The Written Dead – Video Games Deserve Better

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The Walking Dead: Season 2. An intense melodrama framed against a backdrop of a society unhinged. Survival key to everything. Language uncouth.

“F–k.”

Telltale Games typically feature the above word, repeated over and over, like a chorus of a modern worship song. As the drama of young Clementine spirals out of control, the characters around her sing out. A fearful hallelujah to an unknown god.

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What did you just say?

I struggle with language in video games.

Coarse language has the appearance of a written shortcut. A writer’s bloody tool to add flavor, character, and meaning without earning it. I want depth. Written shorthand short-changes the player. No matter what the situation, no matter how “realistic” such words might be, I see this as lazy writing.

Weaving characters into intricate plots is an art. Video games are art in motion. While time can be a commodity, a reason to force narrative shorthand, I think that it is an excuse.

– Words NEED to be strung together in such a way that the audience, the player, is left savoring wordplay.

– The English language DEMANDS exploration. So many words lie neglected, dusty, and ready for use.

– Characters NEED to be developed to the point where they have EARNED the very words they speak.

I am not calling for shelter but for thoughtful engagement and consideration of the words used in video games. The worlds we explore deserve better.

Potty Bricks – Minecraft: Story Mode

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Wyatt and I have yet to delve into the blocky depths of full blown Minecraft. The first-person shooter (FPS) control scheme and complex user interface (UI) are obstacles. Barriers that have kept us from moving beyond the demo.

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Telltale Games recently released Minecraft: Story Mode. The game received an Everyone 10+ rating for “Fantasy Violence” and “Mild Language”. I visited the Entertainment Software Rating Board’s (ESRB) website to verify rating and descriptors.

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EVERYONE 10+Content is generally suitable for ages 10 and up. May contain more cartoon, fantasy or mild violence, mild language and/or minimal suggestive themes.

  • Violence – Scenes involving aggressive conflict. May contain bloodless dismemberment
  • Language – Mild to moderate use of profanity

The ESRB site fails to illuminate exactly what I am putting in front of my son. What does “Mild Language” mean? Common childhood words such as: Jerk, Stupid, Buttface? Or are we moving into the territory of: Hell, Damn, and Ass?

Story Time: When Wyatt was still learning how to talk, he started saying the word “dammit”. Now he wasn’t around other kids at the time. My wife and I watched what we said around him. But this was his favorite word. Even after telling him not to use it, he would mutter it under his breath when angry. Kind of funny looking back. Kids repeat what they hear. Even if the parents can’t figure out where they are hearing it.

Nebulous content descriptors are a poor tool. So I decided to go to a source I could trust, I talked to my friend Josh, who had recently played the game. Josh told me that there are instances of:

“What the hell.”

“Freaking.” A lot.

My wife and I have a decision to make on this game. Do we allow it in our home? Are we ready to let our 6 year old hear things above the school playground? I’m not sure. Each family has to decide what they let into their home. Even if it is as minor as a little freaking hell.

Check out Josh’s video on the game below.

The Walking Dead: Episode 3 Impressions

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This past week, I downloaded and beat Episode 3 of The Walking Dead. Episode 3 reminded me once again that the series is often a hard pill to swallow. Excellent character development and story is stirred in with harsh language and gruesome violence. While I love finding out what is going on with different characters, I hate having to sit through the rancid profanity that often feels completely out of place.

As a kid, I remember Halloween being a time of having lots of fun and racking up insane amounts of candy. At the end of the night, my parents would sift through my candy, checking to make sure everything was “safe”. Apparently during this time there had been a scare due to someone placing razor blades within the Halloween candy itself. This random childhood memory is exactly what The Walking Dead series of games has turned out to be: An amazing sugar-coated outside filled with a potentially deadly center.

As a Christian, I go back and forth with myself over the things that I consume. I know from experience that what I take in eventually finds its way out. I have always evaluated what I consume by the following 1 Corinthians 6:12:

“Everything is permissible for me”—but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible for me”—but I will not be mastered by anything.

How about you? Even if you aren’t a Christian, do you evaluate what you consume media-wise?

The Walking Dead: A World Without God

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I’ve been trying to figure out why The Walking Dead: Episodes 1 & 2 have gotten under my skin so much. Sure the storyline, characters, and environment are compelling but there has to be more to my fascination with this game. The other day, I finally figured out what has been bugging me, the world of The Walking Dead is a world without God.

The chaos of the virus outbreak has left the world in tatters. Law and order have been completely shoved out the door and the basic instinct of survival has taken over. This survival instinct is solely based on emotion. The problem with emotions is that they are often founded on heat of the moment reactions. Logic is relegated to the corner when emotion is involved. There is no peace in this zombie-filled world of emotional rule.

For God is not a God of disorder but of peace. – 1 Corinthians 14:33a

Sometimes friends “make” you do stupid things.

There came a point in the game where I was presented with a situation where I had the choice about whether to kill someone. Up until this point, the game had made me highly dislike this particular character. To make matters worse, earlier in the game I was conveniently told that anyone who died would quickly become a “walker” (re: zombie). So here I am, dealing with a man who has just collapsed on the ground, seemingly dead. What do I do? My best friend in the game quickly pushes to bash the man’s brains in (which is the only way to kill a zombie). My emotional response that followed was one based on my dislike for the character and the survival response of not wanting to be eaten. I decided to let my friend kill this man. My decision, though based in a game world, has bugged me ever since.

In retrospect, I feel like the game somehow ripped me off; I felt like I had been goaded into an emotional response. It was either going to be him or me. The basic instinct of survival ruled.

Regardless of the game, I am thankful that I live in a real world created by a God who loves order. The Walking Dead is an intense game based on emotional choices. In the end, I know that emotions lie as they vary from day-to-day. I am thankful that God is my compass and not mere emotion.

The Walking Dead: Episodes 1 and 2 Impressions

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Last night my wife left me. Well she left me to go to a bachelorette party, I should say. Soon after my son went to bed, I loaded up Telltale Games The Walking Dead: Episode 1 on the PS3. Thinking my wife would be gone for a few hours, I thought that I could at least finish up Episode One – A New Day (I had played for at least an hour a week ago). Little did I know that I would spend the next three hours deeply engrossed in a zombie-filled horror.

I want to say something upfront about this series. Unlike most M-rated games, The Walking Dead earns its rating almost immediately. Beyond the bloody and sometimes lingering gore-filled camera shots, the explicit language used in the game is intense. I don’t think I’ve ever played a video game that uses the f-word with such frequency as The Walking Dead does. This is about as far from the Mario universe as you can possibly get. Just a word of warning.

Living in the chaos of a decimating virus outbreak is not dream of mine. Personal survival quickly becomes the rule of the day; personal survival at the cost of others lives. The Walking Dead: Episode 1 opens with a man named Lee being transported in the back of a police cruiser. Whether he is guilty of whatever it is he has done, the game leaves that up to your imagination. All you know is that something is going horribly wrong in the City of Atlanta. A zombie, standing in the middle of the highway, leads to the police cruiser crashing. The story of Lee’s survival has just begun.

What makes The Walking Dead so compelling is its storyline. The game makes you actually care about different characters. Soon after the car accident, Lee meets up with a little girl named Clementine. This is where the game sucked me in. Lee suddenly has someone that is watching his every move, an innocent. Knowing Clementine is watching me, Lee, makes me make decisions differently. I want to shield her from the carnage. After playing Episode 2 – Starved For Help, I’ve learned that shielding her is often impossible. There is evil in this world, evil that knows no bounds.

I haven’t been this captivated by a game in a long time. The characters, voice acting, and storyline all come together to create a group of people I care about. Deaths come about as shocking. Choices I’ve made I’ve later regretted and have reaped the consequences of. The Walking Dead represents interactive drama at its best. I just wish they’d tone down the language.