Friday, June 23, 2006

Fight Club

I tend to be bad at chopping these things down to a reasonable length when I'm tired; it's bed-time but I wanted to write this with the movie fresh in my mind. I apologize if I ramble. If you're not interested in an extensive movie review, and you're not worried about spoilers, don't read the full post. If you're not interested in a movie review and you are worried about spoilers, maybe you should skip this entry entirely.

So, at a friend's reccomendation I went out and rented Fight Club. It's spinning here in the PS2 under the TV next to the computer where I'm typing this. I wanted to quote the commentary (not sure whose) of what I found one of the more powerful and dramatic scenes of the film:
This is the kind of scene that uh, I don't know... only people with no sense of humor saw as... negative.
This is a pretty good way to illustrate that I don't "get" these films, especially given that people find my sense of humor almost absurdly broad. When I say these films, I refer to Fight Club, Jarhead, and Full Metal Jacket; for brevity I lump them into the "pointless antisocial" genre. Antisocial films feature a main character who tends to have a sort of disillusioned outlook on life with antisocial tendencies. This character serves as the center of the action and plays the role of narrator (as these are adapted from books and tend to convey a lot of information via literal narration). At his side is a violently antisocial person who has a rather radical, extreme view of his environment. At the periphery are normal folks like the boss, the drill sergeant, the squad leader, etc., who are at the same time "the man" who doesn't get it and a very personal character who can act as "the everyman" who just as much doesn't get it. A critical irony of the genre is that this type of film doesn't lend itself to explaining anything to the everyman moviegoer, but instead making sure that he continues to not "get it":
Most films um, do tend to wrap things up thematically in a bow and, and let you go out in the theater, knowing exactly what the message was that you were supposed to take from this... and when films that muck around in these kind of ideas resolve, in some ways ambiguously and, and dump a lot of it in your lap and say, "You have to sort through some of this this yourself and figure out what it means to all of you; what components of it you agree with, what components you disagree with," you know people get very uncomfortable; people don't like it.
Great, you admit to doing something people don't like, and you don't actually have a point of your own. See why I use "pointless antisocial" as the genre title? It's not only the main character, it's the film motivation. There's no point and it's not supposed to be entertaining. This is a bad mix for a film, I think.

What bothers me is that I never see a clear motivation or goal for all the hubbub. Max Payne, he loses his family in a rather brutal and overtly traumatic manner. His entire outlook for the two games is suspended on the premise that his life took a turn just a little too sharp for him to handle. These films start with the symptoms in full swing: the protagonist shows up to military training with no real desire to serve, or hasn't been able to sleep for 6 months, and that's the start of the movie. Looking further back might be boring, perhaps, but I just can't tell a motivation without something more concrete. A movie about how someone is unhappy because they are clinically depressed and/or insane does not meaningful drama make. That's like making a real-time 2-hour movie about a fender-bender that occurs at the 40-minute mark; good for you Mr. Artist, that's sorta like real life I guess, but what's your point?

Spoilers for the rest of the post.

I was also thrown off by all the gender-related implications, under the surface; things about how Fight Club is for men only, how dissenters within and without to Project Mayhem are castrated, how the one, tragic casualty of the movement is Bob from the testicular cancer support group - the guy with the "bitch tits"; how it could be worse: a woman could cut off your penis... I just know that being from a book, this is some huge statement about society.

People. Writers. Authors. Enough with hinting about gender roles and shit. It was interesting with Freud, it was done by the 70s, and it's old. If you want to say something about gender roles come out and say it and don't make a god-damn riddle out of genitalia references.

I'm also no chemist, but I could tell the recipes for explosive materials were bullshit, and it was a little distracting from the immersion. Apparently they talked to a bomb squad who wanted them to change it so people wouldn't do it in their own homes, so I guess I understand. =
One thing I have to give the film is, like Max Payne 2, you need to watch the film a second time to recognize details like the bullet-hole in the van windshield, or waking up on airplanes.

You might argue that, after all the above, I can't deny that the movie made me think. Thing is, I think all the time. I'm a big ol' box o' thinkin'. The problem is, I didn't come away from all of this with any sort of interesting conclusions. I managed to squeeze something out of Panic Room, and I got nothin' here. Overall it was a typical movie that pulls up to moderately cool with its awesome style.

OK, so there's the film, but it reminds me of a very unique conundrum for a game: unintentional roleplaying. Let's say, the big hook of the game is that the protagonist is schizophrenic, and the goal of the game is to figure this out. How is this possible? Remember, the goal is to figure something out. Like an adventure game puzzle, the solution (the player's condition) cannot be known, or the game is moot. So, how do you make it compelling?

Your hook is a secret. It sounds totally unmarketable, doesn't it? How do you sell a game where the goal is to discover what makes the plot interesting? This is distinct from split-personality games like the third new Prince of Persia game (wow I mentioned all 3 already) or any game where you swap characters during play. This is a mechanic of plot, you see.

I think if anyone wants to put a meaningful story in a game, they have an obligation to make the plot itself a mechanic or an aspect of a mechanic; otherwise, why use games as the medium?

So anyway, if anyone reads this and has a good idea to tie this game mechanic into something more immediately compelling, please comment. If you can remove the above aspect and still have a fairly complete game/story, it doesn't count; the hook then becomes whatever you make up, and the mental condition is just a surprise ending (doesn't affect the game mechanics at all).



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