Jul 8, 2007

The Wind That Shakes The Barley

It's not often I mention movies in this blog, but, The Wind That Shakes The Barley by Ken Loach, a film I watched a mere few hours ago, was such a storytelling & visual masterpiece I just couldn't ignore it. So, please, bare with me as I incoherently rant, even though -hoping to keep you interested- not on the film's theme, neither on the struggle of the Irish people, nor on just how rare such great films have become. No, this a pure video games related rant.

You see, dear readers, The Wind That Shakes The Barley is a very strong and brutal film that poses -and only partly tries to answer- serious questions regarding politics, human weakness, morality, love, history, socialism, independence and war, but doesn't resort to a Hollywood-esque black or white point of view. It's instead a dialectical movie and watching it definitely can't be described as fun. Or entertainment. It's thought provoking, enraging, and one of those films that urge you on the streets to rectify society's evils, but definitely not fun in the mindless 300 way. Oh, and it got me thinking silly stuff, like when was the last time we saw a video game like this? Frankly? Never.

Video games are still far too un-evolved as a medium to tackle such issues or even attempt to enrage us, and as long as they remain in their sanitized mainstream environment, where corporate ideology reins with an iron fist, they'll always be all about shiny graphics, smart mechanics and cute plumbers jumping around surreal worlds. Their stories, even the rare good ones, will never dare challenge anything of any importance and most probably -as worldwide democracy seems to be suffering- turn into mere pathetic tools of an anti-Arab, anti-Left, gung-ho, sexist propaganda, or -at best- vaguely support such easy to manipulate ideals as the abstract and very obviously good freedom Jade is fighting for in Beyond Good and Evil. What's more, and with the notable exception of Deus Ex, games have yet to provide any real sense of involvement in any of their stories, let alone a sense of truly and meaningfully interacting with their plot; yet this has been technically feasible since the early 80s.

Now, try to imagine a video game version of The Wind That Shakes The Barley, that would attempt to truly immerse the player in its world. Imagine putting the player in a position to choose between compromising under the threat of annihilation and heroically but possibly without hope continuing his/her struggle in a world where no superhuman one-man-army heroes exist. Imagine having the player not only shoot enemies, but being forced to shoot a 16 year old traitor and childhood friend. Imagine willingly letting oneself be led to execution. In a game. Interesting, innit? And the possibilities would frankly be endless, what with the empathy the interactivity of the medium so readily provides...

Anyway, rant off. More elaborate thoughts might someday follow. Opinions?

Related @ Gnome's Lair: Discussing video game reviews, the Needle & Thread interface, Game Design Wikiversity


  1. Bravo!!!! what can i say.. magnificent... Gaming is mainstream enough to have had a lot more serious provoking content by now, but as you said developers plan for the mass market. I'ts a rare occasion when I'm moved by a games storyline and certainly never on the scale that movie classics have done. I live in hope.


  2. Excellent post yet again. (Sorry, not a huge fan of exclamation points.) Even thinking about what such a game would be like blows me away. Casual games do have their place, but the industry needs more revolutionary, unique games, especially those that make us question our preconceptions. Your description of "The Wind That Shakes The Barley" makes me want to see the film. I believe that some of the mid and later Ultima games supposedly had some moral choices, but I do not think it was anywhere near what you described in the post. So many more games could go beyond engaging players, though one of the major problems is how little risk game developers want to take with new games. Perhaps one day...

  3. Buried in the drafts of my blog is just such an unpublished post, how games can be more serious than just a past time.

    A game doesn't have to be didactic, but it can lead players through experiences and metaphors that say something beyond the game itself.

    One point is that games should make other characters matter in very meaningful ways to the player. Do that, and a game can approach topics seriously and thoughfully. The biggest problem is that characterization in games is by way of stereotypes and superficial traits. IMO, you can't have characters that matter until you have some complexity that often is contradictory--the criminal who is oddly generous or the pious neighbor who steals cable. Those are just extremes but most people are more complex when you get down to their hidden lives.

    Maybe I'll dust off those posts. :)

    FWIW, one movie director that creates very rich characters and stories is John Sayles, with his best movies being Lone Star, Men with Guns, and the Secret of Roan Inish.

  4. Very True. Gaming indeed has the potential to really make people think.

    The problem is, how real is too real? Game devs are can only go as far as the restrictions will let them. I know it's not the greatest example, but look at take two interactive with manhunt 2.

    Either way, awesome post gnome!

  5. Thank you so much Elderly. Yet, I do believe that hope lyes outside the mainstream. Group projects, indy developers... that's the last bastion of true creativity, freedom and experimentation... Just like in the movies.

    Thank you too Ithmeer and really appreciate that lovely red colour of my average blushing effect. Now, do see the film. Oh, and Ultima you say? Quite a point you got there, even if the choices were quite simplistic. Let's wait and see BioShock, though.

    Guttertalk my friend, please do post those articles of yours. We could try opening up the discourse I believe. Even actually turn it into a discourse. You're absolutely right on the importance of characters bit. They are crucial... John Sayles? I'll definitely check him out.

    Thanks Joe! I would agree on the restrictions front, even though I believe that a mere text-adventure would be enough of a medium for such a purpose. Probably the most powerful one too... And Manhunt 2 as you wisely point out simply shows the ever shrinking space for free expression. Bloody censors!

  6. This town needs an enema..!!!

  7. A brilliant and thought provoking article Gnome! (Oh and I love it when you get all philosophical...)

    I know I'm always banging on about it, but there was a great article relating to the subject matter of this post in Games TM.

    I agree with you that hope lies in the indie kids and home brew developers...

    One such game I can think of that looks at provoking thought and challenging moral assertions would be Super Columbine Massacre RPG...


    Obviously this is a game based on factual events rather than historical fiction, but I think its only a matter of time until gamers demand something akin to what you described above...

    I won't be playing them though, I'll be blasting zombies and hacking Japanes Yakuza bosses to death! LOL!

  8. Super Columbine Massacre does sound very interesting Father. guess I should give it a try... Hope it's more than a shock-thing...

    Playing Red Steel again, are we?