First Person

First Person
The Exhausting Violence of Max Payne 3

Dennis C. Scimeca | 3 Aug 2012 21:00
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When I think about Max Payne 3 I think about a camera shot tracking tight on a cluster of sixteen or so shotgun pellets as they slowly fly towards some poor bastard who's about to catch the round in the chest. I remember thinking, "I can't believe this is about to happen" while I slowed down the action with the press of a button and then literally watched the poor bastard's chest evaporate into a cloud of red and gore as I pumped shell after shell into him in slow motion.

Max Payne 3 might be the most violent videogame I've ever played. I'm shocked we never saw it as part of a Fox News anti-gaming tirade or in front of a Congressional committee on videogame violence. If you play it you will understand what I mean the first time you shoot a bad guy in the neck and see him collapse to his knees while blood spurts out of the gaping wound. The violence is brutal and unapologetic, yet it never felt inappropriate, and I realized why during a viewing of RoboCop.

When Peter Weller's character, police officer Alex Murphy, gets caught by Clarence Boddicker and his gang in the factory towards the beginning of the film, Boddicker blows off Murphy's right hand with a shotgun blast, and the rest of Boddicker's gang unloads shotgun shell after shotgun shell into Murphy. Murphy's body armor gets shredded to pieces but keeps him alive, and Boddicker finally puts Murphy down with a pistol shot to the head. The murder of Alex Murphy ranks as one of the most violent scenes I've ever seen in a movie. It's a crucifixion. It pulls no punches and makes no effort to disguise itself as anything other than the disgusting display of violence it is. It's also entirely necessary for the story. Murphy's will to live is what keeps him going even after he realizes later in the movie that he's been transformed into a cyborg monstrosity.

There's an honesty about the violence in RoboCop that I've always appreciated. When the ED-209 enforcement droid malfunctions and guns down an executive in the OCP boardroom very early in the film, that poor bastard gets ripped to pieces with magenta, gaping wounds accompanied by staccato thuds. I was thirteen years old when I saw that scene for the first time. I'd never seen anything like it in a movie before. RoboCop treated me like an adult who could handle something traumatic.

The violence in Max Payne 3 also feels very honest. It treats us like adults by pulling no punches. It's grim and blunt and grueling and intimate. I challenge you to play the game on Hard and not feel some sense of exhaustion by the time you get to the fourteenth and final chapter, not only because the game is taxing skill-wise but because you've been exposed to so many brutal killings along the way. Witnessing violence ought to do that to a person. By the time I reached the end of Max Payne 3 I wasn't taking advantage of the ability to shoot my final victims over and over again in slow motion because I'd had enough. It wasn't attractive anymore, and maybe that was the point.

We talk a lot about violence in videogames but we usually sidestep the issue of what that violence might be doing to us while we play these games. Max Payne 3 might be the beginning of an answer to that question. My mood was very somber at the end. The game was still fun, but I also couldn't wait for it to be over because I was psychologically exhausted. That sounds about right from what little I know of real world exposure to extreme violence. That doesn't mean videogames are every bit the evil influence that conservatives or well-meaning bleeding hearts would like to paint them as, but a game like Max Payne 3 does suggest videogames might be capable of addressing the real-world issues of violence we live with, and also addresses the question of whether we ever want our videogames to truly address those issues at all.

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