LGBT Characters in Gaming

Let’s talk a little history.  I don’t know how many of you were around and conscious of what television in the 90’s was like.  Much like the film industry, it produced some of the biggest garbage in the world.  You had shit like Friends and Full House, both of which got unbelievably popular due to nostalgia that people seem to believe the entertainment was so much better back then.  These people are what people like me call “clinically insane.”  But here’s something you may not remember – the 90’s didn’t always write gay characters very well.  Some of the biggest stereotypes about the LGBT community came into being then.  Now, the thing is that they aren’t negative stereotypes.  In fact, they were overwhelmingly positive.  There is a reason for that.  Maybe it was making up for old negative stereotypes, or people just not being able to write these kinds of characters very well.  Whatever the reason, they were all bad.

Here was the problem – these characters all had a bad habit of announcing that they’re gay to everyone they meet.  They are so damn proud of being gay and they are damn sure going to make sure that everyone knows it.  It was bad writing in the worst way.  All of these characters had a bad habit of the fact that they are gay being their entire life.  It isn’t one facet of it, but every facet of it.  Everything in their lives centers around the fact that they’re gay.  It was lazy, terrible writing that led to some of the most one-dimensional characters we ever got to see.

Time went by, however, and writers were able to get past whatever hangup they had and were able to start writing very rounded gay characters who were characters first, gay second.  They had rich personalities and issues with life that are part of the issues everyone has.  It led to some truly fantastic characters, like my favorite anti-hero, Omar Little from The Wire.

That sure was a long intro to talking about what this post is going into.  Gaming is at a similar crossroads.  What led us here is the fact that a lot of gamers are now part of an older generation.  The average age of gamers is closer to 30 than 20.  It’s become a part of popular culture, and is quickly overtaking Hollywood in telling engaging narratives that people can get wrapped up in.  As such, it’s only natural that we see games taking on more and more adult themes.  Things like the nature of marriage and ’til death do you part (Uncharted 4), the price of fame and losing one’s fame and selling out to greed (Persona 5), justifying evil for the greater good and the redemption that comes with being willing to change (Mass Effect 2 and 3).

Something that comes with writing narratives that are more complicated means having characters that are more complicated.  After all, people are not one-dimensional.  And it also means looking at other parts of life.  Like different kinds of relationships.  It was only natural that the gay community would make an appearance in this medium sooner or later.  Now sure, the core gaming audience is men.  That’s just how that goes.  The CoD games will never tackle this sort of thing.  I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the fact that narratives involving LGBT characters will typically be niche.

For a medium that has a real problem with subtlety, looking into something like this should be a niche thing.  There’s a reason why.  Let’s look at one of my favorite examples of it being done right and then it being done wrong.

In The Last of Us, you meet a character named Bill.  Bill is kind of a crazy man.  He’s weird, unwell, and has a real problem with Joel’s tiny companion.  Granted, they meet with her smashing a pipe on his arm.  That’s something.  However, as you go on with his narrative, he tells Joel of a person that he had to look after.  At first, he calls him his “partner,” and really doesn’t want to get very specific about him.  There is genuine venom in his voice when he talks about this guy.  What happened between these two?  When you get to a house after escaping the school, you find out.  He’s hanging from a noose that he rigged to stop himself from becoming one of the infected.

It’s here that we see another side of this.  At first, he’s clinical about it.  He’s looking over the body and seeing what happened.  But as you listen to him talk about him, there’s real pain in his voice.  Pain, anger, all sorts of emotions.  It’s a testament to what a good performance the voice actor does how much depth he brings into talking about this guy.  As I was playing this with my gay girly-mate Erin, she had this to say, “they had to have dated.”  To which I asked, “how do you figure?” “Easy, you don’t hate someone this much unless you’ve dated.”  Well put.  Bill lives a life where everything is regimented and safe.  When you find Frank’s letter, it tells of a man who was angry with Bill.  He wanted more from life than Bill was willing to give, and it ended in him leaving.  In his last letter, he says how much he hated Bill and wanted more from life than he wanted to give.

What happened between these two?  We never know.  It clearly must have been a very damaged relationship.  The audience can see some of the history and it’s enough to tell us a tragic story of two men who ended up hating each other because of irreconcilable differences in how they lived.  In a world where love for a gay person must be unfathomably hard to come by, to lose that relationship must have been hard for both of them.  But by the end both of them hated one-another.  It was done so well, and played very subtly.  I love everything about the nature of that relationship.  It also shows a side of Joel.  He figures out pretty quickly the deal between Bill and Frank, but he doesn’t make a big deal out of it.  After all, he is a Texan.

Now let’s look at this done wrong.  In Mass Effect 3, you meet a shuttle pilot named Steve Cortez.  He seems like an interesting character.  But there is a stark contrast of narrative quality in his his story plays out, depending on if you have male or female Shepard.  If you have female, it is a very interesting narrative about a man who is getting over the loss of someone dear to him.  If you have male Shepard, it’s a narrative about a gay man throwing his grief away in a nano-second in order to try and jump your bones.  It’s cringe-worthy to say the least.  Since I preferred Femshep because she was a much more engaging character, I was able to see the story done right.

What happened?  I’ll tell you – a narrative had to be spun.  See, we have another player in the problem with writing gay characters in gaming right now – SJWs.  Social justice decided to come in and take over the writing process of this character, all so they could call foul when the gamers were like, “this gay sex scene sucks.  Where did this come from?”  Good fucking question.  He was poorly written in order to spread a narrative and get a subject matter talked about.

This has happened quite a bit.  Gay characters are being written where the fact that they’re gay is their entire personality.  Or now the big one is trans.  Like how Ubisoft created an openly transgender character in Victorian London.  A time when I guarantee NO ONE was open about gender dysphoria.  Yet this character is all about talking about it to whoever they meet.  Or the trans character in Mass Effect: Andromeda, who really had to make a big deal out of this when they have a fuck-ton more things to worry about.

I get why this medium is going to be the hardest to write these kinds of characters in.  The core demographic is men.  That’s a demographic that is going to see this stuff pretty black and white.  Hell, in this insanely divisive culture that we live in, nuance is hard to see on any sides.  This is why I genuinely believe that if we are going to see more and more gay characters, it needs to be first handled in the niche markets, where it can be handled with a deft hand, rather than a stick to beat people over the head with, despite how rarely that deft hand is applied.

But maybe there’s hope.  I just got done with the latest episode to a prequel to my favorite game of 2015 – Life is Strange.  That game already had a very well-done relationship between Chloe and Max, but the real stand-out example of a blossoming romance that I genuinely enjoyed playing was in the prequel.  While it is miles below the original, the thing I can say is that the relationship between Chloe and Rachel that I have been able to help shape feels genuine.  And this most recent episode had payoff to that.  We’ll see if it can keep the trend of well-done character development happen.

The ultimate message of this ramble is that making gay characters should be about making characters first.  Being gay is a part of a person’s life, but it isn’t everything.  At least not if they aren’t these social justice idiots who feel the need to make everything tie back into it.  It’s just one part of who that person is.  That’s how these kinds of characters need to be written.  Make them a character first.  Make gamers like them for who they are, then ease them in.  Just like how straight men can have gay friends who they are cool with, I guarantee that that gay friend knows that he can’t be too in this person’s face with how they are, because they know it would make the other person uncomfortable.

Wow, this seems like a whole lot of nothing, doesn’t it?  Maybe I should have made this a RAB post.  Unsure.  What do you all think?  Let me know in the comments.

Until next time, a quote,

“Do you think there’s a point where you’ve been acting so much that you don’t even have your own personality anymore?” – Rachel Amber, Life is Strange: Before the Storm

Peace out,

Maverick

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Critical Examination: Realism vs Style

Quite recently I have been playing Persona 5, and man am I in love with this game.  This game has taken the title of best game for me quite handily.  Sony seems to be eager to come out of the gate swinging with some very polished games.  First it was Horizon: Zero Dawn, now it’s Persona 5.  And given some of the exclusives we have to look forward to in the future, I am excited to see what happens next.  The thing to know about this game is that it is DRIPPING with a style all its own.  The punk aesthetic, vibrant colors, and jazzy soundtrack all mesh so well in immersing me in this world.  I feel like each of the Palace worlds was a place that I would at least like to see once.  Style was oozing out of every pore in that game, and bless it for that.

We live in an age where it sees like every game company is looking to go more and more into the realms of realism.  Seems like there is an arms race to get past the uncanny valley of a game that looks so real that I can’t tell the difference between it and reality.  However, there are pros and cons to both sides of that.  This is something that is being lost on people.  Let’s dive into this and show these elements in respect to one-another.

Pros: Realism

When I think of games that have embraced realism so heavily, two that come to mind immediately are The Last of Us and Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End.  Both games had incredible detail put into every element.  Naughty Dog has gotten something of a pedigree for games that are insanely detailed and have characters who feel believable.  This could only be possible with effects that fight that Uncanny Valley I mentioned earlier.  I could get lost in every environment in those games.  They were visual masterpieces, which I can and do replay over and over just for how beautiful it is to go through.

There is also the element when you are looking to capture how grim something is.  A war, for example, can be brought to life much more horrifically when you bring it into the realistic space.  Fear is also more palpable.  I played the PT demo like some of you, and holy shit!  The realistic nature of that is what made it so unnerving to play.  I had the shit getting scared out of me because it felt like I was really in that hallway, with that ghost who was after me.  And fuck that telephone!  Gave me a fucking heart-attack.  It’s hard to imagine such a game being done any other way.  Although, Silent Hill 4 did the concept pretty decently, for the part of the game where you are trapped in the main character’s apartment.

Pros: Style

Style allows a game world to feel unique.  When you want to create an atmosphere in a game, it helps when you have a universe where the rules of it feel unique.  As a frame of reference, let’s take a look at Persona 5.  This game is about youthful rebellion against authoritarian rule-making.  Every element goes along with this.  The vibrant use of colors in every regard, even the menus, makes you see this aesthetic.  Like watching a punk rock music video from the 90’s, and with the jazzy soundtrack to boot.  Everything goes towards making you feel like this world is all its own.  Plus, the style helps tell the stories of the protagonists.

Another game which had a unique style to see it was Life is Strange.  While the ending to that game was bullshit, it was still pretty awesome to play.  Part of this was because the style felt like a teen comic.  While the facial animations could most definitely used a lot of work, you still get invested because these characters have personality that goes along with the soft colors and pastel look.  It’s a game which uses that aesthetic to compel you to slow down, take your time, and investigate things.

Then it can be something that assists gameplay.  Look at Mirror’s Edge for that.  The world of that game was drenched in white.  It made the colors in it stand out so you knew to pay attention to them.  Not to mention that it made the authoritarian nature of the government more apparently.  The world is white, they are always in black and blue.  Their color tells you how you should see them.  It’s not the most complicated method of story-telling, but it gets the job done.

Something that you also have to keep in mind is that style is easier to do.  Games that go for realism take longer to get right.  And in a gaming market where people are demanding games quicker (I have no idea why.  I have no problem with delays to get it right), this ends up with a TON of bugs.  Style has no such limitations.  It can be done much quicker and use a smaller budget.  Which brings me to the cons.

Cons: Realism

There is something to keep in mind when you have games shooting for that Uncanny Valley – they have a bad habit of having bugs.  A TON of bugs.  And with the rush I said before, more and more games are being shipped with bugs that the industry calls “known shippable.”  Hell, when Naughty Dog was working on Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, they found a bug in the game just three days before shipping that would have crashed the PS3 console.  Thankfully they were able to patch it in time, but you see what I mean?  Going more and more real means that if you don’t want a game to have a shit-ton of bugs, you have to devote more and more time to it.  For me, that’s fine.  I wish more developers would take the time to hold back and get it right.  If anything, that is rewarded with player loyalty as we feel the developers want to take the time to make us happy.  Granted, that can go both ways.  Just look at the backlash with all the delays of Mighty No. 9.

Another thing is that games that shoot for that point are often pretty ugly.  People complain that games have way too much gray and brown in them, well, that’s part of the fact that they are shooting for realism.  Most apartments have white walls and tan carpets.  Most cities are gray and dismal.  Not everywhere can be Seattle or Tokyo.  So your palate of colors gets very limited the more realistic you shoot for.

Cons: Style

The biggest problem with a game that has a unique style is that you are almost certainly condemning it to be niche.  Remember all the games I listed above?  From Persona 5 to Mirror’s Edge, one thing they have in common is that they don’t appeal to a mass market.  There are so many games I can think of with a fascinating unique style.  Flower, ABZU, The Wolf Among Us, Journey, Borderlands, and one thing they all have in common is that they are niche.  Borderlands is the most mainstream, but even it doesn’t have the mass draw that other games do.  For whatever reason, people are just drawn more to the realism side of the spectrum.  Something I will never understand.

Then there’s the fact that the Uncanny Valley of facial animation is lost on you.  Without exception, it’s gone.  With realism they can use motion capture tech, and it is getting better and better at making facial animations that look like real people.  Stylization has that concept forever beyond its reach.  After all, if the feature of a character are off from normal people, you can’t believe that they are real when they talk.  It’s like how a cartoon can have good lip-synching, but you still know it’s a cartoon.  That’s just how it goes.  But that’s no excuse to skimp on the facial animations.  I’m talking to you, Life is Strange.  So many of the more emotional scenes in that game would have been better if we could see the character’s emotions better.

So, which side are you?  Let me know in the comments.

Until next time, a quote,

“Style – all who have it share one thing: originality.” – Diana Vreeland

Peace out,

Maverick

Lucien’s First Take: The Last of Us: Part II Trailer

In 2013, there debuted a game that was not only my favorite game for the PS3, but also one of my favorite games of all time.  It starred a duo who I have not only loved as characters, but written Critical Examination posts about.  My contention is that both of them have given up something in order to survive in the world of this series.  The name of this series means the last part of yourself that you are willing to throw away in order to stay alive.  Joel describes himself as a survivor to justify the horrible things he has done and continues to do throughout the first game.  At the end, Ellie chose to make the sacrifice in order to continue living.  Will the next game keep that idea going?  From what I have seen so far, absolutely.  Let’s take a look at the trailer.

Alright, we start off seeing somebody who we don’t know tuning a guitar.  I love how detailed at all is.  They start to play, and a familiar voice can be heard.  The song is a miserable one about how she is no longer a good person, and to be seen as good is wrong.  While singing, we see somebody coming into the house.  We don’t see his face, as he walks through what looks to be a real bloodbath.  A lot of people died in there, recently.  The man is holding a gun, so maybe he will be the next one that our girl Ellie decides to waste.  Sucks to be him.

However, as he gets to the door where she’s playing, another familiar voice asks her a question – what are you doing, kiddo?  Joel’s back, and as the paternal figure he has always been, he’s with his young charge.  I’m curious to see how their father-daughter relationship has grown over the last few years.  Ellie has done some growing up, and since she’s covered in blood when we get a close-up of her, she clearly has gotten used to a violent life.  He then asks – are you really going to go through with this?  I think this question has significance.  If my theory is right, and The Last of Us represents the last part of yourself that you are willing to give up to survive, then his question is asking her if she is willing to make the sacrifice once-again.  Another instance has been put to her to make the sacrifice of her humanity to survive.  To which she responds – I’m going to kill every last one of them.  So, yeah.  She is willing to make the sacrifice.  Joel being her surrogate father has come full circle, and now his way of surviving has passed on to her.

There are a lot of things that I am curious about, though.  For instance – what happened to Tommy?  Why did they leave?  Did something bad happen?  There are a lot of unanswered questions, and I am so stoked to see what those are.  No release date, but I am a patient man when it comes to Naughty Dog.  They don’t release games half-done, so I got nothing but time.

Initial Verdict
8 out of 10

Peace out,

Maverick

SIONL: Uncharted 4 Dialogue (Spoken and Unspoken)

I have heard so many people bitching about modern gaming.  They say that it’s all just interactive movies.  I vehemently disagree with that assertion.  However, I will say that the cues that games have taken from movies have almost all been for the best.  Granted, the insane cutscenes of Metal Gear Solid 4 were more than a little much.  But the thing that gets me is just how far gaming has come in terms of using subtle details to tell stories.  This is something that the newest and final entry in the Uncharted franchise did SO well, and I am in love with it because of that.

Of course, only a studio like Naughty Dog could have pulled this off.  I don’t know what writers they have doing the dialogue for those games, but I demand that those people get paid their worth in gold.  Because they deserve it.  That’s not to say that all the team isn’t amazing.  But the thing that truly gets to me is the way that they handle dialogue.  And as the tech has gotten better, the performances have gotten better to.

I remember that final moment in their previous game, The Last of Us.  I’ve talked about this scene extensively.  Ellie finally reveals how she got infected, and how it started a chain reaction of people in her life dying and her blaming herself for all of it.  That weight she carried has shaped her as a character.  In that final moment, she demands that Joel tell her the truth about what happened with the Fireflies.  He lies right to her face, and we get to see that last look.  Where she is accepting his lie and moving forward.  It’s all done through subtle facial animations and us looking her right in the eye for those couple of seconds.  That was awesome.  However, the step up in visual fidelity took the cake for story-telling that can be done using not a single word.

When Nate and Elena learn the truth of the ultimate fate of the Founders of Libertalia, (this isn’t a spoiler, by the way.  The name of where the game was headed was in the promotional material), and you hear Nate talking about it with such reverence for the history and such sadness for how pointless the whole affair was and how sad he is to see what happened to these great people, you cut away from him talking and see Elena just looking at him.  The look on her face says it all.  She realizes that he is someone who can never be satisfied with life as a typical person.  You can see gears working in her head as she realizes that this man and his love of history is everything.  That’s something that will never die.  And if he tries to live a normal life, this cycle of deception and lies will repeat itself.  All of that is without her saying a single word.  By the time she does speak, the audience has learned so much about her character, and what she’s thinking.  This could only be done with the visuals of the current generation.

I honestly say that if people are complaining about this sort of thing and how games have become this way, then I genuinely don’t know what to tell them.  I love this level of visual fidelity.  I like that games have now reached a point where things can be said without a line of dialogue using just a character’s facial expressions.  If you ask me, I would love it if games could take a few more cues from the more subtle aspects of film.  Like how David Fincher is able to use empty space to signify things like an absent husband or an empty life.  We have reached a point in gaming and story-telling that the visuals of a game can be used to set up a narrative in a greater way than we ever could have before.

I cannot wait to see what Naughty Dog has in store for us next.  A lot of people are talking about an Easter egg in this game that shows a poster of a woman who is pregnant, has red hair, holding a gun, and the front of it has the font that was used for The Last of Us.  A lot of people were stoked, thinking that it’s Ellie’s continued story.  Yeah, not really.  For starters, Ellie wouldn’t need to wear the gas mask.  She is immune to the infection and the spores that come along with it.  I have a theory of my own – it’s her mother.  I believe that this next game is a prequel where we get to learn Ellie’s story.  If you read the letter that Ellie has from her mother when you are playing her for a time, you learn that her mother had something important to tell her about who she is and her birth.  I get the feeling that the girl’s immunity was no accident.  Now we’ll get to learn the truth.  So exciting!  It’s a very cool time to game.

Until next time, a quote,

“These are some of history’s greatest pirates, and they all perished in an instant.  At this very table.”  – Nathan Drake, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

Peace out,

Maverick

Lucien’s Unpopular Opinion: LGBT Characters in Fiction

There is a YouTuber named Vee who I really need to give some credit to.  I watch his videos and I often don’t finish them because his videos have given me so much to talk about.  This post is no exception.  In fact, here’s a link to his channel, just so I feel like I’m not being a complete dick to this guy.  It’s only fair to give credit where it’s due.  I wrote a long time ago about the last season of Legend of Korra.  I didn’t like it.  There was WAY too much plot crammed into far too few episodes.  They needed to space that out more.  Like having the season go to 20 episodes or something.  It was insane how crammed that was.  I didn’t like it.  It effed with the pacing and made it impossible for there to be any character development.  Which was important, considering the fact that it was clear that the villain in this season was meant to be somewhat likable.  Or at least someone where we don’t outright hate her.  She was supposed to be sympathetic.  That made sense.  Given how perfect the previous season was, it just felt like a step in the wrong direction.

The elephant in the room, though, was the big twist at the very end of the series.  A twist that had NO build-up and came right the fuck out of nowhere.  Anyone who knows how I overanalyze stuff will be able to see my opinion of this is going.  I didn’t like it.  Let me make something VERY clear – I have no problem if there is a gay, lesbian, bi, trans, whatever character in a fictional work.  For real, it doesn’t bother me at all.  But there’s a caveat to this – it has to make sense.  It has to feel like this isn’t just something being shoe-horned in to either make some political or something statement.  That’s how good story-telling works.  I have the same problem with any kind of character relationship that seems forced.  Relationships have to feel like they are building.  It has to feel like it developed over time and is real.

Let me give you an example.  Whoever the writers are at Naughty Dog studios, those people are utter geniuses.  Using only dialogue, they are able to make relationships that not only feel real, but also are ones that we can emotionally connect to.  They released a piece of DLC to their game The Last of Us where we get to meet Ellie’s friend Riley.  In the course of a DLC that takes a couple hours, not only do they introduce their relationship as friends, but you get to see it develop.  When Ellie ends up kissing Riley, that feels like it was real, because we got to know and care about these characters.  Their relationship wasn’t some forced thing to fill a quota.  Granted, Naughty Dog is very SJW friendly (a fact that has recently bit them in the ass with their latest game and a little controversy surrounding it.  Hopefully that was a lesson to them about pandering to these people), but it still didn’t feel like pandering.  This was a real relationship.  If it weren’t for the STUPID ending to the DLC with a hope speech, it would have been really touching to know that Riley is going to die.  Like if they had had it be very uncathartic.  With Ellie and her just waiting, and eventually Riley turning, while she doesn’t.  Given the emotional weight she was carrying, that would have fit.

Or hey, while we’re talking about The Last of Us, let’s talk about Joel and Ellie.  What Joel does at the end of that game is something that has a lot of gamers getting into heated debates.  I got into one myself when someone tried to postulate that it is Joel who is the real villain of the game.  I argue that he isn’t, and there’s a reason.  Over the course of this game, you see a man who became an emotional brick wall soften and have a paternal side that was long dead be woken up because of this little girl in his charge.  She becomes like a daughter to him.  When he is running with her out of the hospital, listen to what he says to her.  Compare that to what he said to his actual daughter at the very beginning, and it makes sense.  This man lost everything.  Now, he is about to lose everything again.  So he chooses to sell humanity up the river in order to save the person he cares for most.  To hold on to his regained connection to the human condition, he basically sentences humanity to death.  I kind of love that.  Not only is the moral ambiguity awesome, but it makes sense.  The reason we don’t hate Joel is because we understand why he’s doing it.  This is a man who doesn’t want to lose the only person he cares for.  It’s kind of great.  It makes Ellie’s acceptance of his lie that much more compelling, because she has her own lines that she has to make peace with.

Do you see what I’m talking about?  I legitimately do not care if there is some sexuality in a fictional work, so long as it makes sense.  Korra and Asami’s relationship came right the fuck out of nowhere.  There was no build-up.  We never saw them getting close.  Hell, the series never even committed to it anyway, so why bring it into the series at all?!  The SJW community gets all raving and shit when there is an LGBT relationship in a series.  They don’t care about context, because nuance is this weird form of witchcraft to these people.  They can look at it, but they don’t understand it.

Unpopular as it is, if there is an LGBT character in a series, and their relationship doesn’t make sense, I am going to think that it’s stupid.  Take that for what you will.

Until next time, a quote,

“Continuity does not rule out fresh approaches to fresh situations.”  -Dean Rusk

Peace out,

Maverick

Critical Examination: Interactive Movies

Just recently, I did a review on a game called Firewatch.  It was made by two of the writers of the first season of Telltale’s The Walking Dead episodic game.  Those two had amazing talent, but they wanted to make something completely original, instead of sticking with Telltale’s formula of just taking old IPs and giving them an episodic take.  A tactic which has had mixed results.  Sometimes it’s awesome, like with The Wolf Among Us. Other times it’s mediocre or outright boring.  Like their takes on Jurassic Park and Game of Thrones.  While neither one is bad, both of them are lacking something.  A vital spark that the first season of The Walking Dead had in spades.  That thing was great use in having characters shape stories, almost entirely through dialogue.  Which through brought to Firewatch incredibly well.  The opening of this game has you shaping the life of the main character, and helping tell his decisions, either good or bad.  Here was my first playthrough.

But this got me to thinking about something I saw on a game trailer for the new Doom that is coming out in a month or so.  Someone in the comments was saying that buying this new game was a waste of money, since all modern games are is interactive movies.  I started to think about that.  And I want to talk about it, because the thing is – I actually disagree with that sentiment.  There are elements of film, but it’s so much more.  But while the person making that sentiment was begrudging this fact, I’m not.  This might just be my most inflammatory Critical Examination post, because I know that my opinion on this issue is unpopular.  Once I am done, I will leave the comments open for you all to give me all the shit you want.

Interactive Movies

If games are just interactive movies, then I suppose the first thing we have to have is a definition of what makes a movie.  A film is a visual medium.  You have characters on a screen acting out a story.  The story is written typically in a three-act structure, with the performances and the visual elements coming together to have us (the audience) taking something away from that story.  Or, in Michael Bay’s case, we just watch shit blow up until the credits.  Which, while critics in ‘Murica pan these films left and right (and the Internet is right along with them), these films are big bucks in places like China.  There’s a reason that the climax of the last film was Hong Kong.  China is in love with these movies.  And for those of you who are part of this “why don’t we have more minorities in these movies?!” camp, there’s an answer.  In foreign markets, they like white action heroes.  There’s actual market research to show this.  The Asian communities in-particular love to watch whitey kill people.  You wanna call racism?  Well then, you’re calling the Chinese racist.  Against you.  Work that out however you need.

Films typically are defined by the strong visual performance, along with strong acting.  At least if the film is done well.  Sure, you sometimes get stuff like God’s Not Dead or Paranormal Activity, or even something truly amazing like Samurai Copor The Room.  But the best films the ones where you have all the elements coming together to tell a visual story with the characters having some form of growth by the end.  Hell, even action films can have that, as shown in a rather fantastic video detailing what’s wrong with modern action movies (linked here).

Since films are a visual medium, the simple rule is – show, don’t tell.  Don’t feed the audience long bouts of exposition.  Instead, show them the elements of the story.  Some exposition is fine, but keep it to a minimum.  Your visual elements have to make the story work.  Otherwise you get boredom like Tales of Earthsea. Now that we know the rules of a film, let’s ask one simple question – do video games fit in with this structure?

The Last of Us

Here’s a game that you’d think would be the quintessential answer to the question.  After all, it has two main characters.  The story seems to have three arcs.  The characters grow and change over time.  And the whole thing is done visually.  There are elements you can collect along the way, but the fact is that it still follows the “show, don’t tell” rule pretty well.  But the truth about this game is not so simple.

The thing about this game is the fact that while there are intense moments in the game, what separates it from a film is the fact that you are inside of the experience.  You are with Ellie when she is being hunted by David.  You are with Joel as he is running from the infected  with his daughter in his arms.  All of these things are with you in the driver’s seat.  Only through your actions do the events play out.  And while there is no choice in how the events play out, the game makes it feel like it fits.  You couldn’t change what happened.  The tragedy of that game was destined to play out as it did.  And it made for one of the most emotionally-gripping stories of all time.

Another thing the game had that no film did is the little moments between Joel and Ellie.  Would you have cared as much about them without the little bits of conversation?  Like when you are walking through the city, and the two share thoughts?  When they learn little tidbits about one-another, through dialogue that you can sometimes skip.  Pieces of character development that add so much to the story.  Like when you first come upon the monkeys at the University.  You can chase after them and see a whole dialogue play out between Joel and Ellie.  Or how, if you explore around, they get to talking about the merits of college, and you find out some of Joel’s history when he was growing up.  This sort of attention to detail is something that film simply couldn’t do.  I hear that a film version of this game is being made, and I honestly think it has no other option than to suck.  Partly because of the darkness of the plot material, and partly because it can’t capture those moments and make these two characters seem like real people.

But maybe this was a bad example.  Let’s take a look at a game that is loathed by my side of the gaming fence and see if we can argue that it is an interactive movie.

Gone Home

This game has an ugly reputation to the extreme in a lot of gaming circles.  The hipsters gamers were in love with it.  I think that while it isn’t nearly as good as they say it is, it isn’t as terrible as other gamers say.  It isn’t just a “walking simulator.”  There is more to the plot, and it’s stuff you get to find out on your own.  This is a game that kind of blows the idea that all modern games are just interactive movies out of the water, if you ask me.  Why?  Because of how it is made.

I honestly believe that part of the reason that the GG side of the fence despises this game so much was based on the fact that it was falsely advertised.  The first trailers for this game made it seem like the house being abandoned had a much creepier vibe than the game actually did.  If they had told this story for what it is, I bet that while it wouldn’t be liked by the people who hate it, they would have just written it off.  Oh, and there was the fact that the games media was stroking this game’s nuts SO hard.  That was also a real problem.

This game is a send-up to nostalgia and coming home.  You do this by exploring the house.  You interact with objects and go through the house.  You can put on an old mix tape that the main character made on a cassette.  Going through the house and finding all these novelties is meant to evoke emotions that you have when you have lived away from home for a long time and come back.  I refuse to believe that some of the people in my audience haven’t had this experience at least once in their life.  Like when you go back to an old fort you made as a kid or something.  The game was meant to be about those nostalgic moments.

Could a film really do that?  I don’t think so.  Movies about nostalgia tend to lay it on WAY too thick.  Like making the nostalgia the absolute best thing ever.  We have enough of that stupidity on Tumblr, don’t we?  Or Buzzfeed (the absolute worst “news” site on the Internet).  The Internet’s obsession with nostalgia is what has fueled hipster culture.  But the thing about Internet nostalgia is that while it may make people totally cool with watching the first Star Wars movie all over again with a fresh coat of paint, this wasn’t that.  Films that glorify nostalgia make it all about how amazing nostalgia is.  But despite what “Only a 90’s Kid Would Remember” posts say, real nostalgia isn’t like that.  It’s a quiet experience, with memories coming back in a subtle way.  I genuinely can’t think of one film that does that element.  Much less does it right.

Alright, so we’ve debunked two games that people have called “interactive movies.”  Let’s take a look at one more, as a nice segway into making a point about what gaming is, and how wrong the critics of modern gaming are.

Mass Effect

The Mass Effect series was brilliant.  Were it not for the TERRIBLE ending to the franchise (I have literally ZERO intention of playing the new game.  EA burned me to the bone, and I’m done with them), this would have gone down as one of the greatest franchises in gaming.  The first two games had me in love.  Hell, the first two and 7/8 games had me in love.  No joke, right up to when they went back to Earth, Mass Effect 3 had me enraptured.  It did everything right!  If I could only figure out how the fucked up the last act of this game so much.

But while these games did have a cinematic quality to them, there is one thing that they had which no film could have – the Codex.  The Codex was the backbone of these games.  Well, that and the character interactions.  For real, who can honestly just go through the game and not want the dialogue and whatnot?  That’s what makes these characters so fun!  Anyway, the series had an ever-growing encyclopedia of information about the universe the game took place in, which you could consult at any time if there was something you were interested in.  Whether it was something about the planet you are on, or the technology of that universe.  Everything in that franchise followed a strict set of rules, set out in the Codex.  Well, everything up until the very end of the third game, but enough people have bitched about that.

Mass Effect was a science fiction game in the same vein as Star Trek – talky and techie.  You had characters talking to people, doing stuff, then talking to other characters about the stuff they just did.  Then you would have them wrap up little mission, which are framed just like episodes.  The second game did this almost flawlessly.  The loyalty missions for characters are my favorite, because they allow you to get into the minds of the characters and learn who it is you’re fighting beside.  Each mission was unique, and depending on your actions, had a conclusion that could run the emotional gamut.  For a game to basically have missions which are like episodes of an old sci-fi TV show is amazing.  It is something that you couldn’t possibly duplicate in a film.  I’m glad they scrapped the idea for a film based on the games.  It just couldn’t be done.  The universe and the characters in it are just too massive to possibly do without a shit-ton of exposition.  A film can’t have the Codex, after all.

Verdict

So where does this leave us?  Are games like films?  The truth is – no.  They aren’t.  Those who want to complain that games are not like they used to be back in the days of the original Doom can stuff their criticisms right up their ass.  because the fact is that video games take the best elements of film, television and even books and shove them together.  They are the culmination of all the great story-telling art, and I love that.  Some of them can even tell fairy-tales, in the same vein as old story-books. Like The Unfinished Swan.

I think the criticism of games comes from the fact that people lament the loss of the old 2D games.  It is these people who don’t want to come into the 21st century of gaming.  Which is weird, considering that Steam is absolutely brimming with games for those kinds of people.  Nostalgia is just as big in gaming as it is everywhere else.  It’s the reason a spiritual successor to Banjo Kazooie has been made.  I’m not saying that they are bad people because they want something else from gaming.  I’m just saying that they are dissing on this medium and I think their criticism are more than  a little unfair.

But maybe I’m just some hipster.  Let me know what you think down in the Comments.  And be sure to Like this post and sub to me.  Because I’m awesome and shit.

Until next time, a quote,

“I can’t believe I’m going to leave this world as a pile of bear shit.” -Henry, Firewatch

Peace out,

Maverick

Video Games Don’t Take Violence Seriously?! (A response to Anita Sarkeesian’s Lackey)

In Feminist Frequency’s review of Rise of the Tomb Raider, there was a statement that has driven me out of my mind because of how stupid it was.  The whole review is dumb, and you can watch a very good review of her review (linked here), but the statement that got on my nerves is – video games don’t seriously look at violence.  A statement so unbelievably uninformed and not true that it blows my fucking mind.  And once-again confirms to me that the Anita Sarkeesian and the lackey who she had make this video (because the bitch is too fucking lazy to do it herself) do not play video games on the regular.  Oh, and clearly they cannot edit videos for shit.  The sound quality in that review is SO bad.  But that’s not the point.  Let’s talk about the stupidity of this sentiment.

I think back to the scene in The Last of Us, where Ellie is being hunted by David.  You eventually get knocked unconscious and then wake up, having to crawl toward his machete.  David is beating the crap out of you the entire way.  You can see that Ellie is in a lot of pain, knowing that in all likelihood, she is about to die.  When you finally get to that machete, it is one of the most emotionally-powerful scenes in the game, when she is hacking the man’s face to pieces, and Joel pulls her off.  It’s the big moment when Ellie realizes what this world that she lives in is turning her into.  She’s seen how Joel has been turned by the violence and the brutality.  She doesn’t want to end up that way.  However, forces beyond her control have shown that that escape is impossible, and all she can do is fight back.  It’s a cruel, painful look at a girl who just wants to survive, in a merciless world.  Yeah, that doesn’t look at the nature of violence at all.  Nope.

There is that bit in Heavy Rain, where you are helping a father cut off his own finger, to save his child.  You have to help this man mutilate himself, for the express purpose of not letting the only person he has left die.  When you hear him scream, it hurts you.  It’s one of the reasons I can’t play that game again.  Listening to that hurting man die was the hardest thing I’ve had to do in any game.  But nope, that wasn’t looking critically at violence.

How about in Bioshock Infinite, when Elizabeth realizes that Booker is a man who has killed people.  Lots of people.  He is not a good guy, yet he’s the person she’s stuck with.  The scene where he kills someone in front of her, and she tries to run away.  That confrontation when he makes her see that violence is something he had to get used to.  Or when you see inside the museum, where Slade talks about Booker’s violent history in war, which made him a changed man.  It was the thing that destroyed him inside, seeing what he did at Wounded Knee.  That was not an examination of violence in any way.

Then there’s the scene in Beyond: Two Souls, where Jodie is locked under a stairwell at the party she attends.  It puts the choice on you.  You, the player, decide how horrible it gets.  Eventually, Aiden loses control, and you can’t stop.  The game won’t let you stop.  It makes you understand that Aiden isn’t just a character in this universe.  He’s also you.  You are the spirit, and your will gives it direction.  So it is you who is tormenting those kids.  There’s a hard lesson to have in a video game.  Come to think of it, that lesson was something that Metal Gear Solid 2 had as well.

How about in Until Dawn, where you have to make a choice, more than once, who lives and dies?  The scene where you have the buzz saw and two friends strung up was really horrible.  When you see the guy getting cut in half (I chose Ashley.  What can I say, my romantic side didn’t want her to get cut in half by a giant buzzsaw), and his blood and guts go everywhere, it’s so hardcore.  Afterwards, when you unhook Ashley and are leading her out, with both of them sounding like they are on the brink of losing it, it feels genuine.  Not to mention later on, when Chris and Ashley are hooked up to a contraption that is going to kill one of them if Chris doesn’t kill one of them first.  Yeah, that’s not a critical examination of violence.  Because this Feminist Frequency puppet says so!

Or when Big Boss goes into the infected lab in Metal Gear Solid V.  There, everyone inside is infected, and the only thing you can do is kill them.  There comes a point where they all stand up and salute you, as you execute them.  You have Emmerich deriding you, with the blood of every single person in that lab who you kill on your hands.  Does that count as an examination of violence?!  Wait, that game has a chick who isn’t dressed like a nun, so I’m sure that it’s nothing but Patriarchy soup to you people.

The fact is that the nature of violence in video games is something that is examined.  All the time.  If the person who made this review actually played games, they would know that.  The stupid fuck.  I’m with Dishonored Wolf on this – where does she find these people?  Either he doesn’t play games, or he is deliberately lying to sell a narrative.  Given that Sarkeesian herself is a con artist, neither answer would shock me.  In fact, I wouldn’t be shocked if it was a little of both.  Or a lot.  Depending.

No wonder the SJW types liked Gone Home so much.  No violence.  No hard questions.  Nothing even remotely challenging.  I don’t hate that game, but I do like a game that at least is trying to tell me something worth listening to.  I did like Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, after all.  But this idea that all video games just trade on violence and are filled with nothing but violence is absurd.  It’s ridiculous and insulting and it fucking pisses me off.  There are so many games that have talked about how bad violence is.  Or at least shown it, but not in some preachy way where you have to be force-fed “Violence EVIL!”  Games like This War of Mine, where violence is grim and not only can destroy your surviving group, but also their morale.

Though, I wouldn’t expect this little puppet with Sarkeesian’s hand up his ass to know this.  After all, if it isn’t some big, AAA game that they know will get them views, would they even know about it?

Until next time, a quote,

“I struggled, for a long time, with surviving.”  -Joel, The Last of Us

Peace out,

Maverick