He kindly stopped for me

Bloggers Unite

This post is in dedication to the brave and often terrified individuals I have known who are living with or passed on due to AIDS related complications:

My mother had many gay friends. From stories, I have learned many of their names and faces, their stories, their lives, and what German queer life was like in the 70s and 80s. Being the person she is, I don’t think there is a period in my life where I have not known a queer person as a family friend–that’s just how my family worked. During one of the visits to Germany during the summers while I was attending Wabash, my mother and I were walking around in Fulda and ran into one of these old friends. What followed was a recounting of how many of her previous friends had succumbed to AIDS related deaths.

I have known friends to acquire HIV and later develop AIDS. It has even sundered some friendships in places due to misunderstandings during a very trying period.

Can games capture this? Should they even attempt?

It strikes me that almost every example I can think of in terms of an illness presented in a videogame is able to be cured. If the person dies, it is usually due to our own lack of haste, ineptitude, or because we just didn’t care to save said person. How many times is a game’s death inevitable and one which we know has to come, a fate we cannot alter?

It is highly unlikely that any but an art game will take on such a topic in terms of protagonists, but what would we do with a sub-character, or party member being afflicted with a disease, virus, or illness that could not be cured? What would our attitude toward that character be?

In games we often are presented with deaths that are sudden and violent, deliberate and focused, but rarely one that we can see a mile coming and have no control to stop. Of course, it’s also a morose topic. Why present a player with an element over which he or she has no control whatsoever? Are games capable of demanding and asking of us such an emotional commitment?

If the death of Aeris is one over which many mourned, is this something that can be replicated in a different manner? Can we create a character about whom we care and whom we know we cannot save, but knew such from the start or even midway through as we watched them collapse before our eyes? What if no quests in the game at all concerned being able to aid said person, but we had to accept what was occurring because the disease was too new and we didn’t know enough about it?

Or, what if we could prolong the character’s life through treatments, giving them a life. It might only be bearable, but that character can live a while longer.

The complications, of course, are that this would require some method of attachment to the character. If not the protagonist, this would require a compelling relationship between the player’s avatar and the character with whom we interact. If the protagonist him or herself, we suddenly face the question of whether or not people would play a game, knowing that no matter how fantastic the journey, it must end–probably not in a pleasant manner. Maybe the next generation we can save, but we’d still have that memory of the one who didn’t make it.

Maybe this game even exists and I am not aware yet of its presence, or have forgotten. Thoughts?


About Denis Farr

Writer interested in intersectionality, games, comics, nerdy stuff in general, theater, and how it all mixes. Graduate of Wabash College, with studies in Theater, English, German, and Gender Studies.
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11 Responses to He kindly stopped for me

  1. Erik says:

    It’s certainly a topic that games have come near (Final Fantasy X dealt with ostensibly inevitable death, Elder Scrolls titles have had diseases that one would presume would be impossible or prohibitively difficult to cure), but most examples I can think of involve a shying away from such condemnation of characters to a long, slow death. Have you played Passage?

  2. Eduardo G says:

    Far Cry 2 has it’s infamous malaria mechanic. But it isn’t really like AIDS, even if it is a bigger killer globally. Also, it’s really annoying.I think a disease mechanic can work well in RPG games (like poison or blindness or what have you already does), but in other places, it simply would be impossible to model without it being exploitative. Maybe, in shooters, it could work like the cold in The Thing or in Lost Colony?But again, that wouldn’t make it seem like anything more than a play mechanic.Honestly, I think the best way to chronicle the horror and tragedy would be in an RPG, where you have to balance meds or something similar, or where you’re fighting for healthcare to deal with your disease (a la GRID).I can’t imagine it’d be tastefully done if attempted. It’s a tough one.

  3. I think you’ve already touched on a relevant example.By now, most people who play FFVII probably know that, at some point during their playthrough, Aeris will die. It’s not exactly an exploration of human psychology (or, hell, AIDS and its effects) in-game, but it’s interesting to note what happens:I don’t use Aeris. She doesn’t seem like a good investment for me as a JRPG character.We’ve had crippling disabilities and life-changing hexes, but they’re not usually dealt with in a very interactive way, or with a particularly serious tone.

  4. Denis Farr says:

    @Wordsmythe: I have not played Passage, but I take it from your tone I’ll be adding yet another game to my ever expanding queue?I was thinking of ways that diseases have been proposed, but they more often serve as opening a new world with fantastic powers (lycanthropy or vampirism) or are easily cured with a one-shot item of some manner or another. As for FFX, I have yet to actually progress very far in the game.@Eduardo Gabrieloff: I’ve heard much of the malaria mechanic in Far Cry 2, though have yet to play the game itself. To me it seems to take on the mechanic of requiring a character to either eat or drink, take medication for this or you’ll die. It serves merely as an impeding block to the character without really exploring the nuances of the disease, or so it seems from this perspective (which again, has not played the game yet, though hopes to in the not-too-distant future).I agree that an RPG has the best chance in the interaction with a protagonist, or in an ensemble cast, but if relegated to a character with whom we merely interact on some level, I believe the mechanics of the story inherent in such a nuance open up more without changing the gameplay much.Dealing with it tastefully will always be the problem, which is why I question the maturity of the medium to deal with it yet in both practicality of mechanics and tone needed to set up such an offer.@Spencer Greenwoode: There’s the crux of the problem, the interaction. Personally, I play Aeris as much as possible, because even if the net gain is not worth it to me, I somehow wish to build more of an attachment to her so that when she is forcibly removed, the impact is larger on my experience. Subconsciously, I believe I am trying to mimic my first frustration with the game when this moment occurred upon my initial play.This, of course, becomes the danger of positing such a character and killing him or her off. What if the character was great to start and slowly started deteriorating? Would this serve as a bridge, or be seen largely as a waste of space? I believe we’re moving from a model, in RPGs, of having all characters available as early as possible to give the players the choice, which might make such an implementation problematic.

  5. Erik says:

    FFX is not a quick game. Luckily, Passage can be installed and completed within ten minutes.

  6. Denis Farr says:

    @Wordsmythe: This is why I have avoided many Final Fantasy titles of late, especially as I’ve only ever completed one (but am diving right into Chrono Trigger again…).I shall look into Passage.

  7. anubis says:

    One of the spin-off titles of Final Fantasy 7, Crisis Core, is centered on the character Zack and events before the actual FF7 story. It’s apparent from the start of the game that Zack will die at the end, from gunfire, while protecting Cloud.It’s an ordinary action RPG, but what I felt was most memorable was having to play through the final battles that will lead to Zack’s death. Zack’s physical deterioration is also reflected in the gameplay as he becomes less responsive to controls and your limit break meter gradually stops functioning. Essentially, the player is forced to ‘experience’ his death. I thought that was a really powerful and very emotional experience.

  8. Erik says:

    If we just want to talk about inevitable death, I could mention Super Columbine Massacre RPG!, but that’s a very different kind of illness.Also, I got the distinct impression in Super Columbine that “losing” was the only way to “win.” That may not be a universalizable theme.

  9. motleykroot says:

    So, spoilers-Heavenly Sword, if I recall, has your main character making a decision fairly early on to go ahead and use the eponymous weapon for her quest, and is told that it can (and does) kill her. While a sequel might change this, you go into the game knowing that she’s going to waste away and die, and I for one experienced a certain amount of surprise and satisfaction (from a plot perspective) that she stayed dead. Admittedly only after saving the world, but still, it’s pretty unusual.

  10. Denis Farr says:

    @anubis, wordsmythe, motleykroot: Thank you for the excellent examples. It has me thinking that the question with which we may be dealing is one of fate and inevitability and whether or not it works in videogames, or how we can make it work.

  11. In Eternal Sonata your first party member is Polka, a girl who, you are told, “has a disease” and “is going to die soon” because she can use magic (magic, apparently, being the symptom of the disease.) I was very disappointed to see that this didn’t seem to affect the play of the game at all, except that she was a fairly weak character with low defense. I would have been intrigued to see them set this up in such a way that it made a difference -that perhaps her magical attacks were very strong, but her defense was low and she leveled more slowly. Perhaps there would be some sort of treatment item that she would have to use regularly, etc. As it was, the “disease” plotline didn’t really go anywhere.

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