The Zen of Video Games – The Cross


[Warning: Minor spoilers for all three Max Payne games, one big Max Payne 3 spoiler, and one MAJOR Max Payne 2 spoiler ahead!]

If it hasn’t been made abundantly obvious to anyone who reads these things, I have a number of character flaws. Foremost among these being the proclivity for dropping my pants in social situations. I’ve been told, time and again, that this needs to be addressed. My response is always the same – if I didn’t drop my pants, who would ever see my penis besides me? I have a responsibility to share the beauty that is my penis with the world.

But for now, let’s put my genitalia aside, and talk about something a little more personal. As you know, this blog is all about self-exploration through the metaphor video games provide, as well as fomenting intelligent discussion, so once again, let’s get serious.

Cat-level serious.

If you’ve read the previous ZOVG (love that acronym), you’ll have noticed that I had a problem with guilt – over being attracted to female nudity in a video game. Seems rather silly when I put it that way. It was a realistic-looking female, and she wasn’t a furry or anything, so if I hadn’t been attracted, I’d have to ask myself some questions about my sexual orientation.

My problem with it lay in how I instantly thought of her as a sex object and not a person. But again, she was a stripper in a strip club. This is what strippers do, they turn themselves into sex objects in order to coax more money out of stupid, lonely men. Sorry, but it’s the truth. Having said that, Mademoiselle’s strip club in Buffalo? Best BBQ wings I’ve ever had. Just sayin’.

The point I’m trying, rather poorly, to make, is that I have a tendency to give myself a hard time. I hold myself to a higher standard than I hold anyone else, and I hold myself to a higher standard than anyone else does. I’m the first person to blame myself when I screw up, and I’m the last person to forgive myself. It comes, I think, from growing up Catholic. We didn’t invent guilt, the Jews did, but we’ve pretty much gotten it down now. I’m not really Catholic anymore (I’m an agnostic, if you must know, but religion is a topic for another time), but some things obviously stuck.

Perhaps that’s why I identify with Max Payne so much. In the beginning of Max Payne 3, Max is heavily addicted to alcohol and painkillers. He’s obviously extremely depressed, but through the occasional line of narration, and look on his face, one can tell he blames himself for the deaths of his wife and daughter, Mona Sax, and even Detective Winterson.

Who, honestly, kinda had it coming.

A key scene occurs if you manage to find Winterson’s grave in the grave yard. In the previous game [spoilers!] Max found himself forced to choose between Mona and Winterson. With the little information he had, Max chose Mona, and shot Winterson dead. Later on, Max learns that Winterson was collaborating with that game’s main villain, but interestingly, when Max finds Winterson’s grave in Max Payne 3, Max laments that he’d made the wrong choice.

One of the most powerful scenes in Max Payne 2 comes at the beginning of the game, before you realize who he’s talking about. Max finds a corpse in the hospital morgue and confesses through narration, “I was a murderer.”

Even as far back as Max Payne 1, there’s hints that Max blames himself for the death of his wife and child. In a dream sequence, Max finds himself in the bloody bedroom where his wife died, and screams at himself “MURDERER! YOU KILLED HER!”, before charging at himself, guns blazing, and Max is forced to kill his other self. It’s all very mind-bending, but one thing is not in doubt: Max, like me, is overly hard on himself.

When he’s not shooting everyone in sight, that is.

Granted, I’ve never had a wife and baby girl get murdered, and I’ve never been through any of the other horrific things Max has survived. In fact, in Max’s case, it’s probably more survivor’s guilt than any real character defect. I mean, he’s a moody bastard, there’s no getting around that, but there’s no real evidence that Max treating himself badly is something he did BEFORE people started dying.

Still, I can’t help but sympathize. I’ve hurt friends before. I’m going to do it again. I will cause them embarrassment, humiliation, emotional, and even possibly physical pain. And when I do, it will be soul-crushing to me, because I never intend for that to happen. My friends, my family, they’re the most important things in my life. With the sole exception of my penis.

And I know, even now, that I don’t really need to be so hard on myself. The last ZOVG, when I talked about pushing the girl into her chair? She didn’t even remember it had happened until I mentioned it. Numerous other transgressions against my loved ones? Forgotten within weeks, days, or even hours of it happening, and still, I hold myself accountable. Most people exude an acceptable amount of guilt until the incident has been forgotten, swept under the rug, as it were, and then go on. As for me, some things still haunt me today.

Like Eliza Dushku. No, wait, she just haunts my dreams.

Again, just about everyone I know would forgive me, and for most of the big things I’ve fouled up, I have forgiven myself. But I still feel I HAVE to remember what I did, so I won’t do it again. And I fear sometimes that if I forgive, I will also forget.

Midway through Max Payne 3, the primary person Max was hired to protect gets killed. Max is about to have another night of binge drinking and self-hatred, but instead, he has a revelation. Max quits drinking that very night, and resolves to find the kidnapped girl, vowing that if he has to die to save her, he’ll die sober.

I think THAT’S the important thing, in the end. If you’re so mired in self-recrimination and doubt that you stop trying, not to go all Yoda on everybody, but THAT is why you fail. Even if I do the wrong thing, I’m going to make it up to them, and go on. Because giving up is even worse than whatever screw-up I feel bad about.

Keep on fighting, Max. I forgive you. Just don’t give up.