By Chris Casselman
If you saw The Sixth Sense when it came out, and didn’t have it spoiled for you, you may remember the feeling you had when the twist was revealed near the end. Or perhaps, unlike me, you were clever enough to see it coming. Either way, there was a time when you didn’t know what was going on… and now you do. You can’t go back, you can’t unknow what you know and experience that film for the first time – a second time around. It might be cool if you could though, right? While I love the spontaneity of fandom improv, there are some things I wish I could forget everything about and enjoy again for the first time. Today, I’m going to talk about video games I’d love to do that with.
Five games I play in my downtime from fandom improv and would love to re-experience for the first time
Okay, so Tetris doesn’t have a twist at the end, like The Sixth Sense. It doesn’t even have a story! When I was young, my parents wouldn’t buy me an NES – I suspect they didn’t want me monopolizing the one TV we had in the house – but they did buy me the original Game Boy. You may remember that the Game Boy came with Tetris as a pack-in game. I’m sure you’ve played Tetris in one form or another. It’s available on just about anything that can play a game (it’s even included on some graphing calculators). But do you remember the first time you played it? It has the classic recipe of “easy to understand yet difficult to master (at higher speeds)” and when it was the only game on my Game Boy, I sure played a heck of a lot of it. I played it so much I would dream of Tetrominos falling into place, flashing, and vanishing to make way for more. I’ve played Tetris on many different devices since then, but the addictive magic is gone. I think I’ve maxed out on my Tetris playing. Now, if I play at all, it’s not for longer than fifteen minutes. That being said, there are two new entries into the Tetris series I’m going to check out soon; Tetris Effect, which is played in virtual reality with a few added mechanics, and Tetris 99, which pits 99 players against each other in a battle royale style, last-player-standing Tetris competition.
Produced by Canadian game developer BioWare, known for their immersive stories in video games, the second entry in the Mass Effect trilogy puts you back in the shoes of Commander Shepard, a space-opera hero on a mission to save the galaxy from a race of aliens intent on destroying all life. There’s a major twist within the first ten minutes of the game – Shepard is killed… only to be revived two years later by a shady organization that appeared only in the background of the first game’s story. You, as Shepard, are now tasked with tracking down your old crew and convincing them to help you (and the shady organization) save the galaxy through any means necessary. It’s a great “we’re putting the band back together” story and it’s full of twists and turns that would make a great film. It’s a middle chapter, so it doesn’t include the conclusion to the story; but, much like The Empire Strikes Back, it’s a middle chapter that stands out amongst the rest of the trilogy.
3. Dead Space
Dead Space plays like an homage to some great science fiction horror films such as Aliens, The Thing, and Event Horizon. While it “borrows” a lot from these films and others like them, it does so very well and without feeling like a rip-off or a cheap copy. You play as Isaac, an engineer who is the near sole survivor of a huge, space-faring mining vessel whose crew went mad and were wiped out by some kind of alien contamination. If that weren’t enough, the corpses of the crew are now mutated and re-animated as hostile zombie aliens. As I write this out, it sounds comical, but trust me, it’s terrifying. This isn’t a game about the power fantasy of a one man army gunning down hordes of aliens. Isaac is an engineer. His “weapons” are digging tools and mining lasers with limited amounts of energy. Every alien, excuse me, necromoprh you face is a challenge to overcome and the dark, haunting, claustrophobic environment of the ship gives them all the advantages. In this game, you are the prey, not the predator. I don’t think I’ve ever played a game that made me this tense, my shoulders would get sore from the suspense, trying to anticipate when the next alien horror would jump out and try to tear me apart. As a fandom improv performer, that immersive quality really captured me. Having finished the game, solved the mystery, and escaped the ship, though, going back just wouldn’t hold the same tension as it did the first time.
Portal did something new when it was released in 2007: it was a first-person game like its contemporaries, such as Halo 3 or Call of Duty 4; but, rather than shooting enemies, it was a puzzle game where you used a gun to shoot… portals. Your goal was to get from point A to point B, but the route was never direct. You were equipped with a portal gun that, when first fired against certain walls, would create a portal entrance, the second shot creating the portal’s exit. Once a complete portal was created, you could pass through it, disappearing from one side and emerging on the other. The game started out very simple, with the goal being to create a portal to circumvent a pit and complete the level. As the game went on, naturally the difficulty of the puzzles increased as new elements were introduced and solutions became very complex. But then something really interesting happens. If you somehow haven’t played Portal but still intend to, don’t read this next bit. Just skip down to number 1, below. Okay, you’re still here? As you’re making your way through the levels, you start to notice some discrepancies. What look like generic computer game levels start to come apart at the seams and you notice strange details, like unfinished wood panels that don’t look like they belong. You then discover areas in the game that feel like you aren’t supposed to have access to them – like you’ve “broken” the puzzles somehow. In these mysterious spaces, you find messages written on the walls and other evidence that someone else has been there before you. When you started playing, it was just a game about puzzles, you weren’t playing a character, and there was no story any more than there is a story or character you play in Tetris, but suddenly it’s revealed that you are actually a prisoner in a test facility and that other prisoners have been tested before you and tried to escape. It’s a wonderful and exhilarating discovery and one that can’t be recreated once you know the secret: THE CAKE IS A LIE.
How can I describe Fez? On the surface, it’s a charming 2D platforming game much like Super Mario Bros., wherein you control a little pixelated character named Gomez who can jump and climb ladders and explore the two dimensional environment – that is until you receive the magical and titular Fez that allows you to rotate the game world on its Y axis, revealing hidden spaces beside and behind the 2D world we’re used to seeing in something like Super Mario. There are no enemies to fight, just puzzles to solve and objects to collect… and then way more puzzles, including a secret language to decode and learn if you really want to dive in that deep. Fez is actually one of my all-time favourite video games, and I refused to look at any guides for clues or hints while playing. Unravelling its mysteries became an obsession for me and a co-worker friend of mine who was playing it as well. Many a break, and probably some company time as well, was spent sharing our discoveries and discussing our theories about the game. It’s hard to describe, but if it sounds interesting to you, I urge you to check out the video demo. The sense of wonder and discovery is something that I haven’t experienced in any video game since.
While there are many things that will never be new again, fandom improv shows always are. Catch The Dandies Holodeck Follies, Hogwarts Follies, and Death Star Follies shows at Toronto ComiCon!