Notes from the New Yorker article "Painkiller Deathstreak"

One of my favorite things to see as a gamer is how "normal" people react to video games or the gaming community. So when I heard that the latest issue of The New Yorker featured an in-depth article that was just that, I had to pick a copy up for myself. The article, "Painkiller Deathstreak," is a great piece, not only because it's well written, but because it goes into great detail about things that we as gamers have taken for granted, like the glass of a riot shield realistically cracking under fire, or the button placement of a controller. Below is a point-by-point synopsis and a few choice excerpts from the article, if you can't get your hands on it yourself. 

  • Baker has never held a video game controller until fall of 2009.
  • Whenever he mentions his teenage son or his friends, he tends to throw in a comment about how good-natured they are (his son is a "committed pacifist"), as if to refute the stereotype of the aggressive, immature gamer.
  • He points out the absurdity of things that we gamers have never thought to question:

The PlayStation 3's blue X button is in a different place than the Xbox 360's blue X button -- madness.

  • Baker is not a fan of Halo: ODST. After listing off some nonsensical, excessively violent descriptions of strategies found in the game guide, he simply says "Forget it."
  • He notes the playful, well acted characters and the amazing visuals of Uncharted 2, calling it "a visual glory hallelujah of a game". What he enjoyed most was watching the making-of videos included with the game disc. In a discussion separate from the article, he marvels at the fact that each and every visual detail was the subject of a business meeting.
  • Modern Warfare 2 is the next game. Rather than discuss the gameplay at length, he discusses the game's realism. The telescopic sights "are a delight to peer through" and riot shields will realistically crack when under fire.
  • Baker seems to make sense of the game's borderline nonsensical story, and makes an interesting point about its message:

    It isn't, in my reading, a glorification of modern warfare. You play for three hours and you think, This? This chaotic chattering absurdity and panic and wasted ardor is what we mean by "troop surge"? It is an unjingoistic, perhaps completely cynical amusement.

  • After playing a few rounds of multiplayer both on and offline, Baker begins to understand the social aspect of multiplayer gaming.
  • On finding recycled props in different MW2 levels:

    I began to think a lot about the hard-working set dressers for this game, who cleverly reused the same props in different ways in different countries. What moral were they offering--that people were basically the same everywhere? That most of life was getting up in the morning, putting on your clothes, and eating basmati rice? That war, even for the soldier, was the aberration? Or were they just being thrifty, or playful?

    Modern Warfare 2, at that moment, felt truer, realer than almost all war movies...

  • Assassin's Creed II came next, and with it came the infamous Giant Bomb namedrop!

    This list, by the way, I'd made with my son's help. He reads the video-game Web sites and listens every week to the charmingly garrulous Giant Bombcast, which is like "Car Talk" but with four vastly knowledgeable gamers.

And of course... 

"There's a lot of face and neck stabbing, if you like to stab dudes in the face and neck," Ryan Davis explained on the Giant Bombcast. "There's one really good move where you will stabe a dude five or six times super quickly, shank style, like, uh uh uh uh uh, just jabbing--and that's oddly satisfying."

  • While he doesn't seem to like the frequent murder and violence in the game, he admits it "has moments of loveliness" and how climbing to the top of the Tower of San Marco was a pleasure.
  • He plays the demos for Bayonetta and Left 4 Dead 2. He doesn't write much about them other than Bayonetta's character design and L4D2's Spitter.
  • Mass Effect 2 is, for Baker, the most novelistic game he played. In another inverview, he notes that when you play, you feel as if "you're in the midst of something that is enormous, that feels as if it has miles of extent around you".
  • He gives up after the first disc, and I found it interesting that he never made mention of the game's overarching story.
  • Baker calls Heavy Rain "self-consciously artistic" and says it reminds him of a work by Orson Welles, attempting to advance an art form. His son calls the game "flipping genius." 
  • He finds God of War III to be gratuitous. After describing Kratos' weapons, the many mythological creatures he has killed and maimed, and the fact that "Brutal Kill!" appears on screen after Kratos "slashes well," he points out that GoW3 isn't satire (interestingly enough, he makes no mention of Bayonetta's gratuitous, yet satirical, sexuality). While he agrees that God of War III is visually astonishing, he is disappointed in the developers "for misdirecting their obvious talents."
     "The game, to a surprising degree, is about hacking away at half-naked women, or naked half-women."

  • The last game is Red Dead Redemption. He notes Marston's less violent activities, such as herding cattle and collecting herbs.
  • He finds the best part of the game to be the scenery:

    You stand outside, off the trail, near Hanging Rock, utterly alone, in the cool, insect-chirping enormity of the scrublands, feeling remorse for your many crimes, with a gigantic predawn moon silvering the cacti and a bounty of several hundred dollars on your had. A map says there's treasure to be found nearby, and that will happen in time, but the best treasure of all is early sunrise. Red Dead Redemption has some of the finest dawns and dusks in all of moving pictures.

  • After his journey into this surreal world we take for granted, he feels the need to take a break.
 
So that's about the gist of the article. Of course, this blog entry isn't a substitute for actually reading the piece, so by all means, take a look at the article for yourself. It's an interesting read.  
 
Alright, I wrote a blog post. Can I have my points now?
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