I’ve never really been a fan of the Call of Duty games. It’s not gamer snobism (after all, I still play WoW after nearly ten years) – I’m just not really invested in realistic shooters. The stories never really seemed to click with me, just like war movies don’t click. Yet the newest game in the CoD franchise did something I find very interesting.

This fascinates me beyond belief. How could anyone think this was going to work? I mean, the idea is right – press button, get emotionally invested – but the execution is just laughably bad. The whole trick of writing a moving story is never telling your audience it’s moving at all. Stories are emotional manipulation, sure, but you don’t want the audience to realize that. Suspense of disbelief, people!

Imagine watching the Lion King (and I’m taking this example precisely because the movie already borders laying bare its extreme means of manipulation). Mufasa dies. Simba cries. Violins play, the choir sings some notes in flat.

Then, suddenly, one of the wildebeasts halt and goes “Whoa, dude, your dad is totally dead, that’s like, super sad.”

Sure, you think of these things when you’re writing a screenplay. You know you’re going to manipulate the audience to the moon and back. In fact, these are usually the moments I find first, because they supply the emotional grounding for a project. But if you’re any bit decent at telling stories, you’ll be subtle about it.

Narration in video games is taking baby steps. I mean, there’s games like Bastion or Braid, who try to use the medium to tell adequate stories, and I think we’re really going places. But then there’s sequences like this – sequences in productions that cost so, so, so much money. Sequences that fall flat because they break universal narrative rules that have been around for millenia in the dumbest manner possible.

Hey, at least we learned something, right?

(P.S.: Giantbomb did a great piece on this – clickie!)

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