Yokai Watch, and the strange, arbitrary rules of video games

Yokai Watch

I've recently been playing Yokai Watch, the 3DS's new monster RPG from Level-5, and while I'm not completely sold on the game overall there are a couple of neat little mechanics I've come to appreciate. One is that you always take your shoes off when entering a house - a cute little detail that helps set the tone of the game as a polite, friendly, kids' game.

The second is a little more troublesome, as much as I like it: the zebra crossings. At the very start of the game you're politely asked to always make sure you press the button and wait for the green man before crossing the road. At first, my reaction was along the lines of "Yeah, okay, thanks Mum", but then I realised that I probably wasn't the target audience, and besides, I've not been run over once, so hooray for me.

And then that hubris that can only come with years of not being hit by a fast thing started to turn into pride, and that pride started to turn into flagrant disregard for the rules. Why should I take time out of my very busy Yokai-catching schedule to wait for a fake crossing signal? This is a video game, not real life!

Besides, I live in London. The way I cross the road is usually done by considering whether or not the bus drivers have murder in their eyes, before weaving through taxis at Oxford Circus like I'm playing Snake.

But sometimes, video games ask you to adhere to arbitrary rules. Animal Crossing really didn't like it if you turned the game off without saving, punishing you with one of Resetti's angry essays with no means of escape. The Sims took your kids away for good if they got one too many Fs. Yet we live in a world where these things happen - sometimes your console runs out of battery, and sometimes kids are really dumb. It's not my fault.

Other times, we break the rules because it's actually fun. In Metal Gear Solid 2, shooting seagulls would result in a stern call from Rose, who would then refuse to save the game for a period while you thought about your actions. In Banjo-Kazooie, Grunty would delete your entire save game if you cheated. That's right, she would wipe away all of your hard work because you broke "the rules".

The 70s would be ashamed of us - blindly following nonsensical orders to keep games fun and stop them getting mad at us. Sure, rules are necessary to maintain order sometimes, such as in board games. Have you ever played a board game with someone who thinks rules are stupid? It's incredibly frustrating as you try to explain that no, you can't move straight to the Castle of the Dragonlord if you haven't collected enough Fire Tokens.

As far as video games go, however, I'm calling for a revolution. Fight the man (the man here being technologically mandated submission to arbitrary rules). When Resetti gets all up in your face, hit him with a shovel. When the social worker comes to take away your stupid children, delete her. And when you're asked to cross the road nicely? Er…don't.