Sunday, March 15, 2009

Damned Hesitation

Note: This post contains spoilers for GTA IV: The Lost And Damned!

Playing through The Lost And Damned was enjoyable for me, as I have already made clear in my previous two posts. I will admit however that none of the missions and objectives that I was participating in were that exciting or particularly note-worthy. Essentially, they were your typical Grand Theft Auto missions. I do enjoy these average and frequent missions so I had no issues with playing through them, but it was always blatantly clear that the majority of my enjoyment with the downloadable expansion was due to my immersion within the narrative.

It should be no surprise then that it was because of GTA IV's narratives that my perception of The Lost And Damned's missions changed with one mission in particular, one involving a character from the original game's narrative, one Roman Bellic.

As soon as I realised what this mission entailed, I hesitated. I did not want to participate in this mission and I actually sat for many minutes with the game on pause contemplating whether I would continue or not. Before I elaborate, first let me outline the mission's objectives: The mission involves you as Johnny heading to the bar where Roman always played Poker with the sole purpose of kidnapping him. Tied up and in the back of your car, you then proceed to take him to the warehouse that Niko had to rescue him from in the original game. Along the way Roman manages to escape briefly and naturally you have to coerce him back into the car by scaring him enough so that he follows your orders. You eventually reach the warehouse, exchange Roman for your reward and continue on your merry way.

As Johnny you don't know Roman, what he is like, who he associates with and what he is involved in; you are simply doing a job for your own benefit. As the player and as someone who has played both stories though, the impact of the mission is a lot stronger than other missions already concluded, especially when you take the time to consider what you already know about Roman and his relation to Niko. It reminds you of the encounters with Niko that Johnny has over the course of his campaign. Considering all of these elements provides a context to the mission and as I mentioned before, I hesitated and seriously considered not completing my objective. Had this been another set of characters who were unknown to me, chances are I would not have blinked at the objective and I would have carried it out without any hesitation or drama at all. Because it was a character I already knew though, I was fully aware of what the end result would be and it immediately impacted on my casual approach to performing the game's various missions. Of course to progress I had to successfully complete the mission and I did, with feelings of guilt consuming me the entire time and afterwards as well. I saved and stopped the game at that point because I literally could not take any more at the time.

This unwillingness led me to thoughts about some of the other things I had done in Johnny's past including a fairly significant murder of a more integral character to The Lost And Damned's story, Brian. I won't detail this mission but basically I did not think once about my actions in the lead up to his death, nor did I care when I saw him lying on the ground covered in blood. As far as I was concerned, he had to go because that's the way the game panned out and really there was nothing more to it than that. The event is on my mind now as a comparison to Roman's mission; I wonder why kidnapping Roman is more affecting than murdering someone as well as why the other missions that take place over the course of either story (Johnny's or Niko's) don't provide the same sort of feelings. Sure, some missions stand out for various reasons, as do some interactions with other characters but generally speaking I just complete my objectives without any consideration at all. I will be honest, I can't specifically articulate why these differences are there nor what defines them. I can acknowledge however these feelings that I have had are important. Not only do they make me analyse the experiences I have had, they make me consider my overall gaming and the traits that go with it such as how casually I approach killing in a video game.

The moment I had at the beginning of the Roman mission was marvelous as it demonstrated to me, indirectly, the power of games and their ability to tell a story. GTA IV's stories aren't exactly the best ever, but they must be something if they can make me pause to consider my actions. To put it simply, if we are starting to see moments like these in games now then the road ahead is bright. I look forward to a future where games take full advantage of our emotions and immersion.

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