Register Saturday | September 22 | 2018

Warriors vs. Hobos

The battle for reality is being fought in modern video games

Video games have been a presence in my life for nearly as long as I've been alive. My first love was the Atari 2600. Like Frank Black sang in "Whatever Happened to Pong?", my brother and I used to play:

"To the side to the side to the paddle the paddle

To the paddle the paddle the side to the side

To the side to the side to the paddle the paddle."

Poetry-both in the song and in reality. If we'd get bored, we'd switch to Pac-Man or Tank. I didn't think we'd ever stop.

In the end, what saved me from being a lifetime gamer was my lack of patience; video games became too complex. I get bored playing modern role-playing games (RPGs) and frustrated with two-player combat fare. While it's true that some logic/puzzle games never get old-Tetris is religion-after a few days I found myself wandering off to do other things. Racing games started catering to gearheads; they now demand that you create profiles and trick out your wheels-really, I'm just looking to run over pedestrians in an ice cream truck.

That said, the past decade has produced a couple of games that have captured my attention. When The Sims first came out I stayed up all night trying to get my Sim, a pleasant fellow named Philip Dick, to not only get a little work done at the burglary factory, but to diddle as many of the neighbor ladies-and lords-as possible. I began to wonder where The Sims ended and my life began. The Warriors, from Rockstar Games (the makers of Grand Theft Auto), has placed me in a similar quandary; only this time, the intensity of the game has completely terrified me.

The game is based on a 1979 movie of the same title in which a Brooklyn gang (named the Warriors, natch) must fight their way through crime-ridden New York City while avoiding severe beatings from other gangs. Much cursing and bloodletting ensues, after which the Warriors return home to Coney Island.

The game is intensely violent. You mug random passersby for cash to buy spray paint or the drugs needed to heal your wounds. Unlike Grand Theft Auto, which I've yet to figure out (I should be able to do more than have a police-helicopter gun me down in a speeding RV, right?), The Warriors is structured in such a way that you are lead through each level. Initially, you're placed in a pit where you master a variety of fight combos by beating the living snot out of a hobo. Afterwards, you run willy-nilly through the Bronx during a blackout, toss Molotov cocktails at a rival gang leader, lure cops away from a drug deal by destroying their cars and-ahem-incite a bum riot.

In a later level, you must deal with a full-scale riot. For my part, as the riot unfolded, I watched as my fellow Warriors were arrested or beaten within an inch of their life. Attempts to rescue or revive them meant risking being beaten down by feuding gangs or the police. A man standing on top of a broken semi-truck hurled air conditioners (I think) at me. The hobos were too tough for me to mug. I accidentally beat up my dealer and was stabbed to death. Fires raged. Stores were destroyed (in part by me) and it took me a half-hour to figure out how to avoid the Baseball Furies without being creamed.

Is it a cool game? Yes, it is. Is there a chance four thousand Baseball Furies will pummel you to death with their bats? Yes, and that kinda sucks. But you get to steal car stereos, learn the value of teamwork and shake down bums for tens of dollars. After a while, though, I became too involved-not in playing it, but in the horror of the game's environment

Don't get me wrong. I'm not condemning the game for its brutality. I'm fine with violence in media-I'm just not a fan of the modern obsession with it. Today's horror movies, in which people are tortured just for the sake of torturing them, just don't do it for me. Saw, Hostel, Wolf Creek-are these "horror films" because the acts of violence are seemingly random, or are they just examples of gross-out masochism? I don't care, really-I like my ultraviolence with a dish of Bruce Campbell on the side. You have to be able to laugh at it, I think.

This where the makers of The Warriors missed the point. The original 1979 film is ironic and unreal-campy even. Somehow, it manages to be both scary and funny. The reason why the video game disturbed me was not because it glorified violence, but because it put me right in the thick of it. I was amazed by how The Warriors took something that should be fun-the patently impossible notion of abandoning all social mores-and made it almost too real, too intense. It showed me how random and terrifying a riot can be. And I can't in good conscience enjoy that.

Francis Joseph Smith reports on unpopular and underground culture from behind the sofa. His column appears every two weeks. Read more recent columns by Francis Joseph Smith.