The Japanese have already been there, done that, and lived to tell the tale. They suffered an economic meltdown similar to the one happening in America today. Credit seized up, housing markets collapsed, consumer spending evaporated, and industries shrunk. In some ways, they had it worse because most of their GDP came from exports. When overseas demand dropped precipitously, the domestic market couldn’t make up the difference, and thus began the “Lost Decade,” also known as the 1990s. Amidst all of this chaos, there arose a legion of unnatural creations most foul: zombie banks.
In essence, banks zombify when they do not have enough capital and assets to maintain the debt ratio necessary to support large-scale mortgages, credit lines, and CDs, among other things. If enough people draw money out/redeem bonds/default on loans, and the institution cannot cover everything, the bank can fail without additional capital. When this happens on a wide enough scale (as seen in America during the early eighties or in Japan during the late eighties), the government takes it upon itself to infuse those banks with enough cash to continue operating. Technically, the bank is dead: any money it makes is doomed to go toward paying private and public creditors. But instead of folding, it is kept alive by a force that intervenes in the free market. These zombies devour large sums of cash to keep moving while creating little profit. That money could go to healthy banks to make them stronger, more capable of buoying the economy as a whole. The problem with zombie banks is that they spring up in crowds, and their sheer number makes a bad situation even worse.
Are you still with me? Good, because this is where the video game angle comes in. I find it not so coincidental that the survival horror genre flourished in Japan during the “Lost Decade.” The elements that made the first two Resident Evil
games so evocative seem a propos given the national financial crisis. One of the most genre-defining elements comes from the dearth of resources. I have vivid memories of playing through RE2
for the first time, anxious to cap some zombie asses. Four screens in, I’m stuck in a metro car with one bullet left and the undead getting all up in my business. It took me a couple of bloody attempts to realize that I can’t afford to shoot everything. With each zombie taking two, three shots (at least) to bring down, I figured out that, to succeed, I have to avoid as many as I could and kill only those that pose a significant risk.
Not to draw too close a parallel, but the resource management in early RE
games reflects the financial anxieties of an economically distressed person. Ammo represents cash/credit; the player must work to acquire it, and while one can count on the game providing some throughout the levels, the supply is not consistent or excessive. By the same token, zombies and other enemies represent needs, wants, obligations, and obstacles, all of which drain a player’s assets. The tension created by the tentative flow of resources is complemented by the ambiguity in the encounters. How many of the zombies must be killed to get from point A to point B? How many should be killed to avoid taking random damage and using up precious herbs (an even scarcer resource than ammunition)? Which weapon should be used, given the obstacle’s weaknesses and one’s supplies? All of these questions must be answered contextually, based on the game’s parameters and the player’s skills.
The characters involved reflect the perceived scale of events from the populist perspective. Working class folks who only want to do what is right and get along in the world confront faceless corporations with far-reaching, diabolical schemes that appear too malicious to have gotten this far—someone should have seen this coming, someone should have prevented this from getting out of hand. But those with the power to prevent the zombie scourge are either incompetent or corrupt, leaving the young, naïve STARS members to bring down the villains from the ground up. RE
conveys the angst of a younger generation frustrated by the moral failings of their predecessors.
The latest games in the series have lost that voice, as seen in the fundamental changes made in RE4
. I don’t mean that as a value judgment; in fact, I enjoyed RE4
more than the first two games. The shift away from survival horror towards more action-oriented gameplay, however, strikes me as a changing of the guard. World economics picked up around the turn of the millennium, and gamers became increasingly impatient with games that would deprive them of resources. Instead, developers plunged into the joys of excess: space marines who could heal almost anytime; open world environments with real estate and businesses; weapons with unlimited ammunition. When the money is rolling in IRL, it can be harder for mainstream audiences to relate to a game that projects a tight-fisted view of the world. Now, though, the times are a-changing, and we may see games reflect those changes. After all, Resident Evil 5
producer Jun Takeuchi said that “Resident Evil 6
will have to reinvent the series with another full model change or else it won’t be able to keep on going.” We may see a return, even in a small way, to the game philosophy that made RE
great in the first place. read