E3 2010: A ‘Moving’ Experience

(N.B. Trigger warning for violence perpetrated against women, sexual in nature. Spoiler warnings for Heavy Rain.)

Lauren Winters, a middle-aged white woman with dark brown hair, head cocked to the side. She wears a bathrobe, and is staring slightly off-left.

Lauren Winters, a middle-aged white woman with dark brown hair, head cocked to the side. She wears a bathrobe, and is staring slightly off-left.

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.

10 thoughts on “E3 2010: A ‘Moving’ Experience”

  1. “From the way it was discussed, this would change nothing else in the game, and would not communicate anything to me.”

    Isn’t this supporting of your willingness and readiness to do what you feel is “right” as a player? If you, as Scott, are being wishy-washy about bursting in and helping out Lauren, she gets hurt as a direct result of your inability to make a decision in the short window of time the event allows you to make it.

    I didn’t run into this in the game, nor the Madison thing, but it seems like a consequence in a player’s ability to make a real decision, which… seems valid?

    1. Looking back, that seems valid, though that was not how I was being sold trying to see this. The way it was demoed, what was communicated to me was that here was this nifty ‘feature’ most people did not see, so I should now try it out and see how wonderful it is that they thought to put it in there.

      However, if they meant this as a consequence, I would also like Lauren to mention it somehow, or bring it up–have someone else bring it up, such as the elderly gentleman who examines the typewriter later.

      1. I understand the idea of the black eye as a consequence of not coming to the door quickly… but it being pushed as a cool feature to check out does not sit well with me.

          1. If that were the only example (and possibly if the presenter were talking to a woman instead – I didn’t catch Denis’ name until I saw the red comment) that charitable interpretation would seem quite plausible… but given the next bit about the death scenes and the various youtube collections of female game protags’ death scenes I’ve seen and the eroticization of killing women you often see in Hollywood and comics… I’m not too inclined to be that charitable. o_O

  2. I did not realize that Lauren could get a black eye in that scene. My reaction when I played the game was to try to help her right away. It makes me feel very uncomfortable to even consider replaying that scene in a way where she gets hurt even more. I do not see the appeal of that.

    I, like you, do not understand the appeal of replaying any of those scenes in ways that get the characters hurt or killed.

    I cannot imagine what would be said during the Taxidermist DLC scene with Move support. I watched a video of that DLC online and realized that I could never buy and play it. That whole scene is triggering in so many ways. It does nothing but add to the sexual assault and sexual violence triggers surrounding Madison’s character and even gave me nightmares after seeing the video.

    1. As I wrote this article, I realized I had wanted to write about the DLC as a warning to any considering purchasing it, but had never gotten around to doing so. That may well be in the works now.

      I could imagine someone wanting to see all the consequences, but I cannot imagine what it would take to come up with that large a range of ways to very gender-specifically attack someone using the cultural fear that surrounds stranger rape.

  3. I’m curious, did you get to speak up about this attitude to the demo person?
    It would be good to make the Sony salespeople in charge know that they did a bad job of making the equipment/games attractive.

    1. I, too, am curious about this. Personally, I think that I would have had trouble restraining myself from making some sort of comment to this sales rep in a firm tone. (For example, if told about the potential to let a character get a black eye, I doubt I would have been able to restrain myself from retorting, “Now, why on earth would I want to allow that to happen to her? She’s fictional, but still!” Or some variant.)

      Also, I’m guessing that had a woman been demoing the game, the guy talking about these “features” would have become too uncomfortable to mention them. (Just my guess, of course.) I think he probably was not trying to sound as awkward as he ended out coming off, and if he were talking to a woman, he might’ve been able to step back from the situation and think to himself, “Hm, it’s kinda screwed up that I’m excitedly describing different ways that domestic abuse can play out in our game …”

      1. In reply to both, I am afraid I was unable to inform them of my discontent, though I was telegraphing through my body language my obvious discomfort.

        While I could try and make excuses for why I didn’t, I will just say it did not seem like the atmosphere where my saying anything would have had any effect (I have been in contact with their PR since the event, however).

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