Envy the Watcher

A while ago, I stumbled across this video of somebody playing through the final level in Rez, one of my all time favorite games. Though it’s almost a half hour long, I actually watched the whole thing.

It’s a beautiful game. And though I’ve played it to death, I saw some things in this video that I hadn’t marked before.

Playing video games, it’s not unusual to have someone nearby watching the screen behind or next to you. At a certain age as a kid, most of my time in arcades was spent standing next to someone much taller than me, doing exactly this. Sometimes it was to take their measure, silently scoff at their inability to get past a point I could breeze through. Other times it was to observe a master or simply to learn how a certain game’s controls worked (Defender had so many buttons and Mortal Kombat was mesmerizing).

Ever since I’ve gotten back into gaming as an adult, this dynamic has persisted. My roommates at the time would sit in front of the TV with me as I played, utterly content to just watch me make my way through a game. And when they picked up the controllers themselves, I’d do the same, though twinges of impatience would seize me as they struggled through areas or with puzzles I could solve and surmount in no time at all.

Even with a game as simple as Rez (it’s a shooter on rails; you’re on a predetermined path and need to blast anything you see), there’s a lot going on. Just watch the video. Flourishes and flash, to be sure, ornaments hung on really straightforward gameplay. But trippy, pretty, cool.

It’s a totally different experience of the game to just watch it. Something I’ve come to mourn. Yeah, I’ve played it, evangelized it even. Given it pride of place in my heart as further affirmation of this hobby of mine. But interacting with it as a passive viewer, unmindful of enemy patterns, life bars or how to take down the current boss, this was something I hadn’t really done in all the time I’ve owned it. A whole layer of the game was unfolding before me, making me wish I had the faculties to engage titles on multiple levels.

Some games lend themselves to this more than others. I actually can’t watch K play certain games: his frustrations too easily became mine. Or I find myself shocked that others aren’t possessed with that certain intuition I take for granted: always knowing where I am in a game, which buttons to press and when to time certain actions.

Katamari Damacy is definitely a “watcher game”, for its sheer weirdness and all of the little exclamations objects emit when picked up. When K and I lent a convalescent friend the game, he talked about how he would play and his boyfriend would just watch and crack up. No interest in trying it out himself. He derived as much entertainment, perhaps even more, by observing the gentle mayhem being wreaked on screen.

I know what he means.


1 Comment »

  1. Steve Chisnall said

    I have this game on my Dreamcast and I love it. One game that is not on any consoles but is just as fun as Rez is the PC/Mac game Tranquility. It’s shareware but MORE than worth the price. I bought it to help take my mind off the pain while recovering from surgery. I think that I actually got by on less painkiller thanks to the game. It’s very meditative and has a LOT of elements similar to those of Rez. Also, you should read Game Girl Advance’s article about the PS2 version of Rez.

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