The Cultural Gutter

going through pop culture's trash since 2003

"We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars." -- Oscar Wilde

Fooling the System

Gutter Guest
Posted July 1, 2010

splinter cell conviction 80.jpg“Fisher,” they’d cry, “we’re going to find you.” They were looking in the wrong place. I was already somewhere else. And as they approached the last position they saw me,
that somewhere else was right behind them. Either a clean bullet to the head or some other form of quick, close, personal death, they slump to the floor, and I leave them for their friends to find.

And so the cycle would
begin again.

***

Video
gamers so greatly enjoy playing heroes whose main trade is in the
cloak and dagger. Heroes who hide in the shadows, distract their
enemies, confuse them, surprise them, or just kill them without them
ever knowing. For years, the hero was the one who would allow his
opponent time to pick up his rapier and compose himself; the villain
was the one who would wait till he had turned his back to strike. Not
anymore.

Splinter Cell:
Conviction
, developed by Ubisoft
Montreal, recently released for Windows PC and Xbox 360 and from
which my anecdote above comes, is only the latest in a long line of
“stealth action” titles where the player’s skill is defined
by their ability to fool their opponent rather than face them head
on. Before that, I played
Batman: Arkham
Asylum
, where Batman picks off the
Joker’s minions one by one, hanging them from gargoyles. Before that,
Mini Ninjas,
where even in a cute world where you quest to save Japan’s furry
animals from an evil Samurai warlord, you’re still encouraged to stab
your enemies in the back wherever possible.

splinter cell conviction 250.jpgI suppose it’s the kind of
thing that would worry other generations that video games are
breeding a generation heavy in a very specific kind of sociopath, one
that’s always lurking in the shadows, holding something sharp. A
generation where an argument between two men over a favourite
football team in a pub would, instead of spiralling into a brawl,
lead to one hiding in the air ducts, ready to drop on his opponent.
The other hiding in a drain, ready to pop out.

And yet I
don’t, particularly, plan on hiding in the fridge of anyone who
judges me for enjoying video games, ready to spring out with a knife.
After all, where would be the pleasure in that?

As strange as it might
sound, the pleasure isn’t in the kill. The pleasure is in fooling the
system. That you’re cleverer than it. IBM always missed the point in
their brute force attempts to defeat Gary Kasparov at chess with a
mainframe. There’s no honour in an enemy who knows all the moves in
advance, far less than there is in a hero who knows that against some
odds he’d better hide in the shadows.

Even in a heavily
story-based video games, like
Conviction,
where we think we’re helping Sam Fisher on a quest to work out who
killed his daughter, it comes down to us against the machine. But
yet, unlike Kasparov, who viewed a board and chose where to move his
pawns, it’s really us that are the pawns. The computer knows where we
are at all times; yet it spits out enemies, that, by design, are only
so clever. That rely on their own in-built movement routines and line
of sight to find us.
Conviction,
even, shows us where they’re looking with a “last known
position” outline; we can actually observe how well we’ve
“fooled” our electronic opponents before we snap their
necks or shatter their cranium. We’re so proud of being so clever,
doing just what the computer already knows we’ll do.

Even the
challenge isn’t our own. The game provides a meta-layer of “P.E.C.
Challenges” that ask the player to kill enemies by throwing them
off ledges; disappear after being discovered without a kill; kill a
group of enemies with a grenade. A cornucopia of (usually) murderous
directions that incline the player to not only beat the computer but
truly toy with it. Don’t just kill that enemy while he’s standing
there; lure him over to a railing and pull him over. Wait until a group stand together, stun them with a flashbang and execute
them before they can see what’s going on.

Were a hero in a
film to act this way, it’d be monstrous. Hang on a minute, he’d say;
before we escape I just need to hit this man against a wooden door
until he
dies.
But it’s a game, and it forms that perfect storm. The reward of
feeling so clever that we’re beating the computer—or failing and
knowing that we should. But all at its own whim.

So in the end, maybe we
shouldn’t feel so clever; video games have become a big brother
rather than a big blue; not playing quite as well at the game as it
should to keep it fun. But neither should we feel worried about our
own bloodthirstiness. We’re only doing what we’re told.

~~~

Mathew Kumar is a Scottish, Toronto-based freelance journalist who has written extensively about games for publications including
Edge Magazine and websites such as Gamasutra. He publishes his own
independent games magazine, “exp.” available from http://expdot.com.

Comments

One Response to “Fooling the System”

  1. NefariousDrO
    July 1st, 2010 @ 6:10 pm

    All of these are reasons I enjoyed playing games like DOOM and Quake against my friends on a network back during the late ’90’s, but are also reasons why I haven’t played any of these types of games in the last 10 years. They’re structured in a way that really limits how you can approach the game, and that frustrates me. What I used to enjoy about playing Marathon was luring my opponents out into an open arena where we each had rocket launchers. Then it was a question of who could dodge more effectively while shooting more accurately. And yes, the bloodthirstiness of that is a bit scary, no?

Leave a Reply





  • Support The Gutter

  • The Book!

  • Of Note Elsewhere

    The Gutter’s own Carol infiltrates Teleport City‘s limits to contribute to TC’s Space: 1999 series with her piece on aliens and what big jerks they are. “Space: 1999 taught me two valuable lessons. The first is that space is depressing and best represented by the color taupe. The second is that, with few exceptions, aliens are jerks.”

    ~

    The Dartmouth College Library ahs scans of the oldest extant comic book, Rodolphe Töpffer’s
    “The Adventures of Mr. Obadiah Oldbuck” (1837). (via @SoxOnTheBrain)

    ~

    At Graveyard Shift Sisters, Carolyn looks at Lizzie Borden’s Born In Flames (1983) and the character, Adelaide Norris. “Born in Flames was revolutionary for its time, and I think it is still relevant today. This film has many layers, with both a speculative as well as a science fictional representation of a parallel universe that denies oppression. One of the main characters, Adelaide Norris played by Jean Satterfield, came to the forefront for me because of her race and role in the story. Adelaide is one of the key characters who pulls the female troops together. With the help of her mentor Zella, played by civil rights lawyer Flo Kennedy, this young Black and gay woman tirelessly researches, advises, and recruits women to fight the good fight for equality.”

    ~

    A video tribute to interactive VCR games including: Nightmare (1991), The Fisherman VCR Bible Game (1989), Rich Little’s Charades (1985), Wayne’s World VCR Game (1992), Star Trek: The Next Generation VCR Game (1995) and Skull and Crossbones (1988). (Thanks, Beth!)

    ~

    At The Los Angeles Review Of Books, Suzannah Showler writes about the complexity of the reality tv show The Bachelor and her complicated love for it. “I love The Bachelor the way I love most things, which is to say: complicatedly. On the one hand, I think it’s a fascinating cultural product, one I find great delight in close-reading. But I also love it, frankly, because I just like watching it. I think it’s top-notch entertainment, and I will straight up hip-check my politics out of the way, and give up many hours of my life, in the name of being entertained.” (Via @idontlikemunday)

    ~

    At Comics Alliance, Chris Sims recounts that time the Punisher battled Dr. Doom. “It starts off with Dr. Doom kicking it in an extradimensional conference room set up by Loki to coordinate mass villainy, where he is just ripping into the Kingpin for being unable to kill the Punisher….Thus, in a sterling example of the ‘well then why don’t you do it’ school of super-villain cameraderie, Dr. Doom, a man who built a time machine in his basement, heads off to try his luck at fighting the Punisher, a man who has a gun. He does this, as you might expect, by luring him to a quarry and — after a brief exchange between a Doombot and a minigun — attempting to blow up his van with a tank.”

    ~

  • Spilling into Twitter

  • Obsessive?

    Then you might be interested in knowing you can subscribe to our RSS feed, find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter or Tumblr.

    -------

  • Weekly Notifications

  • What We’re Talking About

  • Thanks To

    No Media Kings hosts this site, and Wordpress autoconstructs it.

  • %d bloggers like this: