Games Are Fascinating: Mystique

Posted: October 14, 2011 in Books, Business Books, Games
Tags: , , ,

Mystique & RogueExcellent cosplaying, ladies.

Look at that lovely blue lady on the left, she’s one of the most appropriately named characters in the Marvel canon. For those who aren’t comic book fans, allow me to introduce Mystique. And true to her name, it is her mystique that makes her such a compelling character. For every question she deigns or is forced to answer, she leaves behind three that remain a mystery. She’s got her shape-changing, blue fingers in nearly every conspiracy the X-men universe has hosted. When she declares love, friendship, or even mutual interest, there’s no telling if she’s genuine. The pieces of the story we do know show unplumbed depths of heartbreak, passion, and hatred. Our mutant friend takes things a little far, being so secretive that  you never know if you can trust her (probably you shouldn’t), but the same properties that make readers sit up and take notice when she appears on the page can be used to hook someone’s interest in your message.

Obviously I don’t you mean you should be untrustworthy; Mystique (the property, not the character) is about getting people eager to learn more.  What’s in the Tiffany blue box? Why does Rolling Rock have a “33” stamped on the bottle? Are there really only two guys who know the secret formula for Coke? What happened to D.B. Cooper and who was Jack the Ripper?

(December 30, 2011 edit: See that little “read more” just below this paragraph. That’s Mystique. If I’ve done a good job above the fold, you’ll want to read more about what’s below.)

Mystique provokes questions, but it doesn’t provide the answer. It flirts with you, making you want to know more, but it doesn’t answer all of your questions. It builds anticipation and tells stories. But you very, very rarely get the whole truth from Mystique. Once you show how the rabbit comes out of the hat, the magic is lost forever.

Like Prestige, there are three pillars to support Mystique and you don’t see every one of them being used in video games. The nature of being an entertainment industry means that they want their product in the most hands they can get.

The first pillar is witholding information, not revealing as much information as expected. While you very rarely see a game take this marketing position, you do see it as a game mechanic in many games. It’s especially popular in survival horror genre. The Silent Hill games feature a very thick fog throughout the world. You never really know what’s behind the corner or within the fog. In the game itself you are piecing together a history of either the place or yourself. It’s definitely an appealing mechanic. I can’t tell you how much mental trauma I’ve inflicted on myself playing these games all in the name of wanting to know more of the sotry or what lies just around the next corner.

 Which leads to the next pillar; ask questions but don’t give answers. This is another one that you may see as a plotting device, but not an industry or company by company position. As sequels and trilogies become bigger hits in their own right, plot hooks are left dangling to hook the players into the next installment.

You’ve probably noticed I’ve talked about plot a bit. That’s because the last pillar of Mystique is something games do exceedingly well: building mythologies. Using stories as a selling point, not facts. It’s all very nice to talk about polygon counts, textures, and physics engines, but they don’t sell games (well, they do to people who geek out about technical specs, but not the gaming population at large). Sweeping mythologies are becoming more popular. In my personal opinion, no company embraces mythology as much as Blizzard. World of Warcraft does not maintain its player base because its technically amazing. It keeps attention because there are stories both epic and intimate.

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