31 January 2011

Games and Guns

There’s a scene in Jackie Brown where Samuel L Jackson and Robert De Niro are watching a show called, ‘Chicks Who Love Guns’. It’s a show that wouldn’t be amiss on one of those ‘manly’ channels such as Bravo or Spike. In said show scantily clad women ripped straight from the rejection pile of Gladiators show off a variety of ordnance in a generic wasteland; they fire off rounds into thin air and shoot destructible objects for the sheer thrill of it. As De Niro watches the show fairly uninterested, Jackson provides his own narration, informing De Niro on the pros and cons of each weapon and how much he can make selling them. As I watched this scene for the first time many years ago, I found myself identifying each gun along with Jackson. ‘Oh that, that’s a Steyr AUG, hardly ever use them in Counter Strike; ooh AK-47 now that is a good gun.’ Looking back I’d spent so much time learning about these guns through gaming and head-shotting unsuspecting opponents it was no surprise I knew so much! Recently I’ve had reason to consider the ubiquitous nature of guns in gaming and I’ve thought about ways we could diversify their usage.

It’s certainly no secret that games and gamers have a penchant for guns. A large proportion of the games on the market are shooters, some of the best multiplayer experiences are found in shooters and the biggest-selling game of all time is a shooter. Yet, whilst playing F.E.A.R recently (damn Steam sale) in a surreal, movie-like moment, with fire raging around me as I was obliterating the dishevelled and horrific Alma, an idea struck me. In the majority of games that present us with a gun, we instinctively assume that we have to kill anyone who stands in our way in order to survive and progress. Not an entirely revolutionary realisation I know, but it seems so limiting that the prevalent use of a gun is so basic and one-dimensional. We shoot and kill because shooting and killing is fun and provides instant gratification. What if the act of shooting as a gameplay device could actually be employed for a use other than to simply kill an enemy?

In F.E.A.R, the protagonist, Point Man, is plagued by hallucinations of blood drenched corridors, buildings engulfed in flame, screaming babies and haunting visions of his past and the future. Alma, Paxton Fettel, the game’s antagonist and ghoulish apparitions frequently appear in these supernatural asides, primarily to shock the player, but also represent threats that can be halted by the game’s weapons. This is where I realised the potential metaphorical power the act of shooting has. Taking F.E.A.R as an example, consider the concept that perhaps something is plaguing the protagonist’s mind and enemies become representations of those thoughts, fears or worries. The act of shooting them could be seen as an attempt to eradicate those ill-feelings from his head or suffer the consequences of letting them overwhelm him, in this case death. 

Exploring this concept further in a new scenario; imagine the player character has a strong memory, in this instance maybe a time when s/he was in love. The remnants of those memories become the game’s enemies and shooting them symbolises an attempt to destroy those thoughts and forget the past. On the other hand, what could become of not shooting? Instead, letting the memories flow back into the protagonist’s mind - thus opening up new gameplay possibilities in exploring them – allowing them to experience that joy once more, with the potential to be lost in it forever. As the player do you fight off the character’s memories or do you allow them to be engulfed by the past? It’s an explorative concept, I’ll agree, and if tried out it may fail completely. Nevertheless it is an idea I would like to see explored. How the act of shooting can actually come to have a greater meaning that just the immediate satisfaction of the player and how the act of not shooting can have as much, if not, more potential as a gameplay and storytelling technique.

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