Metagame Monday: Which Gives the Player More Freedom?

Why, hello there! Starting today, Play With Pixels will be publishing a Metagame matchup where I draw some cards, argue on behalf of both games and put it all up every Monday. When the feature grows, the eventual goal is to bring in occasional guests to add some variety to Metagame Mondays.

What is the Metagame, you ask? It is a relatively new deck of cards that feature 2 types of cards, content cards and comparison cards. Content cards list video games from all eras from the classic Pong to the modern artistic experience Flower, and all points in between. Comparison cards ask interesting questions, and players each choose a game from a content card to argue on behalf of (for more information, check out their introduction guide).

The beauty of the Metagame is that not only is it easily expandable (the first of which is already out for the video game edition,and sitting on my desk), but that it also adapts to other forms of media; a Culture edition can be assembled by purchasing the variant editions of a European art magazine. The method of procurement is kind of esoteric, but well worth it; when our television and media site is out of the Paradox Press labs, I fully intend to bring a Culture based version of Metagame Mondays over there as well. Created by the talented team at Local No. 12, the Metagame is sure to be the first of many great products from the team of Colleen Macklin, John Sharp and Eric Zimmerman.

As we kick this off, the initial rules are:

  • I shuffle the deck and draw 13 cards: 5 content cards for one side, 5 content cards for the other side and 3 comparison cards.
  • I pick 1 content card from each side and 1 comparison card, based on what I think would make for the most interesting discussion.
  • I reserve the right to draw additional cards, in the rare case that either the content cards are entirely comprised of games that I am unfamiliar with and/or I cannot come up with an interesting discussion with any of the available comparison cards.
  • I am also not going to repeat comparison cards, until we run out of new ones. The most likely scenario is that I will add the booster pack into the mix long before that happens, and I am confident that Local No. 12 will introduce more as well.

Let’s kick off the inaugural edition of Metagame Monday in style! Our question this week is, Which gives the player more freedom: Grand Theft Auto III or Grim Fandango?


Grand Theft Auto III

It is hard to comprehend that Grand Theft Auto III is over a decade old at this point. The mechanics are a significant reason why it still feels like a modern game in many ways: the graphics are dated and the streamlining devices such as riding taxis in Grand Theft Auto IV were a distant dream back in 2001, but the basic over the shoulder perspective, free world exploration, available selection of major vehicular types and flexibility in solving missions remain core components of the Grand Theft Auto series and countless competitors to this day.

Any game that creates a new genre can be credited with a paradigm shifting feature, and Grand Theft Auto III’s paradigm shift was its open world exploration. There are options in the game that are still rare in video games over a decade later: deliberately antagonizing a gang in the neighbourhood and swinging around so they engage another group of enemies, slamming together vehicles to create makeshift ramps to access otherwise unreachable areas or carefully blocking off an enemy base before attackinig to prevent escapes are all ingenius ways to manipulate the living, thinking world around you for creative solutions were a revelation in 2001 (once you use a fire trick to block off the doors to a mansion, you can’t go back).

The game represented one of the biggest jumps in scope and ambition between entries in a game series, akin to the leap between the barely remembered original Street Fighter and the iconic Street Fighter II (and Hyper Fighting and Turbo and Super and HD Remix). Grand Theft Auto III set a new standard for the possibilities of an action/combat genre game,


Grim Fandango

This Metagame matchup may seem unfair, perhaps even fundamentally unsound on the surface. How does someone argue for the freedom of a linear adventure game with a fixed narrative, when compared against one of the most revered and famous open world games in video games?

It all centers around Manny, one of the most distinctive characters in the history of games. Manuel Calavera has the incredibly odd job as a travel agent at the Department of Death who ends up fighting his way through the depths of the underworld on the behalf of lost and mistreated souls. Creator Tim Schafer’s story speaks in a fantastical but genuinely engaging manner about the importance of integrity and how it reflects on Manny and by extension our perception of the nature of existence.

Grim Fandango has an incredible freedom of interpretation, as the fantastical nature of every character makes them identifiable as a cipher for our own lives. Was Manny the victim of an unfortunate circumstance that landed him in El Marrow, or an evil character paying penance for a terrible deed? Does he resist the tyranny of Domino, Don and eventually Hector as an act of validation of his innocence, or as redemption for a past crime?



Grand Theft Auto III offers tremendous freedom, but the narrative is formed around freedom without a framework. Unfortunately, the story was without direction which becomes a story without value; I had to do research to recall that the protagonist did not even have a name (until a later game). I remember Grand Theft Auto III’s narrative as a series of quick cuts featuring a cool looking guy who would proceed to shoot, explode, smash or otherwise destroy something or someone before proceeding to repeat the same experience in another part of the city.

Grand Theft Auto III  was and remains a tremendous technical milestone that demonstrated the possibilities of an interactive experience, but freedom without function renders the game as more of a virtual sandbox than a fully formed video game. Grim Fandango did not offer the same range of direct exploration throughout its world, but its well defined characters and rich story created a freedom to consider what the adventures of Manny really means within the game universe, as a parable for the value of living your life with positivity or as a commentary on the fundamental nature of morality.

That’s it for this week, which game do you believe offers more freedom?

One comment

  1. Pingback: Things people say « being playful

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