Games

Does This Hurt? A Look at Torture in Games

A look at the various incarnations of torture in games.

Saw VI comes out today, the latest movie in the "torture porn" sub-genre of horror. When this sub-genre first began to grow in popularity, many film critics lamented that torture had become something entertaining, but in all the time since then, horror games have not jumped to cash in on the trend. Horrow games have changed dramatically over the six years since Saw was first released but not along the same lines that their filmic counterparts have. Horror games have become more action packed thanks to Resident Evil 4 and Dead Space, all but ignoring the seeming popularity of torture. It seems those critics can breathe a sigh of relief because, while certain horror fans enjoy watching torture, it seems that they also don't want to partake in it directly.

That's not to say there are no instances of torture in modern horror games. One scene near the end of Silent Hill: Homecoming feels ripped straight out of Hostel. The hero is tied to a chair while a cultist stabs a drill into his leg, and a few quick-time events later he's free and the drill is sticking out of the cultist's eye. Then there are the Manhunt games in which players are forced to participate in a snuff film. And the franchise that arguably started it all, Saw, made its first jump to video games earlier this month. What's interesting about all these examples of torture is that the player is always the victim, never the torturer. We're tied to the chair in Silent Hill: Homecoming, we’re a killer in Manhunt, yes, but a killer forced to play the starring role in a snuff film. In the Saw game, we don't play as Jigsaw but as a cop caught up in one of Jigsaw's maniacal, elaborate traps. Every torture device that we come across has someone else stuck inside it and solving the trap plays out like a mini puzzle game. This allows for a variety of play that we wouldn't get to participate in if we had control over Jigsaw because torturing people just isn't an interesting game mechanic.

Torture as it's shown in movies can't support an entire game. For one, the player is stuck in one spot near the victim, which means a lack of visual variety. Second, while I'm sure there are a whole host of unique and varied torture techniques used throughout history that one could compile into a single game, they're all essentially the same. No matter how different each technique may be, it's still torture. Ignoring for a moment the emotional revulsion of such a torture game, it'd also get very boring very fast.

But torture, outside of how it’s shown in the movies, has found its way into many games across genres. One of my earlier memories of gaming was killing unarmed scientists in the Facility level of Goldeneye 64. I’d set remote mines on their heads and blow them up or set proximity mines near the exits and take a few potshots at them to scare them into running towards my trap. In Trails HD there are mini-games that encourage the player to cause as much pain to the nameless rider as is possible; there’s even an achievement for breaking every bone in his body. And, of course, there’s The Sims. Nearly everyone who has played the first game has at some point sent a Sim swimming and then removed the ladder to the pool, trapping the Sim inside so that he or she eventually starves to death. Or you could stick them in a tiny room with no exit. Or force a Sim who can’t cook to make a meal on a stove while surrounded by wicker furniture; if he starts a fire, the whole house goes up in flames. The latter set-up would make Jigsaw proud.

Curiously most people don't see these acts as acts of torture. Instead they’re seen as experiments as ways to explore the boundaries of the game. We're not just playing the game, we're playing with it. But we're still causing these virtual people pain, and in that regard, we're no different than Jigsaw. At what point does this experimentation become torture? What line does he cross that we don’t? I believe that line lies in the suffering of our virtual victims. In all the cases that I've mentioned, we don't see them suffer prolonged periods of pain. It's funny to watch the rider in Trials HD smash his face into a low bar because a second later he's back on the bike attempting the same jump.

Compare that with shooting a random citizen of Liberty City in GTA IV. If you hurt your victim enough without killing him, you can watch him try to escape from you, clutching his stomach and limping away. His pain is so obvious it's disturbing. Many gamers lamented that GTA IV felt too real that it had lost its cartoonish, over-the-top, gleeful embrace of violence. It's telling that in GTA IV there are no "killing spree" bonuses to find like in previous games. These icons would trigger a timer and automatically equip you with a pre-selected weapon so you could, well, go on a killing spree. They’re not in the game because when a man starts to limp away from us desperately trying to stay alive then the idea of beating up random strangers looses its whimsy.

It's this joy in others' suffering, not just their pain, which separates gamers from Jigsaw. But that difference is frighteningly small. It's not small because gamers are somehow more violent than other people; it's simply because in games we're free to act without inhibitions or guilt. The difference is so small not because games encourage or allow torture but because there's a little Jigsaw in all of us already.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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