Press Start

Video game news, reviews and commentary with Gazette reporter Jake Magee.

Press Start: Developers should remain unapologetic in their game design

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Jake Magee
Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Video games are some of the most creative works of art people can enjoy.

When playing a good game, you're treated to amazing visuals, graphics and colors. You hear immersive sound effects and an accompanying soundtrack. And, because you're playing a video game, you as the player have direct control over the action, which adds a unique layer to the creativity.

Naturally, some developers take their creative freedom as far as they can, sometimes shattering realism for the sake of fun. They shouldn't have to apologize for it.

“Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain” caught some flak in 2015 for the design of Quiet, a mute female sniper who wears a skimpy outfit. The game explains Quiet actually breathes (and drinks) through her skin and has to wear revealing outfits to avoid suffocating.

Ridiculous? Yes. But anyone who's played the “Metal Gear Solid” series or enjoyed creative director Hideo Kojima's work knows such a ludicrous explanation perfectly fits within the game's fiction.

Gaming site Kotaku pointed out main character Aloy of the recently released “Horizon Zero Dawn” has perfect skin. I disagree (she has noticeable cheek blemishes and visible pores), but even if she did have a porcelain complexion, who cares?

“Horizon” is a video game where you hunt robot dinosaurs with a bow and arrows. Since when does realism matter? More than a few woman in “Horizon” are beautiful because that's how the developers wanted to portray the world's females. In a game that has already left realism by the wayside, it's as good an explanation as any.

“Nier: Automata” is a new title developed by Platinum Games, a Japanese studio known for going over the top in its action and plots. For instance, the developer's popular series “Bayonetta” stars a heroine who kills angels while wearing a suit made of her own hair.

In “Nier,” humans who retreated to the moon send androids to Earth to fight an invading machine army. You play as female android 2B, who wears a blindfold, wields an oversized sword and wears high-heeled boots.

At gaming convention PAX East this past weekend, someone asked creative director Yoko Taro why a combat android would wear high heels. It's a fair question. Wearing such apparel while fighting would probably be a hindrance, if not downright dangerous.

Taro offered a simple answer: “… The biggest reason is that I just really like girls.”

There you have it. In a game set 10,000 years in the future where you battle robots with a sword, the protagonist wears high heels because the developer simply finds the design appealing. And there's nothing wrong with that.

I understand that it can sometimes be hard to suspend your disbelief while playing a video game. “Metal Gear Solid” is set during major historical events on Earth but features mechs, deep political conspiracies and an immortal vampire who can run on water.

But once you remember the game is fiction, it's fun to let loose and strap in for the ride. You might find the explanation for Quiet's design crazy, but it's no more insane than any other major plot point in the series. So why get hung up on it?

The same can be said for Aloy's skin in “Horizon” or 2B's boots in “Nier.” Developers took creative liberties with their products in the interest of style over realism, and it pays off. Artists shouldn't need to apologize or even explain such decisions if they work.

Now, if you had chicks in bikinis and high heels running around an otherwise realistic World War II game or something, we might have a problem (though, personally, that sounds hilariously awesome).

But until that day comes, we should celebrate developers' creativity and stylish design choices, even when they sacrifice realism for fun, because fun is what games should be above all else.

Video game columnist Jake Magee has been with GazetteXtra since 2014. His opinion is not necessarily that of Gazette management. Let him know what you think by emailing jmagee@gazettextra.com, leaving a comment below, or following @jakemmagee on Twitter.

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