I have these dreams. Dreams where my body gets out of the way, dreams where I'm not restricted by the natural limitations of bone, sinew and gravity. The dreams are not always the same. Sometimes I glide. Sometimes I float.
Sometimes, I fly.
And then reality clips my wings, and I'm thrust back down onto my bed. Awake. It wasn't real.
Whatever I felt while I was dreaming—thrill, excitement, awe—is replaced with ache. Ache for something that's not possible, ache for something beyond my reach that nonetheless I felt palpably just moments ago. The best I can do is to dream...or to pick up a controller.
Ever since I learned about proper running form—the way your body is supposed to move to run optimally—I've become obsessed with movement. The motion of our bodies is a fascinating thing; downright mesmerizing, at times. Watch a runner. Watch a pole dancer. How long before you start wondering what moving like that feels like?
We can't all experience that sort of thing. That's where games come in. Much like dreaming, games are capable of making you feel like you're in motion even if you're actually sitting in place.
My intrigue probably isn't helped by the fact that I don't play soccer like I used to, back when I first learned about proper running form. Now I make a mental compendium of sorts for the way games let me move instead. Because sometimes, the yearning comes back and I need to boot up a game just to feel that elusive thing again—whatever it may be.
I'll tell you about some of my favorites.
Maybe falling feels scary—imagine tumbling from a high place with no hope of surviving. Sometimes falling feels thrilling, that's why we seek out roller coasters and sky diving. But in Gravity Rush, falling feels like freedom. Press a button and suddenly the axis that everyone else is glued to doesn't apply to you.
Down is wherever you choose; the ground, meanwhile, can wait. You fall at high speeds, rushing toward a surface—sideways. You're falling, but you're falling sideways. This is freedom, not just because you're free-falling, but because you choose how.
Who doesn't want to reach for more? There's the double-jump, sure—I'm particularly fond of Smash Bros.' double jump for those moments in which reality would dictate that you can't quite make it, but, aha! Your body extends beyond its natural reach, you pump out a new jump, and it allows you to barely grab onto the edge of a stage. Phew.
Then there's Mario's double jump in Super Mario 64. You have to build your momentum through smaller jumps, and when you get to the final one—when Mario goes yahoo! after his yah, hoo-hoo, that moment is like ambition personified for me.
Like Icarus not being halted by the sun, like the moment in which Adam's finger finally touches God's finger in Michelangelo's The Creation of Adam. It's not supposed to happen, but you made it happen, damnit. We're taught all our lives that some things will never come true because reality prevents wild, unexplainable things from happening. But the double jump spits in the face of all of that; dares to reach for more. Yahoo!
Believe it or not, Far Cry 3's Jason Brody is, at times, bearable. But only when he's up in the sky, arms outstretched, with his wingsuit on. I'm reminded of going fast in a car, hand out the window, breaking through the wind. Only instead of your hand, it's your entire body up in the sky.
No animals. No pirates. Not outposts. No becoming a warrior. Just you and your thoughts. If the wind is strong enough, the world seems to stand still.
So many games have a 'boost' button, but one of the best has to be the one in Vanquish. It's all in how your character positions himself, tilting his body nearly completely vertically—with just one hand keeping him from fully hitting the ground. It's like you're on those wheelie shoes, only intense enough that sparks fly everywhere.
If your meter didn't run out, most of us would probably play the entire game like this. Not quite upright, not quite falling: on a threshold.
Dustforce is a game about cleaning—on the surface. In actuality, it's about elegance and refinement. The music sets the mood: peaceful, calm. It's your job to dust every surface, and you're going to do it through kinetic eloquence and a feather duster.
You naturally move smoothly, yes: but you have to chain that with combos and dashing, all in the name of never pausing your stride. The more you can clean up in one swoop, the better the score. You'd better be graceful about it.
Dishonored does not tell you how to approach killing a target, or how to traverse its levels. It's up to you; the possibilities are many. So, too, is the case with one of the best mechanics we've seen in years: blink. I was constantly surprised by what this ability let me reach—yes, not everywhere, but nearly. And in that blink, in that second in which I was teleporting from one place to another, I felt a great sense of potential.
This was especially true if I was in a pickle and I had to find a quick way to move about. If I could see it, I could go there. Anything is possible. I just had to decide what I wanted.
Finesse is not always this froofy, airy thing. Sometimes, it is heavy. Such is the case with my favorite space marines in Gears of War. The men in Marcus Fenix's squad (or enemies!) are not ballerinas, they are not graceful in a traditional sense.
The Gears language is one of force, and so any time you move, you feel it in your chest. A thud punctuates the search for cover. Your ferocity finds release in a curb stomp. When you roll, you feel the weight of your soldier. This is why Gears is so gratifying to play.
(Unless murder ballerinas are a thing. In which case they are totes ballerinas.)
Here is the beauty of a video game, then: the dreams do not have to end until we say so. Until then, we are free to move as we please.