hours days I poured into Skyrim, the more I came to realise that the petty little stories associated with each minor quest bored the shit out of me. And so I would do my nails incline push-ups while the NPC quest giver was yakking about his/her missing uncle/heirloom meat cleaver/libido and just look up the quest marker when (s)he was done talking.
I’m gonna give that a fancy name and call it disengagement with the narrative.
I’m currently playing Dishonored and on the advice of a reviewer, I disabled the mission markers and popups. This means no cartoonish, hovering “This Way to Stabbing!” pointy-finger-signs and no “Congratulations you stabbed the right guy – have a cookie! ” announcements.
See, while the characters I play learn fuck-all from their trials (that’s my narrative, regardless of what the official storyline says), I have learned something. While my use of quest markers was originally prompted by lame-ass, boring cliché stories, the quest markers ended up encouraging wait-for-it disengagment with the narrative. [pullquote]I stopped trying to get involved with the story becuase I knew that I didn’t need to, I wouldn’t get rewarded for it and I would just end up feeling suckered. You really thought that paying attention to the story was necessary? What a schmuck![/pullquote]
My Dishonored settings however are starting to pay off. I’m gonna call that reengagement with the narrative because introducing not one but two concepts is gonna tip the balance and make this sound really clever.
A small but interesting example: My character is returning to the safe house from a mission of murdering not one but two older brothers of a member of my gang – at the request of the little brother, mind you. They are traitors and political enemies and so off with their heads.
Upon returning I’m met by the other members of the gang and told to go see said baby brother. As you do when looking for things (and you don’t have a magic floating marker), you go look where you saw it last time. No dice, no brother. I’m getting annoyed.
This is stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid. What kind of stupid quest is this hide-and-seek? This is supposed to be a trivial thing: Go get a pat on the shoulder, good job, good man, and then get on with it. I’m one step away from turning on the magic hovering things just so I can go kick li’l bro’s ass.
Instead I turn my brain on. Having finished the ‘real’ mission and returning to the safe house, I must have turned it off. The safe house means you can let your guard and your hair down and so I figured I didn’t need to think. What my narrative brain is trying to tell me is this: He sent you off to kill his brothers, not out of vengeance or hatred but out of necessity. You have now killed them. He is sad. Got that or do I need to spell it for you?
So I ask my brain where to find man-who-is-sad and it responds instantly: In a cliché narrative you’ll find him by himself staring at the sun setting over the river. Hey look, there’s a sunset, there’s a river and there’s an isolated spot with a railing you can lean on for extra effect! Why don’t you go have a look?
And there he is. It’s terribly cliché but this is probably the greatest triumph of my short Dishonored career. I reengaged with the story and it paid off. It’s not quite adventure game material but in an adventure game I would expect to be rewarded for this kinda thing. Well in an adventure game, I would probably have concluded that he had gone deep sea diving and went in search of the things needed to construct a diving bell.
P.S. I’ve been told that Dishonored’s story has predictable twists and is kind of a letdown compared to the high quality of the rest of the game. I’m gonna give it the benefit of the doubt though and in order to further reengage with the story, I’ll try to predict the predictable. If I’m not going to be surprised at least I’llbe able to say ‘Told you so’. The most predictable of twists is surely a traitor. So I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say: Lord Pembleton, in the pub, using a former body guard.