Editor’s note: Daniel wants more chat and less shooting from his video games. Do you agree, or are you one of those people who pounds the A (or X, or whatever) button to skip through the dialogue as quickly as possible? -Demian
I had the distinct pleasure of watching Inglourious Basterds last weekend. Movies tend to open in Japan many months later than they do overseas, so I was looking forward to it for quite some time. I’m happy to say that the film did not disappoint; indeed, it exceeded my expectations, and I feel it’s the best movie I’ve seen all year, perhaps the best I’ve seen in the last few years.
One thing that surprised me about the film was the extraordinary level of tension I felt in every scene, despite the fact that Quentin Tarantino somehow made a war movie without much of a war in it. Even though nearly all the characters are soldiers, there are no scenes of combat and only a few minutes of gunfire (“few” being relative to the film’s substantial length). Nearly all of that action takes place in the finale, which becomes all the more powerful given the scarcity of violence leading up to it.
As I walked out of the theater, I was riding high on the excitement of the dialogue-driven scenes as well as the visceral thrill of the Nazi-killing ones, yet one of my first thoughts was of video games. Why can’t games deliver conflict without combat? Why can’t violence be the punctuation mark rather than the entire statement?
We all know video games are too action-focused for their own good. No other form of popular entertainment is as single-mindedly violent as video games. It’s not that we don’t have non-violent games, it’s that the biggest hits and the “game of the year” discussions all center around shooters or similarly-themed titles. This lack of variety at the top of the industry is why every time a crazy person shoots a stranger, someone goes on television and points a finger at games.
As Christian Nutt put it on last week’s episode of 4 Guys 1Up, the easiest game to make is one with explosions and violence, while the hardest game to make is one where people sit in a room and talk. With movies, the exact opposite is true. I’m paraphrasing, of course, but I think we can all agree that he’s spot on with his assessment of where video games are at right now.
Thinking of Inglourious Basterds and Nutt’s statement, I went back to my experience playing Heavy Rain at the Tokyo Game Show this fall. The scene I played did have a violent element to it (there was a gun pointed at my face), but at no point was I in a position to return fire. For all I know my detective wasn’t even armed. Yet I managed to talk the robber into putting his gun down and running away without anyone getting hurt. It was the most exciting demo I played in four days at the show.
I’m not calling for games to holster their weapons and give up on violence. I enjoy violent games just as I enjoy action movies and police dramas. What I would love to see, however, is more games that create conflict without headshots and kill streaks. I want to play a game where violence isn’t the only answer, perhaps even a game where violence is the wrong answer.
Video games are quite fond of drawing inspiration from hit movies. We’ve all played a variant of the Saving Private Ryan invasion scene by now, probably from both sides, many times over. I say we deserve moments in games akin to the opening of Inglourious Basterds: one man questioning another.
It’s not as far-fetched as people might think, this idea of thrilling conversations. It’s simply been limited to cutscenes instead of in-game actions. For me, the emotional high-point of BioShock was the conversation with Andrew Ryan in his office, not shooting Splicers with a crossbow. Portal gave me a gun that fired no bullets, and as I descended into the depths of Aperture Science, I was worried about what GLaDOS would say next as much as what the next puzzle would be. When I think of The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, my strongest memory is of that long talk I had with Marin.
Am I alone in wanting games where the tension comes from the threat of violence rather than the execution of violence? It often feels that way, looking at the sales charts and listening to video game podcasts.
We keep hearing talk of a Citizen Kane of video games. That’s a pretty tall order considering where we are right now. I say we need an Inglourious Basterds of video games, one with plenty of Nazis and murder, but only if we make to the last level in Paris. First, we sit down and talk about where the neighbors might be hiding.