Extra Punctuation

Extra Punctuation
On FMV in Games, Gore and Giving a Middle Finger to Censors

Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw | 3 Jun 2014 16:00
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phantasmagoria

Oh, the glory days of FMV in video games. When adventure games were suddenly coming on six CDs packed with video so tightly compressed it looked like you were viewing the world through a tennis racket covered in Vaseline. This was a phase of gaming that was an unexpected side-effect of CDs becoming the data storage medium of choice. Suddenly there was a lot more space available, but before polygonal graphics started taking off, most games wouldn't have use for more than 50 Mb. Developers had to start using their imagination as to how to fill the leftover space. A lot of adventure games previously released on floppy disk were re-released on CD with full voice narration, but that apparently didn't feel like enough, so FMV games began.

I said in last week's video that there was a curious trend for FMV games to lean towards having 'mature' content, which attracted the usual moral panic. Night Trap was famously targeted, somewhat arbitrarily, as it wasn't even particularly gory, compared to games like Phantasmagoria or Harvester piling the guts on with a trowel. But it occurred to me later that games, especially PC games, had a weird relationship with gore even before then. Wolfenstein and Doom treated gore like a big jolly lad's party, and some of the death animations in the bright and colorful Space Quest games absolutely beggared belief. In Space Quest 3 you can die of explosive decompression and see all your low-res guts wobbling out of your chest, while the game narration is rolling its eyes tolerantly like you've only spilled juice down your front.

Space Quest

That's what happens when there's a new artistic medium without much in the way of scrutiny. When a work indulges in 'mature' content it's often to consciously shock and put a middle finger up to the censor, but when there is no censor, it can be separated from that and indulged in with a sense of... innocence, almost. But that perhaps depended on graphics being colorful and cartoony, and once the same attitude was extended to FMV, with the gore being as unflinchingly live-action and real as fake blood spurting from the stumps of bad actors can possibly be, it started throwing things into sharp relief.

Perhaps the FMV period of games helped video gaming get a lot of stuff out of its system, and that it was only from the sight of watching cheap fake blood drooling down the pancake-looking tits of a softcore porn actress could gaming really start to mature, in the truer sense of the word. Now I am reading too much into it.

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