Games, Guns, and Movies

Illustration for article titled Games, Guns, and Movies

Tom Endo has an interesting musing up over at the Escapist on the subject of guns, games, and game design — the issue at stake is what guns really mean in video games (his answer is 'not much, especially not compared to movies'). Dirty Harry may be a love letter to the .44 Magnum, but it's a more nuanced picture than we get in, say, Grand Theft Auto. Endo says we are not producing 'images of consequence,' and an overemphasis on pure mechanics has meant a stunted approach to violence:

Videogame developers view guns through a profoundly two-dimensional lens. The gun is still a power-up, too practical in its uses to be the object of much emotional tension. When games were confined to two dimensions and only a handful of pixels, it was difficult to portray a firearm in any convincing way other than a fantastic ray of light spewing from the barrel. Players went through games amassing guns like so many mushrooms and fire flowers. Little has changed in this regard, as players run through any first person shooter scooping up weapon after weapon, discarding one in favor of another. For many, this is the purpose of games - to provide a concrete experience grounded in gameplay mechanics, as opposed to an exercise in symbolism and iconography. But in putting this goal before all else, videogames concede their ability to produce images of consequence. In a vain attempt to tack meaning onto an otherwise meaningless image, developers have placed an inordinate emphasis on technical details.


We can probably extend this idea to gaming weaponry in general: I'm not much for FPS and the like for a variety of reasons, but I do have a soft spot for samurai-themed hack 'n slashes as well as RPGs of various stripes. Do those shiny, shiny swords mean much beyond a means to a gameplay end and upgraded stats? And should they? From the Barrel of a Gun [The Escapist]

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It's not so much the iconography of the gun, it's the meaning behind the gun- something that videogames lack, as we're always just looking for the most powerful as opposed to what foots the bill within the characterization. The gun has become a tool more than a tool that you don't want to use- death is too rampant in most games, and with little consequence. In order to remedy this, there are a few things which could be done:

First, tackling the death aspect, making someone die should carry more emotional weight- a very hard thing to do nowadays, but some games have tried. Red Faction had enemies that would scream endlessly if scared beyon belief, and that is what enemies should do- they should show more pain than they do show. You should get rewarded in some manner for not killing people- ala terminator 2, maybe just shoot them in the kneecaps. We've removed, though the media, most of the impact of death- while it might take down the gameplay, it'd be better if our enemies in games, when shot or near death, would suffer a breakdown into tears and remorse, "I don't want to die" and etc. While everyone views death differently, for many of those that come near it (myself included), we usually find ourselves thinking this- which prompts the will to live. If it becomes annoying or causes us to wince, then it's a good thing. It's better to hear the results of our actions than just "ugh, ..uh," as then maybe we'd choose to not kill over kill. (Kudos to Bioshock for trying with the little sister thing)

As for guns, until we can feel the recoil and physical impact of weapons as we fire them, we're probably never going to be able to replicate the meaning behind taking a .44 over a 1911, or the opposite. Videogame guns need to have more of the faulterings of their real-life components. If you haven't yet been able to shoot a gun, I suggest go do it. Lots of gun clubs allow you to rent a case (meaning you can use any of their rental guns for cheap), and you should just spend a day firing them. Of course, most rental guns suck as they've been fired x-thousand times before, but just through firing them you pick up on which gun you'd choose over another, even though one might have more stopping power or a more rapid rate of fire. Guns in videogames should feel used, and in the case of FPS games, abused. They should jam, misfire, get gunky, less accurate. Pull to the right and up...etc. As it is now, most games only usually have 2 variations on a single "category" of guns- 2 pistols, 2 smgs, 2 rifles, etc. If there was a greater variety there'd be a greater sense of the gun as opposed to just "this am better that dat."

A few games have been able to at least attempt to provide us with the reasoning behing the guns- GoldenEye did great with the 17 guns in the game, every gun had their faults and plusses, as did Syphon Filter. But they were still based on stats, which you can't really pull to provide a "realistic" experience. Guns should have variance- maybe by 20% in the factors of aiming, damage, jamming, kick- and should age at different rates and be more affected by their surroundings. So you'd rather use an AK47 in the jungle or desert, but use an CAR15 in relatively clean environs. Or you'd just take that SD9 you just found because it jams less than that Glock you've been carrying from the beginning (and never cleaned!).

But if we restored the meaning to guns, we'd probably also remove the fun of them in the videogame setting. Like taking Burnout or Midnight Club and then making it like Gran Turismo, you'd alienate the majority of the public that doesn't have the willingness to pay attention longer than 2 seconds to the knacks and kinks, and would rather just run through ablazin'.