Monday, February 4, 2013

Repost: Dead Space 3 Microtransactions Break Internal Logic

Ben Kuchera of the (fantastic) PA Report wrote an interesting post about the recent news that Dead Space 3 will include microtransactions allowing players to purchase materials to craft weapons. The article touches on some of the qualities I most enjoy about the Dead Space series, and so I figured I'd chime in a bit here.

Kuchera notes how the Dead Space games have always been particularly effective at establishing and drawing players into a coherent and self-contained world: the menus appear in the game, all information typically conveyed via a HUD are contained within the game world, etc. The point of all this is to more effectively draw players into the world of the game and hold them there. The most superficial effect of this is to increase players' tension by refusing to allow them to put the action on hold while they access their inventory (as was the convention prior to Dead Space). However, Kuchera argues that this tension is but one symptom of the greater immersion that the game creates by forcing the player to participate in its world in the same way as the fictional characters within it. At no point in the game does the player engage in activity that their fictitious character does not also undertake; in effect the game world is constructed so as to force player immersion by limiting their interactions with the game world to those of their character.

The availability of microtransactions in the upcoming Dead Space 3 breaks this immersion via the deus ex machina availability of crafting materials. When players use a terminal they are told they can access "Downloadable Content" by which "A god-like hand is introduced and drops supplies in the lap of the character." This whole availability breaks the immersion spell that the Dead Space games have so effectively established, and moreover upsets the delicate sense of isolation and desperation that the survival-horror genre is premised upon.

The offending intrusion on Dead Space's fiction.

Kuchera's argument is compelling, and though even he acknowledges the nerdiness of getting hung-up on such a detail, I think it's a significant sacrifice on the part of the developers. A big part of what made Dead Space unique was its uncompromising immersion, forcing them to exist in the game world. It's unfortunate to have that quality diluted for the sake of some extra income and a further attempt at attracting a wider audience by dumbing-down the experience.

Tom Phillips at (the also fantastic) Eurogamer has also chimed in with a counterpoint, arguing that the kind of gamers who will be bothered by this feature are also not the types who are likely to use the it. Rather, Phillips argues, the microtransactions will only be taken advantage of by more casual gamers while more hardcore players will likely ignore them. While I think Phillips is right practically speaking, at the same time I'm more in line with Kuchera in feeling that there's a more significant cost to the sacrifice. I don't think "hardcore gamers" will take advantage of the microtransactions, and while I do feel there's a somewhat legitimate argument to be made against their existence at all I'm perfectly happy to simply ignore them. However the fact that they're implemented in such a way as to break the immersive fiction of the series will bother me if/when I play Dead Space 3. From all accounts the menus make their existence painfully clear so as to attract potential buyers, and that fourth-wall-breaking advertising is necessarily going to take away from the sense of isolation and immersion that the series' horror is based upon.

What do you guys think? Is it too early to tell, is Phillips right and are Kuchera and I just whining EA-haters, or is this a legitimately intrusive dilution of one of Dead Space's most unique qualities?

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'Reposts' are inspired by other articles or blog posts around the Internet. They are used here with accreditation as the basis for short bursts of Max's interests.

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