision to integrate the nondiegetic with the diegetic. I’m excited to continue, although I hope this time, I hope I can expect more “play” time.

 

References:

Galloway, A. “Gamic Action, Four Moments,” from Gaming, pp. 1-38.
Madigan, J. “The Psychology of Immersion in Video Games” The Psychology of Video Games. Web. 2010.

 

 

 

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  1. Nice distinction to draw between engagement and immersion in FFX. Also reminds me that so much of the game takes place in the non-diegetic player operation quadrant of Galloway’s schema.

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