Drugs are mostly bad, kids, and you don’t need me to tell you that. Presumably. Hopefully. But as well as being outlawed by parents, politicians and those who allegedly have your continued well-being in mind, narcotics also harbour a fascinating perspective muddled full of truths and mistruths, secreted behind their brain-altering side effects. As Socrates once condemned the man who did not seek the full potential of his body, should we too not seek the full potential of our minds? That’s probably a discussion for a slightly different post, on a slightly different website, written by a slightly different person; what I want to discuss is the happy subject of the place of drugs in video games, their potential as a subject matter and why we’re all so flipping scared of one of the most taboo topics our conversely unhappy medium could ever hope to tackle.
Now, substance use is far from entirely absent in video games. Lord of the Rings Online requires you to smoke Pipeweed to increase your botanical aptitude; Fallout’s Med-X was originally morphine; and I won’t mention the brazen use of drugs in Saint’s Row 3, because what sober gentlemen would ever want to talk about Saint’s Row 3 without a 30,000 foot drop nearby just incase? Not I, kids.
But each of these games includes narcotics on a supplementary level. In general, it’s an unexplored avenue of orbital narrative in video games, presumably for reasons one scarcely needs to be Sherlock Holmes to ascertain. It’s an X-Rated subject of the highest order that stands to cause developers more trouble than it’s worth. Not to mention it’ll increase the chance of them having to ward off tides of incessantly uninformed, whinging mothers who should have jobs or something. Amirite Rockstar? Anyway…
In Phillip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly, the movie adaptation used a stark visual hinge wherein the film was shot digitally before being animated using ‘interpolated rotoscope’. And no, I’ve no idea what that means either, but it sure looks pretty. While it of course gave the movie its iconic, instantly recogniseable art style, it also allowed for the Scramble Suit, the sci-fi device that obscured the wearer’s appearance, to work effectively both from a visual and technological standpoint. This kind of thing cries out for a place in modern video games; exploring the aesthetic derailment of the mind as an undercover narcotics agent, jumping from skin to skin, sometimes the even player themselves unsure which character he or she is playing. It lays on a platter the opportunity for a deeply woven, thought-provoking and angular narrative while simultaneously delivering a uniquely interactive, sensory assault that could challenge and captivate in equal measure.
Don’t worry, there is more to this post than ‘I want a Scanner Darkly game’. Supposedly. So, poignantly, are we avoiding the subject of drugs intentionally? After all, they are bad. And with Assassin’s Creed Unity coming under fire simply for not having enough lady parts in it, are we as an industry ready to invite these stern-faced issues, already frequently tackled by literature and cinema, into our medium? The evidence looks negative, but then no press is bad press; and if you’re going to get into trouble, you might as well make headlines while you do. Right? Right??
The answer to that particular dispute lies, unsurprisingly, in the blindingly obvious. Of course we’re avoiding drugs intentionally. Of course gaming as an industry isn’t ‘ready’ to tackle such issues, because we’re busy guffawing haplessly into our copies of Call of Duty before jumping onto YouTube to be violent, misogynistic, racist berks. I say we, I of course mean you. It’s your fault. Albeit, probably not you if you’ve found this particular blog being kicked about in the dregs of the internet. I take it back, well done you.
‘Yes, but other mediums are also busy glorifying and trivialising horrors and they’re okay to put drug-based narratives on the focal mantle without too much backlash’. Good point actually, inner monologue, a very good point indeed. In fact considering the increasingly steepening decline of all humankind, from Boris Johnson to Justin Bieber to Josie Cunningham (peculiar pattern of Js there, isn’t there) as we desperately scrape and scratch our way down this vomit-spattered deteriorating societal sluice, in many ways there’s never been a better time to get this kind of stuff covered. Why? Because it’s only going to get worse, isn’t it.
The world is going to become increasingly slack-jawed, the evidence for which lies solely in the Daily Mail’s sales figures.The infestation of the cinema-goer who has to have stories loudly, monotonically bellowed into his ear has already done away with the concept of thought-provoking film. And since gaming seems these days so eager to keep up with its big half-cousin-once-removed The Film Industry, violently cramming its staple techniques into a medium that doesn’t actually accommodate them very well, doesn’t that mean that we’re just going to descend into brash, unchallenged mediocrity on an even larger scale? If this IS the case, and gaming’s masthead is soon (or continues to be) adorned with titles equivalent in the complete absence of quality as that recent Godzilla film, or Pacific Rim, or anything that Megan Fox was ever considered for, then we need to get a shift on.
The indie scene is, of course, the place to go for gaming that makes you think. But it needn’t be that way, chiefly because we’re running out of time for it to be any other way. And if gaming’s ostensibly crass outer shell is going to become an even greater lomax than the one that currently has Call of Duty Advanced Warfighter nailed to its forehead, then NOW IS THE TIME. Developers. Abandon your hopes and dreams of unadventurous copy/paste jobs. Now is the time to create that controversial, mind-expanding, bending, bolstering masterpiece; the one that poses questions, and asks the player what they think. The one that uses the unique array of interactivity based systems completely individual to gaming to tell a story, instead of just hocking gameplay in between cutscenes because it’s the done thing. The one that holds ethical and moral imbalances up to the viewer, no matter how taboo or contentious they may be in our modern world of dispute and decay, and let’s them see, and experience, and feel these things for themselves. Do it quick. Before someone buys another copy of the Mail.