I think Metroid Prime is one of the best games ever made, and it’s not because it’s so much fun to play. The game is an amazing experience in total immersion and direct empathy. Orson Welles harnassed a still unformed medium and applied some technical innovation to communicate something surprisingly personal. Charles Foster Kane is not someone you’d expect to empathize with. He’s an arrogant, unchallenged, and callused character who was based on a famously hated figure. Welles catalyzed all of the gathering tools of cinema to make this man’s life empathetic.
Like Kane, Metroid Prime coalesces all of the core strengths of video games and places them in a structure that is built around empathy. It’s not cinematic empathy, nor is it story-driven. Instead, it’s driven by direct experience, which is the first and most immediate language of any game. Games are not about winning, fun, or empowerment. They are about feeling what it is like to move and interact in a world that someone else has made for you. Prime subverts the baggage of its genre (tawdry sci-fi) and the expectations of its audience (achievement-driven combat) and creates an experience where you actually feel for the character you’re playing. I don’t care about her backstory or the invented lore of Space Pirates and Phazon. I care because the game’s systems all point towards sensory experience, and sensual exploration (which fits brilliantly and primaly with the central mechanic of looking).
I was on the ABC World News Webcast to talk about it. Click on the image below to watch the segment.