THE TROUBLE WITH VIDEO GAMES ISN’T THAT CHARACTERS ARE DICKS: IT’S THAT THEY ARE EASY SCAPEGOATS

The inappropriate laugh that came out of my work cubicle pierced the office silence and brought stares of disapproval from my way-too-serious coworkers. I ignored my colleagues who were driving business results through PowerPoint presentations and returned to Charlie Brooker’s hilariously written blog “The trouble with video games isn’t the violence. It’s that most of the characters are dicks.” I was so amused by the blog, I shared it with all my friends and posted it on the GamesInc Facebook page.

A few days later, as I was doing the level in Modern Warfare 3 that brought Charlie’s sudden flash of introspection and moral righteousness, the same sense of moral righteousness overcame me. I was not disturbed that I had to slit a guard’s throat in a cold and professional way. I was outraged at Charlie’s affront. How dare he judge these characters?

Video Game Characters Live In A Crazy World - Picture From Modern Warfare 3 Where The Russians Decide That Invading New York Is A Good Idea.

Your characters (Yuri, Price of the moustache, and Soap of the bathhouse) are infiltrating a military compound in Sierra Leone where soldiers are busy executing civilians, and to make a bit of extra cash, are also selling chemical gas to terrorists planning to deploy it throughout Western Europe. And instead of taking out the guard silently to ensure silent infiltration, Charlie would have you ask the guard, nicely, to leave. Now, admittedly, I’m not a psychologist and my lack of emotional intelligence is only matched by my inability to find my car keys every morning.  However, I would assume that suggesting to the heavily armed guard that butchering innocent civilians is probably not as fulfilling as a career in HR or customer service may not be the right move…you might end with a knife in your throat possibly?

Charlie Borker argues that violence is not the issue, he is desensitised. No kidding! Just turn on the news or live in a wartorn country and you’re all good on that front.  The issue according to him is that the characters are dicks. These guys are special forces operatives trying to save the world, and they are being judged as dicks for slitting the throats of terrorists. A bit harsh maybe.  What Charlie missed in his post is that the worlds they live in, not the characters, are the problem. Your characters live in a world where a terrorist has destroyed half of Europe swiftly followed by a Russian ground invasion (poor Europe, an economic crisis and now the Russians invading—how far the continent has fallen since its heyday of world domination).  Are we really surprised your characters need to use brutal measures to stop a crazy terrorist? The world they live in has made them do unthinkable actions, but despite it all, they keep their sense of purpose and camaraderie.  They are not dicks, they are heroes!

And this is similar in most video games, characters mostly (emphasis on mostly) have admirable characteristics in the often harsh, immoral, crazy, or even evil worlds they live in. Take the Grand Theft Auto series for example. In all of these, you are a thug with little opportunities in life due to a difficult upbringing in a dog-eat-dog environment.  You go around the city stealing cars, beating up people, and even killing people. And what for? To survive and succeed. Now, take the business world. The most successful business men/women get to the top by not always being nice. They deal with difficult situations and overcome them through often tough and sometimes downright unpleasant actions. What is the difference between that person and your GTA street thug? The GTA thug is an exaggerated projection of a modern businessman merged with a petty thief.

Charlie Brooker has got it wrong. The trouble with most (again, emphasis on most) video games is that the characters are too good. They have courage, moral values, and determination which make the rest of us look petty, weak, and immoral. And some of them such as Batman, Prince of Persia, and Zelda are downright Saints!

Iraq Bombing

Is The Real World Less Crazy? - The Coalition Of The Willing Looking For Weapons Of Mass Destruction In Baghdad (No Irony There).

The world they live in forces them to take actions which sometime offend our moral sensitivities. These worlds are a projection of our world and morale values through the lense and imagination of a storywriter/producer. And how different is that from Hollywood?  It’s not – we should judge games as we judge movies.  Some have great storylines and characters, some have terrible storylines and characters (and that can ruin the game as we blogged before) .  But it remains entertainment – let’s not forget that.

Now, back to the real world of my company and my PowerPoint presentations that make a difference. Tonight I will return to the crazy world of Modern Warfare 3 where I’ve just lost a close friend, and I need to storm a fortified castle in the Czech Republic. But if I turn the real news on, I would see stories of the Syrian Regime massacring its population, NATO trying to figure out what the hell to do in Afghanistan, and undoubtedly some successful or unsuccessful terrorist attack somewhere in the world (pick your country, you’re not short on candidates). It’s a strange world we live in…

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NOSTALGIC DISORDER: GAMESINC’s TOP TEN GAMES OF YESTERYEARS

As GamesINC was locked in it’s dark room for days playing the latest and greatest in Video Games, we started day-dreaming (or hallucinating, probably induced by more than 18 hours of constant machine gun firing). The dream took us back to a time where music did not all sound the same, reality TV had not dumbed down the world, there were actually four seasons, and I had launched my first game magazine at the age of 11 (no, really, it happened – first review was Starwing on the NES), and video games were…not as good. In a teary-eyed, nostalgic, and combat overdose induced hallucinogenic dream, here are my top 10 favorite video games of all time. They are in nostalgic order (read chronological) – and qualify using some very strict criteria – I really liked them!

Communism launches the gaming industry

1. Tetris – GameBoy
Beautifully simple – the premise was to rotate different tetrads (blocks of different shapes) in order to form horizontal lines and avoid the tetrads taking up your playing field. As a young boy this was countless of hours of fun (and for the parents, peace and quiet). It even made me like those family friends we could never stand, as they also had a GameBoy with a multiplayer link so we could play together (well, annihilate them–nobody beats me at Tetris!). Tetris was developed by the Soviet Academy of Sciences, meaning that communism was partly responsible for the popularity of gaming. Tetris – a true legend!

 

Defining the racing genre

2. Super Mario Kart – SuperNES
The game that defined the racing genre. The Mario Bros had already made gaming popular (Mario 3 loses out to Sonic if you’re wondering where it is), but this game was probably the best racing multiplayer game ever. Yes, ever! The death matches would last for hours and hours, and some sore losers would endure hours, days, or years of taunting. Although there were other racing classics at the time (Wipeout and Starwing were great games in their own right), all the different modes of Mario Kart were unbeatable. And nothing beats knocking your opponent out of the race with a nicely aimed turtle! In college, one of my friends turned up at my dorm and brought his Super NES and Mario Kart – no one left the dorm room for two days. This was ten years after its release – a timeless classic!

Are You Ken?

3. Street Fighter 2 – Sega MegaDrive
If you were a gamer in the early 90s, then odds are you played SFII for hours on end. It is the ultimate fighting game of all time – all other games since then are building off it, but none defined the fighting game genre as SFII. As with Mario Kart, this game ensured endless hours of gaming fun at friends houses. Being unbeaten on SFII ensures hero-like status at school and a permanent and non-refundable membership of the cool club for ever. The super moves such as Ryu’s Hadouken (or Are You Ken? as was the myth), Honda’s Thousand Fists, Guile’s Sonic Boom to name a few are timeless and still vivid in memory. SFII – the ultimate fighting game of all time.

The only time Sonic is not running in the whole game

4. Sonic the Hedgehog – Sega MegaDrive

Platform games were one of the most popular gaming genres on the 1990s, and no game brought innovation, speed, and pure fun as Sonic the Hedgehog. While other games such as Mario 3, Megaman, Rayman, Donkey Kong were great platform games, Sonic was another genre defining game (ok, the Mario Bros did their bit too). Zooming at a gazillion miles an hour through levels, the lush country sides, the evil bosses – this game was simple, bright, and a bucketload of fun. A game that made the most of the 2D mode and the MegaDrive’s processor – it was one of the rare games that parents approved of and kids love. And after hours of playing it, you didn’t have sore ears through excessive gun fire, depression through hours of gloomy surrounding, and a disturbed psyche through having butchered thousands of enemies.

FF7 - Immerse Yourself In The Tale

5. Final Fantasy VII – Playstation

In the summer of 1998, I had fallen out of love with gaming. Sports, girls, studies (yes, I actually got a college degree – shocker!) and the lack of a game that captured our imagination had pushed gaming just above cooking as a preferred activity.  A chance purchase of FF7 changed this forever. The groundbreaking graphics and movie-like cut scenes, the story (the most engrossing story ever), the deep and immersive world, the combat modes, the accumulation of the most amazing attacks ever (you could unleash dragons, tidlewaves, and all sorts of mayhem on your enemies), the endless hours of gameplay makes this probably my favorite game ever. If you have hours of free time and a small budget, getting a PS1 or 2 and playing FF7 will be worth it, even 13 years later. The RPG game by excellence!

Stealth + movie experience + great game play = MGS

6. Metal Gear Solid – Playstation
After FF7 revived my love of gaming, Metal Gear Solid ensured I was  hooked forever. As with GTA (we’re not there yet, keep your pants on), this game defined a new genre – stealth. The great story, the cut scenes, the random radio conversations made you feel immersed in a movie. The gameplay was also addictive, the continuous search for that perfect stealth level, ensured that you played it over and over again. The bonuses with finishing the game were also incredibly worth it (you could play the whole game over again in a tux a la James Bond or with an invisibility cloak meaning you could walk up to guards and plant C4 on their back – you get the rest…). A legendary game by legendary Konami studios.

Setting up the shooter segment

7. GoldenEye 007 – Nintendo 64
Another game that defined a genre, this time the shoot ’em up genre (old school I know). Both the single-player and multiplayer game modes in modern shooters are legacies of this absolute icon on the N64. The single player game brought in variety as different levels required different approach (snipe your way through on some levels, blast them to hell with a shotgun on other levels), and the multiplayer game would capture whole floors of our college dorm. Little Andy might have not been the biggest guy (it’s all in the name) or smoothest talker around, but he was a hero as no one could defeat him. Plus, you get to play James Bond – what more could you want? (Izabella Scorupco was hardly going to come with the game)

Perfect accompaniment for beer and college buddies

8. Pro Evolution Soccer – Playstation
FIFA vs PES – the battle that will continue for generations of soccer games. But when Pro Evo (as we knew it) came out in 2001, it was the bees knees and forced FIFA to up it’s game. You could build up play properly or launch devastating counter attacks, the game was finally realistic, the one-on-ones with the keeper was tricky (and chipping the keeper was the ultimate In Your Face). The gameplay and graphics are still the foundation for football games ten years later. Being a college student with a lot spare time, not a lot of money, and four male roommates – this game got more time than our studies or girlfriends. After 4 days of neglect and threat of nuclear attack from the girlfriend, the evening with her was spent checking the watch and bailing at 10:30 pm under the lame excuse “My Roommates will be worried” (and no, there was no good response to the perfectly valid question – “they’re not worried when you’re out partying until 5 am”). A game that made you break up with a girlfriend – doesn’t say much for my priorities, but says a lot about the game. (The girlfriend is now happily married to a banker and drives a BMW if you were wondering…)

Cutting edge graphics and gameplay - and cop cars on 2 wheels

9. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City – PS2
Everyone has their favorite GTA, San Andreas is often regarded as the best one. I for no reason apparent preferred Vice City. Regardless of your favorite GTA, this game series created a new genre in itself – and for that, we thank you Rockstar. Despite all the controversies and the dubious moral standards, these games were an absolute blast and let out your darker side (from randomly beating up strangers, to stealing cars and helicopters, and driving around cities in a tank destroying all that came your way including the ferocious men in black). The graphics (well apart from the first 2D games  which were still a lot of fun) and the game play were cutting edge too, and some of the in games features such as the hilarious radio stations, ridiculous dialogues were more than just nice touches, they really added to the game. Most of the games on this list defined a genre, this one created one!

Keeping you on the edge a la Jason Bourne

10. XIII – PS2
This one is going to seem odd to a lot of people, but bear with me. Have you seen the Bourne series? Picture it in a comic book style with a richer plot. This was the XIII comic books released in Belgium in the early 1980s (same country that produced Tintin). Some genius decided to make a video game out of it, and it has one of the richest stories and most innovative graphics of any shooter. While the game admittedly had some playing floors, the story and graphics made the whole experience incredibly addictive! Why can’t more games keep you on the edge of your seat as XIII did?

You’ll have noticed that all these games are pre-PS3/Xbox/Wii and exclude PC games. PC games deserve a whole other post in our book, as some of the games are so fantastically different to the console ones (games such as Civilization, Indiana Jones and the Fate of the Atlantis, the Day of the Tentacle, Command and Conquer, Warcraft require their own list).

With all the new games coming out, the one thing that saddens us is all the 3s and 4s and 5s in the titles. Developers and producers all too often run to a formula that will make then money (MW3, 6.5 Million on day 1). While there is merit in improving a series, you’ll notice that very few of the top 10 games were further down than number one in the series (FF7 being the shining exception). So a message to developers – innovate!!  Give us new genres, new graphic styles, new game plays. And we know that you run to where the money is, but have a quick look at the games above if you want to calculate the risk/reward. Did they sell well? You bet they did!!! Because brilliant games will get brilliant sales.

This is my nostalgic list – so no argument allowed! But feel free to post your list…Would you have put Wipeout instead of Mario Kart? Zelda or Secret of Mana instead of Final Fantasy? Or the beautiful Lara Croft?

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