Wednesdays are tough. Just ask Krem. It can be difficult to push through when you’re feeling down (or up, if you’re on a chair), and while video games can help with that, I’m starting to notice an interesting trend: other characters are being allowed these moments, too. This started to occur to me as more and more Life Is Strange tweets like this one have been cropping up on my timeline, offering a few minutes to sit, relax, and contemplate. But what if there’s more to this whole sitting thing than meets the eye?
I’ve seen a few major publications cover the phenomenon in games. Most of them are funny, as with Polygon’s take on the trend. It’s the idle animations, however, that seem to generate the most press. There are entire articles dedicated to this subject, though quite a few of them seem to focus on classic games of yore. And if you’re more the modding type, there’s no end to available idle animations over at Nexus Mods. You could really spend days sorting through all the different ways your Skyrim character can move once you’ve stepped away from the keyboard.
What’s so interesting about a playable character at rest, you ask? Quite honestly, I’m still asking myself that question, but this aspect of games is really fascinating to me. I’ve reblogged enough of Lara’s idle animations to serve as a love letter at this point. There’s Hawke, too, who twists and stretches and shifts—almost as if she couldn’t keep still if she tried, a force perpetually in motion. Harry would even glance back at the screen when you’d left him standing in the corridor too long, his Gryffindor robes swirling dramatically around his ankles.
These idle animations are all reflections of the characters themselves, but what if the act of sitting was a chance for us, the player, to cede control?
I admit, during my initial playthrough of Rise of the Tomb Raider, I was surprised when the opportunity presented itself for Lara to sit. When would she even have time to rest? What was the point of allowing this character a moment of quiet contemplation? How did that even fit in with the established narrative? I’d thought it removed that sense of urgency propelling Lara forward from task to task, but really, it was in the breaking of that tension that offered the game something quietly and beautifully nuanced.
Even the most productive and well-meaning person requires time to exist, unmoving, as the world continues on around them. For me, selecting the option to sit was an almost poetic experience—a reminder that Lara was meant to be human, as flawed and deserving of a break as the rest of us.
There were other games I played recently that employed this opportunity as well. Fallout 4 allowed the player the option to sit, though I found myself accidentally forcing the Sole Survivor into chairs at the most inopportune times. But that’s interesting too, isn’t it? When a game forces you into a sitting position, it’s a jarring reminder that your character is meant to be living a life independent from you. While you may control some things in relation to their story—certain dialogue choices, whoever they end up romantically linked to, what skills they choose to level up—there’s that sense that you can’t control everything, nor should you.
For me, these experiences felt a great deal like reading a book. I used to curl up in my aunt’s gigantic armchair when I was very young, dragging a stack of well-worn novels along that would keep me entertained for hours. When the text finally began to run together and I couldn’t force my eyes to stay open anymore, I would heave a sigh, relaxing into the stiff cushions for a few minutes just to let the sheer force of my emotions wash over me.
From Bilbo’s mad dash through Mirkwood to Lyra Belacqua’s descent into the underworld, I needed that brief moment of peace to process the adventures that had come before, allowing it all time to percolate.
We all process things differently, and I believe modern games are starting to pick up on that—if not actually celebrating the fact. In Life Is Strange, DONTNOD takes this concept a step further by providing us with commentary from Max that we wouldn’t have otherwise heard if you didn’t allow her to sit. With this brief moment to breathe outside of the often harrowing events of the main plot, Max is able to reflect on the changes happening within her, and we’re treated to a rare glimpse into her character. This makes her so very human, and we’re actually encouraged to allow her this moment of reflection.
It’s interesting to me that while Life Is Strange offered new dialogue as a reward for sitting, Rise of the Tomb Raider doesn’t provide an opportunity for the player to hear Lara’s stream of consciousness unless you return to a base camp. This, I think, is more a reflection of the protagonists and their inner lives than it is a negative reflection of the games themselves. Lara is too caught up in her mission for anything less than absolute attention. She faces not only hostile enemies, but also animals and frigid temperatures. The wild isn’t kind to those who don’t know how to survive, and Lara can’t allow herself to let her guard down unless she’s safe at camp.
This isn’t the case for Max who, through no fault of her own, is safely tucked away within Blackwell Academy’s walls. She has the luxury of retreating to her thoughts without having to worry about being beset by an outside threat (certain staff members notwithstanding). It’s in these moments where she’s finally allowed time to process, and to a certain extent, this tells us where Max feels most comfortable: outdoors, a gentle wind rustling through the trees while a bird chirps nearby.
We could discuss how all of this is awfully cinematic; that games are edging further and further into territory long held by the film industry. But I’m interested in how the act of sitting ties in with the characters we all know and love, and more than that, how seeing these people simply exist can change the way we think about games entirely. What are your thoughts on all this? Are you sad Krem actually sits in chairs now? Me too. I was hoping he’d start a new trend of standing on furniture, but alas! Fingers crossed for Dragon Age 4.