Thursday, October 1, 2009

Who is the narrator?

So between ODST, Scribblenauts, and a family holiday, it has been a while since I last posted. Oops! I attempted to write a massive piece about why Halo is amazing without soundig like a fanboy...but I inevitably sounded like a fanboy so I gave up on that.

Anyway, I have been playing a LOT of ODST lately. The reviews I read were mixed (Edge gave it a 9, Good Game gave it a 5 and a 7, I think) and I think the safe conclusion is if you like Halo you will like ODST, and if you don't like Halo, you won't like ODST.

I am going to resist the urge to go on a rant about how unfortunate it is that so many people disregard Halo as a simple humanist/Americanist alien-shooter (and how unfortunate it is that so many people love it as a simple humanist/Americanist alien-shooter) when the series does so many things right, ad instead talk about some of the really interesting narrative things ODST does (at least, i thought they were interesting). I warn you, though, I am probably oging to pose more questions than I am going to answer. I'm lazy like that.

As you probably already know, ODST's story unfolds as you explore the ruins of New Mobasa and trigger flashbacks where you play a level as anothe rmember of your squad, gaining new perspectives and clues. One of Good Game's criticisms of the game was (and I paraphase) that the Rookie seems to be some mystical, omniscient medium who seems to be able to see the past simply by touching a vaguely related object. I refute this. Never does the game suggest that the Rookie himself viewed/interacted with the same flashbacks the player did. The player did, but not the character the player plays.

But how then does the Rookie know where to go next? Well, the Rookies objectives are never explained in the flashbacks. Rather, they just seem to magically appear as navpoints on his visor. This navpoints, I believe, are set by the AI, Virgil. The Rookie is not merely exploring random areas till he finds the clues needed, he is being points ever-so-subtley by the AI with locked doors, "Keep Right" signs and warning sirens. In a sense, the Rookie is merely the Ai's puppet. It is as subtle in the gameplay as it is blatant in the audio files. I love it. I love how the AI's presence is spread so thin and ghostly but so omnisciently through the story.

Anyway, Good Game's use of the word "omniscient" got me thinking. Perhaps ODST truly does have an omniscient narrator--a narrator that is capable of seeing/hearing anything from any perspective.But who is this narator if not the rookie? I put forth the (not too-well considered) notion that perhaps the AI, Virgil, is the narrator of ODST. The hints are there: the security camera cutscenes, the scanning-esque loading screens, etc. Each member of the ODST unit sees only a fraction of the entire story, but Virgil and the player see it all.

So if Virgil is the games narrator, then does that means that the characters that the player controls (the ODST squad members) are not narrators? Does this is turn mean the player is not a narrator in ODST?

I don't think that is possible. The player is still narrating. The player is still determining what order the scenes play out and the exact, physical actions of the ODST members, so as each ODST member, the player is controlling a Limitied Narrator, while Virgil is somewhat of an omniscient meta-narrator looking over the whole thing, arguably determining how the player views cutscenes.

In fact, I think I may have answered my own question: the player is the narrator(s) from start to finish, but from multiple points-of-view... maybe. I don't know! I am thinking this as I write and now I have a lot to think about.

As a side-note: the Arts student inside me wants to point out that there is no reason the Rookie could not be a female, and I place all the blame squarely on sexist English pronouns for my refering to s/he as 'he' in this post.

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