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Nerdy rant

Hokay, prepare yourself.  Nerdy rant incoming.

One of the most amazing things about video games as an art medium is the ability to really put you inside a character.  While this is literally true, I am actually speaking to just how incredible that is.  I am implying that instead of simply watching and empathizing, you are actually thinking and deciding what to do as that character.  You are entirely in their shoes and living their emotions.  Their choices are yours to make, as are the responsibilities.  This is the ultimate power that video games possess and it could be used to an even higher extent than it is today. 

I recently had a heated discussion with a very, very dear friend of mine regarding the mechanical workings of a class in a game called Final Fantasy XIV.  The discussion was about the black mage class.  To give some background, these individuals pull their power from the source of chaos and destruction in the form of overpowering magical spells.  The lore of the game regards these individuals as constantly walking the knife's edge of destroying their foe and destroying themselves or those around them if they lack that acute presence of mind needed to control this force.  "All those who walk this path are destined for ruin.  It is just a matter of time."

To me, I want to see this imbedded in the very workings of the class.  The players should struggle with this so that they feel what it would truly be like to be a black mage in this world, not just hear it in the lore.  ... I am getting ahead of myself.  First let me speak to you of the cause for my rant.

Games are made with deep psychology in mind.  The developers not only need to balance the game so that one class is not insanely more powerful than another in an equal party role, but deeper than that, they want to release a game that is tailored to be liked by their gamers.  The average gamer hates waiting, they hate holding themselves back, they desire to unleash their potential.  Therefore, when the developers created this class, they designed it to give this class periods of heavily destructive burst damage followed by periods of lower damage while they recharge their stores to do it again.  Played perfectly (which involves a constant stream of both reactionary and optimized commands), overall damage is equal to a class with constant damage output, yet they are allowed to feel burstier.  This burstiness is risky as the enemies could determine they ought to be the target of their malice if they unload at the wrong time, yet they are still incredibly safe from such a fate.  

Even with this watered down safety, many players still see this class as having a "wet noodle" phase and don't like it.  Personally, I think that a higher risk, patience gameplay is exactly what those on this path ought to be fighting against to really understand the path that they tread according to the lore.  It should be incredibly easy to overdo it.  It should require patience and willpower to control the vast forces at their disposal so they truly respect the unstoppable chaos from which they draw their abilities as well as their inevitable fate as they walk this path.  

In the case of the monk class that has consistent damage, their play ought to reflect the dance and rhythm of their martial arts, gaining bonuses from the constant string of combos.  I could speak on every class here, but I will save you the headache.  The struggle here is creating a job that lets the player feel like the class that they play while still maintaining balance.  I won't sell them short, they give you a taste of each class through play alone and the game on a mathematical level has one of the simplest, yet most elegant damage balancing mechanics I have ever seen, but the core of gameplay creation is centered around the idea that every player should be constantly doing something because otherwise they will be bored.  ... This is a judgement of criminal incorrectness that is frankly insulting.  

To give you a live example of the kind of choice I wish to see, I will bring up the game Deus Ex: Human Revolution.  The game follows Jensen, a cop who gets severely crippled in service and rebuilt as an augmented super soldier against his will.  His conundrum is trying to single handedly get to the bottom of the great conspiracy surrounding his accident while not letting these new powers take away what is left of his humanity.  Tremendous developer effort went towards letting the player complete the story without a single person being killed or even alerted to your presence (outside of the cutscenes).  Many gamers despise this manner of play because, and I quote, "I feel like I am just walking-- I AM just walking through the game.  No combat, no encounters, just waiting for an opening to making my move."  I personally found this very rewarding.  At one point, a group of soldiers were sent to intercept me in a stair well.  I waited til they were at the right spot, made some noise so they would investigate, turned on a cloaking field, used my implants to make my landing perfectly silent, and used a third skill letting me fall from any height, and jumped silently and invisibly down the center to the bottom and walked out of what is supposed to be a five story, slow and steady descent through armed forces.  I got to use my head instead of my hand.  I love that in games.  

The one thing that game was lacking was any punishment for upgrading your implants.  I found it almost comical when Jensen would talk about how he never asked for any of this and would brood on his implants when I, as a player, was a kid in a candy store waiting for the cash to buy the next one, relishing in no longer worrying about silly human constraints like breathing or being seen anymore.  If I were to design the game, the more upgrades you purchase, the more constraints would be put on your dialogue options.  Jensen would not even have access to the empathetic, human responses as he would be losing touch with humanity!  From a developer's stance this is silly-- why create all these powers if you deem it an appropriate path to avoid getting them-- why give the players a world of opportunities and superhuman abilities and then tell them not to use it?  Because that is what the character struggles with!  The idea behind Jensen is his struggle to retain his humanity while being thrust into this situation where he is more than tempted to embrace them.  Most gamers will dive into and embrace these powers and experience an epic yarn of a man who discovers a truth that can change the world but has lost everything in achieving it.  Those willing will attempt to really experience Jensen's plight.  They will struggle with temptation, knowing their augs can be unlocked at any point.  They will spend their hard earned cash on preparing for missions with equipment instead of hardware.  They will cry when their only-human abilities lead to the death of Malik.  For doing so, they will not only watch and participate in, but truly live the story of a man whose burning soul compromises nothing, even in the face of incredible sacrifice-- a man whose search for the truth creates a revolution and transforms the entire world.  

Take a risk and see where gaming can take storytelling.  

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