Chip is something of a writer based somewhere around the eastern coast of the US. His musings on video games can be found at United We Game, Geek Force Network, and at the blog he shares with his wife, Games I Made My Girlfriend Play. If you’d like to have a hearty discussion about video games, craft beer, or cooking, drop him a line at his Twitter. I’m sure he’ll respond at some point.
Written by Chip
Over the last few years, a certain subgenre of horror movies has been gaining popularity in leaps and bounds. A sort of evolution from the slasher movies of the 1980s, these films build a plot around uncomfortable and gruesome scenes of torture. They rely on a universal fear of human depravity to instill terror in an audience, and some of them do it quite well. On a whole, I really don’t care for movies like Hostel or Martyrs; the idea of watching fabricated scenes of torture makes me squeamish and seems like an unhealthy use of my time. I simply don’t want to support a piece of media that boils down to an hour and a half of people being tormented for another’s amusement. However, while going through my collection of favorite PS1 games recently, I realized that I might be a total hypocrite in my disdain for torture movies.
Published just one year after the release of the PlayStation, Tecmo’s Deception was a dark title that fit the mature image Sony was trying to portray at the time. Players take control of an unnamed prince who has been framed for the murder of his father by his own brother. Seeking revenge, the prince makes a pact with a devil: in exchange for the means to exact his vengeance, the prince will aid in the resurrection of the demon. Both of these ends are accomplished through Deception’s core gameplay, which involves setting diabolical traps throughout a castle in order to capture and kill intruders.
It was during my junior year of college when I first encountered Tecmo’s Deception series. A friend of mine owned the third game, subtitled Dark Delusions. Having never played the series before, I was curious about this rather brooding and violent game my friend was playing. I watched as he took control of the kidnapped girl Reina, who must use her trapping powers to escape her imprisonment and eliminate those who would sell her into slavery. Reina could make all sorts of fiendish devices in three major categories: wall, floor, and ceiling traps. Each of these traps could be enhanced or combined with elemental powers and damage modifiers through a custom trap mode. Electrified floor panels would launch intruders into swinging pendulum blades which would knock them into the path of a flaming boulder to finish them off. This game was rather brutal, but the clever combinations of traps seemed like a complex puzzle waiting to be solved. My friend and I would swap the controller back and forth, spending many an evening after class developing grander and more elaborate traps for our foes.
With the recent addition of Trapt (the fourth Deception title) to the PS2 Classics on the PlayStation Network, I decided to once again delve into the darkness of trap-based gameplay. Trapt is mostly unaltered from previous Deception games: players take control of a young woman who must design and implement deathtraps to take care of her attackers. There are two features that stand out in this game. One is an absurd set of costumes for the female cast of characters (super impractical anime-style clothing). The other is a menu screen where the player can read mini-biographies on the NPCs that are killed by each and every trap.
As I play through each of these missions, I have the opportunity to read the general motivations and backgrounds of the intruders to my mansion of doom. Most of them are hired hands, cutthroats who are willing to get their hands dirty for a bit of gold. But there are some of these departed souls who are merely victims of circumstance, such as a farmer who came on hard times and needs the earn the bounty on the main character, or a wife who wants to avenge the husband who was killed by your traps in his service to the crown. There is no option to spare the innocents and punish the wicked in Trapt. All of them are plausible threats to the player, and so the traps must be set and their virtual lives must be taken to make progress in the game.
So maybe I have just been deceiving myself when it comes to violent media. For so long I scoffed and frowned at the idea of watching a film with a plot predicated upon manipulation and torture. I reasoned that there is no creative or cultural merit to movies like Saw or Funny Games; it’s just a sick way to spend an hour or two. I still feel this way about those sorts of movies, but somehow I can become thoroughly invested in a video game based on the same notions of violence. Maybe the point of these kind of media are to become like the protagonist of the Deception series. A young man or woman who must endure a bleak and uncompromising situation in order to survive and grow from the experience.
Or it could just be yet another way to scare folks silly. You never know.
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