Why so se­ri­ous?


Per­haps it’s the shrink­ing win­dow of in­no­cence, but ‘toy’ has be­come a hor­ri­bly loaded term. To adults, it car­ries an air of in­fan­til­ism, of child­hood things put away for a sta­ble job and a swelling ISA. Oth­ers take the defama­tion fur­ther. Hadn’t you bet­ter stop play­ing with toys and grow up?

In light of this, pro­po­nents of games have long ar­gued against that la­bel. It’s re­duc­tive, they ar­gue. Games should be taken more se­ri­ously. Yet this medium is still pri­mar­ily about play and, how­ever we dis­guise it, still thor­oughly de­pen­dant on toys. A sand­box is just a bor­ing mound of grit un­til you put things in it and ap­ply a lit­tle imag­i­na­tion, af­ter all.

Hitman (p44) is a per­fect ex­am­ple. On the out­side, it’s a game about con­tract killing, but its globe-trot­ting as­sas­si­na­tions would be fa­tally dull if not for re­ac­tive AI sys­tems to poke and a toy­box full of meth­ods with which to do so. Fall­ing chan­de­liers, sab­o­taged cat­walks, det­o­nat­ing heaters: all are op­tions. And what smacks more of child­hood af­ter­noons than play­ing dress up – a bar­tender’s uni­form to de­liver a cock­tail of poi­sons, per­haps? Capy’s resur­fac­ing Be­low (p60) is also full of sys­tems you need not use, giv­ing you the free­dom to toy with the in­gre­di­ents it of­fers with­out en­forc­ing ap­proaches as you plumb its pro­ce­dural depths. It’s even dar­ing enough to snatch your PC, PS4, play­things away, a se­cret-re­veal­ing lan­tern gone for­ever if

Ve­gas 2 dropped and not re­cov­ered in your next life.

Funom­ena and Keita Taka­hashi col­lab­o­ra­tion Wat­tam (p58), mean­while, is glo­ri­ously aware that it’s a toy, its very in­spi­ra­tion be­ing some play time shared be­tween the

Kata­mari cre­ator and his son. It asks you to re­pop­u­late a XCOM 2 town by play­ing around with an un­usual clutch of res­i­dents, us­ing their pow­ers to cre­ate liv­ing tow­ers, which you then send hurtling into the sky to ex­plode.

Toys aren’t hol­low. They should be em­blems of won­der, joy co­a­lesced into playable forms. And who doesn’t want a lit­tle child­like amaze­ment when they sit down to play?

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