Extra Punctuation

Extra Punctuation
When "Dark and Edgy" Goes Too Far

Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw | 3 Apr 2012 16:00
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I'm going to be 29 this year, just under two months from the time of writing. Almost thirty. It haunts me every time I catch a glimpse of my hairline in the mirror. This may come as a surprise to the many people who seem to think I'm a lot older because I have the voice of someone shaking their fist at neighborhood boys fleeing from a broken greenhouse window. Or indeed to anyone who assumed I was about twelve because my job is to get angry at video games.

But the point is, I've been blaming my increasing age lately for my increased squeamishness at things that are "dark and edgy". It's curious how these things seem to operate in the reverse manner to the way culture and society would seem to prefer. When I was younger I loved things that were grotesque and horrible for no reason. As a child I fondly remember drawing a detailed cartoon of me and my best friend taking either side of a large two-man saw as it ploughed through the guts of a prisoner dangling from the ceiling. But now society has officially given the thumbs up to me watching whatever material I choose - I hear even the Australian R18 rating for games is finally worrying itself free of politics' collective asshole - the thought of watching one of those Saw or Hostel movies just makes me feel a bit queasy.

Hence my lukewarm response to Twisted Metal and its unrelentingly grim pseudo-live-action cinematics that broke up the single player campaign. But I want to make myself as clear as possible here - I still love the horror genre, at least when it's done in the way that I like. I'm fine with the darky edgy stuff when it's consistent. Something like Condemned would pretty much be about as dark and edgy as you can get in the interactive media and I like that game a whole lot. I only went off it in the sequel when it took one too many hits on the pipe and started getting absurd. That was a game whose core gameplay involved creeping around the most horrible urban environments imaginable starting at every shadow in fear of murderous junkies and hobos armed with broken bottles and bits of bent rebar. My point with Twisted Metal is that it seems odd to employ a similar kind of atmosphere and presentation to bridge gameplay in which players drive cartoon vehicles around bumping into each other.

And this attitude struck me as hypocritical, since I remember playing a very similar game - Carmageddon, as mentioned in the video - back when I was a kid and enjoying it quite a lot. It, too, had dark and edgy trappings around wacky violent gameplay. Perhaps this is why I'm convinced my advancing age is the important factor. But then again, I'd say Carmageddon was a little more comedic, and perhaps that's what makes Twisted Metal not sit right for me. TM makes no apparent attempt to make things overtly blackly humourous, except perhaps through audacity alone, and it's mainly just blackly black. What comedy there is only comes from organic gameplay moments when a missile makes a vehicle do a quadruple sommersault into a hedge.

When I say "dark and edgy", I don't intend that to mean all violence, gore and mature content. I'm not so middle-aged that I am now siding with the conservative campaigners who think all games should be appropriate for kids. Being gorey or violent alone isn't the same thing as being "dark and edgy". Look at something like the new Mortal Kombat. It flings body parts around like you wouldn't believe but it's about as dark and edgy as a cereal bowl because the dialogue and character design is like something out of superhero comics.

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