Monday, 15 November 2010

Ben Winterton: Twilight was Better than Inception (Pause Screens)

Pause Screens: A debate that doesn’t exist (but should)

I’m not going to lie; this article is pretty much exclusively about pause screens. I realise some people may find this boring, so I am going to concurrently also argue that “Twilight: Eclipse” is a more artistically viable film than “Inception”. Hopefully these two topics in combination will keep everyone entertained.

For my generation, a pause screen was pretty much standard. I’m certainly not debating the point or nature of pause screens; I am definitely of the opinion that when you hit start the action should be paused in some way or other. Whilst inherently practical, however, there is an interesting aspect of pause screens, and that is the breaking of game-flow and immersion that comes with them. You may suggest that this is almost the point of them, and indeed this notion went unchallenged, until a seemingly very specific point.

“Twilight: Eclipse”, whilst far from a great film, has one key feature of cinema, and that is the prevalence of more than one reading. For instance, I like to think the whole “Twilight” saga is not a cosmic love story but a morality tale about the suppression of Native Americans by the overtly “white” people.

I think very few would contest that “Goldeneye 007” is one of the most important landmarks in the development of the first-person shooter, and certainly one of the biggest games of its generation. What I find interesting about it is its pause screen (I find other stuff interesting about it too; I’m not a psychopath). For those of you who don’t know, when you hit start, Bond looks at his watch in a short animation, which then contains all the standard pause menu stuff (weapons, mission objectives etc). Easily dismissed as a stylistic riff, there is an interesting point being made here; are we still in the reality of the game or not? Bond is looking at his watch, which contains some genuinely diegetic (in-reality) stuff, such as his mission briefing from M. Interesting as this is, it is little more than a discussion point.

Golden Eye 007

“Inception”, whilst a technically superior film, lacks any depth. Every character, with the exception of the central character, is a one-note plot device. Furthermore, the film is about one thing; no readings, no ambiguity (the so-called twist can be explained away in less than a minute).

Fast forwarding over a decade brings us to “Fallout 3”, which shares the “watch on wrist/info” system of “Goldeneye 007”; if anything, things are made more complex, with the “P.I.P. Boy 3000” containing 15 different information screens. You use it to heal, fast travel, change weapons, choose quests, basically everything. You rely on it endlessly. At one point mid-game, you are required to enter a virtual reality environment to rescue your father. When you enter, you are at the complete mercy of the psychopath controlling the very universe around you. You have been placed in the body of a child, with no weapons or equipment of any kind. After a while, you consider your options, and open up the menu...except it’s gone. All you have is an analogue watch, a brilliant subversion of your built up reliance on the system put in place, as well as a cheeky call-back to “Goldeneye 007”. In doing this, “Fallout 3” has completely deconstructed the immersive aspect games, turning your own comfort and complacency against you. But the question still remains; is this in game or not? How far can developers push immersive-ness? Please challenge my arguments or, better yet, agree with me.

Fallout 3: Game of The Year Edition

Oh, and since “Twilight: Eclipse” allows for more deep and complex readings than “Inception”, it serves as the better example of a cinematic text, rather than simple Hollywood popcorn entertainment. Who said pause screens weren’t controversial?