It’s no secret that I hold a really dim view on David Cage. It’s also no secret that he says stupid things all the damn time. While I’d probably write my original rant about Cage differently now, I think the general idea holds true. Still, I think there is something to gain by digging into his recent comments a bit…
(also, I’m not going to get into the whole role of story telling in games and whether or not it’s even a good idea and when or anything like that)
“I think we should have more courage in our industry and take more risks, because I think this is what the industry needs now. I mean, how many first person shooters can you make? How many monsters/aliens/zombies can you kill in games? There’s a moment where we need to grow up. We need to grow up.”
I had a friend once who said, as a kid, he wondered what an Adult Shop was. Being it was a Shop for Adults, he figured it would be filled with the most boring things ever. Pots, pans, socks. The whole idea of what is “Grown up” and “mature” can seem nebulous. Regardless, there is a strong difference between mature themes and mature story telling. Heavy Rain is mature in the same way Call of Duty is “Realistic”. They’re not. But they have the “Themes” that go with it. In fact, I would say that the thought processes for forming the stories for both are roughly the same. They’re both made with the same immature, “wouldn’t it be cool if…” type thinking. Gotta hit the “alcoholic” check-box, the dead kid check-box, the shower scene check-box, the sex theme check box, the “you played the killer” check box… All these check-boxes we’d say are tropes of the “mature game/movie”. Then you get the rest of the elements — basically “Saw”. It’s Saw, only Ethan is trying to save his kid’s life instead of his own. Is “Wouldn’t it be cool if you cut your own finger off” that more mature than dying in a nuclear explosion? Both games are a bunch of clip shows stitched together. Only difference is the CoD guys I imagine know that they’re making something indulgent and silly (probably too much so, which can lead to them being careless!), while David Cage thinks he’s being mature. How the hell Cage thinks he’s doing mature, progressive stuff while cribbing Saw is beyond me. That’s like, basically the opposite of mature.
Also, showing someone’s nipples wasn’t “grown up” when God of War did it, and it isn’t mature now. Heavy Rain virtually contains everything you’d expect a “mature game” to do, but with no soul. A mature is “theme” isn’t worth much. There is nothing about having the main character being a guy with a dead kid whose works as an architect that makes it inherently more artistic or valuable. Is General Hospital more “Mature” than Game of Thrones?
This is how something like a Pixar movie can tell a mature, human story despite making kids movies. Or something like Dr. Strangelove (the movie that was going to end in a pie fight!) a totally ridiculously “immature” take on a really dark concept. It’s immaturity was only thematic — it did not detract from the weight of the message (and in anyways, enhanced it). Or also how a Python movie like The Life of Brian can be so funny yet have so much to say and what they say has way more “grown up” relevance than “What would you do if your kid was kidnapped by a Jigsaw style serial killer”. Theme is just a tool or a styling for what matters: Sincere, skilled story telling (something in which Heavy Rain fails at on both accounts).
You can have a games like Dark Souls and Demon’s Souls (which are probably the best themed games I can think of) which can elicit so many weird, dark emotions from the player and tackle concepts like depression, despair and obsession. Or you can just get that sense of exploration and wonder in Journey (if you’re a sissy~!). Or you can look at something like Dys4ia that tells an actual, REAL story about a REAL person and her REAL experiences through abstract metaphor. Or you got Shadow of the Colossus which arguably plays on the same thematic elements as Heavy Rain (What would you do for love?) but does it with a lot more maturity, sincerity and grace. Not that any of these games are perfect, but all of them succeed at a level far past Heavy Rain in my opinion. There are also other games I think might fit this bill too, but I haven’t played them and don’t feel comfortable listing them.
So does the industry need to grow up and take more risks? Probably, though it happens more than most people tend to believe… but David Cage isn’t leading us there — Maybe he’s closer to the front of the pack than the average video game story-teller, but for the most part, he’s as immature a story-teller as the rest of us. He only pretends to be mature, by buying pots, pans and socks at the adult store.