Games connect us to exhilaration in various ways. I love mine to scare me. Although the shock, horror and gore are all pretty unnerving, nothing comes close to the sweaty palms of playing games that take you to ridiculously high places - InFamous, Mirror's Edge and Uncharted to name a few.
Some fears are innate; from birth they afflict every one of us, from an ingrained understanding of the threat posed to us. One of the most primitive of these is the fear of heights. The majority of people learn to overcome this fear, or at least control it. Others are not so lucky, their dread becomes so acute that it manifests its self physically causing dizziness and nausea. In some rare cases this fear can grow to an irrational level, making even moderate heights insurmountable.
I do not suffer from acrophobia and the closest I have come to experiencing any sense of vertigo has been when in an extremely elevated position with unsure footing. Recently however a few games have managed to elicit from me some of this phobia's giddiness. It is a sensation that I wouldn't describe as welcome, but did serve to pull me closer to the fiction than any amount of exposition ever could.
My experiences with this unfamiliar sensation made me wonder how a virtual world managed to elicit these reactions in me. I considered how games are able to place me in environments and circumstances I would never be exposed to in real life and my thoughts slipped to InFamous. I remembered standing on the edge of a fifty-story tower, precariously close to the edge of a crumbling skyscraper while spread before me was the world of Empire City. I knew that in-game the fall would leave me unscathed. But despite this the scale and knowledge of what the fall would do to me in real life was still unnerving.
The glimpses of my character's arms flailing and the panic shown through the sound of her breathing conveyed to me the peril I was in.
But the sensation created in InFamous was mild in comparison to Mirror's Edge. There was a game where a virtual fall meant virtual death, and a game that demanded emersion if I was to be successful.
While Mirror's Edge's first person perspective ensured I rarely looked down it didn't prevent a sense of elevation. Through setting and frequent rapid descents the game continually reminded me that I was performing aerial acrobatics at altitudes guaranteeing my death. Strangely though it was not the game's ability to imply height that most moved me, it was empathy. The glimpses of my character's arms flailing and the panic shown through the sound of her breathing conveyed to me the peril I was in.
The sense of scale and empathy that both these games produced went a long way to help create a sense of vertigo. Recently however Uncharted 2 really managed to make my head spin. In some ways Uncharted cheated though. It simulated the symptoms of vertigo rather than building an environment that convinced me I was there.
While it made fantastic use of both scale and character animation it was the game's choice of presentation that most affected. Fixed shots, framed scenes and slightly askew camera work all worked to disorientate. These shots regularly manipulated my camera controls, altering my influence over the pitch and yaw creating unsettling angles that instantly made me less secure in my characters footing. Occasionally I even found I had to remind myself that 'its only a game', before I could progress to my next breath catching leap.
The result was a closer bond with the story, a shared experience with the protagonist.
By tweaking my perception Uncharted managed to recreate the innate fear associated with the situation they were trying to replicate. It used every element of the medium to elevate it above what the graphical fidelity alone could ever hope to achieve. The result was a closer bond with the story, a shared experience with the protagonist.
It makes prefect sense, why try to simulate a sense of peril when in the end the player will always be cognisant of the fact they are safe on their settee. Simulating the side effects of the sensation means player has to engage with these queasy emotions. For me these clever camera tricks are as effective as any high wire work. And all go towards generate that adrenaline ride a love in my favourite and most fearful games.
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
But so far we've not found a way to streamline our review output - there's basically too much of it. So, rather than dilute things for newcomers we have decided to live with the hubbub while helping new readers find the columnists they will enjoy.
Our columnists each focus on a particular perspective and fall into one of the following types of gamers: