Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Juvenile Plea for More Darkness

This recent post in asks for the upcoming Batman:Arkham Asylum 2 to be darker than its predecessor.  More specifically, it asks for more brutality and on-screen violence, including torture:

“…let's have some villains establish why they belong in Gotham's home for the criminally insane.”

“Let's have [Talia al Ghul] take three cops out in her first appearance.”

“Let's have [Two Face] flip his coin and shoot a nun or something.”

Is this writer asking for this type of content because he has some some kind of misanthropic worldview, or does he want to provoke gamers to contemplate something about the nature of man or the nature of the universe?  No.  Here are the reasons he gives:

“Let's have some villains establish why they belong in Gotham's home for the criminally insane.”

“Rather than let the audio diaries and in-game bios tell players why these people are bad, show us so we know who we're up against.”

I wonder how much this writer really wants to see.  Does he really want to see people getting murdered, beaten, tortured, raped and even cannibalized?

I would hope the answer to those questions would be no.  But if the answer is yes, my follow-up would be, “Really?  In stark detail?”

If the answer to that question is yes, then I would really want to know why someone is so eager to view vivid acts of violence in a video game.  Is there really a lot of entertainment value to be gotten out of that?  If so, isn’t that a little concerning?

But I suspect that someone would say that they want to see violence, but not in too much detail and nothing too heinous.  To that I would ask, “Why the limits?  If some carnage is effective in doing the things you say it does, wouldn’t more carnage and more realistic carnage be even better?”

Some Kind of Zombie NaziI think that this demonstrates that pleas for more darkness are disingenuous.  They want darkness, but they want it to be stylized and sanitized.  And they want it because it looks cool and has the superficial appearance being “serious” and “adult” -- not for any philosophical reasons.

Nazis are common villains in games, and it’s common for games to have Nazis doing all sorts of black magic, occult rituals, experiments designed to create supermen, summon demons, and other things out of comic books.  But I’m unaware of any games that get into the real acts of evil committed by the Nazis.  Gamers don’t seem to want that.  Real evil tends to be be sad and depressing – quite the opposite of the glamorous and stylized “darkness” that the juvenile-minded want more of.

That being said, the first Batman:Arkham Asylum is a dark, and the darkness makes the game more effective.  The game is a fantasy with a strong sense of realism that draws the gamer in.  The sense of realism is aided by the idea that the villains in the game are dangerous criminals that commit violent crimes.  Gamers aren’t likely to make an emotional investment in a universe where the villains are cartoons.  So a dark, serious tone is necessary for the game to be effective.

That effectiveness would actually be undermined if the game showed more violence/brutality than it does.  Killer CrocIn the game’s opening Batman comes across Killer Croc being transported through the prison by armed guards.  He’s in chains and is wearing a shock collar.  A voice on the loudspeaker says that the guards have permission to use deadly force if he tries anything.  He promises Batman that he’ll hunt him down, and then proceeds to his cell.  Throughout the game we hear some recorded interviews with Croc that reveal some details of his background, the main one being that he’s a cannibal.  That’s about all we really find out about him before Batman encounters him later in the game.  But during the build up to sequence of the game when Batman has to venture into Croc’s lair, the little we’ve seen/heard from him up to that point create a sense of dread.

Now, if the author the IGN article had its way, the game would have shown Killer Croc destroying stuff, killing people, eating people, etc.  “He’s supposed to be a killer, right?  The game needs to show him killing people.  It can’t just tell us that he’s dangerous, right?”  But that leaves nothing to the imagination.  Part of the fun is speculation and conjecture about what something/someone will be like.  Showing too much can kill that.

So instead of making blanket pleas for more darkness, I’d suggest that we ask for an effective story first, and that the dark and serious elements are tasteful and not done in a gratuitous way.

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