Saturday, November 9, 2013

Quicky Re: Ep. 88 of The Game OverThinker and Absurdism

DISCLAIMER: I write because I have something to say, but I'll more than admit that I'm more likely to cast down in typing what I have to say about moviebob's stuff because the last time I did that, it got me a lot of pageviews, some positive feedback, and I got linked on the TV Tropes forums, which was really cool since I used to cut my teeth there back in the day. (It was also, coincidentally, where I discovered the work of James Clinton Howell.) All that said I ain't gonna disagree with the guy for the sake of disagreeing.

This isn't gonna be nearly as extensive or negative as the last time I responded to Moviebob (who I remind you, I respect and admire deeply) but some of this stuff has been nagging at me.

Here's the latest episode of his show:

I just wanted to hit up a few points here.

1) Bioshock: Infinite: Fails deeply as a condemnation of racism, as Brendan Keogh writes about here:
(I will link to that piece until the day I die.)

2) I think he kinda simplifies the topic of absurdism from both a philosophical and artistic standpoint.

The absurd, in philosophy, is essentially our need for meaning in life vs. there not being any.

The idea of the absurd is especially important in both existentialist philosophy, and videogames are nothing if not deeply existentialist from either a design or narrative perspective.

Absurdist works are not supposed to be meaningless per se, but rather investigations of meaninglessness.

For example, in the infamous Waiting for Godot the two main characters wait around for a friend who never shows up. It is both itself a meaningless act because it will never reap a reward and the act does not itself create meaningful growth in the characters, and the act of waiting (for Godot) is also a metaphor for the meaninglessness of most life: waiting around for it all to make sense, to add up to something when it simply will not.

In No More Heroes, by comparison, as analyst Emcee Prophit shows (I might be simplifying by putting words in his mouth by the way), Suda uses absurdism to demonstrate the nihilism of ludic acts. (Nihilism being the idea that not only is there no inherent meaning in life, but that none can be derived or created)

Travis Touchdown consistently lies to himself about his intentions in attempting to become the top assassin, but the game keeps going on to reveal none of those things to be true and demonstrates this through visual metaphors, as well as reinforces the meaningless of the violence by interrupting it with meaningless busywork. (The twist ending that reveals that there was no UNA also serves to reinforce the meaningless of not just what Travis did to get to the assassins, but the act of murdering the assassins itself.)

No More Heroes is definitely an absurdist satire. Of what? Videogames. The somewhat incomplete (it mostly ignores the sandbox stuff, which is minor, but still crucial) but still very valuable analysis by Emcee Prophit of it that I referenced begins here:

3) Metal Gear: You can kinda see above, but also to simplify . . .

Y'all know what I have to say about Metal Gear Solid.

Here's what James Clinton Howell had to say about Metal Gear Solid 2

And here's what he and Jerel Smith had to say about Metal Gear Solid 4

Suffice to say, Metal Gear's form does not exist to make the radical politics easier to swallow, it serves an integral purpose to the communication of those themes, and also functions as a self-sufficient criticism of ludic structure.

Otherwise, totally solid episode about how Grand Theft Auto V and it's fans are totally up their own ass. As always, thanks to anybody reading out there.

- Austin C. Howe, Maryland, 2013


  1. "Absurdist works are not supposed to be meaningless per se, but rather investigations of meaninglessness."

    For sure! Those games which revel in meaninglessness and only are reactionary in the sense that they position themselves against something or try to come across as taking no position at all/investigating nothing, instead of trying to explore something and make something "positive" I would claim are not only nihilistic but also confirm to thanatos, affirm destruction. Sometimes the two can be hard to distinguish though, because I believe there are elements of both often in the same work/act. Especially when it comes to satire it can be hard to understand what's what. Like which is Hotline Miami? An investigation, sure, but perhaps also an embrace of what it critiques?

    1. I haven't gotten to play Hotline since theast time I was at my friends place. MERCILESSLY well designed game, but I have yet to get to the part where plot starts happening.

      I do think the aesthetic almoat functions as a criticism itself. Gen 7 games have made violence, if not "glorious", still very, very pretty. (See games like Bulletstorm.) Hotline is shamelessly ugly.