Monday, December 21, 2009

VGA 7-2 [Vicious Voice]

A Selfish Soliloquy & Mechanized Violence

“Violence in real life is terrible; violence in the movies can be cool. It's just another color to work with.”

-Quentin Tarantino

“What exactly was 2009?”

“A year of identification as a gamer?”

“Does that really mean anything? You could just as easily say classification, which is all kinds of irritating, classifying gamers is so --- three years ago.”

“Well think about it, the only thing we even remotely played this year was The Path, and we didn’t even finish it in a context worth writing about yet.”

Over the weekend, I watched Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs for the first time. While I don’t necessarily hate his films, I’ve always been pretty distanced from them outside any critical light. This is mainly because he uses tools in a sense I’m rather envious of myself. To put it bluntly, I always end up simply feeling irritated with the fact that the man is enjoying his job so much. It’s comes through profusely in every single one of his films that I’ve seen. With RD, I didn’t see anything different --- HOWEVER, it was the first of his films to lead me to what violence means in a video game.

The most obvious example here is also the most irrelevant, which is what the media is still famous for pumping out to this day. Inane ax-grinders and politicians with some demented foundation that video games are damaging generations of children, stifling education, and desensitizing violence. These people don’t bother me so much anymore, as they’re truly just stupid animals, meant to be herded by higher intellects in the classiest fashion we can muster. Jack Thompson is after all, really only a danger to himself now.

There is only one truly malevolent form of ecstasy, and that is the ecstasy of hate and destructiveness. In this ecstasy the person becomes completely absorbed in his hate and destructiveness; he is 'beside himself' because he is completely seized by fury and the wish to kill and to control. In this absoluteness of hate he is thoroughly unified, but at the same time he loses contact with the world outside him and also with his own self. This 'sacred fury' leads close to the border of madness and to a sense of isolation by the loss of all solidarity with life and the living.”

- Eric Fromm

“A year of regression just sounds more accurate to me.”

“For us or the games…?”

“Us…though I could be mean and ---“

“Nevermind, you’re wrong anyway. Regression implies a step backwards, and we’ve only ever played games ‘normally’ the younger we were.”

“And now?”

A newer instance however, stems from a key ingredient in the formation of videogames themselves. An established system in which the player will engage opposition is still a mold that’s being left intact. I attribute this to the fact that gamers have all mechanized violence in some form or another (be it internally or pseudo-obejectively). Developers have simply been using it to feed tactile precision since blood was first spilt on screen. Effectively, violence is being avoided by this mechanization. I separate it from desensitization in the sense that I miraculously consider people smart enough to acknowledge the difference between the two (i.e. a game and ‘reality’).

So the big problem with violence in games (as the media would sensationalize anyway) is that the player will actually engage in various disturbing actions. The capacity to participate in such actions scares people because they wantonly think ‘actual violence’ translates with ease from its virtual counterpart. In actuality, it’s the duty of society (not to mention a couple of biological imperatives) to instill a sense of recognition meant to be inspired by scenes of actual violence. Now don’t get me wrong, games (not to mention various other entertainment media) have a factor in affecting the perception of violence, but it’s minimal as far as anything conclusive goes. For it to have the effect the media would lead us to believe in, a child (when neuronal plasticity is at its most flexible & absorbent) would have to be locked away with a violent game in complete isolation.

“Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between reality --- and a game…”

“Diminished sense of reality huh? VR training will do that.”

-Solid Snake and Raiden

“The love isn’t gone --- in fact it’s grown tremendously, but it isn’t exactly the same. It’s not just the typical burnout either; we’re far too obsessive for that to begin with.”

“We’ve definitely transitioned into a period where the thought about games is just as valuable as actually playing them.”

“Yet, that remains a minority amongst a minority amongst a minority of an already insular audience of selfish pigs, which is fundamental in the mindset for the ‘satisfied idiot’ stance yet again.”

“Yeah, none of ‘us’ is ready to compromise on the mindset that ‘over-analyzation’ is even valid.”

Most gamers, (the socially awkward dolts they are) have the luxury of not knowing what violence looks like (not the physical type anyway), so others claiming on their behalf that their capacity to be separated from it without actual interaction with it in the first place --- well it’s a little absurd. I personally begin to hear a loud buzzing sound whenever someone vocally tries to purposefully steer clear of violence altogether. The will to avoid violence is based on the irrational and selfish impulse to preserve happiness (either on behalf of oneself or those around them). To understand it, one must first embrace it to some extent. We’ve [humanity] proven consistently and irrefutably that we’re prone to react negatively towards presences we do not understand. People avoid such topics because it’s based once again on selfish grounds that they may contribute to the fire in some compacity. Violence is one of the oldest facets of this race, so when people try to morally buck it, they typically end up becoming more violent than what they’re trying to squash to begin with.

Trying to artificially manufacture peace by cancelling out violence is one of the most destructive intentions in existence; it relies on ignorance to accomplish its ends. It’s never worked because it’s the equivalent of trying to drop a marble into a shoe from the top of the Empire State building.

"Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius -- and a lot of courage -- to move in the opposite direction."

- Albert Einstein

“So, identification is wrapped around the notion that we’ve grown even more malcontent and hateful of a medium we claim to love?”

“You used that to extrapolate to regression. What I’m suggesting is merely that we know where we stand even more now. It was fine when we could sit back and lurk amongst the thoughts of other people, but I’m too arrogant to take solace in that comfort anymore. I have opinions, and have been compelled to flood the ‘byte-tunnels of existence’ with them now. Communicating thoughts for oneself is simply the first step we’ve taken. “

“Oh no…”

“Yes, first step implies a second, which means 2010 should show some actual enactment from our groundings this year.”

Roping this back around games leads me to divulge my own stance in the matter. That is to say, I of course believe violence is an inherent piece of our racial character. Perhaps it’s still debatable on nature of lustful violence (sex is another piece of the puzzle entirely), but even that has an area to which games rarely explore (which they must as well). Classically, I suppose this is what’s known to most people as ‘aesthetic violence’. This is when a medium showcases an excessive and purposeful stylization of the gory, fierce, and horrific to further connect the audience towards meaning. Games have yet to accomplish this because they quickly jumped to ‘mechanic violence’ due to the nature of the medium (not to mention the short attention span of the creators and their audiences), interactive entertainment. Enemies still come amongst the player in droves, respawning caricatures meant to induce a sense of hollow accomplishment.

Despite my personal desire for games like this to increase in number, I will admit to it not being a pertinent matter in the big scheme of things right now. Gamers have to grow up before they ‘start playing with knives’. Mechanized violence is what I define more as the perpetuation of the perception to keep the act of combat within a game as a cog, turning the wheel of enjoyment on the title proper. Its functionality may drastically affect how the entire machine works (i.e. see any dork complaining about broken mechanics), but it’s so separate from the act itself, that most of the meaning is lost as well. This is a critical distinction in how gamers are meant to see the act, as some will use this sense to fuel the desensitization argument while others will defend their unearned right to keep things shallow and simple.

“Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts”

Thomas De Quincey

“Does that mean I’ll actually have to clean up my writing now…?”

“Not really, though it’ll probably be a side-effect of where we’re going now anyway.”

“Where’s that?”

“Farther away from what we hate of course. The discussions of ‘silly’ game narratives, the insatiable addiction to playing games as they roll off the assembly line, and a distinctly growing hunger for games to exercise more literary muscle as opposed to a technical one.”

A lot of gaming’s problems stem from how insular the audience is. While Nintendo is opting in for the slow and methodical route of saturating new generations with gaming, some of us are still left by the wayside with what they had a hand in inspiring in the first place (I should also make a post-it-note of the splint between Western and Eastern Game design philosophies here). Objectifications, sequelitis, and artistry debates all stem more from a lack of variety in the industry than some silly moral imperative.

In order for games to move past having their mechanics simply ‘decorated with blood’, they’ll have to slice past the comfort zone of the audience and embrace the catharsis that violence induces in a positive manner. All preceding mediums have done this, whereas games have only been allowed allude to it because of the assumptions society (and the medium’s own fans) has placed behind them. Now I don’t know who really started the non-linear narrative constructs in film, as I haven’t studied the medium to that extent (not to mention I don’t really give a damn), but Tarantino certainly owes a lot of his fame to this simplistic retooling of the modern film. This and Reservoir Dogs does something slightly brash yet fundamentally significant; it purposefully removes a major portion of the story. It’s about a jewel heist that went bad in which everything is shown but the heist itself. The precedent events, the aftermath, and back-stories are all what form the film’s primary composition.

“The only difference is that the stress and the violence is worse at home, because it happens younger, it happens at the hands of someone you love, and there is no recognition that this is the enemy.”

Gloria Steinem

“Yet we can’t completely turn those drives off. It would be a sin.”

“Of course not.”

“That means SP write-ups will have to be even more methodical than originally planned. Perversion indeed.”

“That’s good considering I rather enjoy picking one ‘new’ game over the course of a few months to completely dump myself into.”

“Double that if it’s an RPG...”

While I’m certainly not interested in using the film-to-game correlation, I am (once again) willing to acknowledge that something significantly worthwhile to the medium must be removed in order to spur growth. I’ve been very secretive about the dinky little ‘paper-theory’ Metal Gear remake I did earlier this year (apart from initial draft sketches of some of the characters), but I am willing to divulge a specifically major aspect of the design I was rather proud at fleshing out:

I stripped all respawning, conformity, and multitude from the soldiers themselves. My Outer Heaven has a stringently set number of soldiers throughout the entire game (who all meander and interact with each other). With some half decent programming, even the most rudimentary AI can define individual personality in an NPC soldier now. This means the act of taking those soldiers’ lives will actually mean something significant in the game now (considering Metal Gear’s overarching theme is one of pacifism in conflict with perpetual violence). The difficulty of the overall game becomes a bitch at this point when trying to support this, but the payoff is more than worth it.

“I would be quite happy for men to hit women if there was a law saying that women could carry guns. Because then, if a man hit you, you could shoot him.”

Jo Brand

“It will be nice to see what Assassin’s Creed 2 becomes in that regard, something once again raising that tired argument of silly game plots.”

“This coming from someone who refuses to let go of the god damn art tirade. At least we’re almost finished with that crap.”

“Some of us think it’s a discussion still worth having.”

“And some of us refuse to entertain other people’s tired opinions that mean absolutely nothing when weighed in the context of our own.”

It also led me to a totally separate project/theory of a game with a young male protagonist avoiding a female rapist in a dystopian setting; propagation of the species would be nonexistent lest they mate (Rule of Rose & Haunting Ground just weren't enough by the way). Film is mostly sedentary and narrative-based, so tweaking that narrative is why films like Tarintino’s Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs (or even Nolan’s Memento) have such an impact. Games are more mechanical however, so affecting those mechanics is what must be done first and foremost; the craft of narrative is the spouse of the working mechanics in games. One aspect will be more prominently active in a certain medium, leaving the ‘significant other’ (pardon the pun) to cradle and support whatever meaning it can provide as a communicative artform (which all good art does in the end, it communicates).

So for games to make it through puberty, a catharsis of murder is required. Something to provide the audience with an outlet or glimpse of their own ugly tendencies is more important than suppression (it’s much less dangerous too). Now very few will be able to operate solely on that frequency for personal satisfaction (like myself), but I refuse to acknowledge the existence of any kind of Jesus archetype that’s above seeing the beauty in humanity’s violence. Truly connecting gamers with their own actions within games will be one of the most significant advances this medium ever makes. I’m impulsive, obsessive, and permanently incensed, but I’m patient enough to wait for games to do this. It’ll certainly be worth to wait.

“Today, thinking and feeling are more and more separated from each other, and this separation leads either to an almost schizophrenic intellectualism or to a neurotic, irrational emotionalism. Only if emotions and reason are brought together can man function in a way which makes life interesting and hence creates the possibility of a productive and nonviolent life. To put it briefly, what we need is not increasing control of aggression and violence but reduction of destructiveness and violence by making individual and social life more meaningful and human.”

- Eric Fromm

“Either way, I just think it’s far more cathartic to twist, obsess, and eke out something that took years to make. I feel more at peace matching the developer in that regard, flaws and all.”

“Discussion about games is simply becoming more interesting than staying up to date and actually playing them as ---“ *snap fingers rhythmically*

“Even with 2010 having three games I’m actually interested in, I’m finding myself more in need of ‘Gaming Viagra’. One’s a handheld, one’s a P.C. multiplayer life-zapper, and the last is a wild-card we have no clue about. I’ll have to pop a couple pills just to make a run at Peace Walker, which tortuously comes out during our annual Metal Gear May timeframe. “

“The goal is then?”

“To simply establish more synapses to ‘play with’. Finish the GaA, direct SPs with a bit more tact, less time playing games and more time just playing.

“It’s Christmas!”

Decorating a Christmas Tree doesn’t interest me anymore. Setting it on fire however…that at least makes a statement.”