I’ve seen it far too many times. A video game character leaps from the top of a staircase, flying through the air, guns blazing. One enemy drops to the ground, then two, then three! Behind him, a grenade explodes, laying waste to the spot where he was just standing.
Bullets whizz through the air, metal-jacketed death buzzing past like so many hornets. By the time he hits the ground, everyone in the room is dead. He stands up, dusts himself off, and without a word… just keeps on truckin’.
Dude. Not even a word about the fucking amazing stunt you just pulled off?
Sometimes I want to grab video game characters and shake them.
Video game characters rarely seem like they’re having a good time. They never seem overly impressed by the incredible odds they’re overcoming, the amazing battles they’re singlehandedly winning, the ridiculously difficult acrobatics they perform so regularly.
Max Payne, Marcus Fenix, Lara Croft, Rico Rodriguez, the GTA heroes… they rarely if ever seem all that stoked about the incredible moves they execute on a regular, sometimes minute-by-minute basis. Would it kill them to seem at least a little bit impressed by their own badassery?
The scene I described up top was more or less a scene from Max Payne 3, a game in which constant, insane action sequences are always followed by Max brooding to himself about how much of a fuckup he is.
A friend and I were having a laugh the other day over a scene that happens near the middle of the game. Max is sneaking up on some goons in a parking garage, at which point his voice-over sarcastically mocks his “trademark grace” as he knocks over a barrel and gets noticed. Immediately after doing that, he proceeds to do the most hilariously graceful and amazing thing I’ve ever seen, shooting a valve, grabbing a chain that then HAPPENS to start pulling him up to the ceiling because he shot the random valve, and then mowing down like eight dudes in slow-mo on two separate levels of the garage before landing… and going about his grumpy, hungover day.
If he had ended that sequence with the voiceover, “Okay, maybe I’m not so graceless,” I would have been on the floor laughing. Instead, it was just gritty business as usual.
I’m not asking for a constant string of meta-commentary or anything. But would it kill video game characters to just occasionally mention how completely rad the thing they just did was? One of the most fun things in a video game, particularly a cinematic action game, is that sense of “Oh holy eff, I just DID THAT.” And yet the characters never share that with us, they grimace and frown, they smell the fart and go on with their lives.
When a character in a game does respond to what just happened, it feels disproportionately refreshing, like a sip of water in a desert. At the end of the amazing collapsing building segment of Uncharted 2, Nathan Drake laughs and says, “We were almost in that!” More recently, in Ghost Recon: Future Soldier, there’s an early scene when an insanely powerful airdrop wipes out a horde of advancing soldiers, and the soldier I was controlling wryly muttered, “Well… that worked.”
The fact that I laughed at that (pretty dumb) line indicates how much I want someone to acknowledge what’s happening on screen. Why don’t more games do this kind of thing? Is it simply that the events of a game are so outlandish that writers fear that acknowledging their awesomeness would serve to make them seem silly? I don’t think it would. These kinds of video games are supposed to be awesome. It’s OK to have some fun with it.
Look, I know. “Cool Guys Don’t Look at Explosions.” In movies, on TV – this kind of stuff happens all the time. A cool badass character does something badass, and by definition he has to act all cool about it. It’s what we expect of our cool badasses!
But there are moments, great moments, when that cool veneer cracks — think Neo saying “Woah” or “I know Kung Fu” in The Matrix. In the (fantastic) Disney film Tangled, there is a hysterical scene in which the character Flynn winds up in a sword-fight with Maximus, who is… a horse.
“You should know that this is the strangest thing I’ve ever done!” Flynn enthusiastically shouts as he parries the attacks of a sword-wielding horse. Ha! That gag and the lines from The Matrix are so great because for a few brief moments, we the audience are let in on the joke. The writers take a moment to tell us that it’s OK to be super jazzed about all the awesome stuff happening on screen. I’d love to see more games do that.
I mean, if I single-handedly wiped out an entire platoon of alien soldiers, then hopped onto the side of one of their tanks, fought my way to the cockpit and piloted the thing off a cliff before leaping in slow-mo to safety at the last possible second, I think I’d do what any rational, red-blooded human would do: Look around frantically and shout, “TELL me someone saw that shit!”
Then I’d probably call my mum.
“Mom, you will not believe what I just did. OK wait, let me back up. There’s something you should know about me: Turns out, I AM AWESOME.”