I'm a hypocrite. That's what I realized after I finished one of my marathon sessions playing Dynasty Warriors 3, a no-holds barred slugfest meets the historical mythology of China's Three Kingdom saga, from Koei for the PlayStation 2. I had just lead an army of hundreds into the frontlines of a battle, unleashed hell on my enemy's stronghold, and personally introduced over 600 soldiers to their maker courtesy of my blade. Keep in mind thats 600 in one battle! And what makes me a hypocrite is that I loved every moment of it.
I criticized the violent crime-spree laden Grand Theft Auto 3 as being trashy and decried the upcoming riot-in-a-box State Of Emergency as being vile, but I couldn't deny the pleasure I took charging into a crowd of dozens and executing a earth shattering Musuo attack (think Soul Calibur-like combos on steroids) in Dynasty Warriors 3.
Am I being hasty in condemning myself? Perhaps a little more examination of both the game and the subject of violence in videogames are warranted.
Dynasty Warriors 3 is, at its core, what many old-school gamers call a beat-em-up. In the tradition of coin-op classics like Double Dragon and Final Fight, a beat-'em-ups most distinguishing characteristic is usually the endless hordes of computer opponents a player must combat (usually with fists, weapons and anything else a player can get his hands on) and the repetitive nature of the gameplay which is usually tantamount to a wholelotta button-mashing. However, there are several qualities that distinguish Dynasty Warriors 3 from its ancestors.
Dynasty Warriors 3 is a beat-em-up in which every facet is richly decorated with layers of ancient Chinese culture and history. The characters in the game are entirely derived from the legendary cast of iconoclastic heroes, villains, warriors, politicians, scholars, leaders and lovers from the "Romance of the Three Kingdom" annals. All the costuming of the 3D models is ethnically authentic and beautifully lavished. The story backdrops and scripted mission designs are also rooted in the text of the novels. Its an artistically rich and fulfilling tapestry from which the developers successfully draw their inspirations.
The gameplay also manages to evolve past its precursors in a number of ways. Dynasty Warriors 3s most obvious and compelling attraction is its concept of putting players right smack dab in the frontlines of a battlefield from a third-person perspective. In what seems like a minor technical miracle, each stage consists of literally hundreds of soldiers partaking in massive battle (most of which progresses off-screen) while dozens upon dozens of soldiers can flood into the players perspective at any given time. The overall feeling is incredibly vicarious, and leading a foothill charge of soldiers into conflict is wonderfully cathartic. The battles are indeed long and challenging, but also deeply rewarding.
The mindlessness of mowing down opponent after opponent in a typical beat-em-up fashion has also been invigorated in Dynasty Warriors 3 because players are treated as active pawns in a grander scheme. Theres a sense of liveliness and dynamic tension to the game world. Depending on the character a player assumes, responsibilities and objectives are shifted to the unique perspective of that particular character. Players can react and influence the tide of a battle by making strategic choices as to whether or not they should follow their assignments or freelance where assistance might be needed. To make things even more interesting, all the combat and strategy can be played through co-operatively with a human ally by way of a split-screen setup. For console gaming, camaraderie between two gamers is elevated to new plateaus.
To top off the gameplay, theres also an intentionally arduous, yet still dangerously addictive system for character development and weapons upgrades. The system of finding treasures and power-ups in the midst of the battlefield is less than inspired, but the net result is still effective in that it diversifies the gameplay and a player can easily lose a greater part of a days time trying collect these little attention-arousing devices.
However inspired most of Dynasty Warriors 3 is, the game is not without any fallacies. While the game can be technically astounding, the game engine has its limitations. When pushed to the max, massive slow-down in the gameplay occurs and 3D models have a nasty habit of magically disappearing and reappearing in order to compensate. In the two-player co-operative and versus modes, these problems are exasperatedly twofold.
So in closing of my analysis, is there a difference between Dynasty Warriors 3 and State Of Emergency or any other game that personifies violence?
I could argue that Dynasty Warriors 3 sits on higher ground because its treatment of the subject matter is more cultured and not eagerly exploitative (unlike most of Rockstar Games franchises). I could also say that Dynasty Warriors 3s main focus is on ancient war and history; not violence. The violence is an inherent characteristic to the subject matter.
So does that means violence is acceptable and perhaps even justifiable if dressed up properly and portrayed in the appropriate context? That reads cheap even as I write it. After all, who deems what is acceptable and what is appropriate? Religion and society can set the morale standards, but what if one chooses not to believe in God and whose cultural society are we talking about?
What does not escape me is that I enjoyed the violence in Dynasty Warriors 3. However dignified the games treatment of its subject may be, I was neither appalled nor enlightened by the violence. I was thrilled by it. Videogames make players active participants. Unlike films or books about war and violence, one cannot separate ones self from the content and look at the subject objectively. Therein lies the conflicting duality of videogames that makes it difficult for developers to convey intelligent and artful ideas through the medium. In order for videogames to be engaging, they need to be entertaining. What happens when a subject matter or an idea for a videogame may not be inherently entertaining? Is it the duty of developers to increase the fun factor at the expense of integrity? Are developers ultimately forced to channel their visions through more marketable criteria in order for it to be consumable?
If videogames are ultimately doomed to be subjective and void of objective thinking, perhaps the much industry applauded and heralded advocate of videogames, Dr. Henry Jenkins of M.I.T., is correct in saying that the attraction behind videogames is that it allows us to explore our darker impulses without consequence. Perhaps its inescapable that videogames can only be about escapist violent fantasies. This would inevitably explain the great success that Grand Theft Auto 3 has achieved, and I could sleep better at night knowing that Im not a hypocrite for slaying 600 virtual soldiers and loving every second of it.
Disclaimer: This review is based on the PlayStation 2 version of the game.