Currently, Jacky and I are working our way through F.E.A.R. 2, a horror/first-person shooter game full of psychically enhanced soldiers and terrifying enemies, from the frequently hallucinated “mother of the apocalypse” Alma to twitchy, zombified surgeons that crawl around and leap onto your face. At the start of the game, very little is known about why you have the objectives you must achieve, but as you get further you realize there is some huge controversy about the twisted corporation surgically experimenting on the minds of soldiers.
The fictional world of F.E.A.R. 2 is limited, for up until the 3rd vector (where I am currently playing), all that is seen is bits and pieces of a fancy apartment building under attack by black ops soldiers which the player must shoot down with an array of weapons collected throughout gameplay and a hospital full of massacred nurses and surgeons. Even when in an elevator to the penthouse facing the outside world, not much can be seen about the state of the world outside of where the game is taking place. After you find the woman in the first objective, the character you play as has an intense hallucination, making the woman disappear from in front of your eyes. Then you must follow a woman who comes in and out of vision leading you forward. A nuclear bomb lights the sky up a deep orange; next thing you know, you’re undergoing surgery and hallucinating like crazy, seeing scary surgeons stabbing someone (possibly you during an out of body experience) with the woman (presumably Alma) standing in the room, naked, hair in front of her face, calm and collected and scary as hell.
After you come to, you must find a weapon, scouring a hospital full of bloody trails and mutilated bodies. As you travel through the blood-ridden hallways, there are health packs, guns, ammo, grenades, and intel discs that inform you of the psychological/physical profiles of different people with no context, memos given to the hospital staff, and letters from one doctor to another. Many rooms are full of nothing but murdered bodies and disturbingly large pools of blood. The designer was extremely detailed, with bathrooms on every floor, some unable to be opened and some wide open, with a dead nurse in scrubs on the toilet with blood splattered everywhere. These details are completely unnecessary to the story, yet they exist in the fictional world of the game. Why? On page 139 in Half-Real, Juul states “experienced players shift their focus from the focus of the game to the game as a set of rules.” As inexperienced players of F.E.A.R. 2, Jacky and I go through every door possible learning as much as we can about the fictional world we are in because more than blowing the heads off of our enemies or setting them on fire with a napalm gun, we want to know why the heck we are in the hospital in the first place!
As an English major, I typically am more interested in the narrative aspects of a game, including the fictional world. I even asked Jacky to look up a plot summary of the original F.E.A.R. to get some back story as to why this character is thrust into such graphically violent surroundings. I also appreciate how much effort the designer must put into the fictional world, writing things like “can you see?” in blood on the wall of an operating room and biohazard waste bins in every empty, bloody patient’s room. While the fictional world of the game may not be the most important aspect of the game, personally, it is the most interesting. I won’t lie and say it’s not kind of enjoyable to watch the head of one of your enemies explode, but it’s more captivating (and horrifying) to explore the fictional world of the game and see what you discover.