Sunday, March 7, 2010

Games As Art: More Thoughts on Heavy Rain

I don't want to continue talking about Heavy Rain at length, I feel like I've done so enough, but I do have a few further thoughts I'd like to share before I let the subject rest.

First of all I think Heavy Rain is a game that will continue to amaze and divide people for years to come. The more of it I experience the more I want to talk about how different it is from other games, and how it truly is a stepping-stone title in the history of gaming. It simply feels different to play this game than any other game or movie that has come before. It may not be the future of gaming in the general sense, but it certainly has refined a single genre almost to the point of becoming unrecognizable. Interactive movies will never be the same, and that is a very good thing. From now on they will be viable, both as entertainment and art.

I haven't stressed enough the degree to which your characters' mortality influences the experience of Heavy Rain. Knowing that at any point you can cause the death of a major character and change the story rather than end it gives weight to every decision in a revolutionary way. Never before have you experienced this kind of influences to this degree, not in video games nor in cinema. You become at once the actor, director, writer and witness of the Heavy Rain story. In this sense every playthrough becomes your story, your adventure. I appreciate having the option to go back to any moment in the story and replay it, but frankly it's insufficient since each section is so influenced by your multitude of actions throughout the whole. It truly is an interactive movie that lives and breathes with us, and thereby comes to mean so much more both in terms of individual characters and overal arc.

On the subject of meaningful characters, I want to also mention Heavy Rain's gender politics. They are without a doubt problematic, and not quite as forward looking as I once hoped. The first few minutes of gameplay as the female player-character, Madison, are voyeuristic in the extreme: not only can you have her undress and shower, there is actually a set of available commands that have no effect beyond making her stretch and push out her chest. Nevertheless, the game is still an improvement upon general representations of gender within the video game industry.

Take for example the strip sequence I mentioned in my ramble in October: in the 'Sexy Girl' chapter players are forced (at gun-point) to strip for a sleazy club owner. The sequence not only puts players in the awkward position of identifying with the expressly uncomfortable Madison, it furthermore allows them to control her degradation. If the player is able to completely ignore Madison's personality despite hearing her inner thoughts, then they can choose to prolong the scene in order to see more of her body exposed. Doing so is a conscious choice, however, as the conclusion to the sequence is put within reach early on: if the player decides to have Madison to strip further then they are in effect taking the subject position of the club owner who is forcing her to do so; the controller becomes the gun, and the player becomes the perverted rapist. This is a unique moment in gaming where the voyeuristic act is being called out for what it is in terms of the commodifying nature of single-player virtual portrayals of sex. As in all other facets, the game has its problems but they shy in comparison to the stature of its accomplishments.

Anyway, those are just a few more thoughts I've had about Heavy Rain. It continues to be an incredible experience, more so every time I return to it, and I strongly recommend it to everyone. I'll leave you now with a few other thoughts on the game that I've found interesting:

The Brainy Gamer decries Heavy Rain's half-hearted interactivity, and then opens up the conversation for dissenting viewpoints.

One such dissenting viewpoint is expressed at Pop Matters.

A fantastic Contrarian Corner piece on the game over at IGN. This article really explores the game as an interactive entertainment vehicle, and attacks its gender politics in ways that do not align with my assessment above.

A breakdown of the game's admittedly significant plot holes over at games radar. Spoiler warning. This article is the best proof that Heavy Rain is truly more game than movie, and an experience that must be played in order to be felt.

Lastly, the reviews from Joystiq, Kotaku, and GameTrailers that finally convinced me to buy the game.

No comments:

Post a Comment