In the 1980s and 1990s Japan claimed a small amount of revenge for WWII atrocities by capturing the imaginations of Americans, by means of business executives mimicking “just-in-time” and other Japanese business practices and American youth turning to Japanese media, first video games and then anime. America was thought by Americans to be too big, too obnoxious, too arrogant, too abusive, with the remedy being the small, humble, and industrious Japanese (stereotypes of course but readily believed). With “I Think I’m Turning Japanese”, The Cure, and Mario being cute, determined, and industrious playing in the background, America would cure itself of it’s terrible arrogance and become one with the new world order, an alternative vision to the Neoconservative model of global domination.
The 1997 Asian financial crisis (aka the International Monetary Fund crisis) had a profound impact on the region and irrevocable hurt economic relations between Japan and the US, allowing South Korea to replace Japan as the region’s most dynamic economy. Sony’s decline began while Samsung became the new Sony.
There’s a problem here for Americans, one no amount of Starcraft and Starcraft 2 can quite solve. Americans cannot figure out their relationship to South Korea. While Japan was the humble cure for American arrogance, the sheer inhumanity of Flash’s cyborg twitch reflects a lack of meaning at the core of the South Korean project. This has resulted in a dramatically different relationship between Americans (and other Westerners) and the Asian country – from the warm and hopeful embrace of Nintendo and anime to a fearful attempt to catch up to the juggernaut of South Korean gaming, with frequent refrains of variations of “we bow before our South Korean overlords”.
As the glistening metal of South Korea’s high-tech cities climbs to the sky, we’re left wondering just where, beyond transhumanism, androids, and cybernetic sex dolls, the future they envision is going to lead us.
It doesn’t matter how big the American government’s debt gets, since the world can’t afford it to default. An American default would decimate the global economy, and wouldn’t be tolerated by pretty much anyone – right-wing American politicians raise the issue as part of a long-term project of corporate domination of the economy.
The “current financial state of the US” has been gradually worsening since the 1970s, due to poor economic policy and terrible economic priorities, such as yearly $1 Trillion military expenditures while schools are being closed, roads are in disrepair, and the health care system (regardless of Obama’s law) is far worse than that of most other industrialized countries.
Remember the Greek government debt crisis a few years ago? Even though the Greek economy is a fraction of the American one, there was no way Europe was going to let Greece default, since it would harm Europe as a whole. The Eurozone and the International Monetary Fund used the threat of Greek default to take control of the Greek economy, so $67.5 Billion of Greek Government assets were corporatized, among other elements of domination. Go ahead and ask the Greek people how their lives have been since these “helpful changes” were implemented there. Then ask the multinational corporations how helpful these changes have truly been.
That’s the model that’s desired for the United States, among other debtor nations – sell off public assets to corporations, take what little control regular people have over their economy away from them and put it into the hands of international banks and multinational corporations. Disempowering people further means their wages and benefits are (further) reduced and powerful institutions further enriched and empowered.
The world is dying, ecologically, at least according to the understanding of those in power (which will come to pass if they have their way). There are no long-term consumers of capitalist products and services. This understanding has transformed the capitalist human into the capitalist dragon, from an investor into a hoarder, from a man into a beast.
In a dying world the entire earth eventually becomes a ghetto, and the ruling idea of the rich is to escape the ghetto. The first step is a siege mentality, where gated communities are built, walls to keep out the unworthy, while wealth and power are amassed and capabilities improved. By the time the ghetto expands to include even them, they’ll be gone, through a combination of nano-tech, computer-tech, and outer-space tech. In a dead world filled with zombies, these last bastions of humanity will take to outer space to “repopulate the human race”, neglecting to understand that unlike the “zombies”, these “human beings” were the precise creatures to have murdered an entire planet in the first place.
But they’ll be super-beautiful, 6-packed, breast-augmented, buffed with their own sense of self-worth, super-knowledgeable, super-intelligent, super-capable, all teched up and ready to go. They’ll be Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek, so photogenic and Hollywood and super-awesome. So fuck history, fuck reality, they’ve transcended all of that. They are going to colonize the final frontier and no earth or zombies or human beings are going to stop them. They are the real human beings and there’s no one they’ve left alive to tell them they’re wrong.
The only genre, among the several in gaming, that features a variety of body types for the main character beyond “young, tight, supple”, is survival horror, and even then it’s usually a young adult or at most a young/middle aged fit character as the protagonist. Games which have a great deal of body customization *can* sometimes have skinny, obese, or old main characters, but at the logical expense of this having zero effect on anything in the game beyond the aesthetics of the main character. Fat and old characters aren’t slower, for example, and are responded to the same way by NPCs.
The responses so far in this thread (the two following the first) are rather ridiculous, since there’s as much or more to discuss with respect to the topic raised than the hundreds of responses to “boobs in games” threads, for example. The responses can be translated as “we’d rather not discuss the topic because it makes us uncomfortable”. At this point you should be asking yourself why the subject makes you uncomfortable. Consider this reply I’m making now as a possible additional response to the thread, of which countless potential others could occur if gamers can overcome their fear. We’ll see whether that happens.
The Nazis didn’t have to starve their prisoners prior to killing them – it would have been a lot cheaper to just kill them. The point of starving them was to turn them visually into “monsters”, to contrast them against the well-conditioned, well-fed Nazi soldiers, in order to provide psychic justification for the murders.
This is the precise same psychic justification that video games use with respect to the undead. Gamers see a skeleton – they think, “that’s not right, skeletons are supposed to be dead, not alive”, and then they proceed to make things right by making the skeleton dead and not alive. Just like Nazis looked at the skeletal prisoners in their concentration camps and thought “that’s not right, skeletons are supposed to be dead, not alive”, and then proceeded to make things right by making the skeletons dead and not alive.
Cleansing is fascist, and games which feature global cleansing in order to “save the world” can hardly be distinguished from the Nazi project of – global cleansing in order to save the world.
It seems to me to make no sense to have rightfully disempowered Nazism in the real world only to recreate it’s ideology in virtual form and then to encourage gamers to celebrate themselves for engaging in it.
This is especially dangerous because fascist cleansing is very much ongoing in the real world, as the unfortunate black ex-inhabitants of New Orleans discovered in it’s recent whitewashing, as Palestinians experience on a daily basis, as poor people across the US experience through active urban gentrification, as 400,000 hispanics a year deported from the US find out.
Between each other, some Zionists refer to Palestinians as monsters, and they would refer to them as monsters in the broader world if they could get away with it. These Zionists are saving Israel, aka “saving the world” from monsters by either killing them, rooting them out, or heavily exploiting them. Farming them for XP, in other words.
Since 80% of mainstream games feature killing as the primary form of gameplay, and this killing is based on the ideology of cleansing, and cleansing is fascist, this raises the question of what the value is of having gamers engaging in fascist ideology in virtual space on a regular basis, particularly when that engagement is deemed successful when the fascist project is successful – when the world is cleansed, for all the monsters to be killed.
Why doesn’t the gamer ever ask the question of where the “monsters” came from? What are these “monsters”? What is the significance of their anger? So many questions, but the game just gives the player a sword and tells him to start killing, that his killing is righteous, that he will get more powerful as he kills more “monsters”, that his power-gaining is awesome and he should embrace it, and that at the end of the slaughter when all the “monsters” are dead he will have won the game.
What game is being played here, exactly? Who is being killed? And who’s the murderer?
We talk quite a lot about breasts, their precise size, how they move and how much of them is shown by the developer. It’s a distraction from the much more important issue of how bodies in general are designed in video games.
People in real life typically look nothing like video game characters. There is a shininess, an artificial fluidity in all video game characters that does not reflect the solidity (even in a skeletal Kate Moss) of actual humans. This is also shown by the computer graphics effects in movies.
The larger issue is the ridiculousness of physique in video games. According to the World Health Organization, 33.9% of American adults are obese, while 8 other countries in the world have an even higher rate of obesity. Globally, 7.4% of people are obese, while 2.7 billion people in the world live on less than $2 a day in income and are thus (generally) too poor for obesity to be an option.
Even though video games are heavily inspired by the United States and Europe, obesity has not been much of an inspiration for game developers, if the typical tight, supple, well muscled bodies of especially game protagonists but also to a substantial extent other characters is any indication. It’s also very interesting that game protagonists have a considerably greater physique than other characters in the game, especially their victims, who are often depicted as scrawny or normal (ala the undead fodder such as skeletons and zombies or usually the hapless 3rd world soldiers in military shooters). This is a bit reminiscent of well-fed and conditioned Arian Nazi guards murdering ravaged starving Jews, gypsies, or disableds, who often looked like human skeletons, in other words “monsters”, prior to being cleansed by the Nazi protagonists, a small difference being that the Nazi guards were not sporting enough to give the human skeletons a weapon prior to cutting them down.
The other primary issue is age. The median age of humans in the real world is 26.4. The median age of humans in some of the most influential countries for game developers, lets say the United States, Japan, Germany, and the United Kingdom, is 36.9, 44.6, 43.7, and 40.5, respectively.
What’s the median age of video game characters? I doubt anyone’s researched it, but my sense is maybe the mid to high 20s, with Japanese developers being noted for using very young characters in their games. In particular game protagonists are quite young – even playing a middle aged one such as in The Walking Dead or The Last of Us is strange for gamers. Playing an elderly one would cause most of us to fall out of our chairs in shock and the rest to congratulate themselves for not doing so.
Let’s look at this a bit deeper. Game engines, as John Carmack understands them, are like race cars – the whole point is to make them fast, sleek, and responsive, or “sexy” as he would put it. Fat isn’t sexy, old isn’t sexy. Young, well-conditioned, supple, tight, 6-packed, surgically crafted, etc. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to have an engine built on the philosophy of well-conditioned youth and then populate it with people who don’t fit the bill.
Something even more interesting emerges when we consider the history of video games. For much of gaming’s history, game graphics simply couldn’t render a “tight, young, supple” human physique. The game could still have one, as described in the manual and imagined by the player, but it couldn’t show it. And, strangely enough, THEREFORE IT DIDN’T HAPPEN.
I’m straining to think of a single game, even a single one, which had a Lara Croft, Dante, Bayonetta, or Kratos prior to them being able to be graphically rendered as such. Games with primitive graphics which could still render physique, such as the original arcade version of Gauntlet, did not present even the Warrior as anything like Kratos or Dante – really just a beefy lumberjacky guy – the kind of guy one would expect as a warrior.
Just as the not-so-wise John Carmack engaged the game industry in a race for the sexiest engine, game developers of today are in a race for the sexiest possible renderable game protagonist – so Bayonetta battles Lara Croft while Dante battles Kratos and bi-gender Shepard battles sanity.
And game reviewers and “critics” get up on their soapbox to once again talk about boobs, now in Dragon’s Crown. Boobs and how they are shown and isn’t that so fucking terrible. Some fools just can’t see the forest for the trees.
Our strategy of self-glorifying our good intentions through saving the world in video game after video game, cleansing the world of “monsters” to the vast benefit and gratification of the virtual civilized people, deluding ourselves into all-powerfulness by mowing down wave after wave of “bad guys” in shooters, and then returning to a real world made all the grayer and more decrepit by our absence may not be such a good one.
The dark belief underlying all of this is that imperial nations, led by Japan and the United States, are so corrupt that their people simply can no longer do good in the world, therefore they might as well turn to the virtual worlds. Of course gamers never address this, I’m typically shut down, ignored, or personally attacked whenever I broach the topic, although ironically I’m the good guy – I don’t share the dark belief of gamers and fully believe that even rich, fat, miserable people from imperial nations can do good in the world – in fact I’ve witnessed it many times.
But getting these rich, fat, miserable gamers to believe in themselves – that’s the difficulty.
It’s funny that we honor those who fight against monsters. But I’ve found in my life that I keep having to fight against humans, while monsters do not exist.
Look, there are a lot of issues here in play which stand against what Mr. Spector wants. One is that many gamers don’t want games as art, they want them as toys, drugs, or martial art. So how about asking the question of how many gamers want games as art at all, and then the follow up question of how many of those gamers want games primarily as art instead of primarily as one of the other functions. Gamers ultimately decide what games will be produced.
Another key issue – as we are all becoming painfully aware, the world is not in good shape. In fact, it’s dying. One outcome of this is that culture becomes un-important, which means art becomes un-important. It’s no accident that the popularization of knowledge of the upcoming apocalypse coincided with the rise of un-artistic mediums such as comic books and video games, part of the “fall of high culture” which really means knowledge of the end of the world.
Personally, I believe that as long as humans are alive and have time to spend beyond fulfilling basic needs that art should be produced, but that’s merely my personal belief and many other people, including many post-cultural gamers don’t share it.
I agree with you about the *possibility* of reviewers focusing on games as art in their reviews – I’m merely telling you why I don’t think that’s going to happen in a serious way.
One thing that could happen is reviewers starting a review with the basic intent of the game. What’s the game’s basic function? If the basic function is art then the reviewer could analyze the game in that context which would be a scenario that Warren favors.
What Warren really wants is a deep games journalism, not game reviewing. How many game reviewers are capable of deep artistic analysis of games? Some have mentioned Tom Chick and I agree, he could do so.
But because games are such a personal medium it really takes a fan of the game to do great analysis, and no game journalist or reviewer is a fan of all games. This is why fan sites for a game have always been the best place to go for great analysis of the game, not to “Roger Eberts”.
The quality of Roger Ebert’s reviews varies, partially depending on how deeply he understands the movie he watches, and it seems to me that games require an even greater level of understanding.
One more issue of yours to address – it’s difficult to know who is responsible for what in a game – fans of Deus Ex for example have to spend time interviewing Deus Ex developers to gain specific knowledge of what individuals did what within the game, and even then as developers know game development is a very collaborative and integrative process. Films have very defined artistic roles – director, cinematographer, writer, actor while games usually lack much of any clarity, often even within the development team itself.
And isn’t this a good thing? What’s wrong with a collaborative medium where a team produces a work of art, where it’s difficult to extract individual contribution? Video games are the first collaborative artistic medium in human history and now we have to cater to Mr. Spector’s personal whims which puts this collaboration in jeopardy?
Games are not films and in the final analysis might not even be much in the way of art. Why don’t we let games dance? Why don’t we let games find their own way? Films are a modern, cultural artform while games are a post-modern, post-cultural artform. Isn’t this ok?
Video games are unlike anything else. They have a beauty unlike anything else and a place in human history more intimate to we humans living today than any other artform. Often I worry that our actions as doting parents may well do more harm than good.
One more thing here – 80% of mainstream games feature killing as the primary mode of gameplay, and the reason gamers like to kill in games is spiritual cleansing – deriving from puritanical culture. This is why “monsters”, which can be defined as creatures which should be exterminated in order to preserve the purity of the master race, err the “civilized people”, play such a prominent role in gaming.
Perhaps this was more the influence of Harvey Smith, but one of the really exciting things about Deus Ex was that there were no monsters, and although some in the game were villainized noone was demonized. This changed the psychological underpinning of the game for the gamer, from cleansing to doing what’s right and building a better world.
I agree with you that not enough on this was said when the game came out – a few years later I talked a fair amount about the artistic aspects of Deus Ex and didn’t get any support from the discussion board called Quarter to Three at the time – I was made fun of for “taking the game too seriously”.
It’s this cleansing that gaming needs to get away from, since it’s psychologically identical to, let’s say, the ethnic/religious cleansing of the Palestinians by the Israeli state or of course the classic example of the cleansing of the disabled/gypsies/Jews by the Nazi state. In other words, cleansing, which 80% of mainstream games primarily feature, is fascist.
Also, as far as I know I’m the only person talking about video games as cleansing, and have been doing so for years. Most people write video game killing off as “fun” without any deeper analysis of why killing is so much fun, with any deeper analysis being written off as “too serious”.
The exploding plastic inevitable is the thematic title of a series of events organized by Andy Warhol in 1966 and 1967, several years after the first video game was created.
Besides being one of the leading philosophers of his time, Warhol was a cynical manipulator who strategically controlled the people around him as a strategy gamer controls his units. He named his base of operations “The Factory”.
The most famous pupil of Warhol is David Bowie, whose plastic philosophy defines his perpetually shifting musical career and persona.
As Bowie shifted phases from one cultural element to the next, game developers were presenting gamers with one after another alternate reality to explore, each with its own rule set and cultural meaning with a purpose promoted by Timothy Leary by way of Marshall McLuhan: “Turn on, tune in, drop out”.
Game developers, regularly calling themselves “wizards”, realized the utter malleability and control they had over this reprogrammable artistic medium, and the special historical time period in which their new medium was emerging – one of despair and apocalypse. Early games were largely about “fun”, distracting people from the reality of the world, in line with the pot-head ideal of “be cool, man”. Another design philosophy was that of saving the world, lead by Richard Garriott with his attempt to improve human morality by establishing it within the game world.
Andy Warhol turned out to be precisely correct, as the first and maybe only plastic artistic medium has in fact exploded. Humans, despairing and dreaming of the apocalypse, have put their faith into this merger of technology and art, this synthetic construct of magical wizards creating dragons for the terrified humans of the world to slay.
One major flaw in many peoples’ thought is that they don’t recognize that a chain around the neck of a slave is also tied to the master. The master is chained as well. The master is enslaved. Masters are usually viewed as evil, but this “evil” is merely a form of terrible misery, the misery of someone who feels helpless while he degrades his own soul.
The basic result of slavery is degradation of the body and mind of the slave and degradation of the soul of the master. This is why masters, such as 1st world people, worship their bodies. It’s in order to distract themselves from the terror of their own souls.
The democratic movements such as Occupy Wall Street don’t just help the 99%, they help everyone. Breaking the chains of bondage frees both the masters and the slaves from the system of domination that enslaves us all.
There’s a tendency to demonize the masters, for corrupt 1st world servants aware of their own corruption to focus their hate on the “1%”, but they are as helpless as the rest of us to change the system. More so in fact, since souls are more powerful than bodies and they merely have the latter in working order.
The ideology of video games is pernicious and suits the interests of the masters – it’s usually a single mega-powered individual doing something ridiculously awesome – the message is that we should seek to become super-powered individualists ala Ayn Randian philosophy. This leads many people toward MMOGs and raiding, where although mega-powered at least one can get 24 other people together to kill a big boss. Note that MMOGs have become more corrupt over time, with raid sizes dropping and the “glory of epic loot” raising in importance.
Although the vast majority of successful revolutionary activity in history is non-violent, 80% of mainstream video games feature killing as the primary form of gameplay. It’s fair to say that the ideology of video games is not revolutionary in nature, given that they have more in common with George Zimmermann (within the game he was playing, Trayvon Martin was a monster, so perhaps Zimmermann dinged to Level 2 with the kill) than with Gandhi. Slight aberrations are sometimes interesting, such as Richard Garriott’s methodology of teaching morality within a framework of individualized monster-slaying.
The method of achieving revolution within a video game is to not act in the manner proscribed by the masters (the game developer and publisher) but to “steal the game”, to corrupt the game and re-shape it to benefit the slaves. So for example, the most revolutionary forces within World of Warcraft were the Chinese gold farmers, who profited from the game at Blizzard’s expense until Blizzard adjusted with their “authenticator”, selling protection from thieves who would otherwise steal from players within their own game. Take careful note of the vast anger of relatively wealthy Western World of Warcraft players against the gold farmers, who were largely poor and merely trying to slightly raise their material well being.
Note that these World of Warcraft revolutionaries were non-violent, while the “violent” PvP masters and high-end PvE slay-masters accomplished nothing at all revolutionary, since they were happy slaves to the system that Blizzard established, feeding at the trough of epic loot.
Despite all the “epic loot”, Blizzard is the one rolling in the real loot, while the Chinese gold farmers became slightly less poor than they previously were. The happy slaves got what they wanted too – a feeling of glory and power minus any reality of either.
The doll sat there, porcelain and unaddressed, eyes full of pain reflecting in the glass. She rose stiff, careful to not interact with the world. Her glued hair, so carefully arranged to resemble beauty, marred by the uncaring wind. Her condemnation of us and our monstrosity could only lead us to demonize her. So we humans threw her in a corner, unused and uncared for and called it justice.
Think about a situation where answers are desperately needed, everyone wants to have the answers but no one has them. So philosophers get popular who might have the answers, buffoonish talk show hosts semi-convince themselves into believing they have the answers, holier-than-thou television judges sentence the answers from on-high, superheroes who have the power to impose answers become popular.
The world is horrific, with millions dying of starvation and easily preventable disease yearly, millions more dying or being raped in armed conflict, massacre, and/or genocide, along with more minor problems like billions living in poverty, nearly universal lack of adequate health care, severe birth defects due to weapon fallout, etc.
It’s going to get much worse, due to not just the ecological effects of global warming but the political effects. Poor people around the world aren’t just going to die quietly as their homes and bodies are ravaged by an overheated dying world, they are going to riot since they have nothing left to lose.
It’s ridiculous to think that the United States is going to reduce it’s military budget, since all of their military bases around the world, all the investment in dominating the internet, etc. only becomes more important once the terrified hordes come crashing through the gated communities. In a dying world even the rich and powerful become insecure, and their lack of security results in their need to control all of human life.
Noone with any sense wants to fight a dragon, but once the choice is between fighting and death, suddenly everyone wants to fight the dragon. So we team up, the final battle between humans and dragons, and IF humans win those of us who are still alive after the war get to build a better world. At least one lesson will be learned – dragons will no longer be allowed to exist. We were foolish and arrogant to let them live and it’s going to cost us dearly.
There are mass protests all around the world to a degree never before in human history, the Arab Spring merely the most famous example. And this is only the beginning. As the world gets worse the people will get far angrier. Many dragons are going to die.
The future is going to be horrific. We’ll either die or perhaps, like in Dante’s works, we’ll find heaven through the deepest most terrible depths of hell.
The dragons call us zombies and say they are justified in their treatment of us as they take human form and blow our heads off with shotguns, but don’t believe it. We are humans, and they are the monsters.
Good luck to us all.
Superheroes were created when humans stopped believing in themselves. Same with robots. The idea is that humans can no longer engage in positive projects, they can only cling to basic life, and anything more than that must be done by superheroes, robots, and rich and powerful people.
Humans are believed to be drowning in despair, decimated and useless – thus the need for a non-human savior. Any attempt by pathetic corrupt humans to do good in the world will end in failure.
Thus superheroes as powerful – “I used to be just a pathetic human but now I shoot laser beams from my eyes! Yippee it’s time to go to town!” Examine the transformation in Peter Parker in Hollywood’s Spiderman movie, for example.
The superhero mythos paints humans as sad creatures counting down the days to death while superheroes because they are powerful are truly alive. This is why superheroes always have ridiculous physiques (except when that’s too inconvenient for an actor to accomplish) even when that makes no sense with respect to their powers.
It’s fascist ideology, which is why humans are inherently offended by it. Hitler believed the German populace to be effectively dead but through world domination and utter power they would be brought to life. Hitler viewed himself as a superhero, a kind of national doctor healing the populace.
So now we have not only vigilantes like George Zimmerman roaming the streets but “superheroes” like the Rain City Superhero Movement transcending their pathetic human selves into an enlightened powerful form.
Anyone familiar with the rise of the fascist right in Europe RIGHT NOW, I’m not taking about the 1930s, understands the dangers of right-wing chauvinist fascism, and if you don’t believe that can happen in the United States I can only hope that you don’t experience a very rude awakening in the next few years. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
JC is a metaphorical acronym for Jesus Christ – JC Denton in the game is a transcendental figure whose character progression inevitably results in creating the “new man” – he’s defining the transhuman reality. Thus the box art where Denton, bathed in light, looks up at the sky (heaven).
Page wanted to dominate Helios – Helios viewed himself as indispensable to the future and thus couldn’t merge with Page. The most heart to heart conversation in the game was between Morpheus (who later rose like the sun to become Helios) and Denton, and it was clear that Morpheus admired Denton.
JC is not himself after the merging – this merging parallels that at the end of Ghost in the Shell – it’s understood that the only moral merging is both entities losing themselves to create something new. Both Helios and Denton are lost and something new is created.
All of the main characters in the game are attempting to be this messiah – Tracer Tong, the Illuminati, Bob Page, Helios. Helios recognizes his limitations as a computer program and is expanding the capabilities of his program by merging with Denton, thus enabling the best possible transhuman reality in his view.
All of the messiah figures, including Denton himself, are dark and sinister (the game takes place entirely at night), and the oppressed enemy in the game is not so much the various messiahs opposed to each other, but regular people, who are killed off and/or weakened by the plague.
Deus Ex depicts a world where regular decent people suffer terribly and die while the power elite fight among each other for global domination.
Helios is the technocratic option, corresponding to the computerized security/surveillance state illustrated clearly by the recent Snowden revelations. The Echelon system in Deus Ex has similarities to the NSA system.
Page and the Illuminati are two types of dictatorships – the iron fist versus the velvet glove.
Tracer Tong is the ironic luddite – using technology to destroy it.
JC Denton, despite being well meaning and declared by the game itself to be a savior, cannot produce a good outcome. He can only choose the lesser evil.
The good possible future, that is to say democracy, is made impossible by a combination of the plague and the global police state. Instead of fighting the powers that be, the people reach out to the same powers that caused the plague to grant them the cure, cynically named Ambrosia, “food of the gods” but actually merely a life-extender for ravaged and dominated humans barely continuing to breathe.
The “aliens” in the game correspond to the “evolved man”, ala Olaf Stapledon’s “second men”, yet keeping with the dark irony of the game are actually just genetic cross-breeds.
Inspirations for Deus Ex include Ghost in the Shell, Metal Gear Solid, System Shock 1 and 2, the Matrix, Neuromancer, and the works of G.K. Chesterton.
Although Deus Ex is the best computer game ever made, it’s fundamentally flawed in it’s optimism – the powers that be in the real world aren’t interested in creating the “second men”, but rather simply maximizing their wealth and well-being in a dying world. Deus Ex believes in a radical shift in the nature of life (from human to transhuman) whereas what’s at stake in the real world is the existence of life itself.
Here’s an email I sent recently to Michael Parenti:
It’s commonly understood that video games are art, comparable in principle if not in practice with movies, television, and books. They’ve also been called toys, aptly so. Video games are the fourth Kawaii artform – sports the first, toys the second, and comic books the third.
I’d like to introduce you to what for most of you will be a new understanding of games, as a martial art.
The operation of games is done with input devices, usually either a joystick, controller, or mouse/keyboard. The Oculus Rift is simply another input device.
Games vary in the amount of manual dexterity they require, but even a point-and-click adventure game requires some. Most games require a much larger degree of hand-eye coordination, and one of the primary metrics in high level Starcraft play is Actions Per Minute, the equivalent of a karate master’s number of actions in battle.
Sports are also martial arts, and in all forms of martial arts the concept of Zen applies, which is said by believers to enable the maximization of performance. These believers do not apply Zen to any non-martial artform, they don’t enter a Zen state to watch a movie, for example.
Unlike every other form of martial art, games have mostly done away with the importance of strength. Being muscle-bound is a hindrance in gaming, and we’ll never see a bodybuilder Starcraft 2 champion, not just for the reason that one can’t combine training with weights to training in the game. Having only enough strength to allow for effective basic movement of the wrists, arms, and fingers is important.
Although they are typically called “houses”, Starcraft training centers where the players live could effectively be called “dojos”.
When we consider the importance of gaming in modern culture, never have I seen games as a martial art be considered as a reason for that importance. Yet we can trace the popularity (in the West) of “kung-fu fighting” and the rise of video gaming from the exact same period of time, the fall of the West during the Vietnam War and the realization that the world was going to die. Forgive me for the technical term here, but following World War II the world entered an Age of Anxiety where due to the existence of and possible at-any-time use of nuclear weapons which could cause total global catastrophe people became distraught about the imminent possibility of human annihilation. This anxiety, deepened by the moral destruction of the West by means of engagement in the Vietnam War, caused the celebration of hyper-speed, the idea that through great speed we can still save the world. So 1977′s Star Wars, a movie which featured the fastest sword in existence, the Light Saber, plenty of hyper-speed laser beams, faster-than-light travel, a kung-fu (err, Force) master in Yoda, represented the triumph of hyper-speed within American culture. Shortly thereafter Super Mario Brothers came out, a game requiring such hand-eye coordination that when beaten would cause even Bruce Lee to bow in respect.
I’d like to end this post with the lyrics of one of the funniest and coolest songs ever recorded, by Carl Douglas titled Kung Fu Fighting (they should play this song at Starcraft 2 televised matches):
Everybody was kung-fu fighting
Those cats were fast as lightning
In fact it was a little bit frightning
But they fought with expert timing
They were funky China men from funky Chinatown
They were chopping them up, they were chopping them down
It’s an ancient Chinese art and everybody knew their part
From a feint into a slip, and a-kicking from the hip
Everybody was kung-fu fighting
Those cats were fast as lightning
In fact it was a little bit frightning
But they fought with expert timing
There was funky Billy Chin and little Sammy Chung
He said here comes the big boss, lets get it on
We took a bow and made a stand, started swinging with the hand
The sudden motion made me skip now we’re into a brand new trip
Everybody was kung-fu fighting
Those cats were fast as lightning
In fact it was a little bit frightning
But they did it with expert timing
(repeat)..make sure you have expert timing
Kung-fu fighting, had to be fast as lightning
keep on keep on keep on
everybody was kung fu fighting
Avalon in Arthurian legend is the place where the savior King Arthur recovered after his wounding by Mordred. Avalon is what many modern game designers hope to create – it’s a paradise of abundance, a means of resurrection. This abundance can be literal, as in Farmville with endlessly produced crops. It’s the reason for the classic reload function in gaming, allowing players infinite resurrection from death or poor choices. It’s the basis for the empowerment phenomenon in gaming, where main characters run without tiring, don’t need to eat or sleep or have social interactions and are always gaining more power, through levels, skills, money, and equipment.
The metaphor of Avalon took on increased significance at the dawn of modern gaming, with the fall of grace of the West during the Vietnam War. The West was the fallen Arthur, now needing to recover after it’s ego and sense of self-worth were injured. So it turned to the virtual realm, a brave new world of infinite possibility, and sought to both create and be saved by it’s own Avalon.
The fall of the Soviet Union meant that global capital no longer had to be on it’s best behavior. Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely, and global capital now had absolute power, or so they think. Games reflected this dark reality, classicly with the aptly titled Doom, and the rise of FPSes with their personalized murder.
After the 9/11 attack which challenged the hegemony of global capital in the world (however slightly), both the US military machine and gaming moved to the “military shooter”, murder masquerading as war in poor urban (Middle Eastern) environments.
The purpose of gaming is the same as Avalon’s purpose to King Arthur – to rejuvenate him, heal him, and allow him to save the world. Gamers through their very identity believe themselves to be injured, they believe the world to be in need of saving, and they believe that gaming is helping them help the world. Gaming relies on this ideological construct for it’s existence, and in recent years with the rise in “end of days” mythology gaming has gained in relevance. Gaming is popular now since all wealthy people in the world want to live in Avalon. Poor people want to live on earth.
Because it’s fundamental to gamers to believe themselves to be injured (thus victims) and because they are so stricken with despair over the fate of the world, they lack the willingness to self-examine beyond the merely insecure (and utterly false) consideration that they are “escaping” reality.
Avalon is where Excalibur was forged. According to the ideology of gaming, by exploring the virtual realm one gains the power to transform the real world. Gaming will save the world.