Question: Why do you play shooters? Wait, that’s as broad as my knowledge of obscure internet porn starlets, so, rabbit hole: Who do you want to be when you play a shooter?
A lot of devs seem to believe that a huge percentage of male gamers subscribe to an increasingly stereotypical male power fantasy when blowing shiz up, that being the well-built, weary and weapons-savvy fighting hero sometimes in need of a wig. Is this really true? Is it? Do a whole lot of us sit there going, “Man, I wish I was Jason Statham,” while poking distressedly at an unenviable bicep?
I don’t buy it. The gameplay reality of this stereotype is that he’s often downright invincible. The hordes can’t touch you. Coupla bullets’ll fix any and all incoming Emmets. Then you’re home in time for pancakes and powerful intercourse with a dazzling blonde.
I got to thinking earlier this year when I was checking out Dishonored. Man, the protagonist – demonic assassin Corvo – is just full of killing power. He can do anything, decimate everyone effortlessly.
It felt more like a process of deciding how to win rather than fighting to win. In what is an otherwise awesome-looking title, this was the one thing I just couldn’t get into. I realised, then, that I just want to play me.
By me, I mean some guy. Or girl, I’m cool with that. Fem-Shep for copious victory. You know, whoever. Gordon Freeman. That’s why I loved Half-Life so much. Who was this guy? Exactly. The immersion afforded by a first-person perspective is often at its best when it’s as close to a virtual reality as it can be. It’s why Far Cry 3 seems so appealing, why even something as far-flung and sci-fi as Prey 2 (please come back) flicks my interest switch: Wherever you go, there you are. Here’s a gun.
I don’t play shooters to trip on the idealised invincible powerhouse. Escapism yes, but only so I can be somewhere I’d never ordinarily be working out my aggression from behind an unreasonably large piece of artillery. More and more, I’m finding each game – or single-player game, anyway – that I start and finish to be a personal journey I only play once. That’s the story, that’s what happened, it doesn’t need telling again. If I’ve just been a passenger in a super-human Chevy, I don’t feel like it’s been a fulfilling one.
Shooters are not very complimentary in this regard. They’re shooters. The genre is inherently arcadey, but I can’t help but feel this generation’s emphasis on Jason Stathams and multiplayer has helped dilute the potential shown by games like the original Deus Ex, like Fallout 3, like the aforementioned Half-Life. In my darker, more cynical moments, I sometimes wonder if it’s the real reason Valve haven’t given us Half-Life 3. There’s little room for the everyman epic. Those are the shooters that resonated with me the most, the ones I probably won’t ever forget. Not because of the shooting itself, but because I was there, man. I saw it.
And it almost got me.