Part 2

Part 2: Re-playability as Reinterpretation

Of course, this ability that Heavy Rain has that allows it to incorporate different player’s actions as part of the story means that each player who plays the game will get essentially a different narrative. There are some who might claim that this inhibits Heavy Rain to function as art, because if each player is getting a different narrative, then it is seemingly impossible to interpret the creator’s intended message. Or, in essence, that each person is only getting a piece of the entire narrative, and no one player is getting a complete experience. However, to those who would make such a claim, I would direct them to the works of Franz Kafka.

Above is a short story written by Kafka, A Country Doctor, and it is, personally, one of the more confusing short stories that I’ve ever read. However, I encourage anyone reading this to at least read a little bit of the story and make out of it what they can. After doing that, take a look at one or more of the following videos.

That series of videos is a visual interpretation of Kafka’s short story done by Koji Yamamura in 2007. Undoubtedly there were portions of the video that do not reflect how another reader might have read the short story, but that video does represent Yamamura’s interpretation. There is, of course, more than one way to interpret Kafka’s story, some have, for example, read it as an existential piece, such as Louis H. Leiter in his article A Problem in Analysis: Franz Kafka’s ‘A Country Doctor, wherein he states:

“A Country Doctor” comments on man, who, buffeted by the scheme of things, is unable to transcend the part assigned him by the absurdity of that existence. Because he does not lack conscious knowledge of his condition, but refuses to act in the face of his portentous freedom, the doctor, an archetype of the anti-existential hero, deserves his fate. Lacking the human stuff necessary to create and structure situations, he permits himself to be manipulated by the groom, the family, and the horses; but he becomes, by submitting, a tool within the situations they create. Never, consciously, does he attempt through an overt act, until too late, to establish his own essence, to rise above any manipulative value he possesses for others. As doctor he is a thing, an object, a tool; as man he is nothing.”

In the last several paragraphs we have looked at three different views taken to Kafka’s short story. So, ultimately, my question is this: what is the difference between discussing the different meaning and actions of A Country Doctor as determined and experienced by different people, and discussing the different plots and actions of Heavy Rain as determined and experienced by different people?

Novels, films and other works of art sometimes require repeated readings, viewings, etc. in order to fully comprehend, and yet, all of these works can be said to deliver a whole experience. One does not feel as if they are missing any aspect of the story in A Country Doctor simply because they must re-read it in order to fully understand its nuances. So, too, then can one receive a whole experience from a video game, even if that game requires repeat play-throughs  in order to understand its nuances.

Even though Heavy Rain has multiple endings, (pictured here: Madison dies, Madison and Ethan fall in love) this doesn't affect the games' ability to deliver a complete narrative experience

I would answer my previous question by saying that there is no difference, and that just as novels, films and other works commonly considered art have different ways of approaching them and experiencing them, so to do video games have different methods of being experienced, albeit, in a bit more obvious fashion.

However, these two examples (A Country Doctor, Heavy Rain) are extreme examples of both ends of this interpretation spectrum. There are, of course, novels that can only be interpreted a limited number of ways, and there are video games where not every action has an effect on the narrative. However, in these novels, there is always at least room for multiple interpretations. In video games, as well, there are actions that the player can take that affect how they experience the story in more subtle ways.

In the game Half-Life 2, much of the back story must be gleaned from newspaper clippings and other resources scattered throughout the environments. If a player plays the game in such a way that they don't view these newspaper clippings, they would be missing certain elements of the plot.

Continue to Part 3


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