Heavy Rain, QuanticDream's heavily anticipated "interactive movie" (their words, not mine) experience developed exclusively for the Playstation 3, released to a flurry of positive reviews this past week, and the flurries of snow here in Chicago didn't stop anyone here in the Chi from picking up the game - including one of my brother seminarians.
I have yet to play or even watch the game myself; however, the buzz about the game has reached my ears, and as it has some pertinence to the oft-discussed topic of video game violence here on CathVG, I'm going to offer the readership a chance to comment on it.
Now, the lexicon of the video gamer "chattering class" is awfully pretentious (the diction employed to describe the gaming experience is strictly limited to words like "innovative," "immersive," and "deep," and there's rarely any substantive attempt to distinguish between terms). Still, describing Heavy Rain as "immersive" is probably an understatement. The game takes a sort of "choose-your-own-ending" approach to the story; every action you as a player undertake has a dramatic effect on the story's progression. Anyone remember the "Goosebumps" books from the 90's, with the funky "alternative endings?" Yeah, it's kinda like that, only there's a seemingly limitless amount of endings to the story in Heavy Rain. Why is this important? Read on, gentle reader, read on...
Heavy Rain also "immerses" the player in its utilization of the Playstation 3's motion-sensing controller. Case in point: you character is a gun-wielding, neo-noir detective. You hold the controller as if you were holding a handgun (not too disimilar to the "light gun" arcade games of yore) as your character is forced with a moral dilemma: shoot an innocent bystander in cold blood (and thus save the character's son), or choose to back off and watch someone else die the same brutal death.
THE PLAYER pulls the trigger - or at least, this is what the game compels the player to think, as the motion-sensing control scheme demands that the player simulate the actual murder sequence.
So...with an immersive setting like that of Heavy Rain, is the moral culpability of the player any different? It's awfully clear that the developers are pushing the envelope in that direction, blurring the line between the "player-as-viewer" and "player-as-agent," per se. At the very least, the postmodern, "it's all just a matter of perspective..." thematic is certainly a part of this game, and for this reason alone I will say, without hesitancy: DO NOT buy this game for your 4-year-old grandson/nephew/brother. Even then, given that this game deliberately attempts to soothe away the pangs of a guilty conscience in its portayal (simulation?) of murder, well, I'm not sure if anyone else should be playing it, either.
That being said, I await the judgment of those who have actually, you know, played the game.