Tuesday, November 27, 2012

How The Walking Dead can make you cry

Posted By on Tue, Nov 27, 2012 at 3:53 PM


A video game made me cry last night.

Over five chapters, The Walking Dead, made by thesame company that churns out so-so bunny detective Sam and Maxadventure, puts you in a shoes of an escaped convict taking care of alittle girl in the midst of a zombie apocalypse.

And it’s absolutely brutal. People die. Sometimes they die again. Other times they betray you or say things that make you furious or empathetic or downright devastated.

It’s not like media hasn’t made me tear up before. Sure, I got a bit weepy inthe series finale of Lost or that super-sad SouthPark episode where Stancoaches a pee-wee hockey team. Television is good at that. You spend enoughtime with the characters, that you almost see them as friends.

Video games, by contrast, do a lousy job of creating an emotional response.You shoot tons of dudes or robots and zombies and don’t feel a thing. If youmess up, you reload. Big deaths usually happen through cutscenes with stiltedcomputer acting, lousy writing, or interminably long translated-from-Japanesedialogue. 

The game part of games, the reflex-based bullet firing or car racing, usuallyworks against the character development.

But The Walking Dead isn’t like most video games. You don’t killhundreds of zombies. Across five different chapters, you might personally kill25. You don’t solve excruciatingly difficult puzzles. Most of the time, thesolution to any problem is perched directly in front of you – all of you have todo is click.

Most of what you do is make decisions. You decide how to answer or askquestions, you decide which tool to grab off the wall. Sometimes you decide wholives and who dies, or who gets a limited supply of food when you’re hungry.

Those decisions do what books and movies can’t: They immerse you directly inthe story.

Most video games immerse you in the game — you directly control howmany pedestrians you hit with your stolen sports car – but then kick you outinto cutscene when the story starts. Here, that rarely happens. The story isthe game. If the game was more “fun” to play it would defeat that.

By making a character’s choices you begin to associate yourself with him. The results of those choices becomes personal. It somehow manages a deeper level of immersion.

You’re responsible for the little girl. Your actual choices are responsiblefor horrible things happening to the people you care about.

It’s one thing, on a TV show, to hear a dying person say their last words.It’s another thing entirely to get to choose them.

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Monday, November 1, 2010

From your cold, dead (and presumably violent) hands

Posted on Mon, Nov 1, 2010 at 3:43 PM


Alright, nerds. The day of reckoning is here. They've finally come to take your violent videogames away from you, wrenching the controller from your sausage-like, sticky fingers. Now, you must go out and …

Actually, there's nothing you can really do. Tomorrow, the Supreme Court will be hearing oral arguments for Schwarzeneggar v. EMA*, a case filed over California's quasi-controversial law limiting the sale or rental of "violent" videogames to minors. It's not the first case of its kind — several states have had laws banning the sale of violent videogames to chidlren struck down at the federal court level; this is merely the first that reaches SCOTUS.

Basically, the problem comes down to those age stickers they slap on videogames — E for everyone, T for teens, M for mature, etc. The law banned the sale of violent videogames to anyone under 18, and required labeling above and beyond the current system. Basically, if a “reasonable person” would find the game appealing to “a deviant or morbid interest of minors,” violated "community standards" on what a minor should see, lacks serious value and allowed the player to inflict injury through "torture or serious physical abuse" of a human-like figure, it fell under the law.**

Videogame companies, unsurprisingly, aren't too fond of what they deem government censorship. They argue that for a state to restrict speech in such a manner, it must have a "clear and compelling interest." California says violent video games cause violent children, but most*** studies have shown that's simply not the case.

The EMA has had groups varying from associations of videogame publishers to journalists to booksellers to movie studios to the RIAA weighing in its side, as well as collection of nine state attorneys general, including Washington's Rob McKenna. In the brief filed by the AGs, they say California's law would restrict free speech and lead to an "expensive new enforcement regime, in which law enforcement personnel would become culture critics … [depleting] resources and distract from law enforcement's task of policing actual violence."

Tomorrow's only the oral argument, so the Supremes won't have a judgment for a while. Here's an excellent rundown of background and what's expected to be argued.

* Don't worry, plenty of people have already jumped on the obvious "Hey, wasn't Schwarznegger in a bunch of horribly gory, violent movies?" bandwagon. Though it really doesn't make the law any less hypocritical. The MPAA system, which covers movies (G, PG, R, etc.) is a voluntary system, not enforceable by police. Exactly like the current system for videogames.
** Again, "prevailing community standards" could easily include Schwarzenegger movies.
*** Actually, all reputable studies that have been conducted show no correlation between violent media and violent children, though some make a case for "aggressive" or "risky" behaviors.
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