Complicated stances for ideas that lack near-unanimous support in American society remain rare in games. If they appear, how do they even get in there?
Were the developers of April 2010’s hit video game Red Dead Redemption deft prognosticators of the opposition to a swelling federal government that supercharged the transformative Tea Party elections of last November? Perhaps. Or they were simply creators of a superb, action-packed Western of painterly vistas that borrowed the themes of both epochal twilight and the submission of local rights to federal desires that have infused many Westerns of other media also set in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Where Infamous 2‘s post-Katrina New Orleans loses a chance to have more bite is not its lack of message but its lack of tough sights. There are no corpses in its city, no victims of the flood that were once living. Damage is shown by the state of buildings and the position of furniture desperately elevated to roofs. Of course, there is a lot of killing in Infamous 2, a lot of zapping of bad guys and many temporarily, reversible deaths of Cole, who like most video game heroes can be brought back to life if the player fails their way into a game over screen. But whichever unrecoverable, unjustifiable horrors happened in this city to its regular people happened some time ago to people who have largely become invisible. The bodies are gone. This omission is understandable, from a game design standpoint. Ruined buildings are jungle gyms on which Cole can clime. Corpses would serve no purpose.
“Once we decided to set Infamous 2 in a New Orleans-inspired town the prospect of a flooded neighbourhood was something we wanted to handle with a lot of respect,” Fox had told me when I first started asking about the game’s flood. His father grew up in New Orleans, he said. One of the bands responsible for the game’s music is based there. “New Marais is meant to be an homage to the fantastic people and architecture that make up that town.That’s why, when Cole (played good or evil) arrives in New Marais’ Flood Town, he strongly commits to helping the people there, echoing the local’s enthusiasm to rebuild the city they love so well.”
Infamous 2 doesn’t have much to say about post-Katrina New Orleans. It calls no one to action. It makes no case. It simply lets you be there in a manner of super-hero metaphor. It works as a reminder of horror and an exhibit of historical wreckage. It is, to its customers, primarily a video game adventure about a hero who has many bad guys to kill. But it is also, on the third of its map that recreates flooded New Orleans, a simulator of danger and pain. It is a virtually inhabitable reminder of a moment that should not be forgotten, proof that a video game can serve as a valuable addition to our American memory.