Guns, Cars 'n' Tits

Guns, Cars 'n' Tits
From the Barrel of a Gun

Tom Endo | 14 Oct 2008 13:13
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For many, this is the purpose of games - to provide a concrete experience grounded in gameplay mechanics, as opposed to an exercise in symbolism and iconography. But in putting this goal before all else, videogames concede their ability to produce images of consequence. In a vain attempt to tack meaning onto an otherwise meaningless image, developers have placed an inordinate emphasis on technical details.

But this obsession with facts and figures only further dilutes the gun's iconic status. This becomes apparent while playing Metal Gear Solid 4. A convincing substitute for the Guns and Ammo Holiday Gift Guide, MGS4 equates guns with baseball cards. Complicated statistics on each weapon overwhelm the player and customization options for each gun abound. Images attempt to encapsulate these numbers, but by the end of the game which of these guns do we remember? Which of these guns felt deadly?

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A single gun can provide all the power and tragedy that an arsenal of dozens ostensibly brings. The movie Dirty Harry, a love letter to the .44 Magnum, shows the fruition of this idea. As much as the movie is about a vigilante cop, it's also about the iconic tool that allows him to wreak his idea of justice upon San Francisco. Harry Callahan and the .44 Magnum become one in the same. An AK-47 might offer a higher body count, but to imagine Harry wielding it is blasphemous, an affront to the Magnum's status as the modern-day descendant of the Peacemaker. As a film, Dirty Harry tempers its fetishistic obsession over the subtle details of firearms with the broader implication that extreme violence is both necessary and beautiful. It's this balance that ultimately makes the .44 Magnum an icon.

Guns in videogames lack this focus. And if they have effectively acknowledged any larger cultural axioms, it is the dogma that bigger is better. The Doom favorite, the BFG, is the embodiment of this ideal. If this ethos was reserved for a few games each year, a Painkiller here and a Duke Nukem there, perhaps the gun could keep its integrity. However, this particular attitude towards firearms is deeply ingrained, such that the supposed apex of videogame progress, the Grand Theft Auto series, finds itself perennially stuck in this same mode, even in its recent turn from satirical pastiche. For all its implied claims of allowing players to recreate scenes from Scarface and other gangster epics, Grand Theft Auto's actual gameplay is benign. Players run aimlessly through the streets stopping only to toggle between the rocket launcher and an assault rifle before unloading their ammunition in what is little more than a virtual shooting gallery.

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