I finished Mirror’s Edge and I supposedly made a change for the better. I think.
I decided that I’m on a crusade of sorts. I’ve about 85 games on Steam. I’ve completed 20 of them. I can make any promises, but I’m not going to make any new purchases until I’ve cleared as many as I can. The latest of these is 2008’s Mirror’s Edge (ME). It’s developed by DICE and published by Electronic Arts (EA) for various platforms. In Mirror’s Edge you assume the role of a young woman named Faith. Faith is a Runner: a clandestine courier of sorts who hand-delivers messages in the shadows of a sparkling metropolis. This sleek ultramodern city is the perfect canvas for the Runners and their superhuman feats of parkour. However, this idyllic setting comes at the cost of an oppressive police state that monitors its citizens constantly and mercilessly. In a first person perspective, the player as Faith must evade public and private security forces as she uncovers a conspiracy that framed her sister for murder. There is a good Wikipedia article that explains the rest.
I give credit to DICE for making an FPS that de-emphasizes the “S”. Instead of reducing your enemies into piles of giblets, retreat is encouraged and combat is usually reserved as a tactic of necessary and last resort. I have two main issues with the game. My first main issue comes with the moments in the story when Faith has no choice but to pick up a weapon and kill the opposition to advance. I think that given the main gimmick of ME, Faith would have other means of getting around a deadly situation (like Deus Ex); the second is the lenient checkpoint system. This takes away player agency and defeats one of the themes of the story; one person can make a big difference.
One can argue that one of these themes discusses the value of making societal change at great personal risk. However, as the player, I do not feel I’m taking a huge risk. As Faith I look, dress, and move differently than the rest of society. She has all the visual trappings of rebellion, she’s got the tough attitude and ability, but that doesn’t seem enough. The proof is in the gameplay. When I do take a risk in the game (leaping from ledges, wall-running, zip-lining) and fail, I start from a nearby checkpoint and the trial-and-error session begins. Where is the penalty for failure? It’s fitting that the end of the game has Faith saving her sister, but the world order seems to stay the same. I didn’t seem to change much of anything and that makes perfect sense.
When it gets down to it, ME affirms the greatest lie Generation X was told.
If you act and look rebellious, you can change the world without taking great personal risk.
Seriously, isn’t that what MTV told us? As long as we don’t carry ourselves in the same way our Baby Boomer parents did, we can affect change. But that really didn’t happen, did it? (As an actual history teacher) History has taught me that nothing is gained without taking a measure of risk, be it psychological or physical. In the last 20 years, social change was made by technological innovators, human rights activists, and lots of careful planning. However, this change came at the price of prejudice, oppression and even death.
If game developers want the player to feel more immersed in the experience, story and gameplay must make me feel that something is at stake. It doesn’t have to be real for me. But it must matter for the game’s protagonist. Ask yourself: What is the worst thing that would happen? How will that alter life for the worse? Once the answer is found, the player-as-hero can find a way to stop this.
Getting a cool tattoo on my eye isn’t enough.