After I began writing movie reviews back in 2014 (the beginning in question was, of course, on a site that no longer exists), I decided to add video games to my critical roster. You know what that meant? Catching up on a lot of games I missed throughout the years.
I’ve been playing video games since I was a kid, though the most notable games I played during my adolescent years were The Force Unleashed and Halo: Reach. I hardly played any games at all during my young adult years until late 2015 where I decided to play through and review a bunch of Zelda games. I then moved onto the Half-Life series, and I was so blown away by Half-Life 2 that it didn’t take until the last five paragraphs of Steven Greydanus’s article on The Revenant for me to realize the fundamentally perverse idea behind shooting games: having us revel in constant, merciless violence.
Since then, I’ve become a lot more apprehensive about video games, or rather, video games that are built solely around violence. Before I read that article, however, I’d already bought a PS3 to critique its most famous titles. Unfortunately, some of said titles make me wish I never bought a PS3 at all.
The Uncharted series was fun, if vulgar, during my first playthrough of it; the second playthrough, however, made me realize just how mean spirited that series is. I enjoyed the Metal Gear Solid series, yet its at times pro-death philosophies and consistently misogynistic depictions of women make me apprehensive to revisit it. And then there was The Last of Us, a game I despise more than any other game I’ve played, and not just because of its relentless brutality that broke my disgust tolerance near the end and forced me to watch the rest of the game on Youtube.
The Last of Us was so souring, in fact, that I’ll now only buy video games for as cheap as possible. Even more horrifying than its own nihilistic story is how widely embraced the game is by critics and gamers alike. It’s one of the most highly praised video games of all time; so isn’t Uncharted, Half-Life, and Metal Gear Solid.
It’s quite discouraging that such perverse titles get praised to the heavens. I don’t want to spend more time on this nastiness; I want to spent time on games that I’ll like, but I can’t even trust if the titles I think I’ll like won’t pull the rug out from under me at some point, such as the anti-religious undertones in Deus Ex, a game that would be a lot grimmer if it weren’t so corny. Why do I even stick with the medium of video games if I find so much disappointment in it?
…Because I still see its potential—because titles like The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Shadow of the Colossus exist, and I want to find more games in their league.
I love Ocarina of Time, thankfully the most highly reviewed video game ever made, not just because it’s incredibly nostalgic for me; it sports a childlike innocence—for the most part—that I haven’t seen in any other adventure game. Shadow of the Colossus is basically a deconstruction of the Zelda formula, yet it’s also a deconstruction of video game violence in general, having us go on a violent crusade that we have to pay a hard price for in the end. Although I like Ocarina more, Shadow of the Colossus may be objectively the greatest video game I’ve played so far period.
I’ve also had the pleasure of playing Beyond Eyes, an indie game I found on Steam that tells a touching, deliberate, nonviolent story, as it’s in the ‘walking simulator’ genre, that puts us into the shoes of a blind child through a strikingly artistic interpretation of such an experience. The only complaint I have about Beyond Eyes is that it’s very short; otherwise, all the potential it showed was good.
I even enjoyed the good potential in The Last of Us, Metal Gear Solid, and Half-Life 2. The Last of Us had me empathizing with video game characters like no other game had; such empathy I even experienced in Half-Life 2 (I even rationalized Half-Life 2‘s ostensibly pro-life themes as making the game above other brutal shooters until I realized that the way the game values innocent people is a way to make us want to shoot the bad guys more). Metal Gear Solid had brilliantly ludicrous humor and a soundtrack that I still listen to.
Had these games not been able to engage me in some way, I wouldn’t be disappointed in them as much as I am; I don’t know if a redemptive ending could have redeemed The Last of Us‘s reliance on horrific incident, but I wouldn’t be as angry about the ending had the game not been toying with a powerful humanism amid the nihilism it ultimately succumbs to.
Of course, the other question of video games other than their morals is whether or not they’re a waste of time. I always aim to limit my video game consumption per day, but I want to this spend time in agreeable virtual worlds. Of course, there are nasty virtual worlds that the games themselves don’t want us to accept for what they are, yet said games’ missions for us to change said worlds could ask us to revel in bloodshed.
All-in-all, I appreciate the potential of video games more than what they’re commonly used for: violence porn, softcore porn, normalization of theft, etc… Ocarina of Time is perhaps the one video game so far that I love as much as my favorite movies; while it’s not free from moral and spiritual flaws, the world it puts us in is generally that of beauty, inspiration, and truth. It’s far easier to find a movie of such aesthetics than it is to find a video game of such aesthetics. But video games can immerse us in ways that no other artistic medium can; they just haven’t met the potential to immerse us in beauty, inspiration, and truth as commonly as movies have.
…Of course, I’m a console generation behind, and my laptop can’t even play last-gen games at their highest graphical settings, so perhaps this current generation is offering more of what video games should offer and I’m not realizing it.
(Thumbnail source: “Gaming on the Down Low” – Studio C)