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We Play What We Fear

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A couple of years ago a friend of mine wrote his MA thesis on how American superheroes are a manifestation of the public's subconscious fears and insecurities. In the paper he proves, that characters like Captain America (just one of many he analyzed) were created as a response to America's overwhelming fear of everything alien. It goes as deep as creating fictional characters to give the society an illusion of safety, a fantasy that they're all protected by invincible superheroes that never lose. Now, I'm not going to take a stand in this case, because this is just the preface, the paper I mention just gave me the idea for this piece. As video games are becoming (or already have become) a medium of the same weight as movies and television we can observe how the subjects the games' stories take on change. In the beginning everything was very simple: jump to get a coin, dodge a spiked cannonball. But, as the medium's evolution was in progress over the years, developers and writers understood that virtual realities are becoming a great outlet for messages of all kinds. Since then we had a lot of games offering commentary on the current happenings in the world of politics, war, etc. Here I want to show you how our fears, those of present day, perspire into video games - the interactive medium where we are the heroes. So, what are we afraid of and how is it reflected in games?

1. Viral/biological warfare.

Biotechnology and gene manipulation were touchy subjects ever since these branches of science surfaced. Obviously it's a natural response - interfering with nature to such a degree is indeed very scary and people are bound to fear it, because what if something goes wrong and Prototype or Resident Evil actually happen? I have to honestly admit that when I played through Prototype I was scared. The developers of this game made it all look so real, so possible. That's what was so frightening about it, at some point you realize that at the current level of biotech's evolution, this can actually happen. A viral outbreak to consume the population. Prototype is a great game, with outstanding gameplay, visuals and characters, but there is something more to it than just the playability. The story of the game is what completes the experience and leaves you thinking about it for days. What if, right now, there is somebody out there with a vial or syringe that could potentially wipe out the human race from the face of the Earth?

Resident Evil's original (Japanese) title is Biohazard. It would seem like nothing else needs to be said, the title says it all. We have Umbrella Corporation playing around with viral weapons and all hell breaks loose. The most recent installment in the franchise, RE5 takes it all to a new level, a level of realism much more vivid than the previous games in the series. Again, it feels so real, so possible. You go to Africa and immediately your mind starts remembering things from the real world, things that actually did happen, and you put the puzzle pieces together. It's amazing how RE5 resonates with the subconscious of a thinking individual. We know that HIV and the Ebola virus originated in Africa... so why not this? We've already seen it happen in real world. (Or at least that's what we think we know, I personally believe that HIV and Ebola were artificially engineered by P****r in a lab, but that's a whole different story.) We know that all of this is way too familiar, it's almost like it already happened. The regions with most famine and lack of health care are most likely to produce these outbreaks... Wait and see.

2. Nuclear Holocaust.

Nuclear energy is both a blessing and a curse. We both love it and fear it at the same time. Just think Fallout. Trying to survive in a world destroyed by nukes, where everything is glowing with radiation, mutating, and who knows what else. And isn't that what the world fears right now? We're all scared that one of these days somebody will press The Red Button and everything our species has accomplished will evaporate because of some idiot's sick ambition. Fallout isn't the only game that utilizes nukes. the Red Alert games have the A-bomb as the ultimate weapon. When you play against somebody online it's like a race against time - who gets the nuke first is the winner (mostly). The nuclear armageddon was put aside for a while to make room for the games about viruses and such, but with Fallout 3 the subject resurfaced and made us think yet again, that doomsday may be closer than we think. If you think about it right about now the world is on the edge. Who will be the first to jump?

3. Terrorism (aaa!)

What was the game that let you be the terrorist for the first time? C&C: Generals? Yeah, that was a good one. It's not really surprising that most of the modern warfare games take place in the Middle East, or anywhere sand is at home. It's not so much a commentary to what happened in the world in the past twenty years as it is a natural response to the demands of the consumers. It makes sense, all the movies, all the games... everything covered in sand. The ultimate in-yo-terrorist-face game is obviously 50 Cent: Blood in the Sand. Seems like we have had enough of this fear of terrorism, so now it's time to make some fun of it. Still, the fear is there. It just went to the store to get some smokes, but don't worry - it will be back.

4. THEM.

It's right under the surface, isn't it. Once again I must refer to Resident Evil and Prototype. These games are the prime example of what we, as a culture, fear the most. We fear THEM. The government and the corporations, the rulers of the world. Their desperate struggle for world domination, be it literal or financial, they are the phantom menace. In Resident Evil your enemy is the Umbrella Corporation, which is a symbol of all the global corporations. The umbrella logo could just as well be the logo from the bottles in your medicine cabinet. This is exactly what's crawling in our minds, that these global pharmaceutical corporations will lose their sense of good and evil (if they haven't already...) and unleash something like a killer virus. I don't want to go too far with this, but everything that we see on the screens, in the games we play can actually happen. You think Prototype is a fantasy? I think by now it's obvious that governments will do ANYTHING to stay in control, because control is their heroin and they are strung out more than we can imagine. Nuke NYC? It's nothing to them, they don't care about human lives, they only care about themselves and how to maintain doing the God job on this planet. Prototype was a risky game to put out on the market. It shows what the government is capable of more vividly than any movie, any book or TV show. You play the main character, you're right in the middle of it, a governmental project gone wrong. You think these things don't happen in real world? Watch the news. If you read enough and educate yourself you'll see that many countries in the world are just one step from installing martial law. It's no joke.

The bottom line is, games are taking the place of movies, books and TV shows, visualizing our worst fears and making us save the world. This time it's a more personal experience, because we the gamers are responsible for the final outcome of the crisis. Let's just all hope that our fears will stay on the DVDs and Blu Rays and our screens and never become reality.

Have a great Labor Day weekend. :D