Video games are a thing. A billion dollar a year industry thing, if I’m being slightly more specific. And sometimes video games involve characters from comics, which is decidedly NOT a billion dollar a year industry. So what’s the deal there? Not that I’m an expert, but I do have opinion and this is the Internet, so let’s dive in!
Those who would dismiss comics, i.e. most people, would call them adolescent power fantasies. Well I haven’t been an adolescent for years, yet I still have the occasional daydream where I control the fates of many rather than be buffeted by the callous whims of the few. Those daydreams are thrilling, and almost dirty, but I’ll be damned if they aren’t satisfying. And they’re satisfying because of the “power fantasy.”
It may just be my personality, but power is intoxicating. This doesn’t mean I have the desire to abuse it, because alcohol is also literally intoxicating, but in moderation is just fine and dandy for most, and I think the analogy holds. There are few things that annoy me more than a group of people unable to move forward because no one is willing to take charge and push an agenda. Again, not always an optimal agenda, but there are days I’d rather move sideways than not at all.
I don’t aspire to power, but the concept of it alone is enough to get me wistful for how I’d reshape the world in my image. And that’s what video games provide. Video games say: here is the most realistic facsimile our technology allows for you to be Hulk/Batman/Wolverine/Etc. None of these interpretations are perfect, but seeing pavement crumble beneath your viridian feet, or perching on a gargoyle planning the perfect multiple-move take down get pretty damn close.
One of my favorite Batman scenes is from the opening pages of the Hush storyline by Loeb and Lee. Batman is attempting the rescue of a kidnapped boy and is moving through armed guards like a hot knife through butter. Is he happy with this result? No, because he’s mere seconds off the mark of where he should be. I get this. I wrote not long ago about how if I had a cosmic treadmill nothing would ever get done because I would repeat each even ad infinitum (i.e. forever) just to “get it right.” In the real world, this would lead to stalemate at best, Butterfly Effect at worst. But in the world of videogames and autosave this means the potential for perfection. And not just perfection, but extra points for being perfect.
And that’s one of the cool aspects of video games. When the gameplay elements are balanced the traits of the character actually become an aspect of the game itself. For example, in the Superman Returns game, your success was based on collateral damage rather than your own health, because Superman is basically unstoppable. Whereas in the Incredible Hulk game, where the character is arguably equally unstoppable collateral damage was half the fun. Most of your XP went towards unlocking moves to create more damage, not less. Both mechanics were, to albeit different degrees, effective, because they were both fun and revelatory towards the characters the player was purportedly playing.
But the more specific component of comic characters in video games has to be fighting. If power fantasies are the inception, than violence must be the conclusion. It’s stupid, I really do accept that, but it seems that at the moment video games are an industry plagued with vocal and whiny man-children (prove me wrong in the comments by NOT being THAT guy, I dare you), which means that using excessive amounts of power and prowess is par for the course. And when done well, it can be fun. Being Batman and dropping down on a group of thugs to pummel, Batarang, toss, electrocute, kick, and concuss in a fluid series of stunning movements is exhilarative. I catch myself reacting to being hit by goons with embarrassing regularity. I call it a workout and move on, but if someone saw me they might suggest I adjust I see a doctor for treatment of self-induced scoliosis. Few superheroes get popular without ever getting in a fight, and getting the chance to control them as the peak or beyond of human capabilities can be far more engaging than piecing together a fight from between the gutters of the panels.
The former paragraph ignores the popularity and fun of the Marvel vs. Capcom or Mortal Kombat vs. the DC Universe franchises which rely almost entirely on how much fun it is to throw down as one’s favorite grouping of various characters. And as a point of pride, I’ve never played as a Capcom character, not even Megaman.
But none of that matters without a story. Video games have evolved a lot since a gorilla named Donkey threw barrels at an Italian (which sounds like a scene from Gangs of New York, but is actually the premise of a Japanese video game). And we have reached a point where video games can tell stories about our favorite comic characters that simply could not be achieve in any other medium, including our beloved comics. Video games have given me a visceral insight into characters that I have never gotten through just reading comics. We often talk about how comics are paced by the reader, not the writer, but games can force the player to jump through hoops at a staggering pace, truly illustrating the insanity and chaos of the superheroic experience.
Ultimately I guess I just think I’ve been enjoying games a lot lately, more so than even our precious comics, and I wanted to justify the experience and ideally get some support from the community. So what say you, iFanbase? Are you with me in your desire to control, fight, and experience the lives of our favorite characters? Or do the panel-by-panel breakdowns of their lives suffice? Let’s hear it in the comments!