The world of gaming is dominated by heroes who are strong, tall, muscular, toned men. They are usually handsome and clean shaven, although designer stubble is allowed, rarely is your hero a short, wide, bearded gentleman of a more homely persuasion.
So what roles do we, the average man, get to play in video games: The killers, the enemies, the idiots, the side characters or the comic relief. It’s about time we set this straight.
1. We’re not all overcompensating
So, Borderlands 2 finally gets a short, hairy, stock character and he’s a gunzerker? So what are you trying to tell us, games? Are you suggesting that all short men are angry? That all stocky men with facial hair are mindless killers? Oh, and what a surprise, he’s the character who likes to carry around big heavy guns, two at a time. Are you telling me we are all overcompensating for something?
2. We don’t all drown children
Heavy Rain, features an overweight character. He’s not the most handsome man in the world but he seems nice enough. Scott Shelby, it turns out, is the Origami Killer. The antagonist of the whole story, happens to be an overweight man? What happened? Did someone jump infront of him at the queue for KFC? Years of being rejected by attractive women drove him to drown small boys? Well…no. His motivations are pretty well explained in the game itself BUT come on, did I have to be the fatty? What about the handsome family man, or the slick looking FBI agent? God forbid the morally nebulous female character be the killer. Oh no. Fatty McDrownkids…Prime Suspect.
3. We aren’t all mad bombers who skate round slipping over on bird shit
So, Fatman from Metal Gear Solid 2…I don’t even know where to begin…
4. We aren’t all employed as manual labourers who are cruel to animals
Mario? Mario? Don’t even get me started on that little shit. Jumping on turtles, gathering up all the loose change he can find, wearing his work clothes wherever he goes? So we of the belly and face fuzz don’t know how to dress? Or is it because he’s just a plumber that he doesn’t have the spare cash to go out and buy some new threads? What you tryna say Nintendo? All the fatties are money grabbing blue collar workers? The fact that he has killer side burns and a sweet fanny tickling mustache isn’t enough to make him a great guy? You have to make him a selfish, avaricious, animal torturer.
5. We’re not soul stealing ancient magicians
Ok, Tsang Tsung is quite lithe but he is definitely not a pretty boy, he has a sweet beard and stache combo and uses flowing clothes to hide his body insecurities. In short, he’s my kinda guy. So what is he? A heroic warrior destined to protect those around him? Or is he, in fact, a complete twat who actually absorbs people’s souls in his bid to stay alive for even longer and continue to kill of the beautiful heroic people…
Let’s review the characters from the original Mortal Kombat
Johnny Cage, buff and clean shaven – hero
Lui Kang, buff and clean shaven – hero
Raiden, tall, clean shaven and blue eyed – An actual god
Kano, bearded – evil
Tsang Tsung – evil
Now, I get the argument that women get a “token” female character in the form of Sonya but let’s face it, of the above group, the ones who mostly closely represent me are the evil monstrous ones.
6. We’re not trying to take over the world
One of my favourite series of all times is the Legend of Zelda. Let’s look at the triangle of characters in that particular story. Think of the protagonist, tall, fit, blond, handsome and blue eyed. Zelda is a strong character showing intellectual and physical prowess in a number of different areas, combining magical skills, ninja like powers along with an excellent understanding of monarchistic politics. Ganondorf, the sickest, village destroying, no respect for anything, hell bent on ruling the world and general piece of shit, is in possession of some of the finest facial hair every to grace video games. And he’s ginger. Take that representation and make something positive out of it…
And he always loses. Not only is Ganondorf a complete monster but he never ever ever ever wins. So he’s an incompetent bastard as well. Maybe if he dyed his hair and shaved the face furniture then he could be the hero of time. You just never know.
7. We’re not evil pirates who transcend the mortal realm to continue our reign of terror
Guybrush Threepwood is blond and slender. He occasionally has stubble (Monkey Island 2) or a small neat beard (Tales of Monkey Island) but is generally, particularly for a mighty pirate, surprisingly clean cut. Of course he gets the girl, saves the day and uses a rubber chicken with a pulley in the middle without trouble. What about Le Chuck? The most evil pirate that point and click games have ever seen. Big. Effing. Beard.
8. We’re not emotionally crippled buffoons with anger management issues
Another one of my favourite gaming series, Dead Or Alive. A lot has been said about its representation of women but let’s look at the way non-traditionally handsome, bearded and generally chunky men are dealt with. Sure you’ve got your Hayabusa, Jahn Lee and Hayate/Ein, generally very fit, clean shaven men and (excepting some clan related niggles) all heroic figures. So what about the flip side, what about the man that I associate with? Bass. Bass is a glorious figure of a man, big beard, big body, clearly not a stranger to a pint and pie. And he’s a fecking tool. He is repeatedly shown as incompetent, easily fooled and stupid. During the ending of Dead Or Alive 3 his beloved motorbike breaks down. Does he ring the AA, move to a safe, off road location and amuse himself in the meantime, happy to be deprioritised behind any women who might have had a breakdown, with some ever enjoyable sudoku? No, he picks up his slightly broken down bike and suplexes it, breaking it even more. What a bellened.
Woke up early this morning and watched the trailer for Metro: Last Light. A couple of things occurred to me:
1. The environments, atmosphere and characterisation are awesome
2. I would watch a whole movie like this
3. This is not 1st person perspective, this is POV
The first point is great news for 4AGames and THQ, I will probably spend now until release date extolling the virtues and my chest tightening excitement for this game.
The second point I was not expecting at all. I hate television with a fiery passion. I seem to have a real problem with passive entertainment. After years of gaming I can honestly say that I would rather be playing than watching. So this was a new development for me. Which leads me onto my final revelation.
Don’t get me wrong, Metro: Last Light looks to be an exciting departure from the drudgery of many, so called “First Person Shooters” but it will, inevitably still be labelled as a member of modern gaming’s largest genre. But this term is a misnomer, there is no first person perspective being displayed here. What we are seeing is the world through someone else’s POV, their point of view, not their perspective.
Their perspective is dictated by their comments, their personality and how they see the world. We are along for the ride, sitting in the cinema inside the characters head, pulling levers to shoot and move but essentially following a greater story.
To explain this further, let’s look at the Quantic Dream games. Within Fahrenheit/Indigo Prophesy you play as multiple characters in connected situations on either side of the law. Sometimes you play as the killer and sometimes as either of the detectives. This gives you, in essence, multiple perspectives to view the story from. More than that you actually form your own perspective, that of an omniscient narrator who has access to the combined knowledge of all the characters. To call this game a 3rd person adventure just because the camera angles are not fixed within a characters head is a ridiculous simplification.
Next example on the block is Bioshock. Consider yourself *SPOILER* warned from this point on.
As the game progresses you hear the voice of Atlas, a seemingly helpful chap who points you in the right direction and provides background history on what has happened in Rapture as well as the current situation. That and sounding like the offspring of a U2 groupie but that’s beside the point. So, through the game we are playing with a POV camera but what perspective are we playing through?
The clever dicks amongst you might think, “AHA! This is clearly a real example of a first person perspective game, given that everything we understand is what we hear and see”. But what about when many things are proven to be false, have we not been tricked by an unreliable narrator? And if the narrator has been telling us the story the whole time and shaping our understanding of the world around us, is this not actually a second person, anecdotal game?
The Prince of Persia: Sands of Time used a similar technique to superb effect to deal with death and save games. Upon dying during gameplay the Prince, in voiceover, would remark “No, no, no. That’s not what happened.” Allowing you to return to an earlier point in the game as if the whole diegesis was taking place as part of your imagination of his anecdote. It is clear by the end of the game that this story was being told to Farah. Are we therefore, not her? If so then the story is all the more fantastic as it was told to us from an acquaintance from an alternate reality that we have not experienced. The feeling is sublime but we have no language to describe this story telling in the games industry because we have wasted it on camera angles.
As trailers for Remember Me are surfacing, showing the powers of perception, memories and thought I am reminded that this medium can be a powerful way to tell stories. Perhaps if we can recapture poorly used terminology we can discuss games in more erudite terms and reach the next level of gameplay experience and story telling not just graphical capability.