Word Geekery

I admit it. I’m a geek. I write for a living, on the internet. I read what many would identify as “too much.” I enjoy science. I get passionate about things like marketing and Ted Talks. I participate, as an adult, in not one — but two — ongoing Dungeons and Dragons games.

To demonstrate the appalling extent of my geekdom, I want to talk about something that’s bothered me for years. First-person shooters, those video games where you run around shooting bad guys from the POV of the soldier, games like Halo and Call of Duty, aren’t really “first-person shooters”. They are second-person shooters. It’s true that the entire video game industry disagrees with me here, but in my not-terribly-humble opinion, they’re wrong. Let me break it down for you.

  • The experience of playing this kind of game is most like a Choose Your Own Adventure book, not a detective novel narrated by the main character. Those detective novels are first-person. Choose Your Own Adventure is second person.
  • When you describe what happened in a session of playing these games, you say “I did this. I shot that. I got ganked and bled out.” When you describe what happens in a first-person novel, you say “He found this. He solved the case. He got hit in the head with a blackjack and woke up in an alley.”
  • First-person movies don’t exist. Third-person movies with first-person narration exist. There are a few examples of second-person movies out there, most notably The Blair Witch Project. The POV in this kind of shooter game is exactly that of Blair Witch.

I think the confusion for most people comes from my second point. When you describe what you did in the game, you use the word “I.” Back in middle school, our teachers taught us that “I” means first-person perspective. However, that means your description of what happened in the game is first person — not what happened in the game itself.

This gets further complicated by the option of viewing your game with different camera angles. The shoulder-cam option might be able to make a case for first-person status. It’s probably still third-person, but you’re following the action of your character from an intimately close angle — much like the way you ride through the action of a first-person novel. I can accept that argument. Obviously, games where you can see the entire body of your character — Gears of War leaps to mind — are inarguably third person.

I’m not sure what makes me more of a geek — that I notice these things, or that I care enough to post about them.

Thanks for listening.

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