In video games, the perspective, or view point, is one of the biggest determining factors in play style. It’s crazy to think that something as simple as where the camera is placed could change a game, but it’s true. The way the player sees the game changes how personal events are. Used effectively, view point can make the difference between a compelling drama and an uninteresting conflict.
The two most common perspectives are 1st person, in which the player sees directly out of their controlled character, and 3rd person, in which the camera is placed behind a character. Many competitive shooters, such as Call of Duty and Halo, use a 1st person perspective, hence the label “first-person shooter” (FPS). This view is preferable when the game focuses on precision aiming, because the player can aim directly without an avatar’s body getting in the way.
|Except for the hands. Stupid hands, blocking my field of vision.|
Perspective determines how the audience relates to the story and the main character. In a 1st person game, players rarely see the character they are controlling. The player can “transfer [themselves] into the video game character, experience the intensity of the challenge, and achieve the sense of mastery and exhilaration of success.”1 This allows the player to feel like they are directly responsible for the victories and achievements in the game. Call of Duty is widely liked for its competitive aspect. Players compete online against one another, trying to outgun and outlast their fellow players. Part of its massive success and popularity might be due to the perspective. The players cannot see their own avatar, thus there is one less constant reminder that they are playing a video game. 1st person perspective allows the player to feel like they are the ones responsible for victory instead of the character they control.
Another popular FPS, Halo, goes so far as to have the character be both faceless (constantly wearing a helmet) and voiceless. Because the character has no distinct personality of its own, players can project themselves into the game. So it’s not the story of how Master Chief saves the world, it’s the story of how you save the world. The player becomes Master Chief. So when they make it through a particularly grueling level, they know it’s the result of their skill as a player and not because of Master Chief.
|No glory-hogging for you, Mater Chief.|
Sometimes developers may want to limit the amount of responsibility a player feels. In Sucker Punch’s Infamous, the game takes a 3rd person approach. Even though a majority of the combat relies on aiming, the game does not go into 1st person perspective. Instead, the camera zooms in to Cole, just above the shoulder so that players can aim accurately. Infamous also has a lot of platforming elements, and being able to navigate the environment is a must, so the 3rd person camera helps players see their position relative to other objects around them.
|Can you imagine how much this would suck in 1st person?|
They'd have to rename the game Mirror's Edge.
However, the 3rd person perspective also has the side-effect of providing a constant reminder to the player that they are not physically in the game. Because the main character is always on the screen, there is distance between him and the player. Infamous’s main draw comes from its morality system, where players can choose between “good” and “evil” alignments determined by their actions. “Evil” actions take the form of injuring innocent bystanders, killing police officers and basically being a giant douche. By distancing the player from the character, the player is also distanced from their actions. This allows the player a greater sense of moral freedom, because they do not feel directly responsible for the acts they commit. If they decide it would be funny to blow up a car with a bunch of snotty kids in it, well, it’s not them doing it, it’s Cole.
|There was a family of four in that car.|
The 3rd person perspective lets the character be as big of a jerk as they want without feeling any guilt. After all, it’s only a game. They aren't supposed to be the main character, only control him. So if they want to set the town on fire, they can do it with wild abandon. All the consequences fall on Cole, not them.
Part 2 of perspective is here.
Part 3 of perspective is here.
Main Video Game Rhetoric Directory
Stay tuned for more articles on video game rhetoric!