Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Violence in video games

(Note, the links in this post all go to violent scenes from games and films. View with caution!)

I was recently replaying Dishonoured, a PC game that came out in 2012. In it, you play the bodyguard of the Empress, who is murdered by unknown forces, and you are accused of said murder. To clear your name, you must hunt down and remove several notable figures in the city. Its a great game, where you use stealth to avoid or kill/disable guards, taking multiple routes to taking down your targets.

Alice was leaning over my shoulder as I was playing, and expressed disgust at this particular animation  (1.51). "No, it's ok," I replied, "I'm not killing him!" As I caught a man in a choke grip, and lowered him to the floor, presumably still breathing. If instead you choose to kill someone (which the game will moderately punish you for), you get this animation  (1:38). It's pretty gory, when you take the time to look at it. To be honest, throughout my entire playthrough I hardly noticed the violence in those scenes.

I recently played through Bioshock Infinite, a game which deserves a post of its own. But I wanted to talk about the first scene of violence in this game. Up until this point there has been no fighting: you don't even have a weapon, and you have been exploring the world of Columbia, a city in the sky. You have made your way to some kind of funfair, and you win a raffle. You discover the "prize" is to despatch of two non-white rebels (up til now, every character has had white skin), and the following occurs  (1:38). Now this, this I noticed. Its not entirely clear what the police officer is intending to do to you in this scene: its possible he was about to end your life, but your reaction is... extremely violent. You then proceed to dispatch of every other police officer in the area, most of whom are attempting to defeat you using only a truncheon.

Its an interesting scene, and I'm not sure how to take it. I am almost certain that the violence in Dishonoured is mostly unthinking. It is probably deliberately designed to entertain the audience. The violence of that scene in Infinite at the time jarred me. The protagonist of the game, at this point, is a down on his luck private detective, but as you learn of his history, his actions become perhaps a little more explicable. I don't know whether this scene is meant to make you think about who Booker (the main character) is, or its just another example of extreme violence in video games.

There are, of course, lots of non-violent video games out there, although most video games involve conflict of some sort (even in mario you are, after all, crushing your enemies beneath your heel, even if it is in a very bloodless cartoonish fashion). But it cannot be denied that many of the most popular video games explore and even celebrate violence. Now I don't think any individual example is a bad thing. There can be fun to be had with cartoonish violence. Film has been doing it for a long time. See this scene in the Evil Dead 2, obstensibly a horror film, where blood spurts out of the wall in truly comic volumes, or the fight scene in Kill Bill where limbs go flying off, and spurt out obviously fake blood.  But should video games engage with violence more?

I'm aware that some do, even some more popular titles, but for the most part violence is used uncritically to entertain, or purely as decoration. I would like designers of games to think about the choices they make when they produce games, and when they decide to have blood spurt from the fifteenth victims neck, for that to be a deliberate choice in keeping with the rest of the game.

Labels: , , ,

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Books before I'm 30: I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

I went into this book fairly ignorant of its contents. I was aware that it was a well loved novel, particularly by my mother, but other than that, nothing. I didn't even particularly notice the author, Dodie Smith, wrote 101 Dalmations, nor that the book was written in the 1940s and set in the 1930s.

It gives us the diary entries of Cassandra, a somewhat impoverished 17 year old girl, who lives in a castle (well, a house in a castle) with her family: her father, who appears to be trapped in depression, her step mother, a nature loving model prone to speaking nonsense, her slightly foolish older sister Rose, their younger brother Thomas (who is sort of sir not appearing in this novel for most of it) and their semi-adopted brother Stephen.

Their prospects seem somewhat bleak, until the new owners of the land, two American brothers, come to stay. From there, the plot thickens.

I did enjoy the book, although I don't know that I loved it. I liked all the characters, particularly Cassandra. Dodie Smith captures her very well, and you get to enjoy the little turns of phrase she uses. It reminded me of Austen to some extent, and indeed Cassandra references both Austen and the Brontes several times. Some of the cleverness of the book comes from that it is a diary, and thus we only ever see things from Cassandra's perspective. Dodie Smith rarely cheats in this regard, so in some respect Cassandra functions a little bit like an unreliable narrator, in that the assumptions she makes about others motivations is often wrong in hindsight.

There are some lovely moments when Cassandra is feeling unhappy, but is under the impression that she has concealed such emotions from other characters, who then demonstrate through their words and actions that they perceive her true emotional state, even if they don't let on directly. I suspect the book would very much reward re-reading, especially given some of the final act revelations.

I can absolutely see why some would fall in love with the book, but I didn't feel myself fully engaged at all points. I feel like the narrative slows at some points, and I felt myself lose interest occasionally. That said, this is a book I could happily recommend someone else read, as I suspect most would have a good time with it.

Labels: , ,