Last time, you decided NPCs saying your custom name is better than fruits. I hope you enjoy NPCs commenting on your digital scurvy. Alright, here’s a tricky one, a question of mastering an environment by breaking the rules, or having an environment painstakingly planned for your enjoyment. What’s better: rocket jumping, or fiddling with objects?
Quake’s rocket jumping is my favourite unintended consequence in video games. It’s a simple one: take out a rocket launcher, look down at your feet, jump, shoot, and be launched to dizzying heights by the force of the explosion acting on your airborne body. Hurts, sure, but it’s handy. While earlier games did feature forms of rocket jumping, Id Software leaned into its discovery in Quake, turning it into a defining feature of the game. Then it became a huge part of the subgenre, and spawned the freestyle form of trick jumping.
I still marvel at this crude physics interaction. Pushing rules to see if you can break them in interesting ways is one of the best parts of video games, and none is more video game-y than detonating explosives beneath your own feet to whoosh into the sky. It’s the combination of a risk/reward calculation and an act of violence that that would vaporise you in the real world. Classic video games. And it’s so fun! A great trick to master, which you can combine with other tricks (from bunnyhopping to grenade jumping) for a murderous advantages or even eschew violence and turn a shooter into parkour. That’s the sort of magic which makes video games so interesting to me.
Fiddling with objects
I refuse to believe that you do not gasp a little and say “Ooh!” when you hit ‘use’ over a video game toilet and discover it flushes. They made the toilet flush! Nor do I believe that you don’t spend the rest of the game trying to interact with light switches, taps, lamps, drawers, bins, microwaves, bottles, books, radios, televisions, drinks machines, gadgets, gizmos, devices, machinery, and every other object that would likely offer no material advantage but could conceivably do something. Each is delightful.
Fiddlebits do have important purposes in some games, mind. In adventure games, they can be rich sources of befuddlement or sources of jokes. In immersive sims, they can have handy consequences. In sim-sims, fiddling is vital. In explore-o-stories, they’re part of inhabiting and coming to know a place. I particularly want to highlight It’s Winter, a game about moping around your Russian apartment complex on a sleepless night. What a joy to have no goal but the freedom to fiddle with enough objects that you can cook fried egg on toast, only to drop it on the floor then dispose of your shame by flushing it down the toilet, smashed plate and all. But often, fiddlebits are just nice to see.
You might counter that fiddlebits amplify the artificiality of everything non-interactive, drawing attention to the fact that the world is made of plywood and egg cartons. Fair. But I find a lot of magic in the awareness that video games are tricks and lies held together with sticky tape and numbers. As you watch water swirl down a toilet, you can almost hear a developer over your shoulder whisper “I made this for you; isn’t it cool?”
But which is better?
I’m staying out of this one. The choice is so difficult and so important that I wouldn’t want to influence the results. You tell me, and make your case.