David Cage is one of a stream of misguided idiots that think the best way to innovate games is to relentlessly draw on films as the primary source of all greatness. This kind of shallow cherry-picking of ‘cool’ or ‘worthy’ or ‘respect-endgendering’ reference is precisely why 90% of all comic books are degenerate grab-bags of recycled effluence, why 90% of all modern Sci-Fi is absolutely shocking re-treading of tired content and themes and why, hilariously, 99.99999% of all game narratives are so pathetically useless, we have entire generation of kids growing up thinking FF7 is the height of drama because some bitch dies or that ICO is groundbreaking narrative engineering because there’s no voice acting.
Let’s get one thing straight - there’s only one man who’s allowed to be a frustrated pretend film director while getting vast budgets to plough into ill-advised vanity pieces masquerading as AAA game entertainment and that’s Hideo Kojima. He’s allowed to do this because he’s got a proper fucking BONER for guns and isn’t remotely afraid to go FULL ON APESHIT MENTAL with his dev budget.
David Cage, however, is not. Why? Here’s why. I hate him.
I don’t think I could hate this man any more than I could after *THAT* commentary in Fahrenheit. Actually after *ALL* of Fahrenheit, as it was the most miserable collision of shit and piss I could have possibly imagined at that point in time. I mean, any game where I’m actually happy to fail a QTE based around PLAYING A SONG ON A GUITAR TO PREVENT YOUR OWN SUICIDE has to be doing something seriously, seriously, seriously wrong to engender that degree of raw, unbridled contempt for the man who was MORE THAN FUCKING HAPPY to stamp his name all over it as some champion of a brave new world of INTERACTIVE CINEMATIC EXPERIENCES. Thank fuck, then, that Mr Cage has seen fit to give us a peep under his creative curtain via Twitter, where the real measure of the man’s intention, tastes and education can be unfairly and unreasonably distilled to form the kind of outrageous hatchet-job of sheer bile and vitriol not seen since that testicular cancer blog dude who really hates Andy Kelly (for no good reason other than, presumably, repressed sexual urges).
According to Dave:
“A comedian is someone who tells jokes. I am not a comedian, as I tell substantive dramas.”
Yes. Of course you do. Naturally, ’substantive drama’ is PRECISELY what I’d call Fahrenheit - if I was a TOTALLY PRETENTIOUS DICK who honestly, honestly thinks starting a game in a toilet and following it up with bizarre shower scenes, giant silver fleas and cack-handed mish-mashed detailing from every film I’ve ever thought had a cool bit counts as substantive drama. Let’s not even go near the floundering, utterly confused plot where THE INTERNET makes the player JESUS CHRIST or something and focus on the drama. Personally, Dave, I actually hope you are a comedian and not the overly-earnest name-dropping charlatan you appear to be. I actually hope you are actually tweeting those, too, and not some PR under the guise of you, though of course the PR could be doing a stupefyingly good job of capturing your flailing, bizarre notion of what’s important in a video game and trying to validate it through casual referencing.
“Anyone who wants to portray interactive sexuality needs to see the masterpieces of Bertolucci–Little Buddha and The Dreamers.”
That is how YOU FUCKING DROP A NAME TO GAIN CREDIBILITY FOR YOUR BULLSHIT ROBOT SEX SEQUENCES. Obviously a man who can namecheck two Bertolucci films MUST be a VITAL, CREDIBLE ARTIST working in a dynamic, exciting medium for the good of all mankind. What’s more, bro, trying to convey interactive sexuality through the medium of cinema sex scenes, no matter how magnificent the director, is a terrible idea. Mostly because cinema sex scenes are, generally, really fucking creepy. Honestly - once the surge of teenage hormones has subsided and you have access to literally more pornography can you can actually wank to in your lifetime, the kind of bizarre interplay a cinema sex scene conjours up is very much like watching two robots trying to fuck, so making the players actual robots is like dividing by zero or something and, really, you should be asking serious questions about yourself if you’re genuinely spending part of a multi-million budget on such juvenile nonsense. The other problem, of course, is that the portayal of sex in cinema is framed by cinema’s own set of conventions and solutions for making the sequence appealing to non-interactive audiences. I’m presuming Dave is talking about the phenomenon of classy movie sex, rather than gritty movie sex, which is like it is in Trainspotting and is often some grunting and huffing for a short amount of time. Maybe Dave’s after the kind of sex in Rita, Sue and Bob Too, which really won’t work if he doesn’t perfect the northern accents or open the game with a live PA from Black Lace (which of course cannot happen because one of them died and wouldn’t be able to record the audio). I’m presuming, of course, that Dave is actually aiming to make the kind of cliched, utterly unreal sexual congress when fucking doesn’t exist and people only make love. Given that we already know Dave’s making a robot do a striptease and that you have to control the taking off underwear, it’s clear there’s a certain glass ceiling already over this depiction of sex. Put it this way; I’m not expecting to see a QTE about putting on a condom or a match-three minigame about performing a successful anal douche.
But let’s not get distracted. Dave is talking specifically about SEXUALITY, not the depiction of sex. I don’t think this is illustrated any more clearly than by the ERSB, which has discovered that Cage’s much-vaunted portrayal of sexuality is in fact at the level of racy Soap Operas:
“The game also contains a prompt-based love scene (kissing and rubbing) in which players match on-screen cues to angle characters’ mouths, remove shirts and blouses, unhook bras, and lower to the floor; a woman briefly appears topless amidst the dark shadows and heavy breathing—actual sex is never depicted as the camera fades to black.”
Yah, sounds like textbook American Sex Scene 1.0 - bargain basement edition. I presume Dave will be handling the sexualities and sexual relationships of his characters with the same level of aplomb and subtlety. If we’re lucky, we might get the same deft hand that he turned to racial representation, being both crass and patronising with an effortless lack of charm.
“Playboy Magazine is a publication which gives a mature, nuanced presentation of sexuality.”
This, frankly, is astonishing and seriously causes Dave’s Twitter facade to crumble slightly in the smutty mire of PR co-pro. For a FUCKING FRENCH MAN (Raton please assist) to defer to something as artificial, contrived, subliminally horrific and above all, AMERICAN, as Playboy is a genuine upset. Let’s not forget that Playboy is the product of a deranged sexaholic who runs his own harem of professionally-augmented sexbots. Mature and nuanced are not the first things that come to mind. Naturally, the easy shot here is to compare the kind of women who comprise the Playboy gallery of cutting-edge pretend sexiness to Dave’s sex robots, but that’s far too lazy for a ruthlessly opinionated and fanatical attack such as this. I’ll stick with his proclaimed allegiance to the perhaps the very worst depiction of sickeningly trite sexual idealism that has ever existed.
“The Madison pictorial isn’t gratuitous but is inspired by Kubrick’s use of functionalist nudity in Eyes Wide Shut.”
WHAT THE FUCK are you talking about, Dave? Everyone knows Kubrick used sex to TROLL and nothing but. He hated Tom Cruise SO much that he contrived Eyes Wide Shut to destroy Tom’s marriage. You’re much better off switching to the role of sex in A Clockwork Orange, where it formed the comedy counterpart to the overriding theme of violence. Until the rape, of course. Hilariously, the very idea of game characters in Playboy is a sniggering joke, so trying to substantiate such an appearance by alluding to the greatest film director of all time (who really fucking DNGAF) is surely some kind of biting satire or something. I can’t quite work it out. As we’re in the realm of cinematic greatness, let’s look at Dave’s other choices of illustrative film examples to validate his horrendous robot sex carnival:
“L.A. Confidential and Se7en are two of my favorite movies where detectives solve murders.”
Or: “My favourite detective movies are the two most obvious ones from the 90s because I actually know nothing of the genre”.
Bit of a shock, Dave, given your stated belief that the closest medium to games is cinema. I would have thought The Big Sleep might have been a slightly better choice, given its un-resolving, indulgent, dream-like swirl of madness, corruption and decadence. Or what about Chinatown? That’s pretty sweet. Ohhh and The French Connection! That was awesome, though not really about murder. Hey but what about Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder? Or Bogart again in The Maltese Falcon? Glad you took the shockingly obvious, lazily-informed Gen-X choice there, Dave. This really impresses on me that your stated mission is going to really push things forward for video game design.
Moving away from Dave’s referencebase, let’s see if Dave can handle the thorny issue of race representation in games:
“I am very offended by someone calling Farenheit a racist game. Tyler Miles is a tribute to the many black people I am friends with.”
Remember what I said about being either crass or patronising? David Cage is from France and I presume he used to vote for that LePen bloke who wanted to kill all blacks or something. For Dave, he’s happy to celebrate the kinship of races via a PIMPED OUT BLAXPLOITATION DETECTIVE THAT FUCKS IN THE SHOWER VIA THE MEDIUM OF QUICKTIME EVENTS.
Dave cannot be racist because he has several black friends, even if he misspells his own game’s name.
“And it also reaches to the core philosophy of Heavy Rain–the characters are not robots like most games but three-dimensional humans.”
This is your greatest folly, Dave. I know you think you’re in a learning process that games need to go through and I know that your ultimate justification is that WE HAVE TO STRIVE, but your characters ARE robots. They will always be robots, or at least will be until the forseeable future. This emphasis on creating ‘real’ characters is doomed to failure, mostly because the people in Fahrenheit would have been a fuckload more believable if you even had the teeniest germ of talent needed to make such a thing happen.
Creating believable, emotion-inspiring characters in games is not about borrowing the surface details from whatever fucking media product takes your fancy. It’s about actually finding that FUCKING DIFFICULT way to do it. It’s about building them by successfully transforming reality into simulation with what’s viable with today’s technology, about finding new ways to inspire the imagination of your audience, not placate them with familiar references, tropes and devices. This is a seriously hard task that a reliance on prior media will only hamper. Game design by reference, both in content and delivery, is like trying to understand Quantum Physics with classical ideas - it just won’t work properly. Saying we can define games by prior media is like defining a particle with comfortable idea likes points and waves. It gives a wholly unsatisfactory conclusion. In reality, what we call a particle is something different and something new. It’s not even fucking abstract - it’s simply new and can only be truly defined by the rules it obeys in its own context, not the context of some pre-existing notion of what’s possible.
Games obey a rule of interaction over everything, so any truly meaningful attempt to advance the sophistication of narrative absolutely needs to abandon the classical methods of doing so to contribute anything new and vital to the ongoing collective concern of human culture. As i’ve ranted about a million times before, it’s equivalent to trying to film a book by literally filming every page and getting the audience to read it. Now, to give Dave’s current project a bit of room, I’m quite open to its implentation of a dynamic narrative. However, given the level to which he’s apparently drawing his characters and their interactions, I can only believe that Dave’s going to end up with a very expensive version of a cheap CD-Rom game from 1994. Maybe a bit like a Tex Murphy game, only not as good.
Dave claims his source of inspiration is admirably complex:
“Inspiration comes from everywhere – comics, painting, theatre, novels, movies, TV series, music, poetry. Most of all, it comes from my everyday life: what I think, what I feel, inner fears I have – in short, who I am. Like for any art form, inspiration comes from life.”
But then shatters this brave vanguard via the conduits he, by his own words, finds most easiest:
“This idea about games existing by themselves and not getting inspiration from anywhere else is a little bit naïve. Interactivity, like literature or cinema, is a platform to trigger human emotions. Human emotions don’t belong to any medium, and if there are effective ways discovered by a medium to trigger specific emotions, I cannot see why I should not use them.”
This is the core problem with Heavy Rain. One thing that’s apparent is that Dave is steadfastly committed to filmic convention in some way or another, which inevitably means aping cliched cinematic presentation. You only have to watch the available trailers to see this in horrible effect. Maybe it is naive to think that game narrative should be divorced from everything else’s devices for delivery, but the results we’re getting at the moment are far from convincing arguments for the competing approach. This is because the devices Dave is employing instinctively as ‘the right way to do it’ is the lazy, compromisation of the medium’s actual potential. It’s a narrow, blinkered letterbox view of a world filled with infinite possibility and, most critically, infinite viewpoints.
Dave talks about COMPLEX EMOTIONS a lot and I wonder if he actually has any real ones. I’ll certainly say that I feel more emotion for a pokemon I’ve raised and clinched a narrow victory with than I have for any character in any pre-ordaned storyline. I’ve felt more emotion for a pokemon than I have for any character in a film and, I have to say, I’ve felt more emotion for a pokemon than I have for most characters in books. Why? Probably because I’m fucked in the head but mostly because we shared a journey that’s markedly different from a journey mapped out precisely by anyone else. A pokemon may have a simple set of rules governing its interaction and, of course, they never directly interact with me. Yet, I feel a genuine emotional response - far more real than anything dictated to me - because our relationship is emergent between my mind and the way I use that pokemon in a fight. Admittedly, the relationship is based on the pokemon becoming ever more badass, but the heady mix of victorious joy and deep pride I get in having one take down some hard motherfucker above its level is very, very real. Much like my dude in Def Jam Vendetta. When he got badass, he was FUCKING FUCKING BADASS and kicking THE LIVING SHIT out of SEAN FUCKING JOHN was like totally my biggest fucking highlight of all games of all time. I was with Ice T as well. It just didn’t get any fucking better than that. In short, the complexity of the emotional response is related to the complexity of your relationship with the game character and, more importantly, that this complexity is due to interacting in a chaotic environment - namely that the game rules provide space to create your own stories of play and thereby the emotional dimension emerges. These stories and, more importantly, working out how to seamlessly guide them is where games can carve genuinely new ground in narrative. Brilliantly, an emphasis on emergent emotionality also means we should also get better games.
Maybe the real beef I have is that Dave is trying to inspire emotion by forcing specific ones on the player though his idea of what’s cool. To me, this is actually a bit weird and somehow manipulative. His insistence that maturely inspiring complex emotions MUST INCLUDE SEX ROBOTS HAVING SEX spins the whole thing off into an entirely disturbing set of possibile outcomes, where it ranges from Dave being wanked off by a million people’s button presses as he’s hard-wired genitally into EVERY PS3 ON PSN to me being totally wrong and weeping like a baby when SEX ROBOT FEMALE #3 opens up through EXPERTLY-DELIVERED VOICE ACTING to SEX ROBOT MALE #1 about some shit that fucks her up today that happened when she was at school. Maybe a pet died. Yeah. If a pet died, I’d fucking lose it and I’d have to PLAY THE GUITAR to retain my sanity.