Saturday, May 23, 2009

There is Love in Your Violence

Jack's got heart.

I keep coming back to Madworld.

Not even playing Madworld so much as thinking about it. The game has its share of design and mechanics issues, but I can't help but continue pondering this game.

The game's view on violence is an inherently fascinating one. Unlike most action movies and games that fetishize violence, only to then throw in some hackneyed politically-correct speech condemning it, Madworld realizes that violence, or at the very least witnessing violence, is a necessary, cathartic piece of the human condition. Violence as a spectator blood sport has been around since ancient times, and that's hardly changed today. We've simply honed it into an art form to create maximum violence at minimum risk i.e. professional wrestling, action movies, and in the case of MadWorld, a videogame. We, as a society (and perhaps as a species) crave to get out our aggression by either beating things to a bloody pulp, or watching others beat things to a bloody pulp. Madworld lets us get out our aggression without causing any harm to the real world. It's designed to embrace out inner violent tendencies, rather than judge them.

Jack is the perfect encapsulation of this. He is in essence, everything we want to be and don't want to be at the same time. He's gruff, violent, and borderline sociopathic (sure, he doesn't kill civilians, he does have a code after all, but mostly due to the fact that he likes a challenge). He's also cool, confident, and ready for anything. He's pure id; unsentimental to the core. He works for the "good guys" and takes out the "bad guys," but not due to any altruistic reasons, but rather as an excuse to hone his own violent tendencies. This, makes him an eerily unsympathetic character who we can't help but I identify with because all he wants to do is fight, and all we want to do it kill people in the most horrific ways possible (in game, mind you) i.e. play the game. He's also rather funny and charming, such as when he spanks a demon girl out a church's stained glass window. His self-assuredness makes him an oddly compelling role-model (note: do not try any of his actions at home). In short, he is the James Bond of snuff.

I keep coming back to a line of his near the end where his contact, a beautiful woman who you assume may be his romantic interest at some point, tells him to be careful. His response, "I've got a chainsaw on my arm. I'll be fine," something that never ceases to make me laugh. And in a way, we all have a chainsaw on our arm. Something great about ourselves that we tend to take for granted (in this case because the chainsaw is your default weapon that you can never lose). Personally, I found it a very inspiring bit of dialogue.

The game also has some interesting things to say about the nature of the government, pharmaceutical companies, and spectator sports in general. The idea of a government secretly holding bloodsports to finance itself, then using that money for the greater good is an inherently fascinating prospect. I'm reminded a bit of the ending of Watchmen (book or film. They're both thematically the same, if different in details). I'm not saying we should actually hold these bloodsports, but I think this conceit does a good job of reminding us that we are all to blame, on some level, for the state of affairs in which we live. We wouldn't have the luxuries we do if someone, somewhere wasn't being screwed by the companies and governments that keep us afloat. The game doesn't dwell on this too much, as that would make things into a rather somber affair. It's more along the lines of Starship Troopers where it's bright and cheery on the outside (complete with upbeat hip-hop music on the soundtrack and hilarious sports announcer commentary), but dig deeper and it's really some bleak satire, indeed.

Madworld may not be for everyone. The simple, repetitive nature of the mechanics may be enough to turn off a large portion of the fanbase that may otherwise be interested in such a narrative (an experience I've often shared with otherwise brilliant JRPGs). If you can get past those flaws, however, Madworld provides a unique artistic vision. It will make you feel terrible about yourself and the world, and then make you feel awesome. And for that, there is no greater compliment.
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