Perspective: Yours or Mine or Ours?

We all know what a first-person story sounds like, but what does it look like?  A regularly-shot film with a voice over?  A single, continuous shot from one perspective?  Does it change when you are the story?  When you make the story?  When you play a game?

Galloway begins to answer these questions with his lengthy exploration of “subjective” (first-person) perspectives in film as a way to understand first-person-shooter (FPS) games.  First, subjective shots are not point-of-view (POV) shots.  POVs reveal what the character would see, but they remain stationary (or pan smoothly).  Subjective shots move (often with jerky, shaky motion) as the character, revealing what the character sees and feels.  Subjective shots are rarely used in film, but when they are, they almost always have a “negative vision.”  Generally, they are used in four ways:

1)        to demonstrate vertigo/intoxication/passing out (love interest’s face and voice blurs as hero faints),

2)        to communicate emotional isolation from a group (pan through a hostile classroom on the first day of school)

3)        to make the view feel hunted (monster or criminal stalks protagonist)

4)       to represent machine vision (numbers, grids, and text overlay the image.) In response to their unfamiliarity and negativity viewers find subjective shots unpleasant.  But not so with FPS games.

Sadly, Galloway’s analysis of viewer psychology ends here, but I would like to suggest that viewers and players react so differently to the technique due to the ownership of perspective.  As Galloway emphasizes, “subjective shots mean to show the exact physiological or emotional qualities of what a character would see” (emphasis mine.) Thus a subjective film shot is meant to take the viewer as far into the character’s experience as possible.  In contrast, FPSs attempt to take the player as far into the game experience as possible.  No character with psychological burdens disturbs the intimate perspective.  The perspective is not a characters; it is your own.  Could our reactions differ because we are uncomfortable with such a close relationship to a character?

Perhaps, but something deeper is also going on.  As Branigan observes, “In the case of character sight, what is important is not so much that the character sees something, but that he experiences difficulty in seeing. What is revealed is not the external object of a glance nor an internal state of the character, but a condition of sight itself.” Audiences dislike subjective perspective because they become subjected to the anxiety of incomplete vision.  In films, a subjective perspective means that the audience has no control over the situation; they cannot see anything outside of the frame and they cannot obtain an “objective” view.  Thus they become vulnerable, forfeiting the safety and omniscience of conventional viewing.  By giving up their unique, multifaceted perspective and taking another’s, they are, in some way, giving up their humanity and right to have their own view.  But in video games the player has complete control over his sight.  He is not restrained by a director.  He owns his actions controls his destiny.

Thus filmic and gamic subjective perspectives are both about movement; the first about experiencing the character’s physical and emotional movement, and the second about the player’s movement through constructed space.  The two differ in the type of movement.  FPSs offer the play an active role in deciding movement while subjective films force the viewer to passively experience someone else’s movement.  While FPSs may have inherited subjective perspective, they succeed where film failed since they offered the player control.

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2 Responses to Perspective: Yours or Mine or Ours?

  1. Hayley Roder says:

    I absolutely agree with what you’re suggesting here. I mentioned in class yesterday that we don’t like the subjective view in film because there’s nothing we can do about it. It’s uncomfortable to feel like we’ve been given this power but can’t do anything with it. We can’t control what the character whose head we’ve been put into does.

    But in games, we have control. We can use that view and feel like we’re accomplishing something. This is also what makes first-person shooter games so intense and, at least for me, so frustrating. I was absolutely horrible at Quake. I could not figure out how to switch weapons or do anything, well, useful, and even though that girl said she’d “go easy on me,” when she killed me three times in a row, I started to think that wasn’t true. 😉

    It was more frustrating for me to not be able to accomplish anything in an FPS than it would be had I been playing a different type of game. I felt like I had more control over the character and that I should have been able to accomplish more. When you’re put in a character’s perspective, you feel more responsible for what happens, I think.

    It’s cool to see that we had really similar thoughts on this!

  2. MikeM says:

    A game that comes to mind which blends the subjective view and the point of view is Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 which is a first person shooter. In this game there are certain parts where you the player are in a point of view cinematic view, but find that you can turn your head a few inches in either direction to get a better view of what’s around you. This was the first time in my gaming experience to have come across something like this and I admit I was impressed. It game me a sense of control and immersion unlike any other in past gaming. The one downfall was that I felt I was missing out on potentially cool things just off screen when I was looking the other way.
    In Modern Warfare 2 you are generally in the subjective view as in most first person shooters. It is in the final battle however that I was most impressed, and until now had no idea that it was a combination of the subjective view and point of view. It goes as follows: After an incredibly long chase, you limp towards your foe, knife in hand. Your vision is blurry going in and out and shows clearly how weary you are. As you attack your opponent the point of view cinema kicks in forcing you to watch helplessly as your opponent dodges and slams you to the ground. Pulling out a revolver he loads it and prepares to fire at close range. Your partner, who helped you out during the chase and whom you presumed had died after going over a waterfall, tackles your would be killer to the ground just in time. As you watch them fight in hand to hand combat, the revolver is kicked a couple feet away from you just out of sight. Instinctively you move the mouse left and would you know it? The screen veers left! What an awesome feeling it was to realize I wasn’t out of the fight even though my vision was by now extremely blurry. By clicking the mouse buttons left and right your character is able to crawl slowly towards the gun. Just when you are about to reach it your enemy kicks it away, stabs you with your own knife and kicks you in the face. Your screen goes dark. You wake to find your friend on the ground with your enemy on top pummeling him in the face. I tried to look around as I had before realizing that perhaps I could do something again. As I moved the mouse the camera view panned slowly giving emphasis to how badly my character was injured. As I shifted the view right, I saw the knife stuck in my chest. Clicking furiously with the mouse, my character grabbed the handle and tried to pull it out. The screen started fading in and out and different tints of red flashed around the screen. It made me want to stop clicking it seemed so brutal! But beyond the knife I could see my friend getting beaten horribly. In game we had been through a lot together, I wasn’t going to let him down (I had a sense of attachment for these characters). With red all over the screen I finally pulled the knife free, aimed at my opponent and threw it. From here on the point of view takes over and I watch in triumph as my character hits his mark. There is more, but I think you get the point. Switching in and out of the subject and point of view views was something completely new to me and left a lasting impression. That is why I can recall it now so vividly. It was well done and I was completely immersed in the game because of it. The developers of Modern Warfare 2 did a fantastic job of combining the cinematic moments and interaction. In doing this they made a truly memorable ending to a solid FPS game.

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