I’m not sure what basis, if any, the following words will have in the historical/artistic reality of video games. What I describe may be an illusion; the result of seeing the medium grow up alongside and eventually surpass a specific audience. Anyway, as I reflect on how children of the 90s became teenagers in the early to mid 2000s, I notice a similar adolescence in the most popular blockbuster games of the time. During adolescence one finally becomes cognizant of their place in the world. Unable to abandon that awareness, one starts to desire control, which is seen as synonymous with adulthood. And because adulthood and childhood are treated antonymously, one comes to believe that true maturity can only be obtained through a direct negation of childhood. Jak II, Shadow the Hedgehog, Bomberman Act Zero, to a lesser extent Super Mario Strikers – the inconsistent quality both between and within these games speaks to the awkward growing pains this misunderstanding of adulthood results in.
Rayman 3 HD (or more accurately Rayman 3: Hoodlum Havoc, the game Rayman 3 HD is based on) would no doubt slot neatly alongside these other games. Its errors may not be unique, but they nonetheless provide a valuable window into this contemporary trend. Between Murphy’s incessant fourth wall breaking humor, the protagonist’s brief bouts of edginess, and the bevy of features the game introduces, it quickly becomes clear that the game longs for the legitimacy it believes maturity will confer upon it. Yet this frantic search proves to be the game’s undoing. If Ghost Chaser Densei is best described as two games with two tones that happen to occupy the same body, then Rayman 3 is a single game manically chasing after any tone it can find.
When you think about it, Nier‘s message is one that runs counter to what many other video games propose. As Becky Davnall elaborates on here, mainstream conceptions of realism (materialism/naturalism, as she terms it) in games go hand in hand with our ability to affect change in and exert power over the worlds presented to us. This is why, for example, the same space that prizes hyper-realistic blockbuster games like Half-Life 2 will also shun more reflective games like Dear Esther: because while both games present very similar types of realism (they run on the same engine, after all), only the former allows the player to actually do anything with it.
Note: Because this blog ended up far longer than I’d initially anticipated, I’ve chosen to split it into two parts.
Upon starting Nier, we’re greeted with a litany of premises that would be instantly familiar to avid game enthusiasts, both when the game was initially released and playing it today. The camera slowly lingers on a world struck by some apocalyptic event, although what that event was isn’t immediately clear. Time continues to advance, but the human world appears frozen in time. Snow falls upon buildings that somehow look both pristine and destroyed, almost like a graveyard that hasn’t been tended to in ages. The lack of human characters in these early scenes further contributes to the desolation we feel while also adding an air of somber loneliness to the mix.