hot  /  reviews  /  videos  /  cblogs  /  qposts

Promoted blog: The weight of the gun

7:30 PM on 10.25.2012 // RamWar

Exploring guns as a narrative device

[Dtoid community blogger RamWar shares his thoughts on the power of the gun in a videogame. Warning: minor spoilers for Heavy Rain, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, and Metal Gear Solid 3 ahead! Want to see your own words appear on the front page? Go write something! --Mr Andy Dixon]

(Author's note: this article isn’t about guns from a societal perspective. It’s not about desensitization to violence or any of those topics. Nor is it about gun control or any real life issues. There isn’t anything I can say about those topics that hasn’t been said a hundred times before in better ways by better people. This is about guns from a narrative perspective in videogames.) 

Have you ever held a gun? They’re heavy things. You can see a lot of shows and games all about guns and you’d still probably be surprised by the weight of one when you’re actually carrying it. The point I’m trying to make is that while you have a gun, you won’t forget its presence and you won’t forget what it is. 

Very few games treat guns with the weight they have in the real world. Every person in the civilized world that uses a gun knows to respect it. Police hope they never have to fire their gun and people in the military are taught strict discipline and maintenance of their rifle. They all know the exact purpose of a gun and the threat it carries with it. Yet most videogames don’t give a gun this weight and thus often lack the impact a gun should have. 

This is mostly a problem with the writing and pacing of most games rather than the sound effects and visual effects associated with firing a gun. A lot of research often goes into how a gun should sound when fired and a lot of games do their best to emulate it. The 2006 game Black did its best to make firing a gun impressive and exciting every time. As such it had a fantastic presentation... for the first hour or so. After that the player often stopped being impressed by the game's visceral presentation. They fired the gun so many times it lost its impact. 

Any sort of exciting experience like firing a gun can be likened to volume. The loud moments are the most exciting but you need the quiet moments to make the loud ones that much better. If you keep the volume turned up all the time you go deaf. In scary movies, it gets really quiet right up until the monster jumps out and screams. In most shooters, the sniper rifle is often the most satisfying because of the long, quiet moments that build up to the actual shot. Nearly every time a gun is fired it’s the buildup that makes the gun exciting and that’s something games these days are forgetting. 

There’s a dramatic principle called “Chekhov’s Gun”; it’s the idea that if you show a gun in a scene, it will be fired later. The idea has since been used to refer to anything that is shown and will have a purpose later on, but for this article’s sake we’ll take it pretty literally. The writing reason for this concept is a metaphor about not including useless information but it’s also something different to the viewer/player/reader. When you see a gun in a scene, that’s a promise that the gun will go off at some point. If there is a gun in a scene it completely changes the dynamic of that scene. How many times have you seen two characters wrestle while one of them has a gun? You know how that ends. How often do you see somebody handed a gun and pray they never have to use it? You know they’re at maximum twenty minutes from firing the thing. A gun in a scene is almost always a promise that somebody isn’t going to make it. The tension comes from the fact that you’re never quite sure who’s going to die; you just know that somebody will. 

What are some of your favorite moments in games that include a gun? Nine times out of ten that moment is great because of the buildup. There’s that fantastic scene in Heavy Rain where you’re given a gun and a man to kill or else your son will die. How many of you made it to the climax of the scene, where the man is kneeling on the ground, showing you a picture of his daughters while you have a gun to his head? I bet most people hesitated. I know I did. I know my friends did. It’s all because that scene gave the gun the proper weight. 

What about the scene in Metal Gear Solid 3 where you have to kill the boss? You spend the entire game being told you’re going to have to kill her, that’s the buildup. Finally you defeat her in a fist fight and you have to shoot her in the head as she lies on the ground. 

This idea of building up the moment a gun goes off can be found everywhere, whether it’s in classic movies or recent videogames. Episode 3 of Telltale’s The Walking Dead game has several gunshots and every single one is terrifying. I’ll try not to spoil anything about the episode because it’s still fairly recent and is really something that should be played without any spoilers whatsoever. Everyone that’s played the game knows what scenes I’m talking about. Every gunshot in the episode has a buildup, even if you don’t know that the gun being fired is actually what will result from the buildup. 

The Call of Duty series and the whole recent slew of shooting games in general aren’t too great at this idea of the tension a gun should give. The entire game revolves around shooting things, and, like I said earlier, keeping the volume high all the time will just render you deaf. Still, the most exciting moments in the game come from the time just before the gun is fired. Whether it’s seeing the war torn city you’re about to be dropped in just as the mission starts, or the moment you’re breaching a cabin hoping to find a villain inside. 

Then there’s the first scene in Modern Warfare. The scene that reminds you what a gun is and gives the weapon its justly deserved weight before the rest of the game steals it away. Your own execution. 

I’m not saying that every time you want to fire a gun in a videogame it should have the consequences and tension that it does in real life. Just like when you kill someone in a game you don’t want to hear about how they had three kids they were trying to feed by working for a mercenary group. A huge point of games is to escape. That’s most of the fun of Grand Theft Auto; you can pick up a gun and fire it with reckless abandon without the terrible consequences it would have in real life. 

No, the point of this article is to remind people what an amazing tool a gun can be for your narrative... but only if treated with the weight it deserves. To constantly portray guns as this totally awesome thing that fixes every problem devalues the entire concept of a weapon, just isn't true, and has some pretty terrible implications. 

So what do you think? What moments in games have you actually been worried about a gun in the scene? What examples can you think of that feature a gun used to great effect or very poor effect?

 Follow Blog + disclosure

This blog submitted to our editor via our Community Blogs, and then it made it to the home page! You can follow community members and vote up their blogs - support each other so we can promote a more diverse and deep content mix on our home page.

 Setup email comments

Unsavory comments? Please report harassment, spam, and hate speech to our community fisters, and flag the user (we will ban users dishing bad karma). Can't see comments? Apps like Avast or browser extensions can cause it. You can fix it by adding * to your whitelists.

Status updates from C-bloggers

Shinta avatarShinta
MGS Online Day 3. I have 3 character up to level 10 now, one in each class. They're all pretty handy, but I do miss the scout's mark speed the most on other classes.
RadicalYoseph avatarRadicalYoseph
The SW: Battlefront is pretty and has great sound design, but the gameplay is so shallow and has seemingly no depth! If the full game is like this I will be disappointed.
Torchman avatarTorchman
*looks at Amazon preorder* This one's for you Chib'
CJ Andriessen avatarCJ Andriessen
Dear Playboy: Love your video game coverage, but how about you start making some topless unboxing videos? Seeing someone unwrap a copy of Call of Duty is boring. Seeing a topless Playmate unwrap a copy of anything is awesome!
OverlordZetta avatarOverlordZetta
In happier news, Level-5 is already talking Yo-Kai Watch 2's Western release, and better/worse yet, they're considering amiibo support for the series! And hey, if they can't get Jibanyan into Smash, that'd be one way to get the West's attention.
gajknight avatargajknight
I drank a glass of Ovaltine for the first time in years today. It was nice. Like drinking a glass of my childhood, complete with ignorance, embarrassing angst, tears (so many tears) and night terrors. Ah, the good 'ol days.
OverlordZetta avatarOverlordZetta
[img][/img] This is just depressing. Digital classics on consoles are such a great idea, but it's like not a single company wants to really go through with it.
StriderHoang avatarStriderHoang
My heart will always be yours, Papyrus #2spoopy4me
GoofierBrute avatarGoofierBrute
I recently beat Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow again, but this time I played on Hard mode from scratch. Outside of dying a few times due to me being an idiot, and enemies hitting harder, it was actually easy. Like really easy.
Gamemaniac3434 avatarGamemaniac3434
Today I replated bacteria that I made take up a plamid hopefully stitched onto the genes generatlight. Taken from other dead bacteria and put into a non glowing species, to make it glow. Fucking microbiology is the best.
Pixie The Fairy avatarPixie The Fairy
It seems fairy farts are a fragrance, a soap, incense, a vaping liquid and a kind of nail polish. I'm clearly in the wrong line of work and need to eat more chili.
Cannibal Steven avatarCannibal Steven
"You gave the Lost Soul a big smile, like you remember she likes to do... For some reason she sort of wants to smile back..." I'm not crying. Not one bit.
ChrisHannard avatarChrisHannard
Just tried 'The Last Of Us' on PSNow Trial, only to be told... 'Something went wrong. Try again.' Game-appropriate error message or quickie plot-summary?
TheAngriestCarp avatarTheAngriestCarp
I hate when people say crap like "I admit that [thing] in games is problematic, but I still enjoy it" because it's an underhanded way of contradicting your own views while convincing yourself that you aren't a hypocrite.
ChillyBilly avatarChillyBilly
Well shit. I knew I was more than likely going to enjoy Star Wars Battlefront (cause you know, giant Star Wars nerd and all) but holy cow, the beta is fucking great! I need the full game like, now.
SpielerDad avatarSpielerDad
Anyone here going to NYC Comic Con? Always wanted to go and lived so close, but alas, it wasn't meant to be.
Mark Plechaty avatarMark Plechaty
Well I haven't seen any levels like this on mario maker so maybe it's unique the I'd is 55BD000000961CBA GIVE IT A GO and let me know what you think
Jiraya avatarJiraya
Hey Stranger ... wadda you buying ? Want some crack ? Here ya go... [youtube][/youtube]
Sr Churros avatarSr Churros
My brother caught me this Pokémon in our room yesterday. How should I name it? [img][/img]
Pixie The Fairy avatarPixie The Fairy
Yay, I got off of work early and may have Friday off! I have a sinking feeling I'm going to work 10 hours on Saturday as a result, though :/ We ran out of stuff to make stuff with so they must ship us stuff so we can ship stuff.
more quickposts



Invert site colors

  Dark Theme
  Light Theme

Destructoid means family.
Living the dream, since 2006

Pssst. konami code + enter

modernmethod logo

Back to Top

We follow moms on   Facebook  and   Twitter
  Light Theme      Dark Theme
Pssst. Konami Code + Enter!
You may remix stuff our site under creative commons w/@
- Destructoid means family. Living the dream, since 2006 -