This year, e3 leaves me feeling uncomfortable. Perhaps even a little dirty.

We’ve seen the young Lara Croft get tied up, bludgeoned, stabbed, molested and shot at whilst we stare at her lovingly blood-stained skin and listen to pants and groans that would sound just at home in the moment of orgasmic climax as they do in moments of terror.

We’ve seen Sam Fisher embark on a mission that seems to have been designed during the collective wet dream of the US army’s propaganda department. We’re asked to delight as he takes on the role of what might as well be an Obama sanctioned one-man-kill-squad, making the “hard choice” and brutally murdering lots and lots of Arabs in order to save America and the whole world.

We’ve seen Quantic Dream (a studio that since Heavy Rain I’ve been counting on as a breath of fresh air amongst the sewage smell of extreme-violence-for-fun) take a loving step back towards the absurdities of Indigo Prophecy instead. For the sin of my hope, they’ve given us a (wait for it) young girl with psychic powers on the run from the police. From gameplay footage, “Beyond” consists of the ability to knock over coffee with your mind, along with what promises to be an endless chain of “dramatic” chase sequences that have become the aspiration of every major studio under the sun since Naughty Dog wrote “you’ve got to be kidding me”. Helicopters crash from the sky, buildings collapse around us, everything explodes, we jump over chasms, and all the while we could be playing Resident Evil, Tomb Raider, Beyond, Call of Duty, or watching 2012 for all it matters.

But wait! Could this be something different – for a moment, the announcement that the new Star Wars game would be “gritty and mature” was promising… until the gameplay happened and “you’ve got to be kidding me” was actually the first thing I thought – without a trace of irony. Uncharted-in-space sounds more exciting to write than this was to watch. No matter how incredible the graphics were. Perhaps when a games developer uses the word “mature”, it means “appeals to adolescents who like blowing stuff up” instead of “fully developed and complex”.

Even the kings of over-the-top chase sequences, Naughty Dog, left a sour taste in my mouth with a franchise that initially promised to be different. As beautifully designed and paced, as absorbing to watch as it was, The Last of Us presents us with a man who, uncannily like Nate, has to kill streams of inexplicably violent men intent on killing you for no obvious reason at all. So, shoot (or stab brutally in the neck, or burn to death) first, and never ask questions later at all.

And if we’re bored of killing the living, we can kill them again, after they’re already dead. Zombies don’t count because they’re not even people. Even Nintendo are headlining a Zombie game (although that at least looks like it might be a welcome return to the low-key tension and genuine scares of survival horror as opposed to shooty-shooty-action-explosion-chase-scene-this-isn’t-really-horror-at-all-horror).

And thinking of Nintendo last, it was perhaps most sad to watch Reggie, stilted purveyor of wholesome family entertainment, get even more awkward than he usually is, “talking” to a sexed up Harley Quinn in a desperate bid to attract the swarms of big-budget-game players that have been dubbed “hardcore gamers” (and depressingly seem to account for most of the console market). Hardcore used to mean a love of complex stats and a penchant for grinding. Now it seems to just mean a love of guns with chainsaws attached.

In short, the message from e3, resounding from every manufacturer in horrible, unbroken unison is this:

Just switch your mind off, stare with a fixed expression at any and every screen you have (if that’s more than one screen at the same time, then all the better), squeeze the universally standard trigger-buttons so handily provided, and pay us for it.

Thank god Matt Stone and Trey Parker were there to take the piss out of us all for it, if only for 30 seconds, because the sad thing is that these are all beautifully designed and produced games that have taken huge teams of artists, writers and engineers years to produce. They’re probably stunningly put together and really fun to play, and I’ll probably play a bunch of them and enjoy them quite a bit.

But I wish there were something different to choose instead, because I can think of so much I’d rather be experiencing through one of the most exciting and engaging storytelling media out there. I’m willing to bet that not a one of them will do for me what Journey did last year, and move me to tears because I felt like I’d lived the struggles of an entire lifetime in a few hours – or do what Heavy Rain did and actually make me feel horror and remorse the one time a gun is fired – or sit me on the couch with James Sunderland as the meaning of everything he has seen and done dawns slowly – or do anything at all but “entertain” me by allowing me to narrowly escape implausibly contrived death over and over again whilst murdering hundreds of people.

Lets hope the last day of the show proves me wrong. I seem to remember Journey being announced on the last day of the show last year.


  1. Daniel Wray says:

    I don’t know why we so often disagree about games, but I’m going to mostly disagree with you again :) Please excuse my ham fisted attempts to articulate myself.

    Splinter Cell was fine, we were shown a 7 minute segment of gameplay in which Sam kills some Arab terrorists. I’d be surprised if you couldn’t pick out another 7 minute segment of the same game in which Sam kills people of some other nationality, because Tom Clancy games generally have you globe trotting as you chase down some plot/intrigue. So why did they choose to show this section? Perhaps they thought it demonstrated a high point of the game, with some tension, action, nice cutscenes and a bit of bangbang with that airstrike. Maybe they simply wanted to appeal to white america in the way you describe. Personally I wager it’s the former, because I’d be surprised to find that sort of ingrained racism high up at a major video game development studio / publisher (this game is made in Canada and published by a French company).

    Tom Clancy stuff is about spys and geopolitics, they often base it around the current geopolitical situation in order to make it “relevant”. Is it unacceptable to feature Arab terrorism? Would it be more palatable if you were killing Russians (as in conviction)? Chinese? English? Does it cut too close to the bone? If so I’d suggest that’s precisely why they made it. It’s supposed to be borderline plausible.

    Lara Croft I can really see where you’re coming from. That was a harsh trailer, she’s tied up, burned and impaled all within the first 5 seconds. You are of course free to like it or dislike it as you please but I am struggling to see why all the outrage is warranted? This is not a tomb raider game, that’s fine, it’s genre is survival horror. I saw little in that trailer that I couldn’t have seen in any other trailer for a game in that genre, in fact I got a serious dead space 2 vibe from the gameplay snippets and the trailer for that game was brutal. Nobody reacted with this kind of outrage at Isaac Clarke having alien acid vomit spewed all over him, nor falling through several floors only to land tied upside down and nearly get eaten.

    So (and I feel I’m repeating myself a little here, just with gender controversy rather than race controversy) why is this not ok? Is it because Lara is a woman? Can you not portray the same stuff happening to women that you can for men? If this trailer had been for a different game featuring a male lead, would it have prompted the same reaction? Again, I’m not saying you’re not free to dislike it, but statements like “whilst we stare at her lovingly blood-stained skin and listen to pants and groans that would sound just at home in the moment of orgasmic climax as they do in moments of terror” in my mind cannot go unchallenged. I didn’t get any of that from the trailer, because I don’t assume a woman is some object of sex before all other things. Personally I enjoyed the trailer (perhaps except for the first 5 seconds) thought the game looked great, and am looking forward helping Lara shoot some dirty bastards in the face.

    So onto E3 itself. I’m so far mostly unexcited by more or less everything I’ve seen. Dancing games, Kinect junk, Nintendo’s ridiculous new toy. It’s all terribly boring stuff and really lacking in any kind of interest. Few (one?) new IPs, nothing to get excited about so far. I do think though, E3 is a big show for big companies and AAA games. Innovation in this field is exceptionally rare, and if you’re looking here for it you’re probably looking in the wrong place. PAX is better for this kind of stuff. Indie gaming and downloadable stuff like on XBLA etc is really the only place you can get new experiences, everything else caters to the lowest common denominator (me!).

    Hope some of this made some kind of sense.

  2. I’m not sure we really disagree about games – for the most part we play and enjoy the same ones!

    Also, I don’t think I’m asking for the impossible, or looking in the wrong place. I found E3 last year and the year before really exiting, and most of the games I put on a pedestal come from medium or large sized mainstream developers, or occasionally the larger Indie developers.

    Sometimes you’ve gotta take a step back though, and this year’s E3 made me do that. By the time I’d finished watching all the new trailers I’d seen literally hundreds of brutal stabbings, shootings, bombings and various other kinds of murder – mostly unapologetic, and occasionally borderline sexualised. It’s easy to justify this stuff when you start thinking about it in terms of the intentions of each developer, the pressures on the market, or the subjective nature of how orgasmic a gasp sounds.

    But without the context of actually playing the individual games, the overwhelming amounts of copy-paste violence suddenly started to make me feel a little sick that these are the things we kick back to for some evening enjoyment. Normally I’m okay with violence in media, and it seemed palatable when the games industry was smaller and less mainstream, big games came out less frequently, and I was a bit more teenage. But if you think about it, isn’t it a bit odd that I feel I should have to defend my taste in violent killing in other to suppress genuine and spontaneous revulsion at how much of it there is in games?

    We both spend massive quantities of our lives pulling a simulated trigger – it barely matters what the genre or the game is, there’s going to be killing in there somewhere 95% of the time. I don’t want to be confrontational about it most of the time (even though I know I can be a pain in the ass about it sometimes), but seeing it all together, promoted, bigged up and discussed as if it were all perfectly normal left me uncomfortable, and blogging this was more a way to get it out of my system than an actual reflection of what each game I’ve discussed is going to be like to play.

  3. pixieface says:

    I gotta say, from what I’ve seen of Last of Us, it looks completely awesome. And I think (well, I gathered from watching game footage online, I’m very far from an expert) it’s essentially a zombie game, only instead of standard zombies, the monsters are fungus-heads. Which is… actually really incredibly creepy. Anyway, I shall be buying it!

    Also very much looking forward to Bethesda’s latest offering – Dishonored. Even though they’re spelling it wrong! Interesting steampunk assassination. Right up my alley. And Bethesda can basically do no wrong as far as I’m concerned! I adore that company and their incredible games. I have Dishonored on pre-order… due in October, I believe.

    (But I will confess to deeply enjoying games in which I get to sneak about and stab unsuspecting people in the face. YMMV.)

    Ah, but if you’re really looking for something a bit different, maybe check out Among the Sleep…? Worst name for a game ever, but the concept’s really interesting, and ought to be right up your alley given your delight in survival horror games. :)

    Norweigen developer Krillbite are making it. Can’t say I’ve ever heard of them. But essentially, apparently, it’s a nightmare game in which you play a toddler. So there won’t be any shooting or anything, and the world becomes distorted and terrifying because you’re a toddler, and thus the walls of reality are still… flimsy. Anyway, it looks extremely interesting. :)

    Oh, and lastly, new XCOM due in October which looks faithful to the original, but also updated to be awesome. It’s a wargame – tactical strategy – so I don’t know if you’re into that sort of thing. But the Mr is excited about it. Big fan of the original.

  4. OOoh, Among The Sleep looks awesome! Thanks for the suggestion :D
    Also, like I said in the article, I’ll probably play and enjoy a lot of the games I was talking about. I’m actually really excited about The Last of Us, and it does look like a very cool game to play and get absorbed in!

    Buuut, in a way I’m writing this because games ARE that much more impressive atm. There’s this weird uncanny-valley-of-storytelling that high budget games are falling into, where the graphics and story structure are incredibly realistic and/or cinematic, but the actual gameplay is essentially the same as it ever has been when you boil it down: go along, climb the platforms and kill the things that need killing.

    That means that enemies that look almost photoreal, and act surprisingly intelligently (so far as their aggressive capacity is concerned at least) are in story terms little more than “grunt 1” to “grunt 1000”. It doesn’t really matter why you’ve got to kill them, who they are or why they want to kill you, and that’s a bit of a jarring conflict when I’m being asked to care about the character and their plight in the context of a plot and an absorbing environment. It’s one of those “cannot unsee” things, every time I kill someone in a game it breaks the spell of the game for me unless there’s a properly fleshed out reason for it and a definite impact on my character from it.

  5. pixieface says:

    Well, cock goblins. I left a much longer comment, and then Blogger went and ate it, om nom nom. I hope it was tasty, Blogger. It had long words in and everything. :P

    I shall summarise – I think there will always be two camps of things, like movies – schlok-horror-torture-porn, like Saw, versus things with an actual immersive story, like Perfume. All that’s changed in the gaming world is that things look and behave more realistically now. Which is damn impressive, at the very least. But same in games – always gonna be games you play in order to blow off steam and blow a lot of stuff up, versus games in which you actually want a good story and to be challenged.

    The only difficulty, really, is that it’s harder to blow off steam killing something that looks and acts real. But perhaps that’s a good thing? Causing one to examine precisely why it makes one uncomfortable. Stop and have a look at your soul, kinda thing.

    Might even cause these sorts of kill-all-the-thing-no-plot games to… sorta run out of steam. Though if the movies are anything to go by, I doubt it.

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