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Friday, January 11, 2008

The Formula of Fiction, Video Games, and Life

It's not that difficult to learn how to play when your sibling owns a Wii, however it is possible that, like with most plug in console games that I'm not using a handheld for, Super Mario Galaxy is a challenge for a previously non-gamer myself. The controls are innovative, unlike Wii Sports, you can play it sitting down, but it is definitely easier to twist the Wiimote to the left or right than what you had to do with the Gamecube controller to play Super Mario Sunshine.

What I've noticed is that the formulaic nature of Mario games is their selling point, each new Mario game features a new innovation while using a simple plot to tie the goals of the game together. The basic plot of a Mario game is to save Princess Peach from the evil Bowser, a turtle dragon like creature that breathes fire. It seems to have worked well over the years, so I guess Nintendo have no intention of changing this formula, though Phoenix Wright games on the Nintendo DS have appeal for having different villains in every game/mission.

One of the appeals of the James Bond movies is the use of a different villain in most of the films, save Blofeld, who appears more than once in the series of blockbusters. But it seems with some video game franchises, that a use of a different villain in any one game would alienate gamers who have expectations that Bowser will turn up in every Mario game, or for Resident Evil fans, zombies of some description must turn up in such a Resident Evil game, which is part of the survival horror genre that usually entails surviving a number of mental and physical aberrations in order to get out of some haunted mansion/cursed village/Vampire's castle (in the Castlevania franchise).

But formula is not entirely a beast that must be slain, sometimes, like in the Harry Potter series of books, there is a formula that is subverted on many occasions, the last book for instance had little scenes of Hogwarts at all except for the final battle (I will not put spoilers here), and in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Dumbledore rarely appears in that book, despite his presence in every other previous book being overtly noticeable.

But then again, Life is best when it is not formulaic. This is because we shouldn't expect the formula, a boring daily routine is a formula we all wish to avoid, yet there are innovations in life that are self-initiated by our own choices, life is not like a video game, lose a life and it's Game Over in the real world. Formulas in fiction and videogames however, can be useful in telling us the concerns of our times, and the concerns of previous ones, which we can learn from to better our existence on Earth.

- Jacob Martin
AKA "Jake of All Trades"

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