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That Moment of Realization . . . (Games as Art)


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Do you remember the moment you first realized that games could be deeply impactful and emotionally resonant in the ways that literature or visual art media are?

 

For me, it was 1994 or 1995, when I first beat Super Metroid.

Here I was, playing what is easily one of the top three best SNES games, getting deeply engaged in the gameplay and the atmosphere.  Such a meticulously sculpted game, Super Metroid.  The visuals (particularly of Samus' armour) made excellent use of the hardware's capabilities.  The controls were tight and responsive.  The sound effects pulled me in to the alien world.  The challenge was there, but not to the point of inaccessibility, and the skill ceiling was remarkably high for a side-scroller.  The music was probably the weakest part, and considering it was amazingly cinematic and completed the themes and tone of the entire game, that's saying something!

But the story, as simple as it was, is what got me.

 

You play as Samus Aran, the best damned badass bounty hunter in the galaxy!  A strong female character to boot.  (This was before the disaster that is Other M . . . *shudders*)

The game starts by saying:  "The last Metroid is in captivity.  The Galaxy is at peace."  

Like . . . ACTUALLY says it.  Recorded audio dialogue.  In a Super Nintendo game.

Cue opening cinematic text crawl of exposition.    . . . ok, this is kind of annoying in future playthroughs, since it's unskippable, but damned if it doesn't set the mood and give you key information in a hurry.

- Samus kills things, and earns cash for doing so (well, Galactic Credit, anyway).  Most notably; the much feared Space Pirates, up to and including their leader Mother Brain.

- Samus commits genocide of a potentially dangerous non-sapient alien species, since it can be weaponized (the titular Metroids).

- Samus discovers that her genocide isn't complete, as the last of the Metroids hatches from its egg moments after Samus fought and killed the Metroid Queen.  This infant imprints on Samus.

- Samus is a bounty hunter.  Whatever feelings she might have?  Forget 'em!  Sell that baby for cold, hard Galactic Credits to government-approved scientists.  Who has time for feelings anyway when there are bounties out there to collect?

- What's this?  A new bounty?   . . . the research station where she -just- sold the baby Metroid is under attack?  Sounds like an opportunity for profit and adventure!

 

And then the game actually starts.    SUCH MOODY!  MUCH COMPELLING!  The space station is quiet, other than distant alarms echoing through the chambers.  The scientists are all dead.  And the testing chamber which the baby was being kept is smashed open, and the baby gone.

And at the end of the halls and corridors . . . there it is!  Still in the containment pod.  . . . except, what's the glowing light above it?  Why, it's the eye of Samus' most hated rival:  Ridley!  The Space Dragon!

Cue opening, unwinnable tutorial boss fight.  Except, if you'd DAMNED good, it -is- winnable.  Not that it changes the story, but it is SO satisfying to beat Ridley hard enough that he drops the baby, and has to swoop back down to collect it again before fleeing.

And then and then the Self Destruct Sequence!  FLEE!  Back the way you came!

Then pursue Ridley to the Space Pirate headquarters of planet Zebes.

 

More eerie silence.  The ruins of the ancient Chozo civilization have been desecrated by the ruins of the Space Pirate fortress, which Samus was responsible for ruining in the first Metroid game.

Seriously . . . for a 16-bit game . . . this shit was AMAZING.  Still is, frankly.  Just sound and visuals come together so flawlessly.  Punctuating the dread and confusion of the fact that we're several minutes in to the game, and the only enemy has been Ridley during the tutorial/intro.  You almost wonder if the game is broken/glitching.

Collect a power-up (one of the most iconic and important; the Morph Ball), and maybe a few Missile upgrades.  Trigger a few ominous camera/light/things which illuminate and follow Samus' movement while making a shrill recording sound.

And then go back the way you came  . . . to have the music suddenly rocket up to a thrilling war cant and get locked in a room with more than half a dozen Space Pirate soldiers, who you must defeat to escape the room!

 

And NOW the game TRULY begins!

 

 . . . except, not really.  See . . . the genius part of Super Metroid is that the game -actually- starts the moment you power it on.

The loading screen.  The loading screen is the key.

Why?

Because it builds mood, of course.

But more importantly than that . . . 

It plays the single most important sound effect, timed perfectly with the music to emphasize that sound effect's importance.

 . . . 

The Baby Metroid's cry.

 

This audio cue is so powerful, since you hear it every time you boot up the game, and during the calm moment before the battle with Ridley.

And then you don't hear it again . . . until the moment when the game REALLY started to get to me.

 

 . . . spoilers.  Blah  blah  blah.  Game's from 1994.  If you haven't played it yet, and it sounds like something you want to experience for yourself.

Go.

Play it.

Now.

. . . 

Otherwise?

I'mma keep going, and I'm going to tell you how the game ends.

 

That itty bitty baby Metroid?

Well, when you finally beat the four bosses (the last of which* is Ridley, and you're finally strong enough to DESTROY that monster), you end up going to the final big boss' personal chambers.

And there you find clones of the Metroid.  They're bigger, and they're hungry/mean!  They're completely invulnerable from missiles and beam attacks, unless you freeze them first.  Metroids' great weakness:  Freezing cold.  Makes them fragile and allows for the concussive force of missile weapons to have an effect.

They're tough, but a quick player can handle them before they become a threat.

 

THEN you face the strongest non-boss entities.  The Super Side-Hoppers (or whatever it is that they're actually called).  You don't need to fight them, but if you choose to do so, they take an absolute PILE of Super Missiles to destroy.

 

And then you find the final mini-boss . . . who is already dead.  Turned to a lifeless husk, which crumbles in to dust when you touch it's corpse.  A corpse statuesquely stuck at the moment of death, in the terrible rictus of screaming agony.

 

And then you enter a hall, where other enemy corpses line the walls and floor and ceiling.  Touching any of them . . . dust!

 

And then . . . another Super Side-Hopper.  Tougher than the rest, since it's COMPLETELY immune to all your weapons.

 

But that's because this is a scripted moment in the game.

 

The biggest Metroid ever shows up!

And it's hungry.

 

It drains the life from the Hopper, turning its body to a statue of dust like all the others . . . 

 . . . and then this Mega-Metroid notices you.

It's next meal.

 

This Metroid is so powerful that not even Freezing has any effect on it.

There's nothing you can do.

It latches on.

And starts draining.

And draining.

And draining.

And your Emergency Energy Reserves kick in, desperately trying to keep you alive.

But the Metroid just keeps draining you!

 

Until you reach 1 HP . . . and then it happens . . . 

 

The Baby's cry.

 

The big, bad, unbeatable Mega-Metroid -is- the Baby.

 

And it starts to whimper as it realizes it nearly murdered its "mother."

It becomes panicked and flies erratically, crying the whole time.

If you make a sudden move or shoot at it, it flies away at top speed.  So remorseful for its hunger that it can't even stand to face you.

 

Samus then limps her way to the next chamber, where mercifully there is a Power Station which she can use to restore her Power Suit's Energy Reserves (and get back up to full health).

 

Then it's just three more halls before you come face to "face" with the final boss:
Mother Brain!

image.jpeg.3c3cb020ec59b86b90240a3d1e22ef30.jpeg

Rebuilt and re-cloned.

But this time, Samus is stronger.  Packing more armaments than the last time she faced Mother Brain.  The oversized pile of wires and grey matter in a jar is absolutely no match for Samus Aran.

It's the easiest boss fight in the game.

 

THE END!

 

 . . . 

 

 . . . 

 

Hmm.  Why are we stuck in this room with the bloodied and broken remains of Mother Brain?

 

Oh.

image.jpeg.eb62f3aec976cb2b3f6f51bf1c579e0a.jpeg

The brain is grafted to a biomechanical body, and the real final boss fight begins!

 

Things still seem to be going in Samus' favour, at first.  She's got the superior arsenal, after all.

But as the battle goes on, and Samus uses up her ammo . . . Mother Brain starts to unleash new and more powerful attacks.

Until the big baddy starts to unleash an unavoidable Hyper Beam Blast attack which stunlocks Samus against the wall, while draining hundreds of points of Energy with each volley!

Not only that, but after getting blasted by this attack, Samus falls to her knees each time.  She finds it more and more difficult to stand back up as this goes on.

 

When Samus starts to get low on Energy in this battle, Mother Brain screams with sadistic glee, drooling all over the floor as the biomechanical horror can't stop herself from salivating at the thought of getting revenge on the hero who thwarted her in the past.  Using lesser attacks on the kneeling Samus, Mother Brain takes her time to savour Samus' last moments.

Little by little.

Chipping away at Samus' Energy until the bounty hunter is on the edge of death.

 

And then Mother Brain charges up her final Hyper Beam Blast.

 . . . and just as she unleashes it . . . 

Super-Metroid-Mother-Brain – Capsule Computers

The Baby swoops in and starts to suck Mother Brain dry!

 

Mother Brain thrashes about and staggers as the Metroid takes EVERYTHING she's got.  Eventually the Metroid forces Mother Brain to the corner and pushes her on to her ass.  And keeps on sucking!  Soon, Mother Brain turns grey'ish-brown, just like all those dead enemies in the Baby's feeding chamber.

 

The Baby then dismounts from Mother Brain's ugly face, flies in a little loop, and lands on top of Samus.   FEEDING her all of the energy which the Metroid just drained from Mother Brain!

It takes a little while, but the Baby manages to restore Samus' Energy Tanks back up to 100%!

There's a problem, however . . . 

Mother Brain's not dead.

 

A cloud of breath puffs out of Mother Brain's grotesque mouth as the colour returns to her palid form.  She rises back up to her feet, stomps up to point-blank range, and starts a barrage against the Baby!

But the Baby doesn't leave.  It continues to protect Samus, even if Samus' health has been fully restored!  

 

Up to this point, the game has taught the player all kinds of lessons with visual and auditory cues.

One such visual cue is that as an enemy cycles through its palette, and becomes desaturated, it means that enemy is getting close to death.

 

Mother Brain's barrage on the Baby causes the Metroid to start to palette cycle.  

The Baby's death is imminent!

 

It finally withdraws from Samus and flies off slowly.  Mother Brain, not wanting to destroy the very thing she prizes most, allows the Metroid to flee.

But the Metroid isn't done yet!  It swings back at full speed, ready to take another go at Mother Brain!

 

But Mother Brain shoots first.

 

And that's it.

Mother Brain kills the Metroid.

Right over top of Samus' head.

 

 

 

 . . . 

 

Say!  Did you see that new Godzilla movie?  King of the Monsters?

Remember this scene?

Yeah.  I have a feeling that the director of this film is a huge fan of Super Metroid . . . 

'CAUSE THAT SCENE IS A TOTAL HOMAGE TO WHAT HAPPENS NEXT! (Right down to the rainbow-coloured glitter falling on to the protagonist's body, super-charging them.)

 

Samus Aran's Power Armour absorbs the energy of the dying baby Metroid . . . and unlocks the final weapon for the player:  The Hyper Beam.

 

Each time you fire the weapon, Samus flashes through a rainbow palette, while firing a multichromatic energy beam that is so powerful that it not only interrupts whatever action Mother Brain was attempting to do, but causes the monstrosity to stagger backward from the recoil blasting her nobbly brain-head back with each shot!

And the Hyper Beam?

1/2 second cooldown between shots.

It's YOUR turn to stunlock Mother Brain!

 

 . . . 

 

 . . . 

 

At this point, the emotional high has reached its climax.  Mother Brain isn't a match for Samus' Hyper Beam.  Killing her is easy at this point, and deeply cathartic.  The final few minutes of the game involve having to escape a maze of service tunnels as a planet-wide self-destruct sequence initiates.

Samus makes it to her ship.

Flies away in time to avoid the catastrophic world-ending explosion.

You get your final score for Item Collection.

AND ROLL CREDITS!

 

And if you had played any other game in the Metroid franchise, you might have some idea of what happens next.  Beat the game quickly enough, and get rewarded with some fanservice (meh.  I mean, I know that as a reveal in the ORIGINAL Metroid, that was HUGE.  But by 1994, it was just kind of gratuitous.  Also, I hate Samus as a blonde.  Purple hair forever, you mothers!)

 

 

 

 . . . SOOOOOOOO!

As you may be able to tell, this game had a HUGE impact on teenage-me in 1994.  I -still- get a little glassy-eyed when I think about what this game made me feel.  And all that in just a SNES game cartridge.

I mean, to be objective about it, I suppose the game hit me so hard because it was around the same time that my late-blooming self was getting hit with the hormonal changes that inspire a biological desire for getting all matriarchal and stuff.  And having Samus Aran as a role model in that decade  . . . well, I got in to the games industry BECAUSE of this game (and later on, Sacrifice, but that's a story for another time).

But thing is . . . I'm not alone.

This game is widely considered one of (if not) THE best games on the Super Nintendo.  That skill ceiling I mentioned has also made it one of the most influential and cherished games for Speed Running.  It's an annual tradition at (A)GDQ.

* Remember when I said Ridley is the last boss?   Guess what!  Skillful players can sequence break AROUND that.  Reverse Boss Order is even a category for speed running Super Metroid.

 

But what Super Metroid meant to me . . . what it MEANS to me still . . . is the game when I realized . . . 

 

This stuff can be art.

 

This stuff IS art!

 

 

 

 - - - - - - -  - - - - - - -  - - - - - - -  - - - - - - -  - - - - - - -  - - - - - - -  - - - - - - - 

 

How about you?  What was the moment when you realized that games can be art?

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A much more concise story. It was a college summer, we had all stayed for jobs on campus and split an apartment to save money.  We were cheap, we didn't have any friends local, we watched anime and played games.  And when I say 'we', I mean one of us played a game and the others watched from the couch and helped, or sometimes 'helped'.  One of those games was Final Fantasy 7. It was early one Friday, we expected a long night of spectator gaming, and Cloud and company were on their way to the Temple of the Ancients.  And then we ended up in quiet shock, unable to believe that Aeris was actually dead, like...the game actually had permanent not plot pretend dead.

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Persona 3: FES hit this note for me. It's kinda odd because it's far from my favorite game to play, even in that series. The characters aren't favorites individually and the AI makes the gameplay rough, but the game as a whole boldly explores death in a way that few others do. It's not mindless violence, kill shots and body counts, but the concept of death and the way humans react to that one inevitable certainty in life. 

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  • 1 month later

For me, it was Chrono Trigger.  Specifically the clash with Lavos in the Ocean Palace.  Even having that sequence partially spoiled ahead of time didn't mitigate the whammy.

 

Didn't have another game shake me up that much until Tales of Symphonia a couple console generations later.

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Hard to think of the first games that I thought were art or "deeply impactful and emotionally resonant", but I can give plenty of modern examples.

 

Visually satisfying, cinematic, and movie-level action:

-Alan Wake

-Bioshock

-Shadows of the Colossus

-The Last Guardian

-Batman Arkham

-Spiderman

-Grand Theft Auto 

-Red Dead

-Half Life

-Portal 

-Prince of Persia

-Oddworld

-Splinter Cell

-LIMBO and INSIDE

 

Video game novels:

-Fallout

-Telltale

-Elder Scrolls

-Divinity

-Dungeon Siege

-Pillars of Eternity

-Disco Elysium

 

Horror (including PvP):

-Dead by Daylight

-Dead Space

-Hunt Showdown

-Left 4 Dead

 

Whenever someone speaks against video games, especially when they try to say that games are not an art medium, I immediately dismiss them as a TV/Netflix-addicted drone. If you really must engage with them, bring up the fact that every single art and literature mediums had/have opposition; sculpture, books, comic books, movies, television.....

 

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  • 1 month later

Does Etch-a-Sketch count?

 

Early 80s we had a TRS-80 and I learned to program it to make a kaleidescope, a piano keyboard that I could play, and my mom programmed 'math games' (two words that do not belong together) for me to learn math.  Learning math never happened but I learned how to program quite well.  In school we had to take a computer literacy class, I already knew BASIC and PASCAL so while everyone else was trying to sort their if then statements I was making a lovely winter scene with falling snow, twinkling lights, dancing snowmen.  All of this was before gaming consoles.  We had a 'break out' game and a pong type game we programmed into the TRS-80.

 

Later I got a 2nd or 3rd hand Atari and got to level 33 on Ms. Pac man (Mom actually held supper while everyone watched me play).

 

My life is about art and computer programming is the language my brain naturally speaks.  Of course I use the one to impact the other!

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  • 1 month later

Late to the party, I know.

 

Let me split a hare hair first.  There are the games that I realized could USE art, and then there are the games I see as BEING art.

 

I think the first game I saw that made me realize games could truly USE art would have been the coin-op Dragon's Lair. (On which I used too many coins.  There's a reason that dragon is sitting on a hoard.) It's sequel and Space Ace continued that.  Honorable mention goes to the coin-op X-men which really felt like a comic book from the time.

 

Balancing between USE art and BE art would probably be Myst.  The graphics were gorgeous for its time, if a bit stagnant in places (USE art).  The story and universe created however, felt like a good fantasy book (BE art).  

 

The game that probably brought it all together as pure art was probably Journey (not the Atari 2600 cartridge :classic_tongue:) .  It has a flow that just fully encompasses sight/sound/story.

Honorable mentions to Shadow of the Colossus and Flower.  I can't say "first" with these, because, although they came out first, I only discovered them after seeing Journey.

 

 

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On 10/2/2020 at 12:41 AM, Techwright said:

Balancing between USE art and BE art would probably be Myst.  The graphics were gorgeous for its time, if a bit stagnant in places (USE art).  The story and universe created however, felt like a good fantasy book (BE art).  

Yeeeeeeeah! Myst did it for me as well. I learned that you could complete the game straight away if you knew the last puzzle, but that wasn't the point at all. There were worlds to explore! I think I have the first book around somewhere.

 

 

The game that did it for me was Thief 3 (before we get into this, I do prefer Thief 2), which I played when I studied Interior Design. It had a mission called the Shalebridge Cradle. I still refer to it as one of the best bits of spatial storytelling I've ever seen, real world or otherwise. 

 

Outer Wilds is the best game I've played this year.

 

 

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System Shock 2.

 

I'd played a lot of different types of games up to that point.  Text-based adventures, arcade games (Donkey Kong Jr., specifically.  it was the only arcade game at the corner store near the trailer park), Nintendo (we couldn't afford one, but other kids in the trailer park had them), board games, playing pretend with my siblings and friends, D&D.  They were just games, stuff to pass the time when I couldn't read a book or play outside.

 

I'd moved to 3D games in my mid-20's.  The first time I saw Quake running in demo mode at Best Buy, I was hooked.  Rebuilt my computer to meet Quake's specs, added a Matrox M3D and threw myself into 3D first-person shooters.  Played a hell of a lot of those.  And RPGs.  Any 3D shooter, and absolutely anything made by Black Isle or Bioware, I'm spending whatever money I have (not much when minimum wage was just over $5/hr.).   I'm walking through Best Buy and I see... the most beautiful face I've ever seen.

 

SHODAN.

 

I have no idea what she's supposed to be, but it's advertised as a 3D FPS, I like the box art, so I buy it.  Impatiently wait for the installation to complete, go through the settings to ensure that I had all of my keyboard and mouse controls set up just right, and...

 

Oh, it's a hybrid RPG/3D shooter.  That should be interesting.

 

I'd never played the original System Shock, so I had no idea what the story was about.  At that time, I didn't care, I just wanted to get my game on.


And then I did care.  There was something going on behind the action.  There was a motivation behind what I was doing.  The game world wasn't just a place for me to stand while I shot at things, it was a setting.  The e-mails and audio logs weren't something I could skip, they were vital elements.  The visuals became a secondary concern for me, for the first time.  The shooting and sneaking and ammo management, it was all extraneous to the story.  I was playing a novel.  And SHODAN wasn't a helpless maiden in distress, she wasn't my sidekick, she wasn't the antagonist, she wasn't a plot element, she was all of these things, and more.  She was the story.

 

That was when I realized video games could be more than mindless entertainment.  They were works of fiction, as compelling and interesting as the books I'd spent reading when I was supposed to be getting an education.  As much as the movies I was just beginning to appreciate.  As much as serial television shows.  It opened a door that I never realized existed, or cared about.  Art wasn't something that interested me when I was younger, it was boring stuff for people with money, not something of concern for a minimum wage nobody.  But art in fiction... that mattered to me, especially at that point in my life, when my social anxiety disorder was growing worse.  And it changed me.  I began to see the deeper meanings and interpretations in the things I was reading and watching.  I began to understand the power of words.  I began to comprehend things I never had before, because of my inability to comprehend people.  Fiction, stories, could be something I never imagined, they could be art.

 

Years later, someone mentioned to me that the most basic definition of art is "Something that evokes emotion.  Something that moves you."  SS2 did that for me.  SHODAN did that for me.

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Belief in oneself is contagious.  We give each other permission to be superheroes.  We will never awaken, otherwise.

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I was hooked on games from the first one I played. My parents didn’t really encourage gaming and never let us have any consoles. We did however have a PC that was only meant for work or educational purposes. 
 

I remember my brother got me up really early one Saturday morning a few hours before my parents normally woke up.  He had gotten his hands a special floppy disk. He inserted it and booted up in MS-DOS. We then played Scorched Earth for a couple hours before reluctantly shutting it down, hiding the floppy, and getting back in bed right before my parents got up. 

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I think i'm gonna be a little sappy, but perhaps my time playing Pokemon Silver when I was younger showed me that.

 

I started the game over after giving up my first attempt when I got to the E4.  Kid me didn't put much work into team composition, and Meganium gets bodied by Will while I had no backups.  So I try again.  Totodile out of the gate, but this time I caught a Sentret early on.  Now I don't know what exactly happened, but I gravitated toward that Sentret above all others.  I taught her Headbutt in the forest and she started practically clear cutting every trainer in my way, especially after evolving into Furret.  Every single stat boost item and Rare Candy I found went to her and she became my champion.  Nearly every trainer went down in a single hit to her ferocious Headbutts or a surprise Dynamic Punch against Rock and Steel types, to the point where she could very nearly sweep Red on Mt. Silver (Charizard would outspeed her).  Something about that Furret clicked with kid me, as if I had actually developed a bond with her.

 

Sadly she's gone.  The battery in my game died long ago, and modern games changed the mechanics so I can't achieve that level of power with another Furret.  Still, in her memory I raised a new Furret in X, gave this one a gimmick moveset (not enough power to keep up with anything, so I taught her Trick with the intent of passing off a Choice Scarf to hopefully screw up Pokemon that would use a stat buff move first) and named her Silver in honor of my original girl.  If I ever decide to play through Silver again on my 3DS, I might just bring her back.

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Currently playing on Indomitable as @Zork Nemesis; was a Protector native on live.

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  • 11 months later

So . . . been looking at a lot of videos and reviews and content related to Metroid Dread.

I'm not 100% sure yet, but it looks like a really solid return to form!  What I've seen so far feels like it is taking the series back on the path that it was on with Super Metroid and the Prime series in terms of subtext and representation of Samus.

Something about the "fuck YOU, dad!" bit just really struck a chord, you know?

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On 10/8/2020 at 5:56 PM, FoulVileTerror said:

*glances back and forth, then speaks in a subdued voice*

 

  . . . I still haven't played Myst.

We've given you a full year to correct your mistake.  Have you played Myst yet?   😉

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Legend of Dragoon, 2001, kid me and my friends don't have a memory card for my ps1 so we leave the game on. Get to the part where Lloyd steals the moon gem from Albert and watch in terror and grief as our buddy Lavitz gets killed. Hardest fictional death for me to this day, and one of the reasons I love that game. How it makes you feel tells you a lot about a game. 

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Once you finally get around to playing through Myst... I'd also suggest taking a look at a little game called Journey next.

 

When someone questions video games as art, I tend to send them in that direction with a grin and a "Play this. Then we'll talk." 

Taker of screenshots. Player of creepy Oranbegans and Rularuu bird-things.

Kai's Diary: The Scrapbook of a Sorcerer's Apprentice

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For me it's Deus Ex. I've never really been a serious gaming addict of any kind (barring long nights on CoH - but even then, it was more about the people I played with).

 

But DX was something I'd not run into before. It was a game that didn't just have awe-inspiring art and music (for the time: the bells of the Templar Church still sticks in the memory, as does the first time seeing fallen Liberty). 

 

It rewarded strategy, caution and tactics. Moral choices, stealth, exploration and side quests meant something and paid off in different ways (exploding Gunther with a kill word, for example). Even the multiplayer rewarded strategy - in my case, working out where all the sniper/spawn camping spots were and leaving trip mines there was satisfying

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WAKE UP YA MISCREANTS AND MEDIOCRITIES!

Look out for me as: Miss Dream Weaver (Reunion, Psi/Emp), Ranger Emily (Excelsior, AR/Devices), Dr Amy Weaver MD (Excelsior, DP/Emp)

 

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