“Plot” Twisting the Night Away

This past week, I decided to pick up the game, Prey. It’s a game that features aliens, dead people on a space ship, and mysteries within mysteries. I thought it would be a good fit for my channel since a lot of games that I cover have similar themes.

The game starts with you playing a person on their first day of work. You wake up in your apartment, get dressed, then take a helicopter to a nearby office building for a physical.

Except, things aren’t what they seem. If you are looking to play Prey and don’t want anything spoiled, then skip this blog post. Otherwise, keep reading.

You arrive at the test and perform a few tasks and during your last test, an alien kills all the scientists who are testing you. You get gassed and pass out.

You wake up in your apartment. It’s the first day of work. You start getting ready, except you find a corpse in the hallway and a message warns you to escape. You head over to your balcony door. It’s locked, but it provides a gorgeous view of San Francisco. So, I smashed it with a wrench and discovered, I wasn’t in San Francisco. I was looking out into a control room.

Then I realized that I was a test subject in a very elaborate hoax, and oh my, has something gone wrong.

That’s the hook that starts the game, and wow, I was sold. Later, I explored all the rooms of a supposed apartment building, seeing that it was just an elaborate set. It was so cool.

What I appreciated most about this opening is that the twist was the opening to the story as opposed to the closing of one. I’ve lost my patience with a lot of movies that make the “twist” the focus of the movie.

M. Night Shyamalan is the king of this. It’s just a magic trick that makes you feel empty for having watched it because the emphasis is on the structure of the story as opposed to the characters.

The Prey opening was refreshing because it used the twist as a hook and I loved experiencing it, yet this is something that will get old fast. A twist like this is delightful because of the surprise. When you expect it, then it loses any effect that it may have.

On the whole, though, I try to avoid twists when I can. I’m working on an interactive fiction story about being trapped in a building that’s about to be demolished. At one point during my brainstorming, I thought it may be cool that the whole experience is in a hospital bed like the person is dying.

In essence, everything occurs in the player’s mind. But I hate that. It feels fake like the character didn’t do anything.

This is why Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind bothers me so much. Characters grow, make hard choices, and sacrifice for each other. Yet, it’s all a dream. It doesn’t mean anything. You could cut out most of the movie and thematically, nothing will have changed.

My point, stick with the real, twist only when you absolutely must, and when you do the twist, use it as a way to dive deeper into the story.  Don’t make it the focus of the story.

Just my two cents.

By Brian Moakley

Brian Douglas Moakley is a writer and technologist who lives amongst the quiet hills in New England. When not reading tales of high adventure, he is often telling such stories to all who will listen.

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