Gears of War – Context Means What Exactly?

Gears of War. This game at its heart is a platformer.  Turned on its side. Instead of needing to jump from ledge to ledge over lava, one must move from cover to cover to avoid the lava that is your opponents gunfire.  The plot is overly demonstrative and largely laughable. Oh yeah, you have a chainsaw gun. Not a gun that shoots chainsaws (maybe next time) but yeah.  Aside from Xbox’s fascination with FPS (hint, just because you make the camera follow the protagonist from 3 feet over his left shoulder, does not disqualify you from that category) the Xbox also has a bizarre fascination with context sensitive controls. This is the Microsoft Office Ribbon of video games. You remember Office 2003? Where you knew every combination of keystrokes that it took to format the margins or add a table? Then came Office 2007 and the harbinger of productive doom, the Ribbon.  Now every time I want to do something… “Is it Insert? Maybe Format? Select the table. Design?! Why is everything in book antiqua?”

This is the same problem as context dependent button mashing. Instead of just doing what you want (i.e. In Contra: jump = jump, shoot = shoot) you’re now having your computational conversation through an interpreter.  “Well.. you’re awfully close to that stone column, did you want to put your back against the wall? How’s that? No? you sure? I think you want to press against that. Yeah, there are guys coming around the corner and it will offer you zero cover… Tahoma motherfuckers! Microsoft, we up in this!”

Font humor aside, does this add something to video games/your office suite? Yes. Something other than frustration and wasted time? Only when it works correctly. The problem here is context is defined too narrowly. What geographic features am I standing near/what object I’ve clicked on? How about we include things like “bad guys” (yeah I don’t even know what they’re called.. Geth? Grue? Oh Damn – Locusts.. I wasn’t even close) or “I like to organize things in tables”

Maybe weighing certain behaviors the more I use them? Give it an extinction coefficient too so as my play style grows the computer keeps up with me. Shit – we put guys on the moon 40 years ago using slide rules – you’re telling me the ol’ Watermoose can’t tell if I prefer whipping a grenade over a wall vs. flanking an enemy position vs. charging up the middle alternating suppressive fire? I’m willing to ignore the live fire paintball elements, the military man going AWOL for family trope, or even the Lego Star Wars force lifting each other (with machine guns) mechanic – just smooth out the rough spots between I push button, Mario jumps over lava.

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Posted in Games

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