Hello, my friends. How are you doing tonight? What's that? It's not night? Are you sure? Do me a favor. Check your face. Sunglasses? No? Is your name Ray Charles? Christ, what's going on here? Screw it. I had an awesome "about me" planned, but until you are willing to just admit that it, in all actuality, is indeed nighttime, you can go straight to hell.
But I will throw out some of my favorite games.
Final Fantasy VI
Red Dead Redemption
Harvest Moon SNES
Portal 1 and 2
Illusion of Gaia
Any Metroid game
There are more, but these are definitely my top games of all time.
The National Rifle Association has been taking an awful lot of heat for its new game NRA: Practice Range, a shooting game released for iOS devices on January 14, 2013. The game puts you in a shooting range, gives you various guns, and lets you shoot at targets from a first-person perspective. Along with that, it also provides safety tips during loading times and links to various gun legislation websites. However, this little app has caused a firestorm in the media, with various sources deeming it insensitive, promoting gun violence, and hypocritical. At this point, I would like to state that I am not affiliated with the NRA in any way, and actually disagree with most of their basic tenets (specifically, my right to own an assault rifle. I, and no other person, need that, unless they are soldiers). With that said, I donít understand why this particular game is catching so much flak.
The main contention that people seem to have with Practice Range is the insensitivity of the timing. Released on January 14, 2013, a month to the day after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, the timing is absolutely horrendous. It seems to show a basic lack of decency to release a game that teaches small children how to shoot with such a tragic event so fresh in the publicís minds. However, there was another major shooting in Aurora, Colorado on July 20, 2012 (which, incidentally, took place about 5 minutes from my home). Letís take a look at a game that came out a month and a day after this occurred.
Thatís a screenshot from the game Counter Strike: Global Offensive, which was released on August 21, 2012, featuring a man being gunned down. Now, letís look at NRA: Practice Range.
Obviously, the graphics are worlds apart, but there is a lot more to the situation than that. The issue that everyone seems to have with Practice Range is the release date. However, while the NRA is currently taking the full force of the publicís hatred by releasing a shooting game, Valve, who also released a shooter a month after a senseless shooting, seemed to walk away unscathed. Iím not saying that the NRA was fully in the right in doing what they did, but this is a definite case of a double-standard. What applies to one game should apply to all or none.
It also seems that people believe that Practice Range promotes gun violence. There is even a petition to have Apple pull it from their App Store, citing that it would, ďsignal Apple's support for common sense measures to help end gun violence,Ē and calling the app itself, ďshameless, insensitive and counterproductive.Ē While the game is indeed shameless, at least from a self-promotion stance, I feel that it does no more to promote gun violence than any other shooting game. If I were to believe that video games did indeed promote violence, my finger would be much more likely to point in the direction of a Call of Duty, a Counter Strike, or a Grand Theft Auto game, rather than NRA: Practice Range. At least the latter doesnít have you shooting at (virtually) living targets, which the former games have you doing in copious amounts.
Another portion of this argument is that Practice Range was originally recommended for players 4 and up (later changed to 12 and up), which does seem like a fairly young age for gun training. However, itís fairly normal in certain areas for young children to be taught firearm safety (like Alabama, my home state). I would imagine that at least 99 percent of these children do not go on to be homicidal maniacs. On top of that, there is no actual violence in this game, thus nullifying the need for a higher rating. Itíd be like not allowing kids to punch a punching bag, since it simulates punching an actual person.
The final charge that is being leveled at this game is that of the NRAís hypocrisy. After the Sandy Hook shooting, Wayne LaPierre, vice-president of the NRA, held a press conference where he essentially laid the blame squarely at the feet of video games and other violent media, stating,
ďThere exists in this country, sadly, a callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry that sells and stows violence against its own people, through vicious, violent video games with names like Bulletstorm, Grand Theft Auto, Mortal Kombat, and Splatterhouse.Ē
While this is clearly ridiculous for so many reasons, many people see releasing a shooting game less than a month after they blamed video games for all the violence in America as the definition of hypocrisy. However, if you place yourself in the NRAís shoes for just a minute, you can easily see what they were attempting to do. They made a game that had no violence, yet still featured guns and safety tips. This is the NRAís answer to all the games that they believe are destroying American youth. It is also very self-serving and self-promotional, but thatís beside the point. I feel that they are attempting to do what they believe to be right, as misguided as they are.
Overall, the point that I am trying to make is that the National Rifle Association seems to be on the receiving end of a situation that they are usually on the opposite side of: this time, theyíre the convenient scapegoat. When something as horrifying as the Sandy Hook Elementary or Aurora shootings occur, our minds reel in an attempt to find something to blame, something to fix, that caused all this. Itís severely easy to point at pop culture and say, ďHey, this game/movie/book/television show is violent! Thatís what it is; letís get rid of it.Ē But itís not that easy. Itís frightening to think of, but there are just people who are willing to commit atrocities for no reason whatsoever, and the arts donít cause it. While the NRA would have been better served to push their game back a few months, the game has received caused far more controversy than is necessary. It is a non-violent, simple target-practice game, and nothing more. So, please quit concentrating on NRA: Practice Range, and concentrate on their horrible stance on gun control. Thatís something worth getting angry about.
In my younger and more vulnerable years, I spent some time with a certain console. Not only was it able to exceed my expectations as to what emotions electronics could evoke, but it also became a well-worn friend, walking with me on a road that was not as welcoming as one would hope for. The games were subpar to none, creating worlds that have become as familiar to me as the one which we trod upon every day. I became a false expert on many subjects: espionage, cars, carnage, etc.
My friend was eventually usurped by a faster, prettier, less amiable console, but it remained in all of our lives like an old cur who, despite being replaced by a pretty pup, is still the family favorite. The thinly veiled friend that I speak of, of course, is the Playstation 2.
The dreams of a generation have been formed by this magnanimous machine, and many dreams were given form on this platform. However, I was recently informed that the PS2 will not be available anymore. I cannot deny that I became quite emotional upon hearing this fact. What will become of these worlds that weíve worshipped for so long? I immediately ran to my console, rag in hand, ready to do whatever I could to make this machine run for as long as possible. To make use of an incredibly trite phrase, this is the end of an era.
While the PS2 may not be my favorite console (that hallowed honor belongs to the Super Nintendo), it was responsible for shaping my gaming habits. My deep desire to delve into the daunting worlds of various RPGs was formed upon the SNES, but solidified on the PS2. A massive amount of time went into fine-tuning my twitchy thumbsí reaction times to hit a henchmanís head from a hundred yards. By the time I finally ambled to the PS3, I had a strong feel for what games I would continually enjoy, not to mention a skill level that was to be reckoned with. If it wasnít for the PS2, my burgeoning obsession with the virtual worlds of games could have been joylessly squashed like an ant beneath an uncaring boot.
Now, as we prepare ourselves for the eventual release of the latest Playstation, we must bid a fond farewell to our constant companion. As each console slowly dies an ignominious death, the Playstation 2 will fall into the realm of museum pieces. Weíve begun to see some of the more popular PS2 titles become available for other consoles, but they shall never have the full library available; itís just not fiscally viable, nor is full backwards compatibility. There will undoubtedly be specific games that you or I or somebody loves with an undying fervor, but will fade into the horizon of our memories like a ship carrying a loved one to a distant land. The video game court (which exists only in my fevered imagination) shall eventually find the PS3 guilty of murder in the 1st of the PS2, heavily abetted by the PS4. To take a line from a better writer than I shall ever be, I have only words to play with, because I no longer have the Playstation 2.
Video games are an amazing artistic medium. They are able to tell a (sometimes) involved and interwoven story, give the player powers they could very rarely have in their actual lives, and, if all goes correctly, simply provide fun. The story, however, is by far what interests me the most. If a game has an amazing story, it is able to pull me in in ways that other games just canít. These games also usually leave behind the greatest legacy; Chrono Trigger is a great example. However, itís my contention that many of the games that accomplish this feat draw inspiration from the best possible source; the entire library of great literary works. In many games, this is obvious; however, in others, the connections are not quite so easy to see, and itís one of these that will be the focus of this article. My belief is that the classic side-scroller franchise Mega Man,whether advertently or inadvertently, took the framework of its story from the first cantica of Dante Alighieriís epic poem The Divine Comedy.
The Divine Comedy is split into three distinct parts: Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso. The first is the best remembered by most people, and has had a massive impact on almost every aspect of every form of art. At its most basic, it is the tale of Dante being led through the 9 circles of Hell, being shown the various punishments given for each sin. The visit culminates in a meeting with Lucifer, who is at the lowest level, devouring the immortal souls of three of the greatest sinners: Brutus, Cassius, and Judas. Allegorically, itís the tale of a man finding his spiritual salvation in a world that besets him with evil on all sides.
Mega Man, however, is the story of a robot lab assistant turned warrior, attempting to fight the minions of the evil Dr. Wily, who betrayed Mega Manís creator, Dr. Light. In order to do this, he must fight his way through (in all but the first game) 8 dastardly robots, each with a themed level and weapon. This culminates in Mega Man invading Wilyís fortress, eventually meeting the man himself, and destroying him (at least until the next game).
On the surface, the two have very little in common, but when you start to break each Mega Man character down to their base characteristics, things start to connect a bit more. Letís start with Mega Man. He can easily be seen as Dante himself; wandering through the 9 levels of the game, attempting to learn from each, and succeeding by attaining a new weapon. Dr. Wily is Lucifer; heís the archetypal bad guy who betrayed Dr. Light in a bid to take over the world. Dr. Light is God; he created Mega Man, Roll, and many other robots, and fights to keep the world free of evil. Each Robot Master represents both a different circle of hell, and the host of fallen angels that followed Lucifer after his downfall. While there is no obvious match for Virgil, the ancient poet who guided Dante through Hell, I believe that the player fits that role perfectly. You are there to guide Mega Man through all of the levels, hopefully getting him through unscathed, exactly as Virgil was tasked. Taking all of this together, the lines begin to blur between Mega Man and The Inferno.
However, things begin to get really interesting when you start looking at the structure of the game itself. Mega Man must fight his way through the 8 realms of each Robot Master and Wilyís fortress, each of which corresponds (while not literally, metaphorically) to one of the 9 circles of Hell. He is forced to fight clones of each Robot Master in the final level, which can be seen as Danteís continual internal struggle with each sin he encounters. Finally, Mega Man reaches Dr. Wily, and destroys him. Mega Man defeating Wily is ridding the evil from the world, allowing him a chance to live a life of peace once again. Related to The Inferno, it represents Danteís denial of Lucifer and all the sins he stands for, overcoming the base evils in order to reach an understanding with the Divine. In a sense, when Mega Man defeats Wily, he is denying the evil that his robot brethren are capable of, instead embracing the good that they also carry with them. In other words, he is denying Lucifer (Dr. Wily), and accepting God (Dr. Light). Thatís some pretty heavy stuff for a simple side-scroller.
I believe that studying the forerunners of modern stories can enrich every art form, video games being no exception. While the creators of Mega Man may not have intentionally taken their cues from Dante, the similarities are hard to deny. The fact that it was probably not intended speaks volumes about the power of literature in day to day life. Not only does it say that certain works of literature have become part of the insistent background hum of culture, but that they are able to influence without anyone being aware. I feel that video games should be treated as any other art form, and one of the most interesting things to do with art is to follow the threads to other pieces of art that influenced it. Video games have yet to really be studied in this way, but I feel that it is important that it begins to garner this attention. If a seemingly simple game like Mega Man can retell the story of The Inferno in such an innovative way, any video game could be hiding similar strokes of literary genius. And I hope to find many more.
Chrono Trigger has been my favorite videogame for most of my life. The only thing that can really be said about it is that itís perfect in every way; wonderful battles, some of the greatest characters of all time, an involving and memorable story, innovative gameplay; it genuinely has it all. And one of my greatest wishes has been to see another sequel, a, hopefully, more direct one. Chrono Cross was a beautiful game, and it ranks quite highly in my list, but Iíve never really associated it with Chrono Trigger. The atmosphere was completely different, and the references to the original seemed slapped together, at best. So, another sequel has always been my dream, one to carry on the story of Chrono, Lucca, Frog, Marle, Robo, and Magus. Iíve hung on every word about various Chrono title copyrights and website domains, and have repeatedly been disappointed. However, I did a lot of contemplating and beard-scratching after the recent Chrono Bind trickery, and came to a sacrilegious realization. I do not want a new Chrono Trigger sequel; as a matter of fact, itís probably one of the last things I want.
Part of what makes Chrono Trigger so wonderful for many of us is nostalgia; it can take us back to a simpler time in our lives, when all we had to worry about was if you could beat Lavos from the first portal and what time Saved by the Bell came on (That Screech, always getting into trouble!). All of us who have entered the real world, moved out of our parents place, gotten a 9-to-5, and paid bills want to remember a time when we had no responsibilities whatsoever, if only through a pixelated image on a screen. And this is my main reason for not wanting a sequel; it would never be able to capture the feeling that Chrono Trigger is able to give me, and thatís what I truly want. I want a further adventure in this 16-bit wonderland, and a modern sequel would not be able to give that to me; it would give me the same characters, but they wouldnít be the same sprites that I love; theyíd be beautifully rendered 3D images. It could be an outstanding game, but it wouldnít be what I want. Iím not saying that Iím afraid of change, but I firmly believe that it would lose something extremely important in the transfer: its soul.
Thereís also the technical aspect. The people who created the game have moved on. Of course, some have stayed with Square Enix, but most, including the famed Hironobu Sakaguchi, are doing other things. It would be vital to, at the very least, have the developers who had a big hand in the creation of Chrono Trigger; if not, a sequel could miss the mark completely. But the chances of getting even a semblance of the original crew to return are slim at best. And, in my eyes, that is a big part of making a sequel. I donít want a reboot of Chrono Trigger; it doesnít need one. My feeling is that, if handled by a different team, it could easily be treated in that manner, rather than carrying on the legacy of an amazing game.
And the final reason I donít want a Chrono Trigger sequel? It will be a disappointment, no matter how amazing. Iím sure weíve all had someone tell us, over and over, to go see a movie; that itís the funniest/scariest/greatest movie of all time, and youíll love it. After weeks of this, you finally give in and go see it, and itís just okay, even if it truly is the funniest/scariest/greatest movie ever. It is exceedingly rare for anything to live up to large amounts of hype. And a direct sequel for Chrono Trigger has had the hype machine running on it for 17 years. When I imagine it, I conjure up an image of the greatest game that has ever been, or ever will be, made; itís a game that will destroy all my previous notions of what makes a good game, and thereís no way it can live up to that.
I have played Chrono Trigger at least once a year since I first picked it up in 1996. I have purchased it for almost every system that you possibly can. I love this game as if it was my sister, and Iíve known it longer than either of my actual sisters. As much as Iíd love to return to mystical time periods with Chrono, I donít want to run the risk of tarnishing the memory of playing this game, pulling all-nighters so I could beat it once again and return it to the video store on time the next day. It reminds me of a time when I was a different person with different cares, and I think all of us need to be reminded of those days once in awhile. And Chrono Trigger does it perfectly, even without a sequel. At least, in my opinion.
I have two passions in life: video games and fine literature. For years now, Iíve waited for a good meeting point for these two art forms, with no luck. To me, it seems like classic literature is a ripe crop ready for video game developers to come a-picking. There are some of the greatest stories that have ever been conceived of, already fully fleshed-out and ready to be digitized. Of course, not every novel would translate well. My favorite work of prose, Vladimir Nabokovís still controversial Lolita, would be the most disturbing videogame this world has ever seen. But there are many that would work perfectly and even fit it with some of the styles that are prevalent today. While this is a fairly obvious fact, there have been few attempts, and no true successes. This can easily be seen by taking a look at the highest profile game based on a work of classic literature; Visceral Gamesí 2010 game Danteís Inferno.
Danteís Inferno is based on, obviously, 14th Century poet Dante Alighieriís epic poem The Divine Comedy. The Divine Comedy is a work that has many levels: that of a political satire; that of a theological allegory; that of a manís search for meaning to his life. It is a masterfully crafted story, full of subtlety and imagination, and, as such, is one of the most highly regarded works of literature of all time. Danteís Inferno took a decidedly different path on the story. Dante is a general in the Crusades, as opposed to a poet. He is raging against the demons of the Inferno, rather than being led through as a passive observer, searching for a way through life, as he is in the poem.
The largest departure, however, is the character of Beatrice. In reality, Beatrice was Dante Alighieriís muse, a woman (technically, girl) that he worshipped from afar, although they only met twice during the course of his life. In The Divine Comedy, Beatrice is Danteís salvation; she initiated Danteís trip through the three realms of the afterlife, and ultimately is his guide through the realm of Paradise, where Dante finds the answers he has been looking for. However, in the videogame, Beatrice is the standard ďdamsel in distressĒ figure; Dante, who was in a relationship with Beatrice when she was taken by demons, tears through the Inferno to save her from Lucifer. Gone is the idea of Beatrice as savior; Dante is actually her savior. This, in my eyes, is the major issue. I understand that certain liberties must be taken to make a decent game; I can see that a wisp of a poet does not make for a good lead videogame character, at least by todayís standards. But the issue of Beatrice is a complete subversion of the source material; it carries a completely different message than the original story. This, and the complete lack of artful storytelling, is why I feel that it fails as a good interpretation of classic literature.
There are few other attempts worth talking about. American McGeeís Alice is a pretty interesting take on Aliceís Adventures in Wonderland, but it changes the story and meaning of the book to such an extent as to make it almost unrecognizable. However, a majority of videogames that are based on books are, in reality, based on movies, such as The Lord of the Rings games and Mary Shelleyís Frankenstein. While a few of the LotR games are decent, they draw most of their inspiration from the movies, which have already taken liberties with the novels. However, there were some made in the mid-80s and the early 90s which were based on the books. I have yet to play these, so Iíd love to hear from someone who has. Other than that, classic literature seems to have a negligible part to play in the videogame medium, other than working as an artistic inspiration.
However, I believe that there are a multitude of works that could make wonderful games, with minimal tweaks. Here are just a few examples:
The Odyssey- This would lend itself to a God of War style game. It already has the levels and bosses laid out: the Cyclops, Circe, the Lotus-Eaters, etc. This one is a pretty obvious choice.
1984- A book about a dystopian future where everything and everybody is tightly controlled, both in mind and body. With just a few tweaks, this could fit right in with all the other dystopian games we have.
All Quiet on the Western Front- This would make a wonderful first-person shooter, similar to Call of Duty. It would concentrate much more heavily on the impact that war has on the soldiers, and how it changes a person when it's all over. It also has potential for an ending that could blow Red Dead Redemption out of the water.
The Count of Monte Cristo- A classic tale of revenge, this could easily be adapted to an extremely interesting RPG or adventure game with the potential of having one of the best main characters ever.
And there are many more where these came from: The Iliad, Heart of Darkness, The Three Musketeers, Gulliverís Travels, Don Quixote, The Epic of Gilgamesh, and pretty much anything by Shakespeare. Any of these could easily be adapted while keeping the soul of the story intact. And Iím quite sure that there are many more that I canít recall at the moment.
I respect creativity and innovation, and thatís one of the things I love about videogames; the industry is still pumping out new ideas all the time. However, thereís something to be said about the classic stories. They have been read as long as they have for good reason; they speak to people. They make their readers contemplate their own situation, and, sometimes, re-think their lives. A great piece of literature can literally change your life, however clichť it sounds. I honestly think that the videogame industry is missing a great opportunity by overlooking the classics as a game concept. Fine literature has the potential to help create a gaming experience that is all too rare; a game that speaks to your soul; that can change the way you think about things. All Iím trying to say is, why not?
Now, this post will be fairly personal, but I feel the need to put it out there. I've played video games my entire life. I still own my NES, SNES, Genesis, Playstation, and so on. I'm a 26-year-old man, and video games hold an important place for me. My wife has understood this for our entire courtship and 5 year marriage. I couldn't ask for a better lady. But I've just come to a realization; I use video games as a massive emotional crutch.
Over the last 6 months, I played through Mass Effect 2 again, Red Dead Redemption, Ico and Shadow of the Colossus, Portal 2, Final Fantasy III, and Chrono Trigger. Then, of course, Skyrim came out. I've already logged 75 hours. It's highly abnormal for me to play a game that much in such a short time span. Just earlier today, me and my wife got into a little spat about how I have seemed like a different person for the past 6 months. After a few minutes of introspection, the connection between the two became startlingly obvious.
Six months ago, I was coming home from work and had some pains in my chest. I wrote it off to a pulled muscle or a bit of indigestion. Next day, the same thing. And the same the next day. I went to a doctor, and they sent me to the ER. After a battery of tests, they had no clue, so they sent me to another doctor. Suffice it to say, 6 months, and still no clue as to what's wrong. Pretty damn terrifying, to say the least. Then, about 5 months ago, I was walking across the street, in the crosswalk, and I was hit by a car. No horrible injuries, but quite painful. 4 months ago, my boss, who is also my best friend, quit, and was replaced by a horribly incompetent person. There are a couple more things, but they are a little too personal to post here.
When I stopped and thought about it, it became crystal clear; rather than dealing with my issues head on, I've been losing myself in games. I'd rather invest myself emotionally in the problems of Captain Shepherd than have to think or deal with all the real problems that I have. At the end of the day, there's little difference between what I'm doing, and what someone who drowns their sorrows in alcohol or drugs are doing. There's just not as much of a physical consequence with video games. But mentally, it's the same thing; I am using something to escape my real life. It's a hard thing to admit to, but it has to be done to attempt to make it right. And I'm quite sure I'm not the only one that uses video games as a crutch.
What I need to do is put the controller down for awhile, and only pick it up when I'm positive I'm doing it for the right reasons. I need to learn to talk to my loved ones about what's bugging me, rather than subconsciously taking it out on the Forsworn. I need to get over the fear of not knowing what's physically wrong with me, and take control of my life again. I love video games, and I will play them until the day I die. But I love my wife more. I have to get back to who I was before everything went down. Games may have to be put on the back burner for awhile, at least until I can learn to deal with my issues without sinking into a fantasy world. And I'm okay with that.