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Outlaw Volleyball Remixed

(Global Star Software; US: Jul 2007)

Whatever Happened to the Good Outlaws?

The outlaw is one of those tremendously central figures in American culture and mythology. From dime novels to spaghetti westerns, Americans have always been fond of the notion of the man (or woman) outside the law.


Of course, the 19th century has come and gone and with it the passing of the West, but the spirit of those ideals remain. Therefore, it is unsurprising that the outlaw as a figure continues to remain pervasive in American media and especially the oft seen lawless environs of the digital world. If not literal Western outlaws, antiheroes are a staple of the video game industry with some the best selling and critically acclaimed games being fronted by extremely lawless individuals—from CJ of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas to Kratos of God of War.


It is no surprise then that even in a game about volleyball, an American developer would be willing to try to slip in its own bevy of outlaws to break the rules of a normally less than rowdy game.


I suppose the main feature of the game that allows Outlaw Volleyball Remixed to make its claim on its lawless name is the ability of the players to choose to brawl between serves with victorious fist fights lowering the morale (and, hence, quality of play) of their opponents. Being lawless has its advantages in the sand pit.


The game tends to wrap itself even more so in the serape of the outlaw, though, through its general tone, humor, environments, and characterizations of its players. The humor is crass, environments in the game are often gritty, wild, and urban, and the characters themselves are a motley crew of ethnic stereotypes. The melting pot here is simmered down to the most base and banal descriptions of a multiethnic society.


It is this last bit of lawless tone that (beyond some practical gameplay considerations like rather poor controls and tedious gameplay) rubbed me all wrong throughout the game. The game is supposed to be funny and is voiced by a man gifted with turning less than funny material into comedic gold through intonation and over exaggeration, The Daily Show’s Steve Carell. While I did get a few chuckles out of Carell’s commentary (the first few times—most of his sound bites are repeated ad nauseam), it was largely due to his delivery and less so to the quality of the material.


The material is—as the character stereotypes seem intended to be—presented largely as “outlawish” because it is steeped in one of the only taboo subject matters in our culture—stereotypes and ethnic humor. The outlaw as a type is largely one that is valued for his or her ability to step outside the boundaries of the law when necessary and to do things that more civilized people would otherwise shy away from. In 21st century American culture where saying “fuck” or commenting for that matter that “the president fucked his intern” will hardly cause an eye to blink in a roomful of grannies, our only linguistic boundaries seem to be defined by the taboos of political correctness.


Like some members of the punk movement adopted swastikas in their attire (or named themselves after Nazi rape squads, like Joy Division), racial epithets seem largely to be one of the few ways that a young rebel can, well… rebel anymore, since “bitch” and discussions of oral sex are now accepted on prime time sitcoms (yeah, you’ve all seen Friends). Good, clean lawlessness is hard to find.


Thus, I suppose a rebellious teen might find jokes about a treaty breaking “injun’” like Outlaw Volleyball Remixed‘s Shawnee or a trashy but stupid Jewish American princess like Donna or a “wigger” like the game’s Ice Trey to be incredibly “edgy” and to be characters that their parents would clearly not approve of (yes, yes, I know the game is rated M for Mature but, honestly, I hope that my comments thus far have made it clear that anyone actually playing this tripe for longer than they have to clearly does not fall into that “mature” category), but I simply found these ideas and characterizations to be moronic.


If Outlaw Volleyball Remixed has anything to say, it’s how cheap both lawlessness and what passes for the “law” have become. These outlaws cheapen breaking the rules by the sheer insipidness of their misbehavior. Whatever happened to being good at being bad?

G. Christopher Williams is a Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. He posts his weekly contribution to the Moving Pixels blog at PopMatters every Wednesday. Besides also serving as Multimedia Editor at PopMatters and writing at his own blog, 8-bit confessional, he has also published essays in journals like Film Criticism, PostScript, and the Popular Culture Review. You won't find him on Twitter, but you can drop him a line with that old fashioned thing called e-mail at williams@popmatters.com.


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