I wrote a question piece a little while ago asking where the place of violence was in video games in response to the few critics that jumped on Their Little Ponies and said that “Hey, BioShock Infinite didn’t even need to be violent!”. More often than not, these same critics had previously shouted praise at Tomb Raider and the love they felt for her because she was ‘vulnerable’ and ‘just trying her best’. After a few tortuous hours of Remember Me, I was no longer annoyed at this discrepancy; I was angry. As much as I love violent games (and I really, really do), what I like more is a sense of universal consistency, a sense of challenge, and most importantly, a sense that gameplay is justified according to the protagonists skills and their situation.
In BioShock Infinite, our protagonist, Booker, was a bad man. If he hadn’t been, the entirety of the story would have fallen apart within the first five minutes. It was necessary and justified. Lara Croft was some chick who wanted to go exploring, and then winds up in a bad situation. Did she need to become a killer? Not necessarily. Did her situation justify it? Yes. Did it give her ample time and training to have the genocidal efficiency of the Third Reich and the Serbian/Bosnian massacre combined?
No. Please, for the love of all that is good, no she didn’t.
After my struggle with Remember Me, I found myself rubbing my eyes and thinking that I was just tired of violence. Not so much ‘think of the children’ but ‘why can’t you even be clever about it anymore?’. You endlessly shoot and punch and kill and incapacitate and decapitate enemies, and you know what? Most of these games don’t need you to. Most of these games are just missing a very important aspect of what a game should be: Sensible.
I’m not talking in sense of ‘mature’ or ‘respectful’, I mean in terms of logic and levels of appropriateness. In Remember Me, you’re a memory hunter, the best memory hunter, and your most reliable weapon? Beating the shit out of people with your bare hands. Not sneaking around, manipulating people into confusion and getting away without anyone knowing who you are or why they’re doing what they’re doing, but by giving them handfuls of hatred and fury and generally being no better than some mindless brute in an alleyway kicking the shit out of some guy because the voice in his head says that this is the only way to make the pain stop.
This is one of the few reasons that I give props to the original Assassin’s Creed. Not many people like the game, and it’s easy to see why – it was repetitive, the climbing wasn’t anywhere near as sophisticated or free-flowing as it was to become, but god damn, you did not want to get into a group fight. Sure, with patience you could take out the entire city of guards, but was it worth getting bogged down? Was the tedium of a ten minute fight and the high chance of failure really worth more than trying to not be spotted like a real assassin?
For me, no, it wasn’t. I planned my route, who I had to take out and how I could do it stealthily. I made my way to my victim, got them and then got the hell out of there. I was as violent as I needed to be to get the job done. Now, the job seems to be applicable to everyone. It’s as if the HR of a mercenary company need to be able to take down a man at 100 paces with a hunting knife because, fuck it, you’re with a band of killers. Does no-one recognise that they have their own god damn job to do, and that if they do their jobs well, they have an equal ability to fuck up their armed co-workers with, say, a ten hour OH&S meeting? Or calling them in on sexual harassment charges? Or leaving passive aggressive messages?
Have we learnt nothing from the likes of Holmes or Light Yagami or Lelouch? Are we really so utterly deprived of options in this industry that we seriously can’t think of giving a tomb raider or a memory hunter any other way of solving their problems outside of mass murder?
I feel like I’ve left out the worst offender of them all, and probably the one we can blame for all of this: Uncharted and Nathan ‘brown people are stealing the treasure of a different brown people that I’m also trying to steal’ Drake. The guy is an explorer and a rock climber. Instead of being Indiana Jones, who knew his pistol couldn’t get him out of every situation, Drake is just the charming embodiment of death for anyone that ended up a henchman.
The truth is, at the end of Remember Me, I just felt completely exhausted, and not because of the button mashing. I was just tired of the reek of laziness that surrounded it, I was tired of having worthwhile experiences ripped away from me as I was forced to kill and kill and kill until, almost broken with the mindless repitition of meaningless encounters, I was given the glimmer of hope in another human, relatable, experience.
And then the violence descends, killing any chance I have of enjoying the game.