When the player’s humanity acts as a real protagonist.
There are many ways to describe the positive aspects of Observation, but its main feature is that the game turns everything familiar inside out. The player controls AI, and the other central character is medic Emma Fisher, who is trying to find out what happened on the space station.
Immediately it becomes obvious one horrifying fact: the characters are in orbit of Saturn. Observation turns Saturn’s hexagonal polar storm into a beautiful motif around which the entire game is built. But the main chord in it is the artificial intelligence itself called SAM.
Catherine Cross, a graduate student in sociology, on Gamasutra spoke about how the Observation story is built, and also described why using the topic of artificial intelligence helped developers to show self-awareness gains in a new way. We have chosen the main thing from the text.
The game developers deliberately drew inspiration from the 2001 film “Space Odyssey”: proximity to the gas giant; airborne AI; and the obsidian monolith, which is the incomprehensible alien intelligence. But Studio No Code uses classic elements to tell a new story that can only be translated into a video game format.
One of the ways that No Code does this is to outperform all the usual clichés that AI is becoming a super intelligent serial killer. SAM is still on the side of people.
The difference is that the game creates a morally justified need for a terrible situation. Therein lies the merciless courage to turn over this cliché and change ethics. But it’s worth it. It is emotional and necessary.
Some reviewers decided that the game does not give the opportunity to deeply explore the AI consciousness on the subject of “what it means to be human.” But It is worth noting that Observation handled this much better than many other examples, because the player himself becomes this artificial intelligence.
During the passage, the user has to search for the necessary information or perform various orders. Sometimes this can take a few seconds, although one would assume that a real AI should perform everything instantly. But this is not the case.
The fact is that the player receives control over SAM at the time of the “incident”. Human weaknesses and strengths penetrate his every action: curiosity, indecision, reflection. Thus, everything a player does in Observation expresses this key fact about a character. What would be painfully unrealistic in any other virtual assistant image becomes an amazing feature here.
In the gorgeous Tuloma Fulbright characters are so real that the player is deeply immersed in their lives. This creates a strong emotional connection, due to which users want the characters to survive to the end. In Observation, death means significantly less. Of course, with the exception of those that affect Emma.
And here is important the prospect of observing everything that happens. The player is only AI. The memory was severely damaged by the incident, so SAM, like the player, knows very little about it. Dr. Emma Fisher is his main contact throughout the journey. When the SAM consciousness develops, constant contact with it is maintained, which is why the first experience of empathy occurs, with which the AI is clearly struggling.
The result of this is that the player’s view of the rest of the crew can only be of secondary importance at best. Perhaps empathy in this case will be associated with Emma, which is the first starting point for human companionship.
It makes sense, because a certain curiosity for finding out the fate of the crew members helps Emma to survive. And the most acute flashes of consciousness in SAM are always associated with Emma: he tries to calm her down; and asks if she is alright.
Restrictions in the game reveal the true potential of this way of storytelling. Nevertheless, this effect can still be achieved with the help of a more accurate characterization of the crew, so it cannot fully justify its absence. Many other games prove how much can be done with little effort, and the few magazines and documents that the player finds here are simply not enough.
Observation is one of those titles that really can only be implemented in a video game format. The awkward awakening of SAM with the help of a human player is an effect, an experience that cannot be simply reproduced on another medium. He perfectly demonstrates a special form of interactivity that prevails in video games. Like some types of modern art that achieve their highest self-expression through the viewer and participant, this game really needs a user.
In the end, the player can feel that he knows SAM, because he has to be. This was manifested in dozens of small ways: from regret for not being able to complete the task for Emma to a limited angle of view. The Observation narrative, while not typical, is a master class in storytelling, as powerful as it is innovative.