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Hi, this is Two Minute Game Crit and I’m Stephen Beirne.
So, here’s a simple and useful way to look at videogame narrative.
If a game has a story, a good thing to check for is how the ideology of the protagonist meshes with those of the villain and the player. If they resonate or clash, the character interactions will probably be more interesting and satisfying.
The Assassin’s Creed games do this blatantly in these lovely soft moments after a kill. Stabby Man will have a chat with Dying Man where they briefly discuss their ideologies. He’ll either say ‘your ideology is stupid and I hate you’, or ‘I like your beliefs but you’re a bit of a prick.’
Let’s look at a less obvious example, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney.
Like many Japanese games, there’s a big thing in the Ace Attorney series about building a positive legacy for future generations. Phoenix Wright is symbolic of this in how he fosters an extended family of apprentices and kids who’ve been neglected by fate. Throughout the game, he puts stock in the importance of community to the point where he’ll operate purely on blind faith in his client. Usually, his investigations reveal some tragic moment in the past that must be respected and remembered for us to be able to move on.
On the other hand, Manfred von Karma is driven by pride and vanity. He’s manipulative and selfish to the point of enacting revenge on the son for a slight caused by the father.
If we extend these as ideologies, Von Karma, who is shown as westernised, would be a classical liberal: egoistic, self-governing and individualistic. Whereas Phoenix is more communitarian: a reformist, communally responsible, and with values for tradition.
This is why von Karma makes for a good villain: antithetical to Phoenix, he sees himself as above the law and exploits the system to enhance his reputation. To some extent, all the villains in Ace Attorney hold positions of power or place themselves outside of society.
So, how are we, as players, involved in all this?
Puzzle solving in Ace Attorney is all about finding the hidden relationships of objects and people, or of people and events, in order to discover their history. It’s highly focused on building these connections to lead you first down the wrong path and then down the right one.
Like Phoenix we solve each case by delving into the past, even 15 years into the past, to receive the future with an optimistic note. We have to trust there’s a solution to each puzzle which means we have to trust our client is innocent. And because it’s linear we have to depend on Phoenix’s rambling to get us there in the end.