Game Play Reflection by Riakeem Kelley (Heavy Rain)

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February 29, 2012 by rkelle4

What makes something a video game; a brief discussion of Heavy Rain- interactive film or game?

Heavy Rain is a great game to think about when considering what makes something a video game. It adequately functions as a video game in that it fits the definition; the game has graphics, has an interface, player activity, and it has an algorithm, albeit an unusual one. In our class discussion during the week that we played Heavy Rain, we discussed video game aesthetics. Aesthetics coupled with what makes a video game is the best way to consider Heavy Rain, which has been poorly deemed an interactive film. Through playing Heavy Rain, the player sees all of the normal aspects of what make a video game, it has all of the above mentioned aspects and like the writers of our text all agree, nothing happens unless you act. Thus, Heavy rain is more of a game than an interactive movie.

When one thinks about aesthetics, they think about what makes something visually pleasing. When I play video games, I think of what pleases me, so it is natural to think about how Heavy Rain pleases me in terms of video game aesthetics, aesthetics that transcend visuals and encompass everything that the game is (such as rules, graphics, sounds, etc.). The first time that I played Heavy Rain (note: played, not watched or read) I was frustrated by the controls. The fact that I had to re-learn how to play a game was intimidating, and all of the newly incorporated motion controls were foreign and unwanted. However, these controls contributed to what makes Heavy Rain a video game and not a film. Without the controls, Heavy Rain would just be a French noir film.

I picked up the Play Station Move controller and began to swing my arms in ways I thought would make the protagonist of the game respond on the screen, but instead of grabbing a balloon from the clown I could not manage to control looking at him. However, I eventually got the hang of it. With a fling of my wrist, I was looking at the clown, who successfully had one less red balloon…and in the process I had managed to let my son get away. I panicked. Where did he run off too? Why can’t I see the red balloon that I just put in his hand a second ago? But unlike watching a movie or reading a book, I had to control my actions. I could wander around the mall, go talk to my wife, or do practically anything. When you watch a movie, you have to follow along with what the characters do, and there is one strict thing that the characters do every single time you watch the film. Heavy Rain proves its ‘gameness’ because you have as much control over the protagonist as you would have over that soldier from Modern Warfare or Mario jumping from one platform to the next. You must get immersed into the game play, the narrative, and all of the other aesthetic qualities of the game in order for it to be truly enjoyable and for you to fully appreciate the aesthetics. If not, your son never gets the balloon, the hero never even takes a shower to start his day.

The argument that Heavy Rain is nothing more than interactive movie is formidable. However, what is an interactive movie if not a video game. On this premise, I believe that any thing that is deemed an interactive movie is a video game. Take the movie inception for example. If the movie were to stop and ask the viewer to make a choice on behalf of Leonardo Dicaprio, (go deeper into the dream or leave the current dream, for example) then, it would be a video game because it would then follow the definition of what makes a video game a video game. So, on that premise, all things deemed interactive movies in the sense that it has a player that is required to put in his input to cause change, are video games rather than films.

Jesper Juul defines games in his Classic Game Model definition that games have fixed rules, negotiable consequences, variable outcomes, player attachment to outcome, player effort, and valorization of outcome (Class power point 2-20-2012). Heavy Rain fits into this definition as well. The game has fixed rules, and what you do in the game affects the different outcomes that lead up to the games different endings. When I played in lab, for the five or ten brief minutes, I had to learn to use the controls. I went from frustrated to very happy when I was able to make the hero take the balloon from the (I-still-believe-to-be-evil) clown. Thus, my effort as the player was rewarded, and that valorization was accepted openly by me, the player. The empirical evidence is there; Heavy Rain proves it’s ‘gameness’ based on both definitions, and it refutes the idea that movies can even be interactive on the definition of makes a game anyway.

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3 thoughts on “Game Play Reflection by Riakeem Kelley (Heavy Rain)

  1. bnoble6 says:

    I agree with you that Heavy Rain is a game, and a beautiful one at that, but just to take the role of the Devil’s Advocate here and admitting I have only played this game in our lab, I question the “variable outcomes” aspect of this game that Juul has as a part of his classic game model. Every person who picked up the Move controllers in the lab was initially terrible with them. They could not even open a cupboard, or buy a balloon to use your example. However, this didn’t change the outcome or story line in the game, it just brought it to a screeching halt. I don’t know if this changes later on in the game and there is a branching element to the narrative (if someone would be willing to let me borrow a copy of the game to play through the entire thing, it would be greatly appreciated.) However, I think that is the foundation of the interactive narrative argument. It felt like no matter what we did in the game, or how many attempts it took us to successfully arrange the plates around the table, the outcomes of the game were already predetermined and just waiting for us to move things along. Again, maybe that was just because these were very unimportant early segments of the game, but that’s all I have to form my opinion from.

  2. justingroot says:

    I also found Heavy Rain a bit frustrating. The controls seemed imprecise and unintuitive — even with the Move, I couldn’t see myself ever forgetting that I was playing the game. For me that’s an important part of immersion – becoming so comfortable with the controller that it feels like an extension of my body (as ridiculous as that sounds). There’s just a baseline amount of imprecision implicit in motion controls that acts as a “shock” for me, disrupting my immersive experience.

    I’ve also read that the freedom to change outcomes in Heavy Rain is mostly superficial. There are different endings and various things you can change inside each scene, but most of the architecture of the game stays the same. I think that’s mostly because of constraints on how much content you can possibly fit in a game — if every choice you made really had an impact, you’d have to program in an almost limitless number of scenarios. Maybe making a game in which you can really affect the outcome of the story is simply impossible.

  3. chrisklamb says:

    I disagree (if purely for the sake of argument) that Heavy Rain is not an interactive movie. It appears to me that the interactivity and the choice of multiple endings are two of the driving forces behind this conclusion. Even with the choices of the game, could one argue that a number of those count as being a part of the interactivity of the ‘film’. Also if we replace the Inception example with Clue, it starts to paint a different picture. The film clue has multiple endings, and is structured so that any of them could be possible. That said, it seems that all that separates Clue from Heavy Rain, is interactivity and a gripping narrative…. Moving on, Riakeem, as with your Shining Force 2 post I found your writing energetic, and for me engaging. With your post though, I am curious about some of your mental impressions of the game, what went through your head as you played so to speak?

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