The world of video games is a magical place. The possibilities are near limitless when everything about the reality that the player inhabits is constructed from the ground up. Sometimes this provides fantastical journeys outside of space and time while other times it can poignantly encapsulate actual reality.
And even further still, this can sometimes lead to introducing rather mundane, normal activities to the lives of the avatars we inhabit. There is most certainly a reason that these actions are included in games. David Cage, from developer Quantic Dream, has gone on record as saying that without the mundane things presented in Heavy Rain, “it would have been impossible for players to really attach themselves to the game’s protagonist and really feel his pain throughout the game’s story.”
So, in short, here is a list of mundane things we do in games in order to more fully connect with the protagonist and their surroundings.
1. Check Emails
An increasing number of games task the player with reading emails, texts and the like. In the almost constantly connected world we live in, email has pervaded nearly everything and that includes video games. Deus Ex is potentially the most well-known of “read your email” games out there, and the most recent one is apparently no slouch in this department, but many games over the years have taken this page from Deus Ex’s playbook. Notably, Assassin’s Creed allowed Desmond to view email exchanges between those folks at Abstergo, Alpha Protocol had the player reading and responding to emails and even Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor had messages being sent between the player and the various NPCs.
One might think that after reading so many emails outside of games, reading them while inside, and from fictional sources might grow tiring. And yet, here we are.
2. Wash Your Face
In general, video game characters tend to wash themselves a little more reliably than their human counterparts. In many a game, the character can wash their hands, take a bath and so on and so forth. And that’s excluding games like The Sims where those types of activities are the entire point.
This tradition continues in Catherine where it’s completely optional for Vincent to even enter the bathroom, let alone wash his face in there. But wash his face he can. Perhaps it has something to do with the old adage that liars are obsessed with being clean but either way, theplayer can connect just a little more by performing the mundane once again.
Ask anyone that has to make a commute longer than 10 minutes and you’ll soon find out that driving is not nearly as exciting as games can sometimes make it out to be. Not everything can be like Grand Theft Auto portrays it to be, after all. But there are certainly some games that make driving out to be what it truly is: at best, dull and at worst, a pain in the butt.
Both Mafia II and L.A. Noire try to emphasize the importance of sticking to the rules of the road. If you have a crash in Mafia II, that can mean the end of the line for Vito. In addition, cops will chase you if you break the law and that includes the speed limit. L.A. Noire is a bit more lax than that but it does certainly benefit the player to not break the law, as it could mean the difference between rankings.
4. Drink Orange Juice
Drinking fluids is one of things that characters tend to do without the player’s interaction or intervention. They just go about doing it during cutscenes and the like, without a care in the world. But in some games, for one reason or another, the player is given the ability to make their characters drink water, milk, beer or what have you.
This is perhaps best seen in Heavy Rain where Ethan Mars has the option of chugging some orange juice. This didn’t always cause the player to grow closer with Ethan, and even went so far as to reveal the wizard behind the curtain for some, but it was certainly mundane. But then, Heavy Rain is so full of these kinds of moments that some were bound to fail in their intended task.
5. Go Bowling
Grand Theft Auto, as a series, might be notorious for violence or perhaps the prostitution offered within the game but Grand Theft Auto IV, the latest installment, is often negatively commented upon in regards to the system provided to interact with Niko’s friends. It doesn’t seem to matter what you’re doing or if you’re busy, if you have to turn down someone that calls you up and suggests an activity, you’re in hot water with them. And by “suggests an activity,” I do mean “suggests an activity.” They want to go bowling. They want to do things that are as equally droll and trite as bowling. In a game where you can lead the police in a chase across the interstate, get away and then do it all over again, your friends want to go bowling.
6. Watch a Movie
If I were to, say, mention that you could watch a couple of movies while playing a video game, most folks would assume that I meant that they could have two monitors up, watching a movie in one and playing the game in another. Not so. The Darkness, while mostly overlooked, allowed the player to watch not one, but many different movies throughout the course of the game. Asin, the player could just stay where they were and watch the entire movie.
Perhaps the most well-known of these is To Kill A Mockingbird which can be watched with the protagonist’s girlfriend, Jenny, in what is potentially the most genuinely romantic scene in a video game to date.
Honorable Mention: Drive a Bus
As Penn & Teller’s Smoke and Mirrors was never released, this one had to be mentioned without a number. But the Desert Bus minigame is perhaps the most mundane, boring thing that has ever been deliberately coded to exist. If it isn’t, then it’s certainly high up on the list. The player must make a roadtrip from Tucson, Arizona to Las Vegas, Nevada in a bus with a max speed of 45. In real time. In addition, the bus swerves slightly to the right and the road is straight. Yes.