Metroid Prime & Citizen Kane: Technical Empathy Considered

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.



3 thoughts on “Metroid Prime & Citizen Kane: Technical Empathy Considered

  1. I really enjoyed this.

    I agree, Videogames have a different style of communicating with their audience than any other artistic medium. This interactivity will eventually be the basis of serious artistic analysis in the medium.

    Now, I’ll readily admit that I have a much broader pallet of acceptance both for art and for entertainment than you do (at least based on the Contrarian Corner, and some podcasts I have listened to in the past) but I will also admit that what my personal preferences are, do not necessarily coincide with good criticism. I can enjoy a book or movie, and readily explain why, without expecting my opinions to mean the same thing (since their not aimed at the same purpose) as a professional’s examination of a Faulkner work in the light of… I don’t know, the Marxist school of literary critique perhaps? Or the deconstructive? in any case…

    I think you may very well be one of the first to take specific games and do them that justice. I’ve seen people analyze the medium as a whole many times, but not nearly so often are singular titles looked at so. Thank you.

    • with the eitpecxon with the eitpecxon of people like you, the WW2 genre is pratically dead. theyve done everything thinkable, from the obvious battles to where nazi’s become zombies. i think the move to MW was right as games such as MoH is doing it aswell.

  2. Thanks, I appreciate that. I will say I’m not arguing against experiencing something for entertainment value. I’m just interested in better articulating the different between entertainment value and creative value (admittedly a vague difference once you really start looking at things). But we often throw out really great qualities in games (Haze, Kane & Lynch) for the sake of not having been entertained, while overestimating the value of something because of its base-level ability to entertain (GTA4, Modern Warfare).

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