Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Catherine: Forging a Meta-narrative through Traditional Means


     Atlus's Catherine (2011) describes the metaphysical journey of one reluctant adulterer as he determines to romantically commit to either his fiance (the all-business Katherine) or the one-night stand that is the titular blonde.  Predominantly, the game is split into two sections:  Reality, composed largely of "choosing-your-own-adventure" and interacting with two feminine interests; and the "dreamscape," a puzzle-platforming world composed of ascending a deteriorating staircase and eluding monsters based on the events of the player's previous session of consciousness.  Appropriately, Catherine seems to epitomize Jesper Juul's diagram found on page 165 of half-real;  all of the characters, including the protagonist and the plethora of colorful NPCs, acknowledge the playful nature of the nightmares that terrorize them.
    In my recent time spent with the piece, I initiated my session within the game's "reality" segment.  Greeted with a rather lengthy cut-scene, I discovered the fictional player-character's, Vincent's, daily routine.  As of late, he is severely threatened by the potential of impregnating his merciless partner.   Though the decisions one can make are limited, they are still rather accurate approximations.  Within the dream-state, each level ends with a query related to romance and love.  If a player happens to be connected to the internet, their answer will be placed against the gradient of a server's population (roughly several thousand players).  This creates a tether, rather than a severance, between the game's fictional reality and our own universe.


  

     Likewise, all of the traditional gaming elements are found within the dream-state.  Not only are you timed, limited to a specific area by an unseen force, and reliant upon linear actions, but you also "earn" additional lives.  The game master, rumored to be a witch within the game's lore, is responsible for administering additional lives and punishing those who waste their own.  Similarly, a "lethal" game over results in restarting of the entire narrative, thus raising the value of an actual player's invested time.  Unlike many of the classic games Juul describes, Catherine illustrates the relationship between game and gamer intricately as it ponders the circular nature of a fluctuating romantic.  Appropriately, a game over does not conclude with a simple "You are dead," but rather, "Love is over."



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