Theseus, Boats, and Asura’s Wrath

Do you know what you are? Perhaps more importantly, do you know who you are? The question of identity is a huge one in philosophy and spans a great breadth of quandaries and rather intense posturing.

Consider, for instance, Theseus’ paradox. Originally posed by Greek philosopher Plutarch in his Life of Theseus, he wondered if a ship remained the same ship if it was restored and had all of its wooden parts replaced. This is a popular and ongoing topic for philosophical debate, passing through the likes of Socrates, Plato, and John Locke.

Consider, then, Asura’s Wrath, a third-person action game from CyberConnect2 and Capcom that forces the player to ask one simple and yet deeply profound question: when does a game stop being a game?

Asura’s Wrath is structured much like any other video game in that you control a character through increasingly difficult combat scenarios on the way to the end of a (mostly) monomythic journey. Sometimes a game’s mechanics exist simply for the story and sometimes it’s the other way around. In Asura’s Wrath’s case, it is definitely the former with rudimentary hand-to-six-arms combat and less-than-desirable Space Harrier shooting sections existing simply to bring you its absolutely bonkers cutscenes and delectably nigh incomprehensible storyline. A rough estimate would say that for every five minutes of controllable action, there are about 25 minutes of quick time event-laden cinematics.

Some would say, however, that this balance is not ideal. Some would say this does not make it fun. Some would say this does not make it a game.

Imagine instead that every scene with a quick time event is gutted out and replaced with a controllable action sequence. Instead of hammering on the X button to push back on the moon-sized thumb of a Jupiter-sized god, you used your combos to repeatedly beat away said thumb until an arbitrary timer or health bar ran out. Does this by default make for a better game or qualify it more as a game? Perhaps more importantly, does this even result in the same game?

Which flows into a continuation of the paradox: does the ship need to remain a ship? Could it not serve just as well as a monument to its conquests sans restorations? If so, would this mean its identity changes without altering any of its fundamental components?

So then maybe sometimes a game doesn’t necessarily need to be a game to succeed. The qualities of success and failure are not part of an object’s identity but rather its relation to the rest of its reality. Asura’s Wrath’s successes and failures are dependent on whether you need it to be a game in the traditional sense of tight and engaging game mechanics and an intriguing plot, and as far as I’m concerned, a game that has you bursting into 10-minute sequences of brain-seizing insanity doesn’t need to be a game at all.

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