This week’s YOIW is brought to you by Polygon’s opinion article “Kissing vs. killing: How Shadow of Mordor fails at explaining the difference.” If you haven’t yet, read it; it will make this response make a lot more sense…
Jovial sounds of merriment and feast preparations hum in the background as I see my wife. Dropping to a crouch-run I brandish my flowers like an Orcish dagger and begin slowly winding my way past tables and under door frames. The in-game objective makes my task clear; “Sneak up and Kiss your Wife.” My blood goes cold as I sneak closer and closer, my jaw tightens and my killer instincts kick in. “This is so fourth-wall breaking and silly, a clear jest about video game tutorials” I think to myself as sweat begins to bead on my forehead and my stomach clenches tight. Finally I am behind her, I press the button and I kiss her with the fury and rage of one thousands Ghul matrons… No… No wait… I never felt any of this because its ridiculous.
The argument being made is that in the opening scenes of the game that serve has a game mechanic tutorial, developers Monolith tried to make a fourth-wall breaking and satirical tutorial tasking you with kissing your wife that actually serves to undermine the entire tone of the game and that the button mechanics illicit the wrong emotional response. The main argument is that having a killing mechanic be taught by an emotional interaction is in poor taste.
Here is what we have to say:
They said: “The developers likely thought this was a good time to poke fun at boring tutorials with a joke, which, fair enough, some people who I respect enjoyed, although I’m curious if that enjoyment was sarcastic or sincere.”
Us: Uh… No? The developers last thought was to poke fun at conventional tutorials, or to break the fourth wall. It’s called emotional investment and character development. The game begins with the hero, Talion, having flashbacks to various memories before the Uruks of Mordor overthrow his family. These various memories give us backstory on Talion, and also teach us how to play the game. In the first bit you are sparring with your Son and learning swordplay mechanics, in the next flashback you are sneaking up on your wife to teach you stealth; this is the moment in question. The fact that the author felt this was a stab at video game tutorials is mind boggling to me. We see a side of Talion that is soft, loving, and caring. The fact he would sneak shows us he still has some joy and youth, and that he loves his wife and they are playful. Boom. That’s all they were trying to accomplish. Sure it may be a cliche hook (hey you have this person you care about, now they die and you’re mad), but in no way is it even close to a sarcastic or sincere poke at game design.
They said: “I wrote as much on twitter and many people asked why it’s “bad game design” to have your tutorial explaining how to kill someone be the same as the learning process for how to kiss someone.
Imagine a film where one character sneaks up on someone else to either kill them, or to embrace them. Would you think the scene would be identical in both contexts? Most likely not — different lighting, sound, music, the way the actor moves would change. All of those are tools to encourage/direct viewer emotions.”
Us: They are exactly right here; in a movie, a character would have different body language, there would be different lighting, sound, and music. What they’re forgetting is that all of these things are present in the tutorial. Talion wields flowers as he sneaks up behind his wife. It is bright and sunny, the music is calm and pleasant, people are chatting cheerily. On the plains of Mordor, Talion is wielding a nasty dagger, the music is filled with tense crescendos and drums, and the roars and grunts of Uruk’s echos across the land; these are two absolutely different settings. Perhaps it would have been a bit stranger had he not been holding flowers, but with them in hand his intentions are perfectly clear.
They said: “In these opening moments of Shadow of Mordor, they disregard that entire emotional component of the interaction to make a small joke about video game tutorials. It was effectively like the game developers were saying to me “we don’t care how you actually feel in your brain about what you’re doing in the game.”
As a designer it feels like an oboe player hearing a flat note in a symphony. No matter how good everything else may be, that’s what drives you up a wall and pulls you out of the experience.”
Us: Once again, missing the absolute one and only point of this segment; to build character development and to tell us why we should care that she was murdered. To think that segment is disregarding the tone of the game is to miss the entire tone of the game; a tone of sadness and revenge because Talion loved his family. They could have had us kill an Uruk peeing off a cliff humming one of their drinking songs (cause that’s not cliche), instead they decided to stop and make us think. They had us physically interact with our wife for brief moments, which while fleeting gives us more of a connection to her, and a more intimate snapshot of their relationship, than a mere cutscene of some sort. If anything, it puts the character more into the experience.
They said: “Imagine being in a situation where you are sneaking up on someone you love. Imagine doing that in real life. Feel the emotions going through your brain. Look at how you hold your body. What are you thinking about in the moments before you make contact?
Now imagine being in a situation where you are afraid for your life and are sneaking up on someone you need to murder or they’re going to kill you and your family. Feel those emotions. Think about how your muscles would be bunched, how you’d try to control your breathing. Your teeth would be clenched. You jaw might hurt. It’s completely different in every way.”
Us: So the argument here is that Talion’s posture and approach to his wife are too murder-like, and that because the button mapping is the same as the stealth kill button, it triggers the wrong emotions. While this is more of a sound argument, we still disagree. Talion is a ranger. It is his job to sneak around and he is great at what he does; maybe even the best. When he thinks of sneaking, there is only one way he goes about it – the way he was taught. If a fireman playfully carried his child to bed it would probably be over his shoulder, as he or she was taught. In the context that was occurring, all I thought was “Huh that’s pretty clever”; and that brings us to our final point.
They said: “This is a relatively small issue with a game that is earning an amazing amount of praise.”
Us: Exactly right. This is only fifteen seconds of a fantastic new game with hours and hours of gameplay. If button mapping during a tutorial that tries to grow character relationships is your main concern, its hardly a concern at all.
So is this a misstep by Monolith? Do you agree with the Polygon author? Or was this a nitpicky find, making mountains of mole hills? Let us here your comments!
We love and respect all the authors that we rebut in Your Opinion is Wrong. These entries are for satire, sarcasm, and counter-point. Cheers, Polygon!