Many developers have been going darker with the tones of stories lately. It's time we stop asking definitively if this is a good or bad thing and consider the artistic value at hand.
The Zen of Video Games – Infamous Irritation
[WARNING: I’m working through some anger issues – so I apologize now for the rest of this article being loaded with profanity and rage. Enjoy it while it lasts, I don’t often get like this.]
There are people all throughout life who are just going to rub you the wrong way. Besides poorly-trained masseuses, I mean. There were kids in school, students in college, and now, co-workers at work, all who seemed genetically designed to get on my nerves and fray them until they snap.
And those are just real people. Ever want to tell a fictional character to shut the fuck up and die? Don’t ever do it in a crowded hospital, because all it will get you is an unwanted visit to the psych ward.
I’ve been playing a lot of the sandbox superhero game Infamous lately, and here’s the setup. You play Cole MacGrath, a courier in a mythical American city situated on three identically sized and rounded islands. You’re given a package to deliver, and approximately halfway there, the package explodes, destroying about a third of the city and killing everyone in the blast radius. Should’ve gone FedEx.
The entire city is quarantined, and Cole himself survives somehow and winds up in a hospital in a coma for a few days, watched over by his best friend Zeke and his girlfriend Trish. When he wakes, they’re all startled to learn that Cole can now inexplicably control electricity.
Cole helps to protect a supply drop from a vicious armed gang of thugs called Reapers by repeatedly and hilariously zapping them all in the groin, at which point some hipster douchenozzle hijacks the TV broadcast to inform everyone that Cole is the ‘terrorist’ who destroyed the city. Zeke stands by his friend, albeit a little uncomfortably, but Trish’s sister died in the explosion, and she leaves without saying a word.
I haven’t finished playing the game, but I can easily tell you that I wish she had stayed gone, that miserable, aggravating bitch.
For the entire first third of the game, she treats Cole like absolute shit, no matter what he does to make things right, and to make matters worse, he keeps trying, when after being rebuffed twice, and hearing, “It’s your fault my sister is dead,” at which point I would’ve said, “You know what, lady? It’s actually not my fault at all, but since you’re so determined to take the word of an obnoxious douchebag over the word of the guy who once-upon-a-time genuinely cared for you, go ahead and believe whatever you want, because I don’t want you in my world anymore.” Then I would’ve walked away like a boss, ignoring her shouted replies, and not entertaining any thoughts at all of spinning around and zapping her in the happy flaps as an immature but extremely fulfilling goodbye.
I can’t even say why she gets on my tits so much. She’s likable enough, her body’s good but not perfect, and her voice actor’s not annoying at all. Well, her hair is stupid. But that’s about the worst offense she causes. And yet, every time I hear her voice, I have to stop myself from going Emperor Palpatine on her narrow ass and lighting her up like the world’s brightest Christmas tree.
And she’s not the only annoyance, just the biggest one. After her comes Cole’s ‘best friend’, Zeke, who I swear is the biggest mooch alive. I can’t really blame him for it, if one of my friends was a celebrity, no matter how minor, I’d be trying to sell t-shirts with drunken photos of him on them. But at one point, and I SWEAR this is true, he asks you to put yourself in mortal danger just so his chances of getting laid with a particular girl MIGHT increase slightly.
And then there’s the two ‘news’ factions in the game, one of which, the aforementioned hipster prick, is trying pathetically to be some anti-establishment ‘voice of the people’, and he occasionally hijacks all the TV’s near you so he can mercilessly and ceaselessly denigrate your heroic efforts, still trying desperately to sell you as a villain. Hilariously, at this point in the game, the common people pretty much love me, and are all happy to see me and take my picture, so it’s pretty clear that nobody’s listening to this half-wit.
And the other ‘news’ faction is a patriotic news channel, spinning furiously like a top in a centrifuge, shamelessly giving credit for Cole’s rescues to military units that were never there, ignoring the truth, and only saying what furthers their political agenda. They might as well have just dropped the pretense and called it Fox News.
And the only other things that ever appear on the televisions in this game are silent advertisements. So you pretty much HAVE to watch these things when they come on, because there’s literally nothing else interesting on TV in this world, so, you know, just like in real life.
Even Moya, your FBI controller, is annoying. I desperately want to give her a pass, if only because her name is a Farscape reference, but she’s so completely emotionless that I’m kind of hoping her story that she’s just trying to find her husband is a false one. That would make sense, and it would mean that the voice actor and director were both on top of their game, but if not, it would mean they likely spent most of the day eating paste.
With all these annoyances, on reflection, I’m finding this game an awesome metaphor for life. Because you are going to have to deal with people who annoy you in life. You are going to have to deal with complete jackholes, idiots, and the emotionally dead, all on a pretty consistent, if not daily, basis.
And how I deal with them in games differs sharply from how I deal with them in real life. In real life, I’ll do whatever is necessary to get my job done/get what I want with a minimum of interference from people like these, even if it includes playing nice, or worse, sucking up to them. In video games, if I’m playing a good character (and I’m never NOT playing a good character) I’ll save the game, and then IMMEDIATELY TRY TO KILL THEM. More than once, I’ve thought, if real life had a save feature, I’d kick my co-worker in the ass so hard that I’d lose my shoe.
Unfortunately, life doesn’t come with a magic “that-didn’t-actually-happen” button. That’s why I’m so grateful that games do, because it’s incredibly easy to blow off steam by doing something tremendously violent and over-the-top to somebody over a relatively minor infraction.
In Fallout New Vegas, I was instructed by some scientist to go to a Vault and bring back some samples of an experiment. When I got there, I learned that the experiment was highly dangerous. It had gone completely off the rails and killed everyone involved with it, so to protect everyone else in Nevada, instead of collecting the samples, I set the reactor to overload and blew up the Vault.
When I got back and informed the scientist of what I had done, he flew into a rage, saying terrible things about me, my parents, and my likely future offspring. Now, this guy was a douchebag, but technically, he worked for the good guys, so I technically couldn’t kill him without the entire faction getting pissed at me.
So I saved the game.
I spent the entire next ten minutes killing him in all kinds of various creative ways and then reloading my saved game. I shot him in the head with my Desert Eagle. I aimed my shotgun at his groin and pulled the trigger. I stood back and lobbed grenades into the room. I mined the floor just behind him and waited for him to finish his work. I filled him full of lead with a minigun, turned him into a pile of glowing ash with a plasma pistol, disintegration, vaporization, you name it, I did it. My two favorite kills were when I hit him in the head with a rocket at point-blank range (which I somehow SURVIVED), and cutting his head off with a sword, which by some miracle, DIDN’T raise the alarm, so I picked up his head and carried it through the base, showing everyone I came across my new trophy.
Video games don’t make me violent. They never have. I’ve never punched anyone in my life, and I’m afraid of real, working guns. And I will never become violent, unless given absolutely no choice.
But by the GODS, does it feel good to do some violence to annoying douchebag fuckwits in video games. Best stress reliever EVER.