Gut feelings: Grit, Violence, Video Games.

manhunt cover

Manhunt still haunts me, while taking an alley detour late at night, catching the sight of a security camera on a building’s side-wall.  A crackly voice heard in the distance.  Film grain.  Violence.  The ultra-violence.  I stopped playing Manhunt about halfway through and never looked back.

Some digital deaths haunt me.  400 hours of TF2?  No problems there.  But 15 minutes into Assassin’s Creed I’m supposed to beat a guy up for information, and my stomach is turning.  Gutshotting a guy in Far Cry 2, and then listening to him moan for a minute til I crawl out of range and  I’m shaken.  My palms sweaty, gut turning… I need relief.  Far Cry 2 helps ease the pain, I climb to a vista, watch the sunset with Zebras running through nearby grasslands… The procedural world music slides in and out of my consciousness.  The sun… so warm.  Is this what guilt feels like in game?

I remember as a kid I left the theater during a screening of Steven King’s Pet Cemetery.  They had just jump cut a black cat into frame, I lost it.  I think my excuse was that I was worried I hadn’t locked my bike.

What I’m trying to say is that I’m a softy.

What does that mean anyway?  I’ve played thousands of hours of video games and hundreds of thousands of death pixels have crossed my path.  I had no problem killing things, I think I have a problem with hurting things.  And by problem, I mean I am well adjusted and not a sociopath.  Killing Nazi soldiers (or American ones for that matter) that blow up into frag chunks in Wolfenstein was a favorite activity for years.  But once games got past gibs and embraced ragdolls, as soon as the thing moans, or bleeds out slowly… as soon as bones snap audibly, and boots track blood, I began to feel differently.  A part of myself becomes disgusted.  I’m not here to decry violence in games.  I don’t like violent movies, but I have no doubt that many many people enjoy them and I wish them all the best.

Maybe it’s just how I’m wired.  My skin crawls, and I feel phantom pains when seeing violent acts on screen.  I love skateboarding, but I can’t watch ‘slam sections’ of skate videos.  You know the ones where they show guys eating concrete again and again.  Some people look forward to that stuff!

I feel like reflecting on the games we love and how we play them has useful implications in understanding ourselves from a psychological standpoint.  We can learn a lot about someone by seeing what class they play in WoW, or what games they obsess over, how they decide to play a game like Dishonoured or DeusEx3.  Did they buy a Genesis just to get Mortal Kombat blood?  I know a guy who did.

It was Manhunt that made me understand myself better, and helped me decide where (not) to spend my energy when it comes to games.  Murder simulators are not for me.  And if my gut reaction to Hotline Miami is any example, the realism of these murders has nothing to do with graphical verisimilitude, but everything to do with intent and effect, and (video game buzzword alert) the visceral nature of the carnage.

It was in that spirit that I tweeted earlier that I had “No interest at all in Hotline Miami. Zero.”

Then out of nowhere I get a reply from… @HotlineMiami. “NOT EVEN A LITTLE? : P“.  Oh oh… I felt I had hurt their feelings with the absoluteness of my exclamation.  I tried to explain in 140 characters that I am a softy, and that I had exaggerated, I did have some interest – the Hotline Miami soundtrack, which I had checked out earlier, is great.  I like that people relate Hotline to the movie Drive, a film I really enjoyed.  A film that I have likened to an episode of The Littlest Hobo with a sprinkling of the old ultra-violence.  In Drive the violence was an exclamation mark, a few sharp points in a hypnotically absorbing love story.  It also has a top notch OST.

@HotlineMiami responded with a promo-code, I hoped it was for the soundtrack as I entered it into Steam… but it was for the game itself.  A shiver rose up my spine.  That stylized violence was now in my library.  I felt bad, had I insulted the  fellows behind Hotline?…  Would my 200 or so followers (mostly bots) not try out Hotline because I vocalized my intent not to play?

Hotline Miami seems like a great success.  A surreal murder arena swathed in 80s colourways and psychedelia.  A game made by a small team taking a chance on a fairly unique aesthetic and a focus on presentation that many indie games sorely lack.  I wish them the best, but I knew the game wasn’t for me.

I decided to buy the soundtrack.. yes, that would ease my guilt, it would show that I was on board and that I support indies, that I want them to succeed.  Here’s a few bucks.  Like the money we toss in a bum’s cup (from 20 paces, thumbs up) when exiting a Liquor store with 40 dollars worth of red wine.  Free my conscience from itself.

I told @HotlineMiami about my good deed.  No response.  They’re waiting for me to give in to that side most gamers have that wants to acrobatically crush bad guys til we reach a high score.  The silence is deafening.. I guess there’s only one thing to do.  Installation won’t take long, it’s a small game.

Father forgive me, for tonight I will sin.  They will know me by the trail of blood pixels.  I’ll kill a bunch of dudes in Hotline Miami tonight, because I don’t want to hurt @HotlineMiami’s feelings, and because like most humans, I kind of want to peel back the scab til it hurts a bit.  As for how I’ll be feeling later on tonight when I try and sleep… I have a hunch I’ll be a lil hurt myself.



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