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Played Out: Life, Death, and DMC

The Story of Philosophy (a book thing) somehow takes complex theories and transforms them into free-flowing prose that reads as if a friend is enthusiastically yet gently explaining life to you at the corner bar over a couple of pints - which, may in fact, be what life is all about. Will Durant (an author thing) achieves this personalism by attaching the philosophies to the individual people behind them, revealing to us the reason so that we can understand the rhyme. For instance, Plato's fear of democracy can be interpreted as a direct result of Athens's vote to kill his tutor Socrates. And to give an example more of us can relate to: Schopenhauer's negative opinions of women stem from the fact that his mother pushed him down the stairs. Philosophies are not so unique that one can assert they would not exist sans their human scribes, yet the partnership between the two paints a picture containing both society and the world it struggles to understand at the same time. As imperfect as humans may be, they provide the driving force for any good story.

Which brings me to video games. Hideki Kamiya is one of video game's premier directors, piloting a number of projects I've consumed this year. Can the conceptual leadership of one man really instill artistic meaning into a medium where entertainment depends more upon the tools than the product? A game with no story can be fun, so long as the gameplay is tight (see Mario). A game with a story can die, if the gameplay is boring (see many JRPGs). Does Kamiya deliver life, death, or something in between?

Okami

This PS2 cum Wii adventure title is basically modern Zelda wrapped in a husk of washi. The story is horrendous for the first hour, delivered through mumbled text atop lovely - though still and dull - Japanese sketches. However, the drawings literally come to life once the player is thrust into the wolf-form of the goddess Ameterasu - bringer of life and mother to us all. The world of Nippon (aka ancient Japan) is incredibly vivid - full of character, dialogue, and, doubtlessly, trouble. The game excels as so many do, by providing the player with a sense of achievement. As Amaterasu bounds through the world, a path of flowers rises up behind her and cherry blossom petals revivify the darkened land.

The more defined missions (e.g., kill the dragon) are steeped in Japanese mythology, which doesn't always translate into Western gravitas; but the omnipresent theme of destroying evil is given a fresh feel when connected to the undeniable good that is nature. I don't care if real world nature contains hurricanes and tornadoes. It also has everything that has created us, and the simple task of using my virtual wolf to feed some herbs to a virtual deer connects me to that world that's sitting just outside my basement door.

Resident Evil 2

Good versus evil is rarely more blatant than in monster stories. And while the moviegoing public may be content to patronize these features year after year (*cough* Saw *cough* that's actually the noise of Jigsaw creeping up on me for typing this *cough*), something more is needed to create an experience with real resonance. Kamiya is not the creator of the Resident Evil series, but he did add something to its second volume by dividing the main story into the perspectives of two protagonists. Leon and Claire are both handicapped by limited ammunition and horrible '90s apparel, and guiding them through the zombie-infested remains of Raccoon City is a well-paced journey with just the right number of scares. The game's aging technology largely limits the fear to darkness and "gothca!!!" bursts through windows and walls (although it does attempt some amateur pictorials of greed and corporation). Also, the impact of the two-pronged story is ultimately more patchwork than quilt, hurt by silly scripting mistakes such as the fact that each character has to empty the same watertower onto the same burning helicopter (typical).

There is no overarching theorem of "the end" promulgated here, with too many zombie hugs resulting in little more than a screen proclaiming YOU DIED. But that's all it needs to be, and that's why I love it. The world of survival horror is entered with the expectation that death is imminent, so each step must be taken with planning and caution and a grenade launcher filled with acid rounds.

Devil May Cry

Somewhere in between is Kamiya's most original creation, Devil May Cry (DMC). The story of a demon with no true place in this world or the next perhaps most connects to the struggle so many of us experience as we transition from the pure happiness of naivete into an economy of automated perseverence...

By now I've surely reached the point of too much credit, as Schopenhauer would have warned me upon learning that DMC's avatar Dante seeks to avenge his mother's death. Dante was created to fit Kamiya's vision of a "cool and stylish" man. At the currently ongoing Tokyo Game Show, Kamiya's latest creation - Bayonetta - features a librarian-glassed woman who defeats baddies with her magical hair. The hair is so magical, in fact, that it wraps around her body to form her clothes; and this becomes a problem when she has to use all of her hair for a particular attack...

Conclusion
Video game directors are perverts, yet, with enough insight, they can build the virtual framework from which fools like me can extract some interpretation of real experience and real philosophy. From a medium purposed towards interaction, this is all I should ever ask.

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  1. Blogger Dave | 8:41 AM |  

    Just wanted to mention Wanda and the Colossus (seriously, every videogame post should include this)

    Also, one of my great videogame regrets is that I never made it past the first hour or two of Okami.

  2. Blogger chris | 12:44 PM |  

    More like Bayonaughtty!

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