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Life Imitating Art?


There is a long-running debate about whether or not violent media perpetuates violence in real life.  I remember this debate hit home with me as a child when I would read my GamePro and Electronic Gaming Monthly magazines and they would have letters, editorials and articles about the state of game-related legislation, ratings and content.  As a child who could feel his rights and freedoms potentially being infringed upon, I took the position that there was no harm in violent video games and for the life of me I could not understand why my parents reacted so irately when I told them I had seen the coolest game (Mortal Kombat) at a friend’s house.  It was them after all, who allowed me to watch Conan the Barbarian.


This was okay

tumblr_lcbreasrBs1qcmiwko1_400 This, not so much

Now I don’t think I need to point out to you the conflict of interests I had in this regard as a child; how could I acknowledge any harm in sexy/violent games if I wanted to keep playing them with impunity?  Well, now I don’t have any such conflict because my video game playing is minimal and I’m like 28 now.  So what do I think now that I have the benefit of more experience and knowledge?  Have I recanted my juvenile assertions about the harmlessness of violent games?  Have I become the responsible adult hypocrite my childhood self would beat the shit out of?

Hardly.  Adult Me would beat the ever-living fuck out of a chubby bitch like Childhood Me.

Picture 2

Less of a beatdown and more a rape, really.

However, my views have evolved some.  For one thing, you may remember me making reference to root causes at one point.  Or perhaps you remember another time when I talked about how we need to view violence in a broader context, because the currently-received narrow viewpoints don’t actually do anything to reduce occurrences of violence.  I gotta be fair and apply the same logic to my previously-held viewpoints regarding video-game (media) violence to see if they hold up.
So according to my own currently-held understanding of the world, does violent media have an effect on violence in the real world?  
Yes, but not in the way they say it does on the news or in parliament.

See we tend to frame the debate about video-game violence (all media violence really) on how it figured into the lives of school shooters or whatnot.  Everyone knows Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold played Doom prior to shooting up their high school back in 1999.  But you could easily make the counter-argument that not everyone who plays Doom shoots up their school, so it can’t be the game’s fault.  Whatever side you subscribe to, I think both sides miss the point.  You see it isn’t the digitized blood and guts of early first-person shooters that make people wanna kill people.


Does this make you go into a kill-frenzy?

I think the larger problem is that video games like Doom tend to reinforce a good vs. evil duality.  This is really a structural problem and one I have alluded to in the past.  Often we tend tend to frame our conceptions of conflict in terms of us vs. them.  And since our side couldn’t possibly be the wrong side, and furthermore because our perfectly empirical objectivity (especially during times of emotional turmoil) would never allow us to take a flawed position, we tend to see the other side as more wrong, bad and irrationally evil as their opposition to us becomes more and more staunch and pronounced.

If you think about it this same type of duality is reinforced in much more (seemingly) benign ways than violent video games.  I remember watching cartoons like Care Bears as a kid, where you had evil assholes like No-Heart


Pictured: Asshole

being absolutely evil for no reason.  We never see any depth to the character or find out his motivations (beyond the fact that he has no heart).  Now you may say that as a kids show we can afford to be light-hearted and vague about the antagonist’s motivations because important lessons are being taught.  Well, if you maintain that important lessons are being taught, you are implying that children’s programming serves as a kind of well…programming.  So while the kid is learning that he shouldn’t be an evil douche like No-Heart, he is also being programmed on a more sublime level to believe that evil douchebags like No-Heart exist, that is to say, people who do what we would call “evil” for no apparent, justifiable reason.

Think about it next time you are watching your favourite programming.  So often television shows and movies paint the antagonists as evil for evil’s sake.  Or if they are shown as having legit motivations, their actions in search of retribution are always shown to be disproportionate to the initial slight.  It’s hard to get on board with villains like this because evil is something morally upstanding people like us just don’t understand (Hint: because it doesn’t exist)

So when we watch media like The Sopranos, or Breaking Bador any number of other examples where the evil characters are shown not just to have motivations, but defensible motivations, we are shown a more realistic perspective.  We laud these shows because they show the causal chain which leads an evil character to do evil.  We see characters like Tony Soprano living the only life he has ever known while at the same time trying to do right by the people he cares about and stay afloat amongst the various everyday pressures of his line of work.  He is never irrationally malicious; on the contrary, when he is malicious, reasons are always given or implied.  Rather than being seem as a rake, we see Tony as an endearing, likeable character.  BUT HE KILLS PEOPLE (DIRECTLY OR INDIRECTLY) ALL THE TIME.  

And lest we forget that shows like this have pretty mature themes and are not designed to appeal to children.  No, these shows are marketed to adults who have already been programmed since their childhood to view things in terms of good and evil.  But instead of having the desirable effect of educating people that there is no such thing as a good vs. evil duality in real life, I find the more common outcome is that people tend to idolize characters like Tony Soprano and Walter White while still viewing real-life transgressors as evil.  Essentially they have learned nothing from the truth lurking in fiction and have instead built a fantasy around someone who challenges the status quo in ways they do not.  Interpretation fail.

Don’t get me wrong, there is a purpose to having character’s who are good and evil.  In summer blockbuster type movies for example, where there is an emphasis on special effects and plot is relegated to afterthought status, having too complex a villain can take away from the enjoyment of having the CGI Low-Orbit Ion-Cannon destroy him and his base.  After all, if empathy is generated, you might feel pangs of regret seeing him destroyed so roundly.  As an aside, this was actually one of the cooler aspects of 2012’s Dredd 3D.  The villain, MaMa, gets summarily wasted by


Dredd at movie’s end but as you see her fall through the window to her death it’s hard not to consider her horrible past which the narrative had earlier gone on at length to divulge. She is most certainly a sympathetic character (although she is admittedly vicious), and her summary execution at the hands of Dredd seems like it was a conscious decision by the filmmakers to be an indictment of totalitarian law enforcement as well as our “punishment” approach to crime.  Here was a rare example of a blockbuster style of movie that also did enough character exposition to paint morality in shades of grey.  Great Job!

I hope my point here is clear.  There’s is a reason why TV Tropes tells its contributors not to use real life examples for the good/evil alignment page.  In their words:

“Due to the controversial nature of this trope, and not to mention, it’s considered shoe-horning  to categorize people with these kind of tropes, there will be no real-life examples under these circumstances, since it invites an ‘Edit War.’  

I feel that bit about shoe-horning is particularly important as labeling someone with either a positive or negative distinction negates the whole system(s) which contributed to their disposition and actions at any given time.  You may notice this is me up to my old tricks again, but I really can’ t talk about this shit enough.  Really look at the entertainment, news stories, and opinions you take in and make an effort to scan them for signs of superstitious concepts like good and evil.  You may find they are more prevalent than you would assume in a technologically and scientifically advanced society.

Let me wrap up by explicitly relating the perpetuation of the good vs. evil duality to the proliferation of violence.  To do so, I want to cite Lt. Col. (Ret.) David Grossman’s book, On Killing.  I found one of the most profound parts of that book was where he talked about how militaries around the world have traditionally coaxed young men into killing other young men by establishing some distance or separation from the enemy.  This separation has been along many lines: while Bolshevik leaders may have played up socio-economic distance to incite the oppressed poor of Russia to kill their fellow Russians, the Nazis emphasized genetic and religious distance to dehumanize the Jews and ultimately make the prospect of executing them more palatable to the wretched post-WW1 German population.  At the most basic level, if you want to create distance you play up the good vs. evil angle, painting your side as good and the other side as evil.  If you want to see the ultimate outcome of dehumanizing people like this look no further than the news, where undoubtedly there will be a story somewhere about one group of people killing another group of people for supposedly righteous reasons.

Insofar as our video games reinforce a clear line between good and evil they are harming us by encouraging us to see the world through the lens of duality.  But I think the premise that digitized blood makes people kill is flawed.  By my rationale, my parents should have been less concerned about me playing Mortal Kombat, with its largely morally-ambiguous characters, than they should have been about me playing Super Mario Bros. where the message that evil, giant turtle-dinosaurs are laying in wait to kidnap and rape my girlfriend was constantly being hammered into my head.


-Andre Guantanamo


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My Favourite Fictional Weapons

My Friends,
   I have been wrestling with ideas for what to write about for the last week and have a few unfinished drafts to show for it.  But I find I have been starting out on what seem like promising and introspective topics and hitting roadblocks the whole way.  The topics I want to write about very soon are “The Effects of Laws and Rules,” “The Wrong Way to Argue.””The Proper Way to Treat a Woman,” and “The True Power of Honesty.”  Rest assured I will endeavour to flesh out these topics in the near-future.
   However, in the meantime I feel some levity is in order.  One can’t simply ponder deep, existential questions and not take time to indulge in some more frivolous inquiries.  Having spent part of last evening watching Star Wars reviews on redlettermedia.com and discussing how episodes I-III could have been much better, I was once again reminded of how the lightsabre has always enchanted me.  This of course led me to think about my other favourite fictional weapons as well and compile a list which I will share with you now.
   **Note: The weapons listed don’t have to be implausible or fantastical, simply featured prominently in fiction.  Some are actual weapons used notably by fictional characters or are based on real-life equivalents.

Lightsabre – Star Wars Universe

   “An elegant weapon for a more civilized age,” the lightsabre was an obvious inclusion as it was the inspiration for this list.  With so many variants to choose from it is hard to pick a favourite incarnation, but Darth Vader’s red one gets point for…well, belonging to Darth Vader.  I’d like to think that as the human race advances its knowledge of superheated plasma and the manipulation of magnetic fields that we will one day be able to build these weapons.  I would rate the importance of lightsabre R&D somewhere above ending world hunger as far as global priorities go.

Tuco’s Custom Revolver – The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

   After being double-crossed by Clint Eastwood’s “Man With No Name,” Tuco resolves to get revenge. His first order of business is to procure some heat.  After having his common wares rejected, the gunsmith pulls out the premium firearms for Tuco; “Remington, Colt, ____, Smith & Wesson, Colt Navy,  J____, another Remington…”  The list reads like an antique revolver enthusiast’s wet dream but Tuco remains unimpressed.  He proceeds to dismantle the guns and take the choice components from each to assemble his ideal firearm in what is one of the coolest scenes in the film.  And though he doesn’t fare too well in the final standoff with “Blondie” and “Angel Eyes,” he does manage to get some good killin’ in.

Cerberus – Dirge of Cerberus: Final Fantasy VII (PS2)

   This revolver is only a revolver in the loosest sense of the word.  While it has only three chambers to house three cartridges which are fired simultaneously with each trigger pull, somehow it can fire 18 rounds before needing to be reloaded.  When you can suspend belief to the point that you glaze over this glaring inconsistency, you can really begin to appreciate the elegance of this weapon.
   Since its a magical revolver, it just isn’t subject to the same rules other gats might be subject to.  Case in point: Magical charms can be procured throughout the game and then affixed to the weapon to affect its power, reload speed, weight and accuracy.  When completely decked out with these charms it is a gaudy, cumbersome affair but still kinda gets me hard.  Its kind of like a Tiffany & Co. tennis bracelet, but with bullets.

Green Shell – Super Smash Bros. (N64)

   The oft-underrated green shell is overlooked as one of the better weapons in the game because it can only be thrown, not used for melee.  However, it packs devastating power when it connects and can be ricocheted or even hit again while in motion to increase its potency.  Unlike other pick-ups in the game this one will not cover for your lack of skill, but instead will complement your mastery of a character’s fighting style.

Cougar Magnum/DD44 Dostovei – Goldeneye (N64)

Cougar Magnum
   DD44 Dostovei

   Based on the .357 Ruger Blackhawk and the Soviet TT-30 respectively, these two pistols were vastly different (the former being the much more powerful of the two) but were both more elegant than some of the larger firearms in the game.  If its not already glaringly apparent, I’m a bit gay for pistols, revolvers particularly, and I tended to prefer these two to the more powerful golden and silver handguns in the game for their realism.

Crissaegrim: Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (PSONE)

   The Crissaegrim is quite simply the only weapon you need to find in the game.  Thankfully, the developers had the good sense to make it appear late in the story because when it is equipped you can literally mow down any ghoul that has the audacity to proceed in your direction.  On top its power, each push of the attack button actually causes it to hit seven or eight times in overlapping arcs.  Perfect for patricide against the Prince of Darkness. (ps you play as Dracula’s son in the game)

Battle Rifle – Halo 3 (XBOX 360)

   When I first played Halo 3 I thought this was simply a neutered, 3-round burst version of Halo 2’s fully-auto Battle Rifle.  However, the more I played, the more I came to appreciate it.  It really can dole out some serious damage and the burst fire compels you to make aimed shots instead of spray & pray.  In a hectic battlefield it is an excellent balance of speed and power.

Minigun – Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (PS2)

   An indispensable part of your arsenal when taking on police and military, this incarnation of the minigun scores over its Vice City predecessor by being fully aimable (sic.).  Seriously, I don’t think I ever barricaded myself into a fortified position and started picking off cops without this baby and a ton of ammo.

Ol’ Painless/Lincoln’s Repeater – Fallout 3 (XBOX 360)

Ol’ Painless

Lincoln’s Repeater

   While I played through most of the game with the readily-available energy weapons and power armor, I decided to tackle the expansions with simple combat armor and bullets.  Insofar as video games can be said to be satisfying, satisfying it was.  The “PYOOM-PYOOM” of plasma and laser weapons doesn’t do it for me like the explosion of gunpowder and the report of bullets streaking through the post-apocalyptic air.

M4 Revolver – Killzone 2 (PS3)

   A simple yet effective .357 magnum.  The number of revolvers on this list must be getting tiresome by this point but its my list so have a smile and Coke as they say.  This revolver makes the list not only for its power but its accuracy.  It fires true and as long as you can aim worth a damn it can take out Helghan scum from the other end of a multi-player map.  So effective is this weapon in fact that it has to be earned  to be used in multi-player.

Beer Bottle – Def Jam Vendetta (XBOX)


   Perhaps no picture is needed.  Basically, if your opponent was on the ropes you can pick up a bottle and smash it over their head for an instant knockout.  Far more satisfying than returning it for your deposit.
Lead Pipe – River City Ransom (NES)

   Among the game’s multitude of weapons, including a tire and rock, the lead pipe was king.  It did about the same damage as any other weapon in the game but unlike the rest it made a pleasant ping when it cracked off some fool’s head.

Plasma Grenades – Halo Series

   Like a persistent booger that you wipe on your girlfriend’s sleeve, this bad boy was sticky.  While it wouldn’t do too much damage when it exploded near an enemy, if you managed to “stick” it to someone when you threw it, their death was assured.

Castor Troy’s dual gold 1911s – Face/Off

   I think any young male who saw this movie jizzed their pants when they got a peek into Nicholas Cage’s box of goodies.  But more than the golden dragon money clip holding his Benjis and the profusion of illicit drugs, we were mesmerized by his matching pistols.  Anyone who saw this contemplated “terrorism-for-hire” that day.

High-Frequency Blade – Metal Gear Solid Series

  This weapon was only briefly usable in MGS 2 and completely unusable in MGS 4, despite being featured prominently in the beautiful cinematics, but its pretty much the ultimate in non-lightsabre sword technology (NLST), beating out Blade’s katana in Blade, and Squall’s Gunblade in Final Fantasy VIII.  Definitely looking forward to the upcoming MGS title focusing entirely on swordplay.
Flamethrower – Contra 3: The Alien Wars (SNES)

   There were A LOT of weapon power-ups in this game, and though it wasn’t the most powerful and had only a finite range, the flamethrower had a certain je ne sais quoi which made it the go-to implement for alien extermination.

Dual Enforcers – Unreal Tournament

   In a game chock full of devastating weapons (ie wire-controlled nuke) the basic pistol was my favourite when dual-wielded.  Its faster, secondary mode of fire (gangster style, pictured above), although less accurate, was what really sold me on it.  I don’t play too many video games any more but I have yet to see another game let me bust my gat sideways.  Things just ain’t the same for gangsters…
Anyhow, I could probably go on all night but I have to work tomorrow.  I hope this has made some of you catch nostalgia and who knows, I may even do a sequel.  If there is any egregious oversight (and I’m sure there is) please let me know what I missed.
Stay Thirsty,
-Andre Guantanamo

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