AB, AC, ABB. I remember that code like the back of my hand. It was the code that made the fighting in the original home console version of Mortal Kombat mature. I was maybe 8 years old when the game came out and; to my young mind that was the pinnacle of what a mature game was; I was playing at being an adult even if I didn’t have the understanding for it. That feeling lasted well into my teens, in which I was taken aback by the sudden need to have my parents buy me the M rated games that were "mature." Then I became an adult, & my criteria for mature changed, as did my view on the violence that was present in my games. Don't get me wrong, I still enjoy the uber violence that most modern games seem to excel at, hell, it does make me feel as giddy as it did when I was a child. Thing is, I find myself more & more in need for a reason why I should kill. It's easy to justify the reason I'm mowing down hundreds of thousands of enemies, especially human like ones. Games are great at that power fantasy, we never need to ask why, the game does it for us: We're the hero and they're the evil, the infidel, the blight, and they need to be wiped out for a better tomorrow.
For a long while I was burnt out on gaming for a long time, particularly FPS's. I never could figure out why, I just didn't feel the need to play anything. I was done with the one man army sameness of the current generation. I never could gauge why this was, until very recently. When it came right down to it I just got tired of the violence, violence for the sake of violence just wasn't enough. Spoilers ahead.
Games are beginning to understand the potential in the medium to tell great stories that will stay with us, to hit us emotionally & make us question why we do things not only in games, but in life. Max Payne 3 reminds us constantly of the fact that we bought a game about a violent psychopath who kills the badguys, & that he ain't a hero for it. It doesn't pretend that you're any better than the guys you're killing, but rather an extension of them. Max puts in quite succinctly, "So I guess I'd become what they wanted me to be, a killer. Some rent-a-clown with a gun who puts holes in other bad guys. Well that's what they had paid for," and in the end it's what we got.
For all the sci fi, meta commentary in Bioshock Infinite, it's a story about fear, particular the fear of failure. It's an allegory for a man haunted by his past, unable to see a future that doesn't end in more destruction. A world where he sells a daughter to pay off debts. A world where if he ever accepted that he had a second chance he would only use it to become an even worse man. Where he would corrupt anyone that would put their trust in him.
Which brings me to The Darkness, one of my favorite games of this generation, if not ever. It was a dark & gloomy game, filled with shades of grey. It never shied away from the violence you inflicted, especially to the innocent people in your life. Jenny. The entire game is a revenge fantasy that takes you on a journey to self destruction. The thing that's odd, & the thing that touched me the most, was how pretty parts of the game are. The music especially. The subway theme plays with the melody of to Kill a mockingbird, which you can also see in a section of the game that also fits into one of the more beautiful sections in gaming, at least to me, where you see a bit of what could be if there wasn't any of the violence. The game builds a relationship with a woman who is ignorant of your adventures in professional killing . You murder all the bad guys, eating hearts as you stop them from beating. Never really having to question what will happen to your loved ones. Then the game reminds you that, like in life, there are consequences to every action. With every kill, the darkness grows, & Jackie becomes less.
Halfway through the game you're introduced to the place where you & Jenny met. An orphanage. You get to see puppy love evolve into devotion. That someone would see beauty and goodness within you, even if you can't is a wonderful notion. What follows, however, shows just what that trust got her, & you are powerless to do anything. You decided to pick up the controls & play the game, so what happens was bound to happen. Jackie is a pawn in someone else's game & the Darkness, like us, makes him watch as the villains shoot her in the head, powerless to stop them. Her last words, "Jackie, this is not your fault." But, we all know it is. It's a direct result of the game that came before. What follows is a descent into madness, The Darkness gaining more and more power until, in one of the most intensely brutal sequences power is taken away from both him & the player. It's here you realize that the events which led to the Dark room with a single light loading screens alreadt happened. Jackie was engulfed by the Darkness completely, & the game that came before was nothing more than a retelling of those events, a cautionary tale if you will.
The Darkness ends with a little bit of hope, Jackie's guiding light, Jenny, reminding him that darkness only survives when we close our eyes to it; in order to end it, we only need wake up, see it for what it is & move forward. Likewise in Bioshock Infinites ending Booker is given the same chance, but before he can move on he has to "kill the old sinful man" & move forward. Only then are we given the after credits coda, & that too is just a maybe.
Are games too violent? No, I don't believe they are. Violence is a fact of life, & games shouldn't be afraid to approach it in a more mature, adult way. We shouldn't close our eyes & look away pretending it isn't there; instead we should embrace the mediums ability to question the need for violence, why we partake in it, & why we find it fun. There is always room for the power fantasies, the “Fun" violence, but I am more intrigued by the potential of games to explore the wide range of the human conditon.