Kodrick

How Perspective Can Affect a Game

Derick Murphy
Cody Moore
July 28, 2022

There is a common saying every story has two sides. This idea, while simple, can provide storytellers with a tool that when used properly can result in more fleshed out characters and stories, and a more connected and empathetic audience. This has been explored in cinema with movies like Maleficent and Cruella, exploring some of the most evil characters from a new perspective, giving us insight into their motivations, feelings, and logical reasoning, which in turn allows us as an audience to feel for them, and even sometimes see our own traits and feelings in them. This shifts the idea of a villain on its head. We are always taught that the villain is this big bad evil person that is irredeemable, but seeing them from a new light makes them seem more human. While we still might not agree with what they are doing we can see why they are doing it. So what happens when you take this idea that has the audience empathizing with the villain and take it a step further. What If, you make the audience fill the shoes of the villain, so that they are not only seeing the other side's view but living it. Luckily video games provide the perfect medium to do so.

Warning this article contains spoilers for the following games:

Same Story different Path

One of my favorite game series as a child, and even now if I am being honest is the Lego series. Seeing my favorite franchises being brought to life as Lego was so awesome. Being able to blow up the death star in Lego Star Wars, or run away from the giant boulder in Lego Indiana Jones, is exhilarating. But one of the Lego series most interesting games comes from one of my favorite Characters of all time, Batman. 

Lego Batman tells a unique story that pulls inspiration from various movies and comics that the Batman characters have been in. The Story is divided up into three separate stories that follow Batman facing some of the most iconic members of his rogues gallery, like Joker, Scarecrow, Two Face, The Riddler, Catwoman, Harley Quinn and many more. As you play through each story you run into a different rogue in each chapter ending with the leader of the story as the final chapter and Batman saving the day. After you finish the stories however something interesting happens. There is a lever that appears in the Batcave that when pulled transports you to Arkham asylum , and puts you in the shoes of one of the rogues. You then get to play through the same story from the villain's point of view. Playing as each rogue that you took down previously. This fills in some story gaps, showing how the villains ended up where you saw them in the previous story. Since this is a game geared towards all ages and the story is boiled down to rather simple terms of the villains just wanting to steal money because they are bad, we don’t get to see any huge impact on the character development from this perspective shift. However it does allow you to put yourself in the villains' shoes letting you see what it is like to be them, and shows that this type of story telling device can work in a game rather well. But they definitely barely scratched the surface with it. 

Another game that plays with this idea of the same story from a different perspective Is Arkham City in its Catwoman dlc pack. This dlc allows you to play as Catwoman during the events of Arkham City. While it is not to the extent of the Lego Batman game, in that it only has 4 smaller segments rather than replaying the whole story from a different perspective. It does help the development of Catwoman’s character and helps the audience understand her motivations better. But it could definitely be taken further.

Walking a mile in the other side's shoes.

This technique of different perspectives is used in other video games in different ways. But one of the most successful ones is seen in the Assassin's Creed Series. 

In Assassin’s Creed III the player starts off the game playing as a character named Haythem Conway, and plays through various missions, in what amounts to a good chunk of the game. What the player doesn’t know at the time (if they have managed to enter the game without knowing anything about it) is that They are actually playing as a Templar, the sworn enemies of the Assassins, which is the order you have been fighting for in every previous game. This is mind blowing at first when you realize that you were fighting for the other side, and makes you question everything that you have done so far in the game. It also makes the fight against Haytham later in the game all the more meaningful. However it seems as though Ubisoft was merely dipping their toes with the idea, because a few years later they released Assassin’s Creed Rogue. 

Assassin’s Creed Rogue, follows Shay Cormic, an assassin that is being mentored by Achilles, the assassin that goes on to mentor Conner in the events of Assassin's Creed 3. Throughout the beginning of the game you play through missions similar to previous assassin’s creed games. However you can see that Shay has some doubts on if what the assassin’s are doing is right. Especially when he is sent to kill a sick man that can barely walk, and an older man that is defenseless. He voices his concerns but brushes it off until he is given a mission in Albany that results in the destruction of an entire city and the death of countless innocent lives. This enrages shay that the assassin’s would needlessly put innocent lives in danger, and are planning to continue to do so. After trying to stop them the Assassin’s turn on him attempting to kill him and thinking they succeeded. However a friendly templar, George Monroe, sees potential in Shay saves him and nurses him back to heal, eventually asking him to join the templars, to help them stop the assassin’s from taking more innocent lives. 

This Game really embodies the concept of walking a mile in the villains shoes, as you play as a templar for the majority of the game. As you play you get to hear their motivations and really start to see where they are coming from, they don’t seem quite as evil as they are normally portrayed to be. And furthermore you get to see other characters from previous games that were your allies when you were an assassin, like Achilles, from a different light. Seeing how they too can do wrong, make bad decisions, and even be a straight up bad person. [ It even has a mission at the end where you are tasked with killing Charles Dorian, who is the father of Arno the main protagonist in Assassin’s Creed Unity. Giving you the chance to see yet another side of a story that seems so black and white.] Seeing all of this really allows you to empathize with the other side and helps the characters and story mean more as you play it.

It doesn’t just affect this game either, but the series as a whole. Next time you boot up another assassin’s creed game you might question, am I on the right side, does the other side have a point. It can even affect you outlook on all stories as a whole having you ask the same questions about every story driven game you play.

Wow I can’t believe I fell for that

One of the most interesting concepts that Assassin’s Creed Rogue explores from a gameplay aspect is how you now have to fight against the tactics that you used on the other side. For example your enemies, the assassin’s will do the same things that you did when you were an assassin, like hide in haystacks or try to attack you from above. This provides an interesting change because you now have to figure out how to combat those techniques, which further allows you to empathize with the other side. I know i even found myself falling for things that when i was playing as an assassin i asked myself are they really falling for this. You come to realize that having to check every haystack and constantly look on rooftops can sometimes be annoying and can easily be forgotten.

This idea of swapping game mechanics has a lot of potential and would be interesting to see in other games. Think about if you used this idea in something like a detective game, where instead of solving the case you were trying to get away with it. You would have to hide and get rid of evidence, leave red herrings for the detective to find, and survive interviews.

The story at the heart of it all

The purpose of a video game is for a player to be presented with a problem, and ideally, to be able to solve that problem in an enjoyable way. The primary purpose of gameplay is to solve that, to make the problem fun to solve. But gameplay can only go so far. The story is necessary, the context for the game, the idea, the concept, the backdrop, all of the parts that make up the game are necessary. 

It would be far less interesting to play Doom or Doom Eternal if the entire demon-slaying context were removed, and the player only saw it as clicking on textureless cubes. Games like Mass Effect could be just button-mashing, at its heart, or simply pulling the trigger. Castle Crashers could be much the same, with nothing more than jamming down a button as fast as possible until the level is over.

This isn’t to say those games have bad gameplay - just that gameplay is embellished and defined by the context surrounding it. A good story can make or break a game, providing a strong enough hook to keep a player invested. 

So how does following both sides of a conflict help that? By creating extra conflict for the story. A well developed villain can bring conflict to the player in terms of figuring out who is right, developing sympathy for a villain, or even making that penultimate scene where the villain decides the end is worth whatever cost may need to be paid, all the more impactful. The stakes are raised. The player, despite the ever present knowledge that it’s just a game, is pulled in and invested in the story. They play, not merely because the game is fun to play (hopefully) but because they want to know what happens. Seeing the other side of the conflict can make it all the sweeter when that conflict comes to a head.

Conclusion

In gaming a lot can be gained from exploring the other side’s perspective. It can help tell more meaningful and exchanging stories. It can help develop characters in a deeper way, revealing things about them that would otherwise be hidden, helping the audience to empathize with them, affecting not only the way they view the game but everything around them. It can provide more interesting ways to play, by allowing players to create new strategies to fight against mechanics they know and love.

What do you think? Are there any other games that use this technique in their storytelling or gameplay? Let us know down in the comments.

Written By
Derick Murphy
Cody Moore
Kodrick LLC © 2022