Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Let me tell you a story…

I struck a dog last week.

Not a real dog, you'll understand. I may be cynical and slightly warped at times, but I'm not as bad as to actually hit a real animal. But in a videogame, I hit a dog, entirely intentionally.

Allow me to explain.

The videogame is Bully/Canis Canum Edit. Now, some of you may be flinching at this narrative right now, thinking sarcastically "well, unnecessary violent in a videogame, yeah, that's new". But again, let me explain. In the game, I was innocently doing a paper round.

Yes, a paper round. Never done one in real life, but here I was, peddling away on my bicycle, trying to earn a little money in one of Bully's many sub games, delivering papers. It's a loving homage to Paperboy, that age old game that you may remember. So I was doing quite well, managing to get some of my papers to their targets in the time limit, with 5 papers to go and plenty of time to do them.

Then I hear a growl.

And a bark.

Before I even realise, this dog (not sure of the breed, never really stopped long enough to check) was chasing me down the street, snapping at my heels. At first I tried to ignore it, but after a while it made delivering papers even more difficult and time was bearing down on me quicker than the canine who apparently wanted to eat my legs for no real reason. And it refused to give up, snapping and growling as I swerved in and out of traffic, avoiding cars and the occasional hoodlum wanting to turn my face into a Picasso.

Somehow, I managed to get my papers to their targets on time. Job done, cash earned.

But the dog would not leave me alone.

It continued to chase me regardless of where I went in the city or what I did. Unlike the local toughs who want a piece of my hide, this animal pays no attention to the blue-red flash of the law. So I decide to take a risk. Maybe it'll stop if I get off the bike.



Scooby Doo was waiting for this moment. And promptly attacks me. Biting at my legs and taking a small slice of energy with the chunk of flesh. I run, but the dog reaches me easily, taking another bite. Then another. Then another. Then-


I clock it one across its head.

It lets out a pathetic whimper and bounces to the ground.


With one sound, one little realistic sample of audible pain, I'm made to forget my tormentor's constant hounding and instantly feel like a monster. The game has me pounding bullies into submission, slamming wood off their heads and flushing their melons into the toilet without remorse, yet as soon as I raise my hand to an animal in self defence, I vilify myself and make a mental note to not do it again. Which is exactly the point.

Bully is a game that teaches consequence of actions more so than many other games I've played. Flush fire crackers down the loo and the rushing explosion of water will horribly bidet anyone in the other cubicles. Offer abuse to authority or to anyone while authority is present, and you'll be instantly reprimanded and often punished for it. Even something as innocent as accidentally bumping into someone can have its consequences as students drop their books, fall over and do their best to either make you feel like a jerk or retaliate, making sure you're very careful about personal space in the future. The game's moral core is very strong, with every character in the story ending up being a better person by the time you complete it. Sounds Disney, sure, but it works. And it only works as well as it does because you're made to think about each of your actions throughout the game. Interactive moral cause and effect.

As a storytelling technique, it's incredibly effective and something I'm trying to learn from. The closer you bring the reader to personal response, the more they react. It's something I intended to do from the very moment you started reading this entry. No doubt, most of you reading saw the opening line and instantly reacted. Those who know me will be asking how or why, those who don’t know me will be wondering who exactly this cruel bastard is and why he has the audacity to put such information in the public domain.

Emotional empathy and response is one of the writer's greatest weapons. Regardless of the medium, whether it be film, book, game, comic book, music, whatever. Appealing to emotion(s) while getting you to ask whos/whats/whys/hows is the draw of any story, across any genre or medium.

If there's any particular movie, book, song, game, comic or whatever that stands out for you, please do post it here and a quick reason why it has that effect on you. It'll be interesting to see the sort of range there is for this sort of thing…


Anonymous said...

lol I did wonder from the opening lines what this post would entail. I love the way you described it, it was rather amusing!

Thinking about the question you posed at the end. Will think on it and address it later.

Jac said...

Sorry I've taken so long to comment, but somehow the question posed was more difficult to answer than I suspected.

A book that springs to mind is "Lord of the Flies" - this for me evoked many emotions, largely horror, anger and disgust as the seemingly civil society created in it descended into primitive savagery. There is nothing like seeing human nature in the raw, to create an emotional response. In saying this, I am not often "affected" by a book. I certainly find it easier to laugh than to cry at fiction though, because if the latter threatens, I remind myself 'its only a story!'

For a really strong emotional response, I think music is the most potent. I was watching TV last night and the song "Mad World" was on an advert. I immediately felt calm, yet saddened. Music has the ability to reach deep inside you and simply make you stop and listen. Somehow it can make an emotion you didn't even know was bubbling away, pop to the surface. Fortunately this can also be a happy emotion as I found when driving home and the Elvis remix "A little less conversation" came on and I started toe tapping (plays havoc with your clutch control :))

hope my rambling long post makes sense!
jac x

Unknown said...

Made perfect sense, thanks! ;)

It's probably a question that initially seems easy enough, but takes a while to delve into (still waiting on yours, Emma,lol :P).

Very interesting choices - there's actually a large amount of essays about the 'reality' of fiction and such. Something I'll probably look into. There's a technique I want to use which encompasses that...

It sounds like you heard 'Mad World' from the Gears of War ad (directed by David 'Seven/Fight Club' Fincher) currently doing the rounds (ironically, the game itself is nowhere near as emotive as the song and ad).
I think that track def has an emotional gravitas that a lot of people feel. For me, it always reminds me of Donnie Darko -I think that's where the Gary Jules remix became popularised- where it's used in a pinnacle scene. The song has a really powerful effect on me, partly because it's such a sad song anyway, partly because it's played during such a horrible moment in Donnie Darko, and mostly because it's one of 'mine and Fran's' films that we watched together. So much of an effect, in fact, that the copy of Donnie Darko I've owned for 2 years remains unopened to this day - I just cant find it in me to watch it again, yet, despite it easilly being one of my favourite films.

Funny you should mention the 'A little less conversation' remix, though - when that's on, I mostly think about is how great a tune it was during the football ads, lmao ;)

Cheers for your input :)

Anonymous said...

Seriously. I can't think of anything. And I'm assuming you don't mean an emotional response as in crying. Given that I cry when I watch anything. Seriously, I cried watching "the rise and rise of Christina Aguilera".

It's possibly because I'm too emotionally detached, but I only ever cry and laugh when I watch things. I can't recall ever having that emotional reaction. And definitely not to a game.

Unknown said...

Hmm, an ice-man, eh? (Albeit one who would cry during 'the rise and rise of Christina Aguilera') ;)

Well to be honest, it can be any emotion, not anything just on the extreme sides of the scale. Anything that uplifted you or inspired you, worried or scared you, even a little bit ;)

You can tell me. I wont tell anyone :P

Anonymous said...

Oh, scared me! Scared me! I can do that! I was in the games room at Edge watching Ste Curran play Aliens, or something. The first time the alien jumped out we both wailed like girls, and I ran out of the room screaming.


Oh, you mean in an emotional way. Seriously, I actually can't think. Oh, I know, I broke down in tears when I was reading towards the end of Danny Wallace's "Yes Man" the other day. It was just an incredibly beautiful description of love, which hit me right in the heart.

The thing that gets me in films and TV that makes me cry is usually people getting something wonderful that they deserve, or people showing loyalty to other people - kind of manly stuff. You remember in the film of The Return of the King at the end, where they're all in Minis Tirith, and the hobbits, start to kneel, then Aragorn says, "No, my friends. You kneel to no man". Seriously - floods, absolute FLOODS of tears.

Unknown said...

I find it very easy to imagine Ste Curran wailing like a girl, for some reason... hm ;)

So kinda like a just and worthy reward (likely moralistic, rather than physical), given after a long and arduous trial? Innnnteresting. Cheers, all useful stuff for reference.

PS. That moment in Return of the King touched me, too - it could have been really cringey, but was so well acted that they pulled it off. Thinking about it, parts of Casino Royale managed to either make me feel uncomfortable (in a good way) or sad, more than any other Bond film ever made. Great great movie - goes to show how far making a 2D character into someone much more realistic can make a much more powerful and different film.