More than that, it’s a cliche expressed in nothing but the most clumsy, lumpen,
cheaply manipulative ways. We see Kara being assembled, so there’s an
instant air of vulnerability and fragility about her. Her face has
child-like proportions, a cynical old Disney trick for creating instant,
quick-fix sympathy without bothering with any of that pesky
characterisation stuff (and most shamelessly abused recently by James
Cameron’s Avatar). Her bald countenance throughout the first half of the video
only compounds the effect, as does her androgynously childlike hair
when it does appear, not to mention her childlike, playful movements
once free to move.
And the clumsily emphasised, desperately deliberate
reference to her sexual functionality through both dialogue and repeated
visual emphasis is naught but a tacky and slightly distasteful tying of
her appearance’s inherent connotations of youthful innocence with an
abstract concept of sexual servitude.
In terms of writing, the
Kara demo is all about mercenary use of sensitive imagery and themes as
little more than blunt cinematic short-hand for quick-fix results. By
the time the sequence showing Kara’s unwilling conscious disassembly
kicked in, I had lost all care for the characters or the story. All I
could see was David Cage dressed as The Great Oz, standing behind his
curtain and pulling his many levers in an attempt to manufacture some
contrived simulation of human drama via as many mechanical conveniences
as he could harness.
Yes, I have criticised Cage's narrative output before, but know that I am not simply bashing the man’s
writing and directing for the sake of putting another boot in
here. My main problem with the Kara demo is actually with how much unquestioning excitement there seems to be for it. Because regardless of Quantic Dream's presentation of this sort of stuff as the mature, dramatic evolution of
video games, as soon as we as gamers and critics start to confuse simple visual
realism for real dramatic gravitas, the campaign for better video game
story-telling is screwed.
Yes, the performance capture stuff is
convincing. Yes, Valorie Curry is a good actress, and plays the titular
part well. But such things cannot and never will make up for hackneyed
ideas, executed at the level of below-par TV. In fact the more
photorealistic the execution becomes, the more glaring any substandard
writing will be.
Above: This bit should have made me sad or angry. Instead it just made me face-palm. And that's partly because it's so technically well put together
And beyond all of that, there’s yet a
bigger issue at play. As I see it, even the best-case future scenario springing from something like Kara is
a pretty poor outlook for the maturation of gaming as medium. Should video games eventually get
to the point of looking almost real, and should writing and direction
indeed improve to the degree that the division between gaming and cinema
is minimal, we will actually have achieved nothing. In fact we will have taken a
step backwards. Because right now, games are evolving as a medium of
their own, just as cinema did in its early days. They’re evolving their
own unique mechanics, their own language, and their own ways of
communicating both information and emotional meaning to their audience.
are a million different brand new ways that games can find – and indeed
are already finding – to tell stories and evoke meaningful experiences.
Just look at how powerfully affecting a game like Journey – a work
without dialogue, cut-scene, or even a letter of in-game text – is, and
on how many levels it speaks to the player through the language of its
abstracted interactivity. If we simply ape cinema, we nip the burgeoning
real art of games in the bud, and cement over its once fertile
ground with the less-suitable, less versatile, concrete conventions of a
very different, already-set medium.
Even if we “succeed” along
the path of cinematic fidelity, we’ll have succeeded only in burning
through several decades and a great deal of money in the aim of
simulating something that has already existed for over a century.
I don’t know about you, but I see absolutely no point in that.