Virtual PULP: Big Boys Don’t Cry… Even When Zombies Scare the Crap Out of Them

21 Jan

Disclaimer: The following blog post is written by fellow contributor Heather Akena, our video games expert. I, Daniel Le Ray, am not, nor have I ever been female. Now that this is cleared up . . .


I’m all for that little bastard to save the princess . . .

Contrary to what most gamers grew up with, the video games of today are quite amazing indeed, with one of the obvious changes being that of the attractive astuteness of the main character. The early 80’s brought us Mario, the heroic plumber off to rescue the princess Toadstool. Mario was short, fat, and, let’s face it – he did not have the best of occupations. Who thought that was a good idea? I ask myself today. The princess disappears and who does the king turn to? “Quick! The princess is missing! Get me a plumber! For only he can save my daughter with the dryer-singed hair and a skirt that doubles as a parachute. Yes, get me the plumber who will save us all!” Though Mario was a short, fat bastard with a green mustache and shoes to match, he could certainly jump well, which probably attributed to his princess-saving abilities. Women were generally helpless, and while I enjoy being a rescued damsel in distress as much as the next girl, the idea of being kidnapped, attacked by goombas, and almost being forced into marriage to a giant lizard only to be saved by a plumber 1/3 my height seems to somehow make the whole process not worth it. Maybe that’s why she was always in another castle – she knew what was coming to save her. Because she certainly owed him at least a little something for saving her life, didn’t she? The late 80’s and early 90’s gave way to more cartoonish heroes such as Sonic the Hedgehog and Rescue Rangers. The plot was always the same . . . save the girl. Be the hero. Even if you are a 3″ tall chipmunk or an abnormally fast hedgehog with scrawny legs. You can do it; go get ’em, Tiger! The late 90’s offered the reinvention of Mario . . . his green mustache and shoes replaced with better graphics and he was now fat in amazing 3-D. But the princess was still in danger . . . and he was still a plumber. All those times he saved her, and yet somehow his occupation never changes. There’s a man with dreams.

But games began to shift away from the ideals of damsels constantly in distress and cartoonish, idiotic people attempting to save the world through accidentally being in the right place at the right time. We were offered games with more storyline and plot than simply “save the dumb girl who can’t fend for herself” or “collect random crap ’til we can’t be bothered to make any more levels . . . cause we said so!” Resident Evil came along, offering players the ability to shoot zombies in the face and have it feel strangely satisfying, and the Final Fantasy series, with its various RPG storylines and roles. Even if far-fetched, the idea of a raging virus turning people in to zombies or having to wear skimpy clothes and duke it out with other karate champions for the fate of Earth at least seemed plausible; if not at the moment, at least maybe some time in the distant future. The jobs of the main characters began to develop into something important, as if they were in the situation they were in because they were meant to be there and it was part of their job description, not just someone who happened to be a passerby loser who decided it was time for him or her to do something decent with their life. In Resident Evil 2, Leon Kennedy was the last cop remaining after the rampaging T-Virus wiped out his entire team. A man simply referred to as the “Master Chief” takes on those trying to make use of a doomsday weapon so strong it was capable of wiping out the universe. Yuna was the daughter of long running line of summoners, so of course she had the know-how to destroy the most powerful being in their world.

My point? Leon was a cop, of course he’s going to have a gun and know how to use it and be trained to handle high-risk situations, even if it involves something he’s never seen before. The Master Chief was training to be a one man army since he was a little boy, so it’s no surprise he can take out loads of aliens . . . and it probably helps that he’s over 7 feet tall. Yuna trained to call the most powerful aeons in the world to her disposal. When I think of heroes, it helps that they were at least training to do the job they were presently in . . . even if they have to take it to extremes. Fighting zombies or karate fighting for the universe seems more plausible than a man who fixes toilets and pipes kicking butt all the way to the princess. And that’s not to say that I’m not a fan of Mario. I’m all for that little bastard to save the princess. I cheer him on and do my part . . .

But in many ways, Mario, Sonic, and other relatively unbelievable characters may be a little bit easier to handle in the long run. Why? The story lines were short, simple, and to the point. Fight your way to the end to the goal and get a tiny thank-you-for-wasting-two-days-playing-us-nonstop message, leaving you wondering why you spent two days sitting on your butt and getting thumb cramps for that. In short, you could walk away from it and re-insert yourself into civilization. The games of today have long, often very good and convincing story lines that interweave with gameplay, captivating you in it entirely. Thanks to the save-at-random feature of today’s consoles, the games are able to be made twice, sometimes three times as long, ensuring that you will be caught up in it for more than a week, inserting yourself in a world that is better than your own reality, even if it does contain zombies. The characters are well-made, looking more human than they probably should. The downside to that is, since you know they aren’t real, you can make a perfect person out of them. After all, who wouldn’t like a hot, zombie-killing government agent who doesn’t even blink as he blasts through them, infestations, and pompous three-year-olds as he fights to get his girl. And did I mention he’s a government agent? Honestly, how hot is that?! My point is, that the details that aren’t there, you can make them up, leaving your brain the tendency to get you a little too attached to the now perfect person swimming around inside your head that you wish was real and your friends thinking you are a little bit too insane and in need of therapy.

But that is, in effect, what the media machine wants, isn’t it? “Look, we have a very human looking character. He’s great, a knight in shining armour, with a great storyline to boot. Buy the game . . . pretty please.” So now you’re hooked. They’ve gotten you attached to this character, and you want more. When the game is over, you find it difficult to re-insert yourself in to civilization and find yourself actually wanting to just start the game over even though you know it’s going to take weeks and repeated bathroom trips as the game scares the living daylights out of you. But, lucky for you, there’s add-ons you can buy. There’s books you can read. And, for your own sanity’s sake, they’re making a sequel; the only downside is it’s twice the price you paid for the first one. But you don’t care, you’ll cough it up cause you’re hooked.

Think I’m insane? Just look it up on the internet. There’s so many sites where people just can’t get enough of a certain character that they create new material for them, writing so called “fanfics” and posting them up on message boards for the whole world to read. Either that, or they get together and discuss what they think is going on behind the scenes. For example, I was looking up Resident Evil parodies the other day on youtube (yes, I am one of the ones hooked on a CG-created person, leave me alone.), I came across the game’s ending where the developers make it quite clear that Leon is quite the playboy. After all, he goes through hell and high water to save one girl, is hopelessly in love with another, and asks his boss out on a date when she gets rid of her glasses. Yet the hopeless romantic in this gameplayer would not allow him or her (though I’m obviously going to have to assume it’s a her) to accept this fact, causing her to spit “Whatever! Leon is obviously in love with Ada, and they’re going to get together! I wrote a fanfic about it; check it out here!” in response. Of course, I’m doing her justice by replacing the multiple spelling errors, but you get my drift.

Do games of today help or hurt us as a society? Causing us to retreat from friends and family into our own little worlds where we can be heroes just for one week, taking on things that leave a more lasting impression than those of the real world, with its dismal 9-5 boring job offers. I guess it’s up to the reader to decide . . .

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