GAMING AIN'T FILM

As I was playing through 2014’s Wolfenstein: The New Order a little while ago it occurred to me that I was playing a great movie. After a few fervent early missions killing robotic mega-Nazis, you enter a peaceful homebase area and interact with a small cast of friendly characters. As I spoke to each of the rough-and-tumble renegades, scoured their candlelit quarters for juicy backstory details, and trawled through countless newspaper articles describing the establishment of the totalitarian Nazi superpower across the globe through the 40s and 50s, I realized I was part of a story that desperately wanted to be told in full. Much like a movie, it felt as if Wolfenstein wanted me to see each minute detail of its story piece by piece until everything came together in my mind. The key thing here is that the game wanted me to SEE these details -- and not PLAY them…

Click  here  for Nazi-approved, German-language Beatl- *aherm* Die Kafer smash-hit, "Mond, Mond, Ja, Ja".

Click here for Nazi-approved, German-language Beatl- *aherm* Die Kafer smash-hit, "Mond, Mond, Ja, Ja".

 

Don’t get me wrong. I really enjoyed New Order overall, and I’d recommend it. But as a game it’s just mediocre. Strip away all these rich story details, tense dialogue exchanges (which you don’t control; you just sort of watch your character talk), and lovable characters, and you’ve got a fairly inarticulate dual-wielding run-and-gun corridor FPS game. If the writing had been weaker, I don’t think I would have been motivated to grind through some of the more tedious “DO THIS THING HERE!” challenges that the game inelegantly chucks you into. But it carries so well as a movie you want to know the ending to, that the anemic gameplay passes as fun a lot of the time. And this identifies a blurring line between games and film as the former continues to balloon as an industry -- what other entertainment medium has grown so large, so quickly?

In the wake of the financial success of consoles in the 90s, the largest budgets for videogame production are rising to compete with Hollywood films, with the star talent, CGI, and marketing campaigns to match. A co-worker of mine told me he’s interested in gaming: he moonlights as a foley guy for TV and commercials, and he suspects that videogames are where the real money is nowadays -- even for an industry as film-niche as sound production.

However I think this is a mistake. I think the real similarity between movies and gaming pretty much ends at budgetary magnitude. To treat gaming as just… home video in a different type of VCR sells it short of its potential, and leads to exploitative licensing cash-ins like the new Star Wars videogame. I do appreciate that some games work well as kind of surrogate films (looking to aforementioned Wolfenstein and Metal Gear Solid) but these linear narratives really feel like they sprawl too wide and deep to be contained in the silver screen; they take advantage of the affordances of gaming to tell a bigger story. And in the rare cases where the depth of gameplay matches the depth of story, nothing’s more fun. These days, many AAA titles aim to awkwardly recreate the cinematic experience through a controller and the result is usually a deadened game and a dull movie. I played through Hitman: Absolution and Deus Ex: Human Revolution when I built my PC last year, and both games seem to sacrifice so much of their well-loved gamey-ness for a dull, mass-appeal movie-ness. No player sits down and hopes not to push any buttons in a 10 minute interval. The difference in appeal between literary depth, and interactive depth, should be respected.

I mean, even in name they indicate something radically different. The whole activity of film isn’t called “movie-ing.” It’s too passive. As a medium, it’s called film or cinema - a simple noun. As a whole activity, the other medium is referred to as gaming - a present-tense verb; something that is being done. There’s plenty of room for flexing the semantics of this distinction but regardless it can be agreed upon that gaming needs to take a different industrial arc than film does, so those massive pools of resources can fuel innovation and interactivity, and not just mass-appeal spectacles.

 

 

 

VIRTUALLY 200 MILLION DEAD AND COUNTING...

death-toll.jpg

I must confess, I am a murderer. No, I’m not a violent person by nature, quite the opposite. I work for the local Ambulance service part time. I care about people and their well-being for a living; very much. Treating symptoms, maintaining patient dignity and transporting them safely to the hospital is my primary concern. But when I get home from a hard days work, sometimes all I want to do is shoot something in the head and smash some dick-holes.

Loitering tends to lend itself to interesting conversation. One clear Spring, evening outside a local movie theater, I was speaking with some close friends after a particularly violent movie, ‘The Raid’ I think it was. “How many people do you think you’ve watched die in a movie?” I asked- reliving the darker moments of the movie. I noticed many furrowed brows at this question , “hrmmmm lots, I can’t count how many, thousands I guess, maybe hundreds of thousands!” This number surprised exactly none of us as we all nodded casually. “So how many people have you killed?”  I asked as a follow up question, this caused many more confused looks. ”Virtually I mean, how many people (or creatures) have you killed in your gaming career you think?” A good friend of mine replied with a wide and very inarticulate gesture. Palms up he guessed “uhhh, jesus, I dunno….probably millions.”

I do realize that the sensitive nature of this theme could easily regress into ‘game violence’ territory but I’m not going there, so lets just put that little baby to bed right now. My concern here is specifically with a ‘virtual death toll’ if you will. So how does one enumerate that? Lots of games like ‘The Last Of Us’, the ‘Call Of Duty’ franchise and many other first person shooters lately actually have that stat buried in the menu somewhere, it’ll usually say ‘Kills:’ and a number. But most games don’t count your dead so this will be an extremely rough calculation (and im being generous.) I’ll be using some artistic license with this math so please bear with me.

One night years ago when I was a young impressionable youth I was asked by the neighbours across the street to babysit there kids. When I showed up the little ones were already in bed and the father, ill call him Eric, was a massive computer nerd and was a programmer for ‘Reboot.’ He sat me in front of his computer and loaded up ‘Doom.’ When they arrived home some hours later I hadn’t left my seat I played that fucking game till my eyes were as red and pixelated as the eviscerated entrails of my fallen enemies. (I don’t even need to put up a screenshot  here I know you can see it in your minds eye right now, that’s how ubiquitous that game is.) So I was hooked, ravenous and thirsty for more, blood drunk you might say yet oddly satisfied and serene. I got my cool $15 bucks went home and slept like a baby.

But the first time I remember going “damn, I just murdered that guy” was in Metal Gear Solid for the PS1 (by this time i had plenty of ‘murder practice’ via the Sega Genesis, NES and SNES). At the dock in the beginning of the game after that epic opening sequence, where the first enemy is waiting. I clearly recall knocking on a wall, sneaking behind him and chocking him out until his little neck popped. Maybe this dude had a family back home? After that my virtual murdering career truly began.

I was going to exclude games from the Mario franchise because I thought that stomping a Goomba doesn’t really feel like your killing it. But that’s bullshit. I almost let the squishy-pop sound effects fool me. Beneath that Plumbers outfit and just behind the mustache lies an ice cold murdering psychopath, as calculating and remorseless as a contract killer. So I’m including Mario, and his whole damn family, as well as any game where you must (or choose to) eliminate an enemy. Just because Goombas guts didn’t blow out of its mouth and made a splat sound on the bricks when you stomped it doesn’t mean you didn’t erase the son of a bitch from existence. Very cleaver Miyamoto you almost fooled this one. I just want to include kills, where you have stomped, shot, stabbed, burned, poisoned, crushed, maimed or bombed an NPC or another player.

I’ve just spent about an hour doing some back of the napkin math for my career death count. I was going to do something like multiply my average games played per year with a reasonable average of kills per game (about 600) then multiply that by the number of years that I’ve been gaming which turns out to be about twenty-two-fucking-years! (omg what the hell have I been doing with my life) The final tally was something like 210,000. They say death in war is just a statistic. This number, I realized, was meaningless once I thought of a few unique cases.

In Mass Effect 3 there was an option to kill the entire Krogan race. This becomes a morally grey area, you didn’t actually physically kill them all but a choice had to be made for the greater good of the galaxy. The decision comes in the form of a cure for the Genophage. If you lie, which I did, and deny them the cure every Krogan in the universe become sterile. Effectively allowing the entire species to die out.Which is perverse. Being responsible for the Genocide of an entire race was unsettling and made me feel deeply ashamed of myself (for a time.) In fact I think there were several chances to do this; with the Rachni and with the Quarians. Im not sure of the numbers but  its safe to say they were in the tens of millions.

The final and by far the most obscene example I was reminded of was from a game from September of 2009 called ‘DEFCON.’ The subtitle of this game was ‘everybody dies’ or ‘the only way to win is not to play’ and it was a simulation I equated to the movie ‘War Games’ with a very young Matthew Broderick from 1983. (huh, my spell checker knew how to spell Broderick!?) In the game you are playing on a world map, you choose a country to defend, and the point of the thing is to intercept nuclear weapons and launch your own offensive. The most disconcerting aspect of the game is the dream like aesthetic. The deep neon colours, slow pace and depressing music accumulate to what I can say is a surreal experience. An average game gave me an absurd death toll of about 60,000,000 dead. I must have played 10 or so games since I got it. The death toll when I hover my cursor over  Mexico City says ‘13 million dead’ in a handsome and authoritative type font. Funny enough just seeing this number makes me feel much worse than if I shot someone personally. I quietly reflected on the lives lost before I high fived my buddy for dropping a 50 kiloton dick smasher on Moscow.

So I’m a killer, I suffer no consequence but that which occurs within the game itself. I die then I come back to life or I quit the game as I see fit. The remorse I feel is minimal. If I quantified my remorse as a percentage I would say my remorse level for any given kill count in a game is hovering around %6. That’s being generous, without real life consequence how can I feel bad about killing something? Im not there, I don’t know these people or non-people and they’ve been put here (usually) for me to dispatch as I see fit. The biggest joke here is that it’s not even free! We’re not forced at all to do this, shit man, we even pay just to be given the privilege of simulated murder. This is not conditioned reinforcement, I don’t drool or get a hard on when I see blood. I celebrate my victories shake off the shred of remorse I felt and go back to reality . Virtual murder, for me is the guise of therapy. Recently my lovely wife and I were eating dinner I guess I looked frustrated because she looked at me with those big green eyes and said to me ‘You need to relax baby, you should go upstairs to your man cave and kill something.’ And you know what I DID.

That same night outside the theatre I asked “how many people have you saved or brought back from the dead?” “including  necromancy?” another friend chimed in. “Sure necromancy counts.” I replied. “…..not as many as I’ve killed.”  he says with a smile on his face.

 

Tristan Mowat

Kills: 217,000,000 and counting…