I’m feeling somewhat heartsick today. It’s a combination of a bunch of different things; insomnia/anxiety at 3:30am, a distressing situation at my job, a lack of productivity over the weekend… and, of course, the events in Newtown, CT.
I’m 37 years old; this is, sadly, not the first mass shooting I’ve lived through. But it is the first one that affected me this much. I watched President Obama’s speech at the Newtown vigil last night with my arm around my wife and my hand on her pregnant belly, tears pouring down from our faces, knowing that our little boy is going to be arriving in just a few months, and that there will be times when he’s out of our immediate line of sight, and that we will feel helpless.
I don’t believe that violent video games cause mass shootings any more than violent movies and music do. But in light of what happened on Friday – and in keeping with what I was already talking about last week before everything happened – I’m feeling a bit weird about playing shooters right now.
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Let me back up.
Part of the lack of productivity I mentioned above was due to a hectic weekend schedule and a post-Newtown shitty mood, but it was also certainly due to the marathon Far Cry 3 sessions I engaged in, since I felt too lethargic and shitty to do anything else.
I’m at an interesting crossroads, as far as the game goes. I looked at a walkthrough just to see how far away from the end I was, and it turns out I’ve only got 2 missions left. The mission I’m currently stuck on, the 2nd-to-last one, is rather difficult. It’s difficult for a lot of reasons, not least of which is because it’s shockingly poor in design (especially when compared with the rest of the scripted missions).* I gave it around 5 or 6 tries last night before giving up, feeling that the game suddenly turned on me.
That being said, I’ve also ascended every radio tower, crafted every craftable, and liberated every outpost; this means that, aside from the wild animals, there is literally nothing else to shoot on the rest of the islands.** This means I’m free to actually explore – to find all the hidden relics and lost WW2 letters and all the other nooks and crannies that I’ve not had time to check out, all without having to fire a weapon. As this is the aspect of the game that made me fall in love with it in the first place, I think I’d be quite content to never actually finish the narrative.
The narrative is where the game’s more or less fallen apart for me, is the thing. While I appreciate that the game is actually attempting to say something (in that you start out as a whimpering trust-fund douchebag and gradually turn into a sociopathic killing-machine douchebag whose friends (the same friends who you’ve been trying to rescue) are super-creeped out by you and your murder-lust (they actually look into the camera (i.e., your eyes) as if they don’t recognize you)) – in other words, the game is saying that killing hundreds of people doesn’t necessarily make you a hero – the game also requires you to kill hundreds of people in order to advance the narrative; you don’t have a choice in the matter.***
(That the game also frequently turns key plot points into hallucinogenic metaphors is a bit much, too. It’s all a bit heavy-handed and ham-fisted and reeks of deus ex machina.)
Getting back to the crossroads, though – while the narrative is getting absurd and the act of firing a gun (even if it’s virtual) feels a bit distasteful, I still very much want to run around on the island and find all the cool stuff it has to offer. And if so I stay away from those last two missions, I’m utterly free to do that. And even if I never finish the story, I would have definitely gotten my money’s worth – I’ve sunk at least 20 hours into the game already, and to do all the side quests and find every last treasure would take at least a dozen more.
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I was originally going to start this post with a hypothetical challenge; would it be possible for me to play any games in 2013 that didn’t involve the firing of a gun? Then I remembered that Bioshock Infinite, Tomb Raider and GTA5 were coming, and that pretty much ended that – I won’t be missing any of those games unless my wife or my newborn son is on fire. BUT. I think I’m going to try and get through as much of 2013 as possible without playing any shooters. This will dramatically lower the amount of games that I end up playing – I’m looking at my Gamefly queue and this one single criteria pretty much omits everything besides Tiger Woods 14 and the South Park RPG. That’s kinda fucked up, wouldn’t you say? No Dead Space 3. No Gears of War Judgment. No Splinter Cell, no Metro Last Light, no Aliens: Colonial Marines. No Metal Gear Revengeance or whatever the hell it’s called, although my history with Metal Gear games probably precludes me from enjoying it anyway.
I might just end up doing this by default – what with the baby, and the fact that I’m not particularly interested in those games, this might be easier than it looks. If anything, this will cause me to seek out the kinds of non-shooter games that I know are out there but that I’ve ignored. This might work out after all.
* Why is it so shitty? Let me count the ways.
- The game, up to this point, has generally prioritized stealth as opposed to going in, guns blazing. But this particular mission has you driving into a fuel depot with your compatriot working the mounted gun in the trunk, and you’re blowing the shit out of everything. That doesn’t make it a bad mission on its own, but it does beg the question as to why stealth was so necessary before.
- As it’s one of the last missions in the game, it’s supposed to be more difficult. And in this case, “difficult” means a never-ending supply enemies spawning from empty rooms. Empty-room enemy-spawns are a lazy, cheap way of making something artificially difficult. And why there are 300 soldiers guarding this particular fuel depot is a narrative mystery.
- Some of these enemies are “heavies”, which means they’re decked out in bomb-proof gear. To the player, this means they’re bullet sponges (which is, again, super-cheap). But, also – why are they wearing such gear in the first place? If it’s to guard against fuel explosions, why aren’t all the soldiers wearing them? Sure, that’s impractical, but since when does anything need to make sense? Speaking of which, this is also a tropical island – those guys have gotta be sweltering.
- One more time – enemies appearing out of rooms that you’d previously known to be empty is bullshit.
** I probably shouldn’t have used the word “literally”, since this is only true if you don’t count the bulletin board assassination missions, which I may or may not bother with. My growing distaste for mass carnage notwithstanding, I did enjoy the strategy that went into liberating the outposts; there were only a limited number of guards (unless you let them sound an alarm), and each outpost had its own unique layout, which meant that each scenario was unique. It could be looked at as a puzzle to be solved, is what I’m trying to say.
*** I can’t apologize enough for that sentence’s structure.