[Anime News Network] “Log Horizon, Undertale, and the Tales Game Mechanics Can Tell

Non-management: I really don’t have that much time for the older hobbies I enjoyed back in college, what with  newer priorities like Japanese and a full-time job. I simply can’t risk myself gaming too much nowadays: it’s too much of a time commitment for someone who’s fairly susceptible to media binge addictions; I still sometimes lose sleep over it. A while ago, it was Gwent. A little bit after that, it was Rimworld. More recently, it was Sopranos clips. Right now, it’s Hololive. But I never stopped thinking about stories in games, and I’ll throw on videos every now and then while eating meals at home about this YouTuber or that analyzing interesting games they played. I’ve always been fascinated by how game stories can really make you appreciate, personally, whatever messages they want to send to players by tying reading and seeing with doing. The mechanics of games compliment the message being told, or they’re grounds from which the message is built out from. It’s easier to feel the thrill or chills of a kill by a character when you’re the one willing them into it, no? Pressing a button on your mouse or controller to make the character move, swing, and shoot is the closest thing we have now to our minds telling the muscles in our bodies to move, swing, and pull. Some games lean into making the POV character a blanker slate for the player to insert themselves in, while others allow the player to control the POV character to different degrees while also attempting a distance.

You are the character, or you sort of aren’t. You’re closer to the action: the rages thrown, the tears shed, the stares stared. And yet, you’re not quite there either, and that has permitted some players to try things they wouldn’t do in real life: dangerous things, amoral things, horrible things.

Anime stories has been into game and game-y settings for several years now, which you’d think ups the possibility of anime discussing how game mechanics can be better used to draw people into and tell certain kinds of stories. Unfortunately, a lot of these anime (including some more popular series like Sword Art Online) are very surface level in their treatment of game mechanics. The game aesthetic is cool to wander through and is nostalgic for gaming fans who are also anime ones. Game systems look impressive with its stat displays and particle effects and are pretty convenient for explaining how things work in these settings with less writing. But these anime don’t really illustrate how uniquely game mechanics can interact with stories, how that much more sharply game mechanics can impress and influence player behavior. In more traditional-style RPG games, players are encouraged by game systems to kill apparent hostiles first and ask deeper questions later. Players are also discouraged from valuing NPC lives too highly due to their obvious artificialities and power inferiorities. Undertale the game challenges conventions in the former situation, and Log Horizon challenges expectations in the latter. Both pieces of media pose these challenges in ways that’s only possible with game stories. Log Horizon is a special anime in that respect, one of the few exceptions right now to the rule in game setting anime.

Anyway, I’d like to give a big thanks to ANN’s Lynzee Loveridge for commissioning my article. Below is a summary short of the article. If you’re interested in reading further, click the link embedded in the title or at the end of the article sample:

Many anime have incorporated video game elements, most commonly Role Playing Game (RPG) ones, in their stories to different degrees. The plots of Sword Art Online and .hack//SIGN occur primarily within the bounds of an explicit video game setting that their protagonists are stuck in. Even shows like DanMachi and That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime that aren’t explicitly connected to an established video game world leverage game-like systems to explain away how power progression works for their protagonists. Compared to these examples, Log Horizon is a little unique in that it looks at familiar RPG mechanics, ponders their narrative implications from a more realistic framework, and then has its characters interact seriously with them. The same familiar gameplay elements that characters may take for granted in some self-aware RPGs and RPG-influenced anime are meaningfully engaged with by Undertale and Log Horizon for their narrative possibilities, such as exploring how sentient NPCs would react to player characters who exploit their immortality to get ahead.

Another question that is underexplored by RPG-based narratives is how players regard NPCs who aren’t immortal and weren’t previously “alive…” READ MORE

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