Charted! Mapped!

Spoilers for Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune lie ahead.

Theater in Medieval times is not often brought up for lengthy discussions; there wasn’t much. This was the era of mystical, mystery, and morality plays. Setting their themes to those of the Bible, they were performed with the acceptance of the church, and not really pushing much in the way of innovation (though it did see the first recorded female playwright, Hrosvitha). It was during this period of theater history that we see the emergence of the play Everyman, however.

In very plain symbolism, Everyman encounters God, Death, Good Deeds, Goods, et cetera. Its function was to provide the watcher with a means for self-reflection. Were you living your life in a way that eschewed earthly temptations and instead paying attention to Good Deeds, or were you letting her languish and grow weak due to neglect? Pretty basic stuff. Symbolism 101.

According to Naughty Dog, Nathan Drake of Uncharted is an everyman. He is not a space marine, gruff soldier, experienced veteran, or belonging to any such profession; if anything, he seems a slight bit like a scholar and educated man (though no professor). His charm is that of the every day schmuck who gets caught in situations that are beyond what he knows. Nolan North does a rather excellent job of conveying through voice Drake as someone who is constantly fatigued and somewhat daunted by what has become expected of him in this hero’s role.

Videogames, in many ways, are about empowerment. They are about fantasy. Providing us a canvass of situations with which we normally have no first-hand experience, they allow us to play the game of What if…?, meanwhile purposely putting constraints in who we are, of what we are capable, and how we interact. Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune is about an everyman only in so far as Drake is not distinctive. As Shoinan of You Have Lost! explicates, Drake actually fails to have anything distinctive enough about him to become an icon in anything but the videogame-playing world. Cultural cachet? He lacks even the slightest manifestation of a physical quirk or costume.

It has also been hinted at that Uncharted: Among Thieves will let us see a darker side of Drake, a trend Michael Abbott rightly displays as old hat by now. At the same time, this seems to be following not just a formula that videogames have now displayed, but that of the old morality play. Everyman cannot be redeemed, and cannot show us he is worthy of being redeemed, until we see how he has led his life. We see those bits of his life that make us cringe, make us recoil a bit, and, ultimately, should cause us to reflect on what we ourselves do in our lives that is worthy of being elevated.

Drake has foibles and flaws, lots of them. They are almost a joke to him, and like with Indiana Jones and many, many heroes through the ages, they are endearing as they show the classically flawed hero. A hero who stands too tall, too stoic, and too amazing ultimately pulls us back into reality–this is not real. We may be awed, but we cannot relate as readily. We cheer with the foregone conclusion of a win; not so with the everyman. We know ourselves, we know of what failures we are capable.

Which is also why near the end of the game, it managed to become of the survival horror genre for myself. I found myself engrossed in playing this game because it was generally well-paced, the voice acting wasn’t nearly as bad as I expect, and the story was familiar. Therefore, when the gameplay deviated as the story predictably did so, I was thrown into a panic.

No longer were the tactics of run behind cover and take careful aim of use. From a gameplay perspective, this is horrid. As Manveer Heir states, when introducing a new form of enemy (in this game, Nazis and Spaniards transformed into pasty white monsters), the strategies one must use to fight them should be skills upon which we built from previous game sessions. Uncharted fails at this. Due to my lacking the time to properly aim, I was often blindly firing, hoping to hit the creatures.

This proved to me two things: I wanted to use the shotgun at point-blank range as often as possible, and I was thrown out of my security blanket. Mixed with the proper lighting and sound effects, I became terrified in a way that only games that do not set out to be survival horror have managed in me (Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines and Half-Life 2 have also done this). The creatures themselves were not frightening to me, their history was not anything at which I even blinked (perhaps in that lazy, sardonic manner), but the inelegant way in which I was handling them shook the hand on the controller.

I was barely in control.

Part of me now wonders about the old debate of the original titles like Resident Evil, where inelegant controls heightened the factors of tension and anxiety. This certainly holds true for Uncharted, and before this, while certainly adrenaline-pumping in action, I did not feel odd in the slightest shooting at fellow humans (desensitization). Were I to face an inhuman being in real life? My reaction would likely be different, would likely imitate how I reacted in this game.

Faced with the consequences of dealing with said situation, it is little wonder the first game resolves as it does. In many ways, Nate has already plumbed and excised the avarice and pride many of us would face in such a situation. It is a formula that works, and one can only wonder how the sequel will alter it; and if it can be as successful.

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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One Response to Charted! Mapped!

  1. Scott Juster says:

    Nice connection regarding the Spaniards and the “survival horror” dynamics they bring to the game. I never thought about it that way, but the cumbersome controls inspire a similar mayhem to those zombie dogs of days passed.

    In regards to Drake as an everyman, I’ve made the argument elsewhere that, while the script portrays him as an everyman, the gameplay offers us a different view: Drake is actually a terrifyingly efficient killing machine.

    He is proficient with a wide variety of guns, explosives, and vehicles. He is deadly in hand to hand combat. He systematically racks up hundreds of kills throughout this single adventure. Because of this, it was kind of hard to identify with him.

    Anyway, thanks for a great post. I’m glad so many folks have decided to give the game so much critical attention. The discussion about the game’s successes, failures, and contradictions is only making me more excited for the sequel!

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