In their early days, videogames were a crude and unsubtle medium, Technological restraints reducing character motivations to blunt and simplistic variations of “Save the princess” or “Kill the villain and save the world” when sending us bleeping away to shoot up the monotone bricks of evil. As technology has developed, designers have been eager to make games a more sophisticated experience, and many have understandably, but perhaps misguidedly, attempted to ape the conventions of cinema to make their videogames more realistic or involving. Thus, cut-scenes and protagonist dialogue have become the standard model with which to tell a story.
The problem with this technique though is that it disregards the fact that movies and videogames are two very different media. Watching a movie is a passive occupation, relying purely on the third-person witnessing of a narrative in order to pull the viewer through the experience while they just sit around and scoff sugary things, whereas a game thrives on the player’s sense of ‘existence’ within its world and their interactions with and manipulations of it. The thinking that both are just audio-visual media is often the paper that tries to hide the cracks between the two, but in practice, both experiences are very different and need to be treated differently. It’s a common complaint that certain gaming conventions such as cut scenes (particularly ones with crap acting), loading screens and overly elaborate HUDs take the player “out of the game”, and when extrapolated, that problem of the interruption to the in-game experience extends far and wide.
Valve have taken vast measures to eradicate as many distracting factors as possible from Half-Life 2, and most fundamentally this thinking can be seen at the level of protagonist construction. Gamers create a presence in a game world purely through their own personal effect upon it. Anything forced upon that presence which is not of the gamer’s own making reminds them that they are playing a game created by someone else by someone else’s design. If a player is told that their character has a certain attitude or reacts to a situation in a certain way which is not their own, immediately there is a degree of divorcing from that character, and through that character, their link to the game world.