Guacamelee! is, from top to bottom, a pastiche. A truly postmodern game, it is in love with the kind of cultural shorthands that have long since replaced first-hand interpretations of real people, places and even game design principles. Nothing in it seems like it comes from a place of total originality. Instead, the various elements of Guacamelee! come from both archetypal videogames and depictions of the game’s Mexican setting.
Why, then, does it somehow feel like its own worthwhile creation?
Please finish playing Bioshock Infinite before reading. This article contains plot details.
“Our only safety depends upon the total extermination of the Indians. Having wronged them for centuries, we had better, in order to protect our civilizations, follow it up by one more wrong and wipe these untamed and untamable creatures from the face of the earth.”
- L. Frank Baum, Editor of The Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer/author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz on January 3, 1891
In the last days of the year 1890 the 7th Cavalry Regiment of the United States Army massacred approximately 300 unarmed Lakota Natives (including some 200 women and children) in what would be one of the last in a long line of violent encounters between colonial and Native Americans. The Wounded Knee Massacre, in its encapsulation of the nascent U.S’ historic racism and unchecked brutality toward the land’s Native population, is one of the most indelible stains on the complicated tapestry of American identity.
It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that Irrational Games, after exploring the inevitable horrors of unregulated capitalism in Bioshock, would come to another such instrumental aspect of the American psyche in their latest release, Bioshock Infinite.
Epic Games’ and People Can Fly’s 2011 shooter, Bulletstorm, will likely never see a sequel. Twenty years from now when I’m an old man babbling about how videogames used to be when I was young (and things were better, goddammit) the young kids will probably never know that there was ever something called Bulletstorm. They will think me a sad, over the hill geriatric who lives in a world of confused nostalgia where a massive publisher like Electronic Arts would take a chance on a strange, colourful and crude little shooter that was so atypical of the videogame landscape at the time.
It did happen, though. Bulletstorm was created, marketed, released and, in its own modest way, purchased. And in its reality there are many lessons we must take away from its lack of success — from its inability to change the way that first-person shooting games were made and bought in and around the early 2010s.
Read on, savvy industry folks and ensure that you never make the same dreadful mistakes that sank the foul-mouthed shooter that could.
The view shifts to “instinct mode” and everything is rendered in slow motion. As I was trained to do in an instinct mode tutorial, I make Agent 47 line up a series of careful head shots that include the assassination target. Two seconds later the game jumps to a pre-rendered cinematic. Agent 47, scowling like someone on the toilet who has only ever eaten cheese, loses sight of the girl he means to rescue. He punches his victim and takes his car keys. The wounded man, having just been shot through the skull a second ago, is bleeding from a chest wound. The game has had me tracking this man for quite a while and, despite the setback of the kidnapping, I might be about to receive some valuable information about 47 and the story as a whole. I am meant to feel like all of this is part of an important moment in the game’s grand tale of redemption.
“I’ve got wood,” the target coughs out.
47 turns away and as the screen fades to black the dying man finishes the last sentences he will ever speak before shuffling free this mortal coil.
“Why do I have wood?”
Jesus fucking Christ, IO Interactive. What are you doing?
I was really getting baffled for a while there. I had started things up again with a strong dose of GODHAND and Arkham City. I was gettin’ my Crazy Taxi on. Shit, I was unwrapping myself some Dark Souls, downloading DmC3, re-acquainting myself with some Dead Rising. And the whole damn time I was wondering why I had ever left this glorious land, wondering why I would abandon such bountiful harvest. Everywhere I looked, I saw crunchy, tight gameplay. And so I got sloppy. I starting reading some IGN. I skimmed some Joystiq. Yea, I walked from the path of Action Button. I mean come on, it had been almost 4 years! Things have come far right? And then this turd falls into my fucking lap.
Its name is Gorflarbyxs ni Ruffnyck St’rze, but Humans, with your pathetically underdeveloped linguistic organs, may prefer to call it simply Gorflarb. It has come to the attention of the Mighty Magistrates that you, the Humans, have been spending an increasing amount of time playing videogames in recent years. This concerns the Mighty Magistrates of Xorflacxt (and, indeed, all of the Glorious Planetary Commission of Sector XIX) due to how these videogames choose to portray extraterrestrials. Our spies first began monitoring Human/videogame activity in 1978 EC (Earth Calendar) upon the release of the primitive Space Invaders arcade machine (a laughable premise: the Xorflacxt are a peaceful people, but if we were to invade our warships would not assume a series of columns that increases speed incrementally over time). The enormous popularity of games featuring alien antagonists has not stopped; in fact, the multimedia circus surrounding the ludicrous Halo 4 has only intensified the Magistrates’ desire for a better understanding of videogames. The children and young adults of Earth are being trained in the slaughter of extraterrestrials they have never met! Videogames are the single largest obstacle standing in the way of interplanetary contact. Without a thorough knowledge of them the potential for a disastrous First Encounter is simply too high for the Xorflacxt to consider.
And so it is that the Mighty Magistrates of Xorflacxt have provided me, Gorflarb, with the unenviable task of reviewing your Earthling “videogames” in an effort to better understand your species’ sad attempts at creating entertainment.
Over time most non-Native North Americans, born in the continent after generations have eroded the lines of their family immigration, come to realize that the place they call home is not really their home at all — that it is in fact land stolen from the people indigenous to it. This, for me at least, was a pretty unsettling revelation. As children, none of us fortunate enough to be born in politically stable nations think much about whether or not our country truly belongs to us. We Canadians sing an anthem that subconsciously reinforce the idea the nation is “our home and native land” and only when we’re a bit older and wiser do we understand just how stomach-churningly ironic such a lyric is.
How do we deal with this?