For those of you unfamiliar with the Phoenix Wright franchise, it’s about a quirky defense attorney who solves crimes involving characters as colourful as they are culpable. Last night, I was playing Phoenix Wright: Justice For All, which led me through four distinct cases of questioning witnesses, gathering evidence, and pointing the finger at the highly suspect.
The game is unique in that it values story and character development over high-tech graphics, and is full of emotional intrigue. One of its problems, however, is that it is insanely difficult to pick up the game after a long absence due to its complex, and often confusing, storyline.
In some ways, I suppose I should be applauding the game’s realism. After all, it’s not as if a real lawyer could simply vanish from a trial, return spontaneously after an unexplained absence, and expect to deliver a convincing defence. Nevertheless, it had been months since I last touched the game, and I was certainly paying the price. I found myself looking frantically through Phoenix’s inventory for clues about the trial, desperately scrounging for details I had missed in order to win each case.
All the while, I could feel a palpable sense of guilt creeping up on me. I was like a student who hadn’t done my homework, or a surgeon who couldn’t remember the next step in a crucial operation.
Inexplicably, I was terrified.
After a few moments, I had to remind myself that the game’s offbeat defendants had no real investment in my ability to obtain an acquittal. They were fictional characters, living in a digital game, far removed from the real world of barristers, judges and hackneyed attorneys. In Phoenix Wright, the characters exist solely for the purpose of advancing the game’s storyline, and providing a little humour on the side. But it’s strange just how emotionally attached we can become to these digital avatars; with their compelling storylines, it’s easy to think of them as real people.
I abandoned this game months ago because I couldn’t beat a certain case, and I relished in the fact that I could simply flick off my gaming console when the going got tough. Once the screen went black, Phoenix’s world, and all of its inherent problems, simply disappeared.
A friend recently confided in me that her job was too tough, her coworkers too rude, the pay too low. After listening to her story, I couldn’t help but imagine what her life would be like if it had its own restart button.
In the digital world, getting a fresh start is easy, and one of the things I love most about games. They’re fast-paced and full of new experiences which are easily shaped by our own creative input. There’s no financial investment in starting over– you can just press a button, and go. And like good friends, characters in the digital world will always be around when we return. There’s no pesky address book or social media list to take care of. All of your closest confidants are right at your fingertips.
Playing Phoenix Wright last night made me reflect on some of the values which are important in my own life– friendship, hard work, loyalty and integrity, to name a few. Hitting restart when our lives fall into a slump– finding a new job, moving across the country, taking another degree–is a constant temptation in the real world. But if video games have taught me anything, it’s that dedication and perseverance through tough times almost certainly pay off in the long run.
After all, in video games, as in life, no one wants to be known as acquitter.