If you'll allow a second trip back to the year 2007, I'd like to briefly revisit Mass Effect, a game which under the curious and shifting laws of game reviews is still eligible for the top ten lists and awards of 2008. Players will remember Mass Effect's scandalously long and unskippable elevator rides, which were used to disguise loading screens. Interestingly, during these odysseys, Mass Effect felt obligated to pipe in music, idle conversation and news bulletins. Mass Effect, a work of entertainment, provides supplementary amusements to relieve the player from the monotony it volunteered for. The game becomes an airline dutifully screening P.S. I Love You on a ten-hour flight, except there's no reason to go through the motions of the plane ride in the first place. It prompts the question what exactly was ever so bad about loading screens.
It's an odd decision to proactively implement the inconveniences of reality when it means producing the verisimilitude of boredom. This kind of realism was never meant for gameplay or dramatic effect but to craft the most immersive, cinematic 3D experience ever devised. In doing so, developers seemingly become so averse to anything that resembles a video game. Loading screens don't cut it, then, and so Mass Effect instead prescribes a deathly dull "real life" solution and an accompanying mea culpa to excuse its dreariness.
Sony's HOME went live this week (though "live" may be a poor choice of words.) This virtual reality networking extravaganza champions the virtues of queuing and patience but without even Mass Effect's perfunctory distractions. It exists for those who'd rather walk an avatar across town to catch a glimpse of the Young Vampires in Love trailer than clicking on a button. Games are simulating inconvenience for the illusion of reality and instead of reconsidering the whole concept, pile on extra entertainments so the player can endure it. What price artifice?