Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Pokemon X/Y, and how naturalism can draw you into a game

As the posts around here might suggest, I - like some 4 million other people - fell down the rabbit hole of Pokémon this weekend.

This is a new experience for me, having never once chucked a Poké Ball before, and I was surprised at how easily I slid into the game.  Everything about it felt right, accessible, and - above all else - natural.

I first caught onto this naturalism when I approached a small child in the second town.  Clicking the 'A' button dutifully to initiate a conversation, I couldn't help but smile as my character crouched down to talk to the small tyke.

It was a movement so innocuous, so banal, and so organic that I completely overlooked it at first.  Once I went to talk to an adult, I noticed my character's posture didn't change.  I switched back to a kid and, hey presto, I was crouching down so we were at eye level.

This little touch really helped me buy into the game as a whole.  For a moment, I forgot that I was playing a teenage girl running around France Kalos with a purse overloaded with tiny, bloodthirsty monsters and I actually felt like I was 'in' the game since my character was behaving exactly how I normally would.

Well, maybe not exactly.  I don't think I'd be practiced enough to smooth my skirt as I crouched, but that's besides the point.

There's plenty to be said against the role of naturalism in video games, mind, as the industry has established most of its popularity by allowing characters to do things that their players couldn't.  Cloud Strife, for example,  wouldn't be half the Billy Badass that pop culture makes him out to be if he replaced his Climhazzard and Omnislash limit breaks with "feeble, half-hearted punch" and "call 911".

But here in  the world of pocketable monsters, naturalism was a brilliant and inspired design choice.

It's something that the game doesn't draw a ton of attention to - and you can easily ignore its importance if you don't pay attention to it - but it's rather remarkable that a ton of man hours went into coding natural character movements in a franchise that's really not known for its character development.

I'm not sure how the rest of my neophyte Pokémon career will go, but if it follows in this course I might as well sell all my other games and brush up on my Poké French.