Posts Tagged Sony Computer Entertainment
Videogames are fond of constructing imaginary versions of real world locales. The Grand Theft Auto series invites open comparisons between its Vice City and the actual Miami; Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare takes place in an unnamed Middle Eastern nation that is Iraq in everything but name; The Banner Saga‘s faux-Scandanavian setting is meant to evoke Viking era Northern Europe. Everyone who plays these games knows that the fictional places they’re exploring are only stand-ins for somewhere that really exists in the world. Because of this, it’s possible to, say, offer a new spin on the Norse sagas by breaking away from what we already know about them. It’s even possible to make commentary about the legitimacy of Coalition forces occupying Iraq and Afghanistan by abstracting elements of these nations into a single imagined one. That being said, an unwillingness to set fiction in real locations isn’t always motivated by a desire to make interesting art. In some games it may serve as nothing more than cultural cowardice.
I shot a gun for the first time about two weeks ago. I mean, I shot a real, physical gun for the first time– I’ve been shooting digital ones for years now. It was an interesting experience: one that has stuck in my head, and has made me think about my relationship with the many, many firearms found in videogames a bit differently.
I was nervous to head to the range, but I was going with a cousin who has been hunting since he was young, has a gun license, and knows how to teach an anxious novice how to shoot. Just the same, I felt like a visitor to an alien world when we bought our day passes from the front office and headed through a shop stacked floor to ceiling with boxes of ammunition. Hearing shotguns blasting at clay pigeons and rifle shots crack in uneven intervals had me stifling flinches as we drove down the path to the firing range. The body’s instinctual reaction to gunfire is probably to hit the ground or run like a maniac, but this is obviously discouraged at a professional shooting venue so I tried to keep as calm as possible. Still, while my cousin unzipped his two rifles from their carrying bags and took off their trigger locks, I was transfixed by the row of people to our left. They seemed so relaxed–maybe a bit excited, but still relaxed–as they unloaded rounds from the sort of high-powered weaponry I’d only seen in movies and games before.
Killzone 2 exists in a strange place where the Michael Bay inspired bombast of Modern Warfare shares space with the gore-soaked dialectics of The Iliad. For all of its surface problems (and there are many), it is a game about shooting dudes that frequently attempts to impart something far different than the mindless jingoism of its brethren. Killzone 2 has a generic science-fiction plot — the “good guys” of the Interplanatary Strategic Alliance (ISA) are fighting a war against the “bad” Helghast army — but it is also a story about the futility of assigning values to combat fuelled by nationalism and historical injustice.
War is hell, it says, and not just for our team.
I’ve spent the last five Christmas Eves having dinner with a table full of people speaking a language I don’t understand. My partner was born and raised in Canada, but her parents were born and raised in Warsaw, Poland, leaving several decades ago when the country was still under the thumb of the USSR. She, her brother and her cousins are (frustratingly, perfectly) multilingual while I only speak English fluently and can somewhat passably read and understand spoken French. At Christmas family gatherings with only two or three others who can’t speak/understand Polish it’s only natural that conversations eventually shift away from English. The older members of the family are most comfortable speaking in their first language after all and, especially after several bottles of wine and vodka have been emptied, their usual consideration for including everyone in every conversation starts to dissipate. The first year I came to the big Christmas Eve dinner I felt extremely awkward because of this. I imagine a lot of people surrounded by a language they don’t understand get to wondering what the hell is being said and, most anxiety-inducing of all, if they’re being talked about without understanding it.
The next year it seemed a bit better. I knew these people, had grown more comfortable drinking my wine and sort of drifting out when the conversations turned to Polish. The Christmas after that I barely noticed a thing and now, all these years and several failed attempts to learn the language (it is goddamned impenetrable, but I’ll keep trying until I die) later, I find that I can follow the gist of my in-laws’ Polish dialogue despite only recognizing a handful of words. It is possible to intuit the rhythm of a sentence, to understand how changes in tone and volume communicate a joke or sarcastic remark without a proper understanding of the complexities of the language. This is, I think, a common phenomenon. In lieu of properly interpreting a language, those regularly surrounded by it will at least learn to “feel” how it works.
By the end of two hours with Journey a similar thing had happened.
The general consensus seems to be that Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception is a bit of a letdown when compared to Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. I suppose there’s a whole, gigantic article to be written about why this will always be the case with sequels of sequels (and on and on) but, to be honest, I feel like I’ve been banging on about that kind of thing in a column I write long enough. Instead, I’d rather try to talk a bit about a problem with Uncharted 3 in a a different way.
Ico is a very good game. It is pretty, it is fun, it has a great (and understated) story and is a true artistic statement — a well realized vision that incorporates its theme in a holistic way, from its aesthetic straight on down to its mechanical structure.
It’s also old (almost 11 years old! A junior high student by now!) and was very difficult to find copies of until this fall when a remastered collection of Ico and its spiritual sucessor, Shadow of the Colossus were re-released as a single, lovely PS3 disc. I’ve just finished playing through Ico again thanks to this collection and was surprised to find that the experience held up as well as it did. Nostalgia has a way of colouring things, after all, and more than a decade of time has passed between playthroughs.
Like any good art, Ico also revealed far more of itself on a second time through than it did at first and the message it evokes struck home far more differently to my 25 year-old self than the 15 year-old version of me. Simply enough, going into Ico knowing what to expect (and having my reading coloured, no doubt, by emotional maturation) transformed the game from a lovably surrealist fairy-tale to a strangely impactful exploration of love.