By Neil Merrett
It is a telling sign of the modern world that our near ubiquitous online connectivity is increasingly impacting all elements of how we socialise, entertain, amuse and even get ourselves off.
The theory is that you can do or be anything – technology and a little bit of imagination permitting – and there is certainly a form of dual existence that the digital world grants us through simulation and the internet.
This has allowed some people to enjoy entirely new careers or forge new relationships with people that may be hundreds of physical miles away and yet feel seemingly closer than some people all around us. For others, its impacts may be less beneficial, yet it is here that billions of people find themselves.
Do not worry, this is not going to get too Aldous Huxley, it is after all, a piece about taking selfies in videogames – the idea of trying to capture a moment that doesn’t exist in a digital world that is entirely synthetic.
The recent PS4 reboot of the populer God of War series has garnered strong praise for refining many of the more recent developments of current generation video games, not least with its graphical flair and ability to provide high definition visuals of a faintly realistic, fantasy world.
A gamer is often a siteseer of strange new kingdoms.
The title has also been praised for more artistically recreating and tackling real world experiences and challenges, with the onset of parenthood, even in a fantasy setting, being one example.
God of War director Cory Barlog told The Guardian that he wanted to reboot the ultra violent over-the-top smash-em-up concept of God of War, which is based around a literal god killer. Instead he wanted the take the same character and reshape the series into an adventure that forces the player to forge bonds and a working relationship with a digital teenager, and convey some of the problems and rewards it can bring.
In this case, the character Kratos is faced with his greatest challenge in trying to raise a son capable of surviving a terrifying world of monsters and gods that can be all too alike.
Barlog told the newspaper, ““I had this idea that I didn’t want to have kids until my career was at the right point, until we have a house, until we have savings of at least this much … None of that came true. It just happened.”
“You can’t plan these things. Kratos also thinks he knows what he wants, but he’s not really sure how to do it. It’s a great concept, the character who doesn’t really know how to deal with something. This is somebody who could take down a mountain-sized beast, but a conversation with his son is a challenge that he just can’t overcome. Something we take for granted is, for him, Herculean.”
Games, if well designed, can convey sentiment, emotion and empathy for the world around us in entirely new ways.
It is in this world that God of War’s developers have now added a photo mode that allows players to capture not only the moments of natural beauty portrayed within the game, but the personal moments of triumph, failure or human interaction with digital beings programmed to interact with you.
While this may seem out of keeping within a primordial fantasy world, the inclusion of selfies within the game is telling about our own interactions with the real life world around us and how many use images to capture a moment and our place in it.
The idea in principle of taking selfies has never really personally appealed, partly over fear of realising just how weird one’s chin is from specific angles, but in games, whether god of war, Fortnite, Monster Hunter or even Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, players want this option as a reflection of own world.
In these games, the context of including a camera to take in-game self portraits highlights a broader evolution in how we interact and tell our own stories. Some people will regail others about their life and in-game experiences as personal legends of trial or failure. Yet we now have the capability for good and bad to capture these moments and give them to the world, regardless of whether they want or care about them at all.
And so it was that a person’s first ever selfie can be taken – not in some far from locale, but in a video game – a beautiful world of electric signals – after pausing for just a few seconds to take in some surroundings after a ‘hard-earned’ climb made possible through the coordinated touch of a few buttons.
The reasons for taking a selfie are deeply personal, perhaps for no other reason that someone finding themselves in an indescribable moment of joy and wonder and wanting to share something with anyone, just an attempt to show it mattered to someone – something to be remembered.
The button on the PS4 controller that allows you to take such an image at any point of a game is not labelled as ‘photo’ or ‘selfie’, but ‘share’.
It is communication this, sometimes artistic, often more delusional or desperate, but it is communication nonetheless. Another way to reach out to people that may not know we are there, to tell them that slaying a unicorn dragon-thing in a made up world, while playing a virtual bagpipe, mattered to that individual, even for just a relaxed afternoon.
But this is now a way we tell our stories. An image of a moment that may well have no significance to any one other than ourselves, in a time and place that is artificial, yet deeply personal. Even when playing the role of a cartoon lizard, this is just a very modern human thing to do.
To loosely paraphrase Aldous Huxley, we are in a brave new world, for good and bad.