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.
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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.
Recently, the University of Queensland conducted a study on the dehumanizing effects of violent video games (Brock Bastion, Jolanda Jetta, and Helena Radke, “Cyber-Dehumanization: Violent video game play diminishes our humanity”, Journal of Experimental Social-Psychology). The study (accepted for publication but not yet edited or published) has already made its way into the news, and the predictable outcries of “I knew it along” or “this study is garbage” have already begun echoing across the internet.
Every so often this sort of study is released and typically the reaction from gamers is either that the study or newspaper is biased against the medium or any findings that suggest video games increase aggression are moot because television and movies are at least as violent as games. Interestingly, gamers seldom challenge the validity of research that props up the social value of games, such as an also accepted-but-not-yet-published study correlating games with higher creativity (Linda A. Jackson, et al., “Information technology use and creativity: Findings from the Children and Technology Project”, Human Behaviour). Research on video games and violence are most likely perfectly valid and probably should not go ignored: violent images increase aggression and participating in violence—even virtually—arouses aggressive feelings. These are a psychological truths repeatedly demonstrated, even in video games. But what is often overlooked is the context that violence takes place in.
Whether natural or not, violence is a part of the human experience and as a reflection of that experience, art must discuss it. But violence in video games usually reflects only one aspect of violence: that it’s empowering or that it’s a means to stopping a greater evil. Violence in video games is almost universally a means to excite a player and keep them involved in the experience.
The boss fight has been a part of gaming since very near to the time of its inception. Serving a variety of roles in offering greater challenge, suggesting the climax of a game and plot, and just simply creating a spectacle for the player, has the boss fight merely become a cliched and expected “requirement” of games?
This week we consider the history and evolution of the boss fight in gaming, as well as the possibility of alternatives to this most expected of medium conventions.