Although it will be an event that occurred a couple of months ago by the time you read this, recently I did something fairly stupid. You see, my little brother was in for a brief break from his incredibly exciting life at the University of Waterloo (a life that I am sure contains lots of fast cars, fast women, and machine guns, although he assures me that mostly he studies), and I decided to take him out to a movie. The Exorcist, to be exact. And, using every brain cell available at the time, I brought us to the theater to catch a late show.
Now, for those who haven’t seen this particular film, let me assure you: The Exorcist has very good claim to being the scariest movie ever made. Through a combination of eerie events, painful moments, and absolute shocks (Linda Blair’s spiderwalk down a flight of stairs is forever burned into my memory), the film manages to completely disturb and terrify the viewer. It is a movie that actually can spook somebody out for hours at a time, one of only two that have done it to me (the second is The Sixth Sense). As you can guess, catching a late show of this film is not the brightest idea.
Unfortunately, the experience for my brother was ruined. Not because of the movie itself, but because of the audience. The Exorcist begins slowly, starting with easily explainable events and building until the rational mind can no longer accept any other possibilities but the demonic. It is like being slowly immersed into scalding water: at first it seems bearable, but then it gets worse and worse and worse…
Unfortunately, this was not good enough for the audience. “Where’s the scary stuff?” the people behind us asked, pointing at a slightly eerie scene. “I thought this was supposed to be a horror movie.” They did this continually until the fear became overwhelming, at which point they finally shut up.
As a result, my brother could not get into it, and the immersion effect was lost. All because the people behind us had the attention span of an avocado.
(Now, at this point, you’re probably wondering, “What does this have to do with Diablo? Has the author finally gone nuts?”
(Don’t worry…I’m getting there.)
Put simply, frightening movies such as The Sixth Sense and The Exorcist, true horror films, not those gawdawful hack-and-slash monstrosities that fill the theaters these days, are not for people with short attention spans. In order to truly feel the fear, one has to get involved with the characters and environment, and that takes time. Even Alien, possibly one of the most suspenseful films ever made, starts slowly, carefully crafted with the skill of a true master.
But these films are few and far between these days. And, like a shortage of really good horror movies, I think the action genre of computer games is a symptom of a larger, more alarming ailment.
Set back the clock by a few months. Blizzard Entertainment puts out a message that Diablo II has gone gold at last. The game is released on the weekend, and promptly sells over a million copies, earning more money than Titanic did in its first weekend. And Diablo II, like its predecessor, is a game for people with short attention spans.
More and more, the multimedia entertainment industry is catering to those wishing instant gratification. Scream has no fewer than two brutal murders within the first five minutes; Urban Legend had only one, but substituted an attack on a nubile teenager to make up for lost time. And don’t even get me started on the horribly written and acted piece of dung that was I Know What You Did Last Summer…
Make no mistake, Diablo and its sequel have their place. I certainly enjoy building up Garwulf the Barbarian to the point that he can kill a hell knight using only bad breath, in the vain hope that one day I will be able to afford a new hard disk and play with him on Battle.net. But at the same time, I also play Civilization II, a game that requires an attention span long enough to notice continental drift.
I wonder, though, how many people play only Diablo-style games. The sort of games where if you’re not off killing something, you’re getting instructions on where to go to start maiming and slaying. The sort of games that not only require nothing more than the attention span of an avocado, but are sometimes lauded as the greatest games ever made, suggesting that any reasonable person doesn’t need anything other than instant gratification.
I am singling out Diablo in this instance because I am writing a Diablo column, and it makes my editors feel better when there is actually some Diablo content. The great monster-slaying game and its brethren were not the first on the scene, but like the multitude of first person shooters and third person actioners, they are designed for instant gratification.
Something I want to see in the expansion: a quest where not a single drop of blood is shed. A quest right in the middle of the act, where the characters must find some arcane object out in the middle of nowhere, something that will reveal the great secrets of the angels and demons, something where every step in the quest grants the character experience, and where s/he can rise two levels through the exploration alone.
Think about it; a quest like that would be incredibly rewarding, add to the sense of wonder in the game, and require a decent attention span.
I am not saying that this will solve the problem of expected instant gratification; it won’t. As I said earlier, the nature of the Diablo games and their incredible popularity are a symptom rather than a cause. But perhaps it will turn the tide a little. Perhaps it will make somebody think that some things are worth waiting for, and just because the scary bits don’t come until later, it doesn’t mean that the game or film is worthless.
Disclaimer: Garwulf’s Corner was written by Robert B. Marks and hosted by Diii.net. The views expressed in this column are those of the author, and are not necessarily the opinions of Diii.net.