Mirror’s Edge: Burdened by Words

Mirror's Edge: Skyways Inside a Building

A recent GameSetWatch post, “Design Diversions: The Video Game as a Picture Book”, by Andrew Vanden Bossche discussed how Mirror’s Edge could have been a stronger game overall, art even, had it not been for the tacked-on plot:

There is more emotion in a half second of Mirror’s Edge gameplay than in its entire script. While it’s disappointing that the dialogue couldn’t live up to the standards of the art direction and gameplay, this is DICE’s success, not their failure. Faith’s movements are highly detailed, from the impact of landing to blur of acceleration, and it is these little details that bring the exhilaration, panic, tension, and joy of flying from rooftop to rooftop to life. This wordless story was the real Mirror’s Edge.

I noted in my review of Mirror’s Edge that the environment, the city, was a prominent ‘character’ in the game, and I think the urban landscape and environmental details contribute to a story told through game play. Mirror’s Edge, when I wasn’t screaming at its frustratingly difficult game play, delivered a particularly immersive experience. All the details of that game world, conveyed in Faith’s breathing, the sensation of running and jumping, the background chatter on the radio, posters displayed on the walls—provided a more compelling and emotive experience than the narrative itself.

This paragraph gave me pause for thought:

Faith herself was supposed to be a bold step forward for heroines; tasteful, independent, and not overly sexualized. While she is these things, she is ultimately just built out of less offensive stereotypes rather than the depth of real person. Her somewhat irrationally violent personality is, disappointingly, all too common in videogame heroines. Again, Mirror’s Edge seems to step forward only with its visuals: Faith’s character design is far more revolutionary than her personality.

Faith is indeed “tasteful, independent, and not overly sexualized”, but is Faith “built out of less offensive stereotypes”? I’d argue that the charactacterisation of Faith having an “irrationally violent personality” as an example of a common trait amongst videogame heroines isn’t entirely inaccurate. I feel that the majority of videogame protagonists, male or female, seem to have “irrationally violent” personalities. To specifically call out videogame heroines and citing Faith as an example of this obscures this key point.

The article goes on to critique Faith as a character, stating that she lacks iconic status and is not memorable, which I completely agree with. Faith is not a very deep character. Whilst she has a driving motivation in the game, unfortunately it falls into tired story modes: her sister is in danger, and Faith must go save her. Whilst Mirror’s Edge is quite unusual in that we have a woman saving another woman, bypassing the disturbingly common videogame trope of a man saving a woman, it is still something we’ve all played before.

Getting back to the main point, while Mirror’s Edge disappointed on the writing and the character side, the incredible game play (apart from the unforgiving design and crushing difficulty) and art direction are unique in games.

  7 comments for “Mirror’s Edge: Burdened by Words

  1. 13 December 2009 at 06:58

    Dice released an add-on pack sometime ago that was bascially a bunch of abstract cubes and blocks for Faith to jump around in. I had absolutely zero desire to get it, even though I loved the game, precisely *because* it removed what was for me, one of the most compelling characters in the game — the city. I absolutely agree with this analysis. The plot is weak, the motivations are poor. But I felt absolutely immersed in the actual game play, and have come back to this game time and again because of it.

  2. Stephane
    13 December 2009 at 08:05

    These are good points. Several times during the game, I wondered why I could, for example, play Faith as a fighter, rather than the runner she trully is at core. Since the first moment I played the game, I was expecting this to be about avoiding fight, because Faith is way smarter than that, even to the point of flying between bullets.

    In a sense, the amazing graphical features of the game (speed blurs, fast change of direction, gradual moves to suggest how the body is moving) did correspond to Faith and her philosophy, and playing her that way strenghthen the fun I had playing the game. Every time I’d have to fight, including Ropeburn, I thought that I was playing a typical FPS, not Mirror’s Edge.

    The story is, as you indicate, a bit too stereotypical to highlight the trully original side of Faith. At a certain point I remember asking myself if I would actually do that if I were Faith and realising it was counter-intuitive (may be it was going after Ropeburn instead of trying to do stuff that would affect him indirectly?).

    I sincerely hope that Mirror’s Edge 2 will build on the success of the first one and have a more comprehensive feel. It is a gem of modern games thanks to a combination of things and I feel that it’d loose quality if any aspect were to fall behind the others.

  3. 14 December 2009 at 00:27

    I’m hopeful that the development team will learn from the first game and improve the game play (perhaps making it more forgiving) and also improve how they decide to tell the story. I certainly felt that the game play was the strength and it was a little disappointed that Faith wasn’t better developed as a character, as she (in broad terms) represents a step forward in positive female characters in games.

  4. 14 December 2009 at 08:50

    I’m glad you took the time to point out that irrationally violent personalities are not unique to heroines. I think that there may be some gender bias in how this personality is constructed, though, as men are often wisecracking jokers, while women tend to be icy and no-nonsense. These stereotypes are pretty obnoxious.
    I think the intention of this is to make the character seem badass, but without a convincing motivation the hero just comes off as a sociopath.
    I hope you enjoyed my article, as I enjoyed your critique of it.

  5. 14 December 2009 at 09:44

    I quite enjoyed your article. It pointed out a few aspects that I didn’t think about too deeply until your analysis. Thanks for visiting!

  6. MrAlex
    5 February 2010 at 08:34

    ‘Crushing difficulty’? Erm what? I found the game pretty easy…

    ‘Irrationally violent’? I would have said she was just a bit pissed off, especailly considering the government killed her parents… … …Anyways, you only need to beat up about 5 people in the whole game, you spend most of the time running away… …that’s like saying Jackie Chan was incredibly violent in Shanghai Knights.

  7. 7 February 2010 at 00:09

    @ MrAlex: Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment. :-)

    It’s great that you didn’t have a hard time with Mirror’s Edge. I don’t think you can argue the fact that other people are not you, and everyone experiences a game differently. :-) I played it on the PS3, and a lot of the platforming was difficult for me. Since this is a blog about my own, personal gaming experiences, I can only speak to my own experiences. :-)

    In terms of videogame characters being “irrationally violent”, I partially disagree with you. Many, many people in the world are the victims of injustice at the hands of powerful organizations, such as governments. Not everyone becomes a vigilante and turns to violence to solve their problems. So perhaps Faith’s reaction wasn’t exactly irrational, considering the circumstances, but it was violent.

    Anyway, the idea of Faith being “irrationally violent” is a quote from Andrew VandenBossche’s article, so perhaps you could ask him what he means if you need more clarification.

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