Issac Clarke may be the second most recognizable working class hero in video games. The obviously more iconic plumber and savior of princesses, Mario, comfortably garbed in overalls while cleaning pipes overrun by mushrooms and turtles would, of course, be the most recognizable. Intriguingly, though, and largely unlike Mario, Isaac is not a working man transformed into a fantastical hero. Instead, Dead Space is a game that finds heroism in doing real work.
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Video games celebrate the state of the present. They’re always centered on the immediate action the player can take: where and how he moves and what result this brings. Games do not cue us to their pasts easily or frequently. Maybe the blank space will tell the player where he’s already moved in a Pac-Man maze or maybe finding a broken crate where a health pack should be reminds him that he’s already been past this area in Tomb Raider, but there is very little sense of an archived human history in these spaces. If nothing else, the past is hard if not impossible to access, seeing as the state of play resides in conflict with the immutable record.
Some games do indeed play with time, like Metal Gear Solid 3‘s unconventional game overs when you create a time paradox or many of Braid‘s platforming mechanics. But for the most part, video games are experienced in the present tense. Yet, I would argue, there are some games that strongly privilege the future state over the player’s current action, and these are usually the games that we find most difficult to talk about in conventional ludological terms.
I’m speaking, of course, of the Japanese role-playing genre.
With the recent release of Dead Space 2, it is not surprising to find that my thoughts drift back to the first installment of the series and what about it made the experience worthwhile. From a narrative standpoint, it would be easy to write off Dead Space as “Resident Evil 4 in spaaaaace”, complete with parasitic organisms that seem to have been unleashed by crazy cultists. This might turn a lot of people off (forgetting that Dead Space controls better than any RE game I’ve come across, and I’m including the on-rails-shooters in this) because, well, hasn’t this all been done, before?
Well, yes it has. But has it been done this particular way? Probably not. Additionally, while the mechanics of Dead Space are familiar to anyone who has played a third person shooter in the last decade (I flatly refuse to acknowledge that the much ballyhooed dismemberment mechanic is all that different from learning to shoot zombies in the head), the setting and story (while equally familiar) serve as a platform for presenting a debate that runs throughout the game about posthumanism.
Response to Enslaved has been divisive. Most agree that the game does not feature the most outstanding gameplay, but after acknowledging that, opinions vary a great deal.
Most divisions about Enslaved arise around its storytelling. With gameplay that may or may not do service to its plot but featuring some talented voice acting and direction alongside expressive motion capture and beautiful graphics, does Enslaved manage to tell a good story?
This week the Moving Pixels podcast crew discusses the success or failure of Enslaved‘s somewhat controversial storytelling.
For a medium that revolves so much around killing, it’s sad that so few games show us the realistic consequences of violence. That’s probably why there are so few kids in games and why they’re always supernaturally protected from player created chaos: no one wants to sensationalize child murder. There were no kids in the “No Russian” level of Modern Warfare 2, and you can’t kill kids in Fallout 3 even though there are many in the Capital Wasteland. Despite this trend of avoidance, there have been a few recent and semi-recent games that deal with the killing of children explicitly and implicitly, and it’s no coincidence that they’re all horror games.
// Notes from the Road
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