Do you ever have videogame dreams? Like when you’ve been playing a game so much that it burbles up from your subconscious while you sleep? For me, these are often interface dreams. I dream I’m trying to drag select a bunch of units or spend points on a skill tree. I don’t mean to get all tedious by holding forth about my dreams, but I had one last night about Virtue’s Last Reward. And it was unlike any other videogame dream I’ve had.
After the jump, I promise this will be brief
Last night I dreamed — no joke — that I had finished Virtue’s Last Reward and that the plot didn’t make any sense. That was the extent of it. Nothing too specific. Just an overwhelming feeling of disappointment, kind of like after the last episode of Battlestar Galactica or Lost. So that’s it? That’s all you have to reveal? That’s supposed to explain everything I’ve been wondering about, all your little mysteries and enigmas? I came all this way with you and this is what you have to show me? And then I woke up and remembered that I was only about half way through the game.
That dream gets to the fact that I’m really invested in Virtue’s Last Reward, and more specifically, in its characters. Each character is introduced and then gradually revealed. But one of the game’s tricks is that the branching paths are based on choices the characters make during a game based on “the prisoner’s dilemma”. This is a classic tenet of game theory that pits self-interest against cooperation. In Virtue Last Reward, the characters periodically play a round of the prisoner’s dilemma. Each character has to make and react to a variety of different choices at the same juncture. In one instance, Dio betrays Alice. But in another instance, Dio allies with Alice. How does the game allow for both eventualities without betraying the narrative? And more importantly, how does the game allow for both eventualities without betraying Dio’s character? The solutions to these problems are fascinating, playful, and surprisingly detailed.
But as you explore the characters’ identities and motivations — I’d love to talk about this stuff, but saying anything beyond the basic set-up would be spoiling it for folks who haven’t played yet — many of the plot branches effectively stop at this screen:
The worst possible thing that could happen in Virtue’s Last Reward is that a satisfying pay-off isn’t lurking on the other side of those screens. I find it telling I care enough that my anxiety burbled up while I was sleeping.