Friday, June 12, 2009

Shooting zombies in the face with a side order of racism and sexism, please.

A couple of months ago a friend of mine picked me up a copy of Left 4 Dead for my birthday. Given my love of video games, and the fact that I loathe the undead, it seemed like a perfect match. As far as the game itself goes, I think it's pretty solid. It's a lot of fun most of the time, despite a few bugs and the controversy around the announcement of Left 4 Dead 2.

For those unfamiliar with the game:
Left 4 Dead is presented as being sort of a cinematic experience. You play a campaign in 5 acts. The AI controlling enemy behavior and item drops is called the Director. The game takes cues from film in the way that it alerts players to changing events--when a mob of zombies is about to come running onto the scene you get specific "zombie mob" cue music. When there are boss zombies around, they have special theme music alerting you to their presence. That kind of thing.

Every campaign follows the same four survivors trying to go from Point A to point B in an effort to escape to a safe zone free of zombie infection. They do so by traveling from safe-house to safe-house. The game does a very good job of creating atmosphere and mood--the safe-houses are filled with the scrawled graffiti of past survivors, and you sometimes come across the bodies of former survivors who died trying to escape, or houses/buildings where survivors attempted to make a stand but fled.

The game is generally pretty light on story, being mostly focused on presenting an engaging multiplayer experience, so we don't get a whole lot of backstory about the survivors, except through the things they say to each other, or the dialogue they have throughout the game. Zoey, Francis, Bill, and Louis.

I have a few groups of people that I usually end up playing with, and most of the time, if I limit myself to those people, it's fine. But if I start playing with random groups, I get treated to constant bickering about Zoey and Louis. See, Zoey is a woman, and Louis is a black man.

Louis gets pounced by a zombie? Oh, it's because he's black.
Louis wanders off alone? Yeah, he's black.
Louis makes a comment about finding weapons in another room? Of course he did... he's black.

A male player plays Zoey? "I always knew you were really a girl."
Zoey gets attacked by the smoker? "Even the zombies want to rape Zoey!" Yeah. For real.

It's at the point where I refuse to play on random servers because I just cannot stomach the level of hate and bigotry on display. The other day I was treated to ten minutes of listening to a back and forth about how gay various players were, before I finally quit. I've tried calling people on it, but, it doesn't seem to help.

Mostly this is just a rant, because I'm fed up with it. It's too bad, because if you get rid of all the complete assholes, L4D is a pretty fun co-op game. When you pull of a really well coordinated attack, or fight through a particularly tough episode as the survivors, it's a ton of fun. Unfortunately, you always risk the complete assholes.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Regarding Shadow of the Colossus...

Tycho, at Penny Arcade, had this to say:

The dread starts at the very beginning, simmering in your gut, and it never gets better ever - hour upon hour. You know immediately that you are engaged in something like evil, if not evil itself, but our appetites as players demand that we seek objectives and conquer them - and the game scourges us for this dereliction of conscience. The technology at work often obscured the game itself, but the emotional wavelength has resounded years after the fact. At this late hour, I can recall no camera foibles or performance valleys. All I can recall now is the black bargain, and concentric waves of anguish.

And that's exactly why people like me point to that game as an example of how games can become art.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Deadliest Warrior

Sometimes I find myself watching shows and I think to myself "Oh, dear lord, this show is so clearly aimed at dudes, why am I enjoying this?" And yet, Deadliest Warrior has totally sucked me in, because it's exactly the sort of stupid geeky debate that guys like me had when we were in our teens. Except that now they've got "experts" and a computer program (named Slytherin!) to try to determine the "real" winner. It's ridiculous and stupid, and yet I can't stop watching it if I come across it on the tv. I didn't even know I wanted to know who would win in a fight between the Green Barrets and the Spetsnaz, but once the show started, I had to find out.

It's like Mythbusters meets History Channel meets teen boy "who would win a fight" debates.

I want to see them pit Amazons against someone, though. I know that the Amazons are one of those groups where there's less fact than fiction to the myth, but, hell, they put ninjas vs. Spartans up, and ninjas are completely fictitious in the way they showed them, so why not pit the Amazons against someone?

I also find it interesting to note who I end up liking and disliking in this show. During the Green Barret vs. Spetsnaz episode, I ended up finding the Spetsnaz guy sort of humorous and likable, even though, you know, he's a trained killer. The Green Barret guys just came across as overly macho assholes, and I found myself rooting against them. Which is weird to me, because it's not like either group lacked testosterone. If there was any more chest beating or posturing, they'd have had to pull their dicks out to compare. Which I'm pretty sure would have made it no longer Spike TV material.

This fits into a larger conversation that I've been having and thinking about for a while, but I'm still sort of working out and fleshing out, about violence and the media. Here's a show that airs at 3 in the afternoon on Saturdays, where they spend the whole time talking about and demonstrating how deadly various weapons are. They test the weapons on pig corpses, impale test dummies, and then, at the end, they have a simulation of a battle, and one guy/team dies at the end. It's a pretty violent show (as if the title alone wasn't indication enough). On the one hand, as I've already stated, I find it fascinating. On the other, it does seem a little fucked up that it's presented as regular old Saturday afternoon entertainment. Like "Hey, let's watch dudes kill each other, and find out which of these two guys is the more deadly fighter!" And, honestly, I found a couple of the matchups a little... I don't know...

Taliban vs. IRA? Maybe not super cool. I don't think that many people have an actual investment in Spartan vs. Ninja or Pirate vs. Knight, but there are people alive today who've lost friends and relatives to the activities of the IRA and the Taliban. It just seems insensitive, at the very least.

Anyway, welcome to my new guilty pleasure: a show on Spike TV of all things.

And, since I finally watched Funny Games, I hope to eventually get a post up about the violence thing, in more depth. Eventually.