Quantic Dream’s Kara may not represent a real development project, but it speaks volumes about Sony’s current position in the video game industry: few other manufacturers are willing to take such creative risks, and that gives the platform an overarching ethos in which innovation can thrive.
It’s certainly no coincidence that Kara should debut on the same week that PlayStation Plus subscribers embark on their first Journey. Indeed, Sony’s desire to move players through gameplay is becoming an increasingly key part of the publisher’s focus.
It’s always been there, bubbling beneath the surface: the original PlayStation arguably embedded itself in popular culture in a way that video games had rarely achieved prior. Meanwhile the PS2 was designed around the very idea of moving players, the vaunted Emotion Engine paving the path for unforgettable titles such as ICO and Shadow of the Colossus. But it’s only with the technical advancements of PS3 that Sony’s really managed to realise the vision it’s spent two generations striving towards: the ability to convey emotion through interaction.
Sony’s certainly not the only publisher pushing to enhance the importance of video game narrative beyond a simplistic gameplay context, but there’s a deeper philosophy to the way it approaches the development of games, dealing with human emotion beyond the typical aggression at the centre of most other experiences. The feeling of companionship with the Uncharted cast, the sense of empowerment in flower and the bold disregard for formality in Heavy Rain – no other publisher is pushing the limits of the industry on quite the same scale as Sony.
The indie scene would certainly have a strong argument against our point, but creative risk is in its very nature. Without the pressures of publishers and budgets, the indie space wouldn't be taking advantage of its freedom without taking creative risks. But with freedom comes compromise and, for all the good that it does, the indie scene doesn’t quite have the same clout as a big publisher to showcase the limits of what’s possible in the interactive space.
And that’s why Sony’s desire to stretch the boundaries of what interactive media can achieve is so important. The likes of Heavy Rain and Journey are expensive endeavours that rely on huge investments in research and technology, and Sony supports those kinds of projects. It’s reflected in the company’s Pub Fund initiative – a scheme in which the platform holder actively seeks and funds promising, innovative projects in return for a small window of exclusivity.
Would another publisher have taken a creative chance on Journey — a game with no hard rules, very vague objectives and a desire to cycle players through different emotions? Or how about Heavy Rain – a title that ignores the control, structure and pacing standards for modern video game design and adopts its own philosophy designed around making players feel a connection to a cast of characters?
The precedent is what makes Kara so exhilarating. The sentimental cyborg at the centre of Quantic Dream’s emotional short may not be indicative of the protagonist for a future project, but the footage's underlying tone is not disingenuous. Kara is representative of a future title – the kind of project that only seems possible on PlayStation in gaming’s current climate.
Video games need a champion; a figure that proves that the medium is capable of prompting the same kind of emotional stimulation that’s evident in movies, music and literature. For now, Sony is that champion; a publisher willing to absorb commercial failings in order to differentiate its platform and drive the industry forward. We can only imagine what the future holds.