(N.B. Trigger warning for violence perpetrated against women, sexual in nature. Spoiler warnings for Heavy Rain.)
This past week I had the opportunity to attend E3 (many thanks to GayGamer for the honor), and during that time I was able to test the three main consoles’ newest technological ‘innovations.’ For the Playstation Move, I was shown many games I could easily see on the Wii, and therefore I sort of shuffled through them, not wholly impressed by the graphical power that the PS3 provided. No, I was much more interested in the demo they had of Heavy Rain being played with the Move control scheme.
Despite its flaws (particularly in Madison Paige), I enjoyed Heavy Rain. It had its fair share of problems, and I probably am more in love with the potential than with what I was actually presented. While demoing the Move for the game, the man behind me happened to share some highlighting scenes for me that made me cringe, and wonder for whom this game was designed.
The first scene I played was the same demo available on the PSN, playing Scott Shelby, going to interview Lauren Winters. I’ve written my impressions of how I believe the control scheme worked during the fight, but before I even reached that scene, the demo representative shared this tidbit with me: if you wait half a minute or so to knock on the door and intervene, Lauren will have a black eye after you rescue her. I could tell by the way he repeated this twice (a common trait from people showing me games was to stress over and over what they believed I was supposed to be doing, rather than letting the game guide me and speak for itself) he wanted me to actually witness this, at which I cringed.
No. Beyond just the considerations I had for Lauren, having finished the game already, I could not fathom why it was important that I witness a woman with a black eye because an irate man decided he wasn’t pleased with her. From the way it was discussed, this would change nothing else in the game, and would not communicate anything to me. While I would like to believe it to be a powerful statement of our own society’s capability to be silent on issues of domestic violence and abuse of sex workers, I do not believe the way it was represented to me supports such a conclusion.
The second scene available, and this is the point where I put down the controller, hoping that our booth tour guide would get the signal, was Madison Paige’s initial scene. Cue being told that there were multiple ways to get Madison killed during this scene–something that would never have occurred to me. See, put in the situation the scene puts forth, my immediate idea was to escape assault on Madison, tinged as it is with rape and assault triggers.
Let me reiterate, it never occurred to me to replay the scene and try dying at earlier moments to satisfy some curiosity. Given the choose-your-path style of gaming that Heavy Rain encourages, I suppose it makes sense to allow for different outcomes at different junctions during that long, painful scene.
I am not sure what to make of my encounter, to be honest. Sure, it impressed that the Move was an experience that would work well for certain games (and accomplishes a small, but important step toward immersion for Quantic Dream’s vision), but it has now attached itself to a memory of someone selling the violence that you are able to witness against two of the three primary female characters (arguably the mother is a minor character).
Had I been female, I wonder, would the same message have been conveyed to me? Would I have been encouraged to witness the same scenes in the same way? The game is triggering enough as is, but to have this pushed forward so… effortlessly on his part left a foul taste in my mouth.
My advice to Sony? Get someone to tell me about the game without the glee derived from seeing women battered and attacked in very triggering ways. Then again, considering the Playboy spread and Taxidermist DLC, I am not sure I have any faith remaining in this particular game.