Monday, December 28, 2015

Every playthrough is equal, some playthroughs are more equal than others

I've now written three texts about games (Planescape Torment, Undertale, Life Is Strange) where the way I played them and the outcomes of those playthroughs affected my understanding of them1. And in all three cases there are other ways of playing the game which if one took into account all the possible playthroughs for ones understanding of the game and tried to stack them on top of each-other, one would have to alter ones conclusions drawn. Because how can one be an asshole to ones companions yet still regain ones mortality in Planescape Torment? How does all the themes of acceptance in Life Is Strange fit in with the ending where one decides on saving Chloe? Do those alternative (to mine) endings contradict my conclusions simply because my conclusions were wrong to begin with? I don't think that's the case, and I don't necessarily believe that games should be only understood in the context of all possible states that they might finalize in (or indeed be understood primarily based on their final states).

All playthroughs of games are worlds in themselves and can be regarded as consistent and perfect. That doesn't mean that there isn't anything to gain from going through a videogame with a different playstyle or thematic predisposition compared to ones older playthroughs in order to inform ones understanding of the universe that is a specific game as a whole. Perhaps I'm wary of going down that path in part because it takes more artistic genius to make all paths point in the same general direction or at least give tools for satisfying meaning-making in all paths. Then there's also the question of my choosing the path which makes the more sense for me. It's not weird that other paths don't seem as well-made – they weren't made for me.

1To be completely honest I did make it seem as if the actions I took in Planescape Torment were necessary to reach the best ending at all, but most of them really weren't. That's different from how ones experience of Undertale might vary according to the path taken, because in Undertale my interpretation might still hold in a no-mercy run – the game is very different but it's not essentially different or dissonant with the Undertale of a pacifist run.

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