Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Sensationalist: Vengeance At Play

This post is part of "The Sensationalist," a continuing series here at Experience Points in which we examine games' abilities to evoke emotions and sensations in video game players. Please have a look at the series' introduction as well its previous entries.
My latest article is up on PopMatters. It discusses mankind's deep burning need to exact revenge, and explores what it looks like to see Vengeance At Play.

Admittedly, I missed a few examples of vengeance in games. The theme, in little ways, actually appears quite frequently. There are also a few that bare the term right in their titles, such as Far Cry 2 Vengeance and X2: Wolverine's Revenge. Although these are pretty awful. The games I selected explore revenge more thoroughly, giving it serious narrative weight or evoking some of the emotions encapsulated by the thirst for retribution. If you can think of any others, please share them in the comments section below.

One important topic I intentionally overlook for brevity's sake is vengeance in multiplayer games. Revenge is not really a narrative tool in multiplayer games. The desire to seek revenge after another player takes out your teammate, or you for that matter, is completely natural. Multiplayer gaming provides a relatively safe venue for homegrown vengeance.

It is interesting that some games encourage the pursuit of revenge. The Modern Warfare series features a revenge bonus every time you kill a target that recently killed you. It's an ingenious feature. With so many players in a match, one could easily miss the name of their assailant. Revenge alerts give players the catharsis they forgot they wanted. It is reassuring to know we can entertain real life revenge in multiplayer games without succumbing to the unsettling power of violent retribution.

1 comment:

  1. no GTA4?

    More than any game I've played GTA4 seems to be preoccupied with vengeance.
    It asks of its players pretty much all same questions you do in your final paragraph.

    Its treatment of vengeance is noteworthy in games in because even if you do manage to
    "stop yourself, before revenge consumed you" it ends far from happily.
    Pretty much every single character is in some way out for revenge. Every 'moral choice' GTA4 gives you is based on one way or another on betrayal. From Playboy X's usurping of Dwayne Forge, to the stories of the McReary brothers.
    Whatever choice you make at the end of the game (spoilers!)one of the few positive optimistic influences on Niko's life dies in a revenge attack(be it Kate or Roman),the implication being that Niko was in to deep to ever escape.
    I suppose though outside games this is a far more common trope, as Michael Corleone would put it "Just when I thought I was out... they pull me back in".

    Final thought is that alot has been said of GTA4 as a critique of America, and i wonder if its take on vengeance and betrayal is in response to the prevailing norms is as much a part of this as its black humor. Although as your choice of Shenmue, Park Chan-Wook's trilogy and Angry Birds shows the concept of vengeance is pretty universal.

    Disclaimer: I've only just finished GTA4 so its no doubt on top of my mind for that reason.