Critics regularly and rightfully knock video games for their oft-silly plots and cheesy dialogue. A ton of bad translations from the original Japanese (“All your base are belong to us,” anyone?) floating around doesn’t exactly help, either.
But it’s not all “Green elf…is about to die!” and Jill sandwiches. Occasionally, we get a “FINISH HIM!” to kick us out of our complacency. That one command in Mortal Kombat completely changed the tenor of nearly every fighting game from semi-friendly competitions to brutal bloodsports in the space of two words. The sentiment struck a chord.
When developers really start thinking about what games can do and what they can be, it usually comes out in the dialogue. So here’s five more quotes that took five games, the people who played them, and even the entire industry into dramatic new directions.
Arcade games generally aren’t known for creating an emotional reaction. But Sinistar, a 1982 space shooter from Williams Electronics — better known for classics like Joust, Robotron 2084, and Defender — did. It made you panic.
You could call Sinistar an early survival-horror game, because you spend the entire time desperately preparing to fight a virtually unstoppable techno-demon that you can't out-shoot or out-run. When its worker drones finished assembling Sinistar, it let you know it was coming for you in stereo sound (one of the first games to record in stereo); in the sit-down cabinets, its booming roars blasted out of speakers on either side of your head. Then Sinistar gave you the best advice ever: “Run, coward!” And you did, jamming the joystick as far as it would go and praying what few sinibombs you’d mined out of the asteroids could at least slow it down.
Arcade-goers wouldn’t sweat so much for another 16 years…when Dance Dance Revolution arrived.
Back in the mists of 1982, games didn’t give players a whole lot of characters to identify with. Mostly, you played as a faceless spaceship or a perpetually hungry yellow dot. Even Donkey Kong’s Mario didn’t have a whole lot going on other than a determined sense of perseverance. But cheeky, muppet-looking Q*Bert had a personality…one a kid in an arcade could sympathize with. When one of his many enemies finally smashed into him, Q*Bert didn’t like it. And he let his displeasure be known with a small torrent of amusingly censored profanity.
Audio engineer David Thiel originally tried to get the game to say “You have gotten 10,000 bonus points,” but when that didn’t work, he jammed a random bunch of numbers into the sound chip in frustration. Ironically, that became the sound of Q*Bert’s frustration as well, while its physical spelling served as the game’s name for a while — a few cabinets were built with “@!#?@!” on the title board. Anyway, it’s the sentiment that counts, and with Q*Bert, we could finally identify with a video game character. Maybe we didn’t hear those four-letter words as intended, but we all knew exactly what he meant…and how he felt.
“It’s-a me, Mario!”
We’d played Donkey Kong, Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 1, 2, and 3, several Super Mario Lands, and Super Mario World. That plucky little plumber had sold more games than anyone in history and saved the entire home console industry in the U.S. almost single-handedly. He didn’t have anything to prove to anyone.
But Super Mario 64 was the first time we heard his voice. And he sounded just as happy and enthusiastic as we’d always imagined.
Voice actor Charles Martinet almost missed the audition entirely, crashing the last one of the day. When the Nintendo rep told him to do a plumber from Brooklyn talking to children about video games, Martinet ignored his instincts to play it gruff and instead unleashed a babbling, high-pitched ramble about making a-pizza pie. His tape was the only one sent to the home office. The icon had found his voice.
So when we slapped the Mario 64 cartridge in and Mario announced himself on the title screen, followed by his winking, smiling face now fully rendered in polyagonal 3D, it completely solidified Mario and what he stood for: fun. Even 16 years later, the image of Mario jumping into the air, fist high in joyous celebration, could easily represent gamers and gaming in its entirety…due in no small part to the "Wah-HOO!" that automatically accompanies it.
“This was a triumph. I'm making a note here: HUGE SUCCESS!”
It takes a very special person to celebrate after you’ve blown her to smithereens.
GLaDOS, Portal’s deranged A.I. narrator, serves as your guide, foil, tormentor, and deadly nemesis through Aperture Science’s brain-bending Enrichment Center, promising cake and happiness even as she lowers you into a fire. But after her constant lies, deadly traps, and a heaping helping of schoolyard-quality derision, you get your revenge by destroying GLaDOS and escaping her underground facility.
Well, except for the “revenge” part. As the credits roll, GLaDOS snatches your defeat from the jaws of victory with “Still Alive,” a pleasantly chipper song about all the wonderful data she’s collected via your suffering and your slim chances for survival in the (quite possibly devastated) outside world. Her wonderfully warped and generally sinister world-view is its own reward, but “Still Alive” hits deeper. We talk a lot about “beating” a game, but GLaDOS reminds us that the next time we fire Portal up, she’ll be there…healthy, whole, and waiting for us. Try feeling smug about destroying an end-boss after that.
“Would you kindly…”
Games constantly tell us what to do. Go save the princess. Walk through that door. Kill that person real good. They even invented a genre of character — the guide — specifically to inform us how to progress. And in one devastating late-game revelation, BioShock took that entire concept meta and made you distrust it forever.
Instead of helping, guide character Atlas (good-guy alias of crime boss Frank Fontaine) manipulates Jack, BioShock’s silent protagonist, with the post-hypnotic command phrase “Would you kindly?” You don’t even notice how often Fontaine uses that faux-friendly order to make you do what he wants. You’re just playing the game, right? Wrong. The game’s been playing you all along. BioShock finally throws your complete lack of free will back in your face during the showdown with big bad Andrew Ryan, where he would-you-kindlys you into complete submission, then orders his own death at your powerless hands with a final, haunting rebuke: “A man chooses…a slave obeys.”
Hey, I didn’t even mention how war never changes! Share the game quotes that had the most profound impact on you in the comments below!