This month’s theme is Good & Evil. When we announced the theme, we expected stories that took on the epic battle of moral polarities, the explored the heights of exaltation and the depths of depravity. As usual, our contributors surprised us. Instead, we got essays about the point at which good and evil meet, of murky moralities, the relativity of heroism, the meaning of choice and the pitfalls of vigilantism. Like the ancient Egyptian goddess Ma’at, we’re weighing the souls of Nathan Drake, the Punisher, Corvo Attano, Paul Kersey and, if we’re being honest, ourselves, too.
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Playing the Hero, by Matt Sayer
Matt tells the tale of a typical hero of a typical RPG, where being the Chosen One comes with a license for bad behavior.
And that brings me back to waking up. Now, all that recollection has made me hungry, but it seems the former owner of this place ate nothing but cheese wheels, and I’m lactose intolerant. Not a problem; I’ll just see what’s on the street buffet this morning. I venture outside and rummage through the barrels and crates lining the road. Junk, junk, junk. I toss the trash over my head. A mouldy apple core strikes a passing guard in the head. He doesn’t even flinch.
I finally unearth a raw steak, which I cook up on the fire I started last night. It’s still burning, along with the remnants of the berry bushes. Oh well. I’m not the biggest fruit fan anyway.
Two Sides of the Knife, by Hazel Monforton
Hazel presents Dishonored‘s Corvo Attano as sin-eater, absolving or damning his city through his actions.
If the answer is violence, there is always a price. The lonely boy, having slaughtered his tormenters with a horde of hungry rats, finds himself dying of the same rat-borne plague. Delilah can be murdered by Daud, and Daud in turn by Corvo. Violence perpetuates itself; even Emily, in a violent playthrough, can be instilled with a thirst for vengeance thanks to Corvo’s actions. The Outsider is most interested, most pleased, when you find the nonviolent solutions to each demanded assassination, when you answer violence with justice and refuse the call of vengeance.
“After all,” the Outsider says, “what choice did you have?”
As Dishonored shows us, violence leaves us no more choices – not when all that’s left are the rats, who strip the flesh from the just and the unjust alike.
Nathan Drake is a Shithead, by Emma Kidwell
Emma looks past the colonialism and spree murders on the surface of the Uncharted series to discover Nathan Drake is still a jerk.
After escaping the burning chateau, Sully is out of breath and sits down on a log to try and compose himself. Nate blows off their close call with death with a witty one-liner, but Sully is irritated. “You got your pride all tangled up in this.” He’s right. Nathan’s pride and selfishness get in the way with what should be important to him.
By the time Drake’s Deception rolls around, Elena and Nathan are estranged. It’s clear that they left their relationship on bad terms and we can only speculate as to why. Here’s a theory: Nathan’s insatiable desire for action and fear of a domestic lifestyle ultimately conflicted with Elena wanting to tone things down. She clearly loved the adventure and the excitement in the beginning, but realized that jeopardizing their lives wasn’t worth it. This wasn’t all fun and games – this was dangerous.
Punishment Done Right, by Michael Edwards
Michael compares the Punishers of both the big screen and the small, and wonders why it took so long to get the character right.
There was only so far you could take a character that had gone from villain to antihero to just another 80s action star, and in the movies he was just another knockoff action star from a bygone era. Death Wish, Cobra, The Boondock Saints, Dirty Harry, Taxi Driver, Sin City and Mad Max are just some of the films that the Punisher movies have been compared to and, in most cases, they blow Frank Castle out of the water. One problem with the Punisher movies was striking that balance between grim and gritty while also acknowledging that it is a comic book adaptation. Comic books have colorful villains, but the villains in these films were annoying cartoons, or John Travolta. Another big problem with the onscreen Punisher dawned on me while watching Season Two of Daredevil – the omission of something that was never tried in all three film versions. It is something that doesn’t work so much in the comic books, but works very well on the screen. In the film adaptations, the Punisher was never around superheroes.
Grandpa, Murder and the American Dream, by Amanda Hudgins
Amanda revisits the Death Wish movies and, surprise, the populist vigilante at their center is more terrifying than you remember.
One of the key parts of this fantasy is that the other people in the neighborhood, the good folks that live there, need to be excited, not appalled when they witness the violence delivered by Paul Kersey. Kersey sets up elaborate situations, baited ones, where he can draw in creeps. He needs an excuse to kill them. One of the first scenarios involves him purchasing a conspicuous new car, which he parks on the street. Naturally, it is broken into and then he walks downstairs and murders the would-be thieves. He not only goes back upstairs to finish his dinner, he also leaves the car doors wide open. He doesn’t buy the car to use it, he buys the car to kill people. The same with a camera. He walks down the street with the camera thrown over his shoulder, eating ice cream. A creep runs up behind him and steals the camera, so Kersey pulls out his gun, drops his frozen treat and shoots him. The street erupts like their hometown team just won the Super Bowl. “That’s the creep who stole my pocketbook last week” an old woman yells. Windows open, people stick their heads out and cheer. Murder, it seems, is the way to go.
For Bad Reasons, by Taylor Hidalgo
Taylor wonders why so many games encourage us to act bad while playing the hero.
When looking at it from the outside, as many have pointed out before, it does turn the good guys of these games into crazed, ravaging, pillaging, thieving chaos agents. There is an utter disregard for property, locked doors are a puzzle to resolve rather than an actual desire for private space and anything that can be taken will be, all as part of the normal course for the savior of the world. In short, it turns players into evil people, who shatter and steal property at a whim and will attack anything with any tool if it looks like it could lead to a new discovery. A cracked shed is an open invitation to be bombed, courtesy of the good guy. Kaboom! You’re welcome.
Ordinary Men, by Wilson Skomal
For Wilson, John Carpenter’s The Thing is a rewarding horror movie because it lacks heroes.
This is a story of doomed men. Happy endings and satisfying plot resolutions are not menu items. There are no My Dinner With Andre exchanges of personal ascension and understanding. This is appropriate, considering the narrative framework on which the film is built. We are meant to see humanity in miniature, our protagonists cast against the dwarfing bulk of antagonism. Each and every character is on display with their flaws. Interactions and development between characters is calming and relatable to an audience, and as the direct antithesis towards cultivating an air of uncertainty and paranoia, these are appropriately minimal.
Dante’s Infernal Agency, by Megan Condis
Megan compares the morality of Dante’s Inferno to that of the action videogame of the same name.
Dante feels pity for many of the sinners he meets along his journey, and we learn that his guide, the Roman poet Virgil, will never be able to get into Heaven because he died shortly after the birth of Christ and therefore never had the opportunity to be baptized. Yet these outcomes are presented to the reader as just. It is Dante who must adjust his moral sensibilities to bring them in line with those of the creator over the course of his grand tour of the afterlife. He is not, in the parlance of America’s last president, a “decider.” He is a passive witness, a scribe whose only job is to record the decisions God has already made.
In videogame terms, this God is a programmer who has already determined not only whether every possible choice is good or evil, but also to what degree. He measures player choices upon his pre-determined scale and visits upon them the ending He knows they deserve.
Letters from Mom, by Sara Clemens
Sara presents letters from her fictional mother in Animal Crossing: New Leaf and compares them to paraphrased letters from her real mother.
My dear Sara,
You know, as a mother, I’ll
never let go of my precious
memories of you. Like those
fabulous, fun-filled 46
hours I spent in labor… You
were worth every minute!
Weren’t you? <3 Mom
When I was giving birth, I just
knew it’d be a monster. I
could see my reflection in
the lamp above me and I
wouldn’t look. I knew it was