Part 3: The Faults of Heavy Rain
“If the system decides the ending, we have guaranteed closure without interactive freedom; if the user decides the ending we have guaranteed freedom but possibly no closure… story means fate, interactivity means freedom (doing whatever you want), therefore interactivity and story can’t be combined”
While the ideas and concepts purported thus far rely a great deal on the ability of Heavy Rain to perform as intended, this is not always the case. What I have mapped out thus far is more in-line with an ideal version of Heavy Rain, one in which the game falls perfectly into the image that the developers had hoped to attain. As it is, however, Heavy Rain doesn’t always live up to these expectations.
While it is true that, in certain instances, the ways in which the player interacts with the game influence how the narrative develops, in subsequent play-throughs, players quickly discover that often times, the narrative is actually unaffected by how the player interacts with the game, but merely gives the impression of being affected. In essence, the game is giving players the illusion of freedom.
However, the game also has moments that alter how the story progresses entirely, depending on which action the character takes. While I’ve defended this earlier by stating that these different story lines represent different interpretations of an overall narrative present in Heavy Rain, the fact still remains that, as it is, the game’s different story lines are sometimes melded together awkwardly because of how the player progressed through the game. This leads to situations where, even though one character is shown achieving redemption, the overall plot has not been fully resolved.
In Mateas and Stern‘s article Interaction and Narrative (quoted above), the two authors grapple with this apparent dilemma between game-play/ player freedom and narrative/ pre-determined story.
“A narrative is an already accomplished structure that is told to a spectator. A game is an evolving situation that is being accomplished by an interactor Since an already accomplished static structure is not the same thing as an evolving, dynamic situation, then the argument goes, narrative and game are fundamentally dichotomous.”
However, one cannot fault Heavy Rain for seceding points in both the area of player freedom (by not actually have their decisions affect the outcome of certain events as it seems to claim it does) and narrative (by not creating a fully cohesive story given all of the player’s decisions). While most video games give players no real freedom, and are merely plot driven (Killzone, Gears of War, etc.) or go to the other extreme and offer little to no plot but give the player almost complete freedom (The Sims, Roller Coaster Tycoon, etc.), Heavy Rain actually manages to merge both aspects.
Heavy Rain concedes points from the game aspect in order to improve the narrative aspect (denying players the ability to control every aspect of the game in order to maintain a plot) and vice versa (risking a less cohesive plot in order to give players the freedom to influence the narrative). These concessions ultimately make the other aspect stronger, and the product as a whole better.
It is because of this give/take relationship between these two aspects of the game that Heavy Rain is ultimately able to offer a rich, rewarding experience akin to something that a piece of art would offer, while at the same time maintaining rules that are demanded of a game.