Subtext and revealing the past

I played a little bit of Resident Evil 4 for Wii last night, which caused me to experience cognitive dissonance, since every other game I’ve played on Wii has been a general audiences game.  That said, I noted the long intro cut scenes and lots of exposition… so much so, people at the party talked over it and I couldn’t hear what they were saying half the time.  Still, not knowing the exposition didn’t stop me from enjoying killing zombies.

This leads, somewhat, into another instance of “mystery notes” lying on my desk.  Just a reminder, I found some notes I must have taken a million years ago scrawled on a scrap of paper.  Here’s my effort to preserve it:

Show past by how people treat you now – frat buddies joking

Could this technique have worked in RE4?  Since I couldn’t hear much of what was being said, if your main character has much of a past, or if he’s experiencing his life-changing event right now.  That said, there are three characters he talks to:

1.  He starts out the game with two police guys, and I’m thinking he doesn’t know them from Adam.  Instead of long cut scenes with two random strangers, what if they’d been, say, his frat buddies?  Terribly funny, since the main character has a pretty boy haircut and clearly has never been in a frat 😉 

2.  After the guys ditch you, a woman calls who’s your guide for the operation.  She introduces herself and you’re off to the races.  What if she referred to past experiences, or treated you a certain way to indicate where you were in the pecking order?  In the five minutes I played, I didn’t see any of that.

Of course, games is a different animal than most media.  It can be a double-edged sword to give your main character a dramatic backstory, since, in the end, the player is the main character.

Anyone seen a good example of revealing the past through subtext rather than expository dialog?  Lemme know.



Filed under Games, Writing

4 responses to “Subtext and revealing the past

  1. When Bowzer starts throwing fireballs at Mario in “Super Mario Galaxy”, it’s clear that they have a long history of hostility between them.

  2. writingiswriting


    I’ve only played the beginning. If Bowzer is the big bad who attacks you at the beginning, it mostly looked like he was after the stars and just generally bad news. Of course, I was once again suffering from people talking at a party, so what do I know.

  3. The stars are merely the MacGuffin — Mario is forced to collect them in order to get closer to Bowser.

    The real heart of the drama is the subtle homoerotic tension between Mario and Bowser as they fight for Princess Peach’s affections. It bears a resemblance to Cuarón’s dual protagonists in “Y tu mamá también”. (Which, I suspect, was the inspiration for “Super Mario Galaxy”.)

  4. writingiswriting

    Yes, I see where you’re going. The designers laid this in throughout the game… what’s with going into the hole of a star and being ejaculated out? How about those weird phallic protrusions which you hit and it causes all bad guys to die?

    Love that movie, btw.

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