Voice acting has become a staple in gaming that helps flesh out characters and setting. Abandoning the text-box provided a more intimate way for the game to connect to the player by expressing emotion and ideas in a way that they are more familiar with. The quality of voice acting in games is, of course, an area of contention, but when done properly, it adds brushstrokes to the aesthetics of the game. This is especially true for settings that benefit from characters having accents to imply nationality. The cultural politics that voice acting implies, however, often escape analysis. The default English accent is General American and deviations from this tap into a subtext that assumes an American player. How accents communicate information to the player exposes the subliminal effects of American ethnocentrism.
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The cutscene in games has arguably taken many forms, from the simple and minimal narrative vignettes of Ms. Pac-Man to the lushly animated FMVs that were once one of the prime selling points of the Final Fantasy series. Many now view these experiences as intrusive moments in a game world that disrupt visual consistency or serve as storytelling short cuts that don’t do the medium justice.
This week the Moving Pixels podcast crew discuss the history of the cutscene in video games, what they may or may not have evolved into, and whether or not they still have a place in video game storytelling.
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare did a lot of things right, and many of those things have gone on to become staples of the military shooter genre. One such staple is “the AC-130 level” or some equivalent, a level that places you high in the air, above the action, away from danger, and enables you to rain down detached and impersonal destruction on your enemies. It was a wonderfully innovative level when it was first done and innovation can’t be copied, though many have tried. Most recently, Ace Combat: Assault Horizon and Battlefield 3 both tried their hand at this kind of level. One of them succeeds because it knows imitation can only take you so far, the other one fails because it copies all of the aesthetics but none of the substance from Call of Duty 4.
Two weeks ago I discussed a promotional video in which Harrison Ford plays Uncharted 3. The advertisement capitalizes on our familiarity with Ford as an adventure movie icon, in particular his role as the much loved archaeologist Indiana Jones. The commercial, I argued, positions games in pop culture as the natural offspring of film, the medium that inherits the proverbial torch, bringing swashbuckling cinema adventures into an unparalleled medium. After encountering some of the stunning set pieces in Uncharted 3 and seeing the mad and chaotic encounters of Battlefield 3 and Modern Warfare 3, I am inclined to agree. Specifically, the huge triple-A titles that consistently rank among our yearly top tens have become the new vanguards of spectacle, creating outrageous scenarios and environments that give even the well budgeted cinematic piece a run for its money.
Kirk Hamilton’s article on Batman: Arkham City and his perception that the word “bitch” is overused by the game’s various thugs and villains has (among other essays concerned with Arkham City‘s approach to women) been making the rounds for a couple of weeks now to both positive and negative response.
Hamilton’s essay is thoughtful and not especially knee-jerk in its consideration of the game’s events and dialogue. For instance, he writes:
As you make your way around Arkham, you’ll overhear goons from the various factions talking about current events, and every time they talk about Harley Quinn, the B-word gets dropped at least once. Often more than once. “That bitch,” “That crazy bitch,” etc.
To those playing the game: it’s weird, right? ”Batman: Arkham Asylum‘s Weird ‘Bitch’ Fixation”, Kotaku, 19 October 2011).
While Hamilton seems to want to pose a rhetorical question, I think that it is at least a legitimate question and one that is more open for consideration, perhaps, than a rhetorical question should be. In answering that question for myself: no, I’m not sure that I immediately feel that it is as weird as he does. While I think that I essentially agree with his point that “there’s a fine line between edgy dialogue and forced, angry overkill” in fiction, I don’t think that those who argue that convicts and super criminals overusing a slur against women has some ring of authenticity to it are entirely crazy either.