I love video games and the stories they can tell. I play them to have an experience and it is here I shall be recording my experiences and thoughts thus far in a game I am playing currently.
I picked up Soma the latest game from Frictional Games and I did this voluntarily. I could have chosen to play Destiny: The Taken King or even Bloodborne, both of which would have been just great, but I wanted to play Soma because I wanted to experience something without any expectation or warning.
And boy, has it been an interesting ride. Possible spoilers?
Now, I probably didn’t make the best decision to play this game shortly after moving a friend of mine across the country and into his storage box, because for the better part of the first 30 minutes of this playthrough I was wandering around the apartment trying to find this vile I had to drink.
Yeah, 30 minutes, but you know what, it wasn’t in the typical spots in an apartment. I check the fridge, the bathroom, everywhere, and I even began to throw around the vacuum because I just didn’t know what to do anymore.
The damn bottle was in the bottom drawer of the desk.
Now, this might seem like a case of “What the hell was the designer thinking?” I took a step back and thought about it some more as to why the bottle was in that drawer.
Storytelling in video games is a tricky beast. You can yap at the player throughout the entire game or try to bread crumb the story with messages, but in either case you wind up being either too direct or too cryptic with your player. Many games have done both of these methods for storytelling, but both have their problems, because they aren’t really telling the story the best way for the medium.
The best way to tell a story in a video game is to have it be a part of the world. The story has to be in the game for the player to experience rather than just read or listen to as they play through the main story line. What I mean by having a story in a game isn’t just text with VO, but rather integrating the story into the levels and the player experience. By making the story inseparable from the overall gameplay, the player will have a rich experience without being told why things are the way they are.
Let’s cut back to the apartment in Soma. I was being a duffous in thinking that this particular bottle was in a normal place. I was told upfront, in the intro cutscene, that the main character Simon has some brain damage. Playing this game as a perfectly sane man, on a good day anyway, I thought about where the bottle could be logically, but really I should have been thinking from the mindset of a person with a mental issue.
Simon put the bottle in that bottom drawer because he wanted to forget about two things.
A. The death of a possible lover
B. The fact that this was even happening to him
This character is stressed out because of the events in his life. Being stuck in that apartment I found out he runs a comic shop or bookstore of some kind and that he has clearly not been taking care of himself. The bottle being in the bottom drawer showed me that made sense to him to put it there, in some bizarre way, but the interesting part was the newspaper clipping in the drawer as well. It was very specific about the injuries that occurred to everyone at the scene.
I don’t think the clipping is as truthful as it claims to be, I think its a projection of Simon’s damaged mind. In fact, the entire opening scenes from the apartment, to the subway, to the “Doctor’s” office all seem very bizarre. Then think about the opening quote from Phillip K. Dick, “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.”
Having the narrative be affected by the protagonist’s state of mind is something that Frictional does very well. Wouldn’t be a long shot to guess that might be the same case here, but let’s see what happens shall we?
I am not going to rant the entire playthrough, the cool stuff is in there, you’ll just have to watch to find out what insanity we’re heading towards.
Here’s the playthrough from last night’s session, see if you like my apartment make over.