Games You Probably Like, But Shouldn’t: Need For Speed – Most Wanted
Recently, this column has caused quite a stir against those who live by an inflated sense of nostalgia. While I don’t intend on contradicting myself, I do intend to show an example of how nostalgia can remind people how far downhill we have gone. Unfortunately, these nostalgic musings are not the only problems facing games and gamers alike these days. Another one of these culprits takes the face of sub-culture idealism.
Don’t get me wrong; some, if not most subcultures or even pop cultures have decent things to contribute to society. For instance, the Grunge music and life style that spawned in the early nineties gave the world Nirvana and the even more powerful Silverchair; though, I doubt most outside of Australia have ever given the band a second thought. Without degrees of both gothic and emo culture; I don’t think Tim Burton would have a career at all. The problem, much with nostalgia, lies in the excess of a culture or the forcing of one.
In the late nineties after the Grunge era, the world had gotten over Will Smith’s clean rap and moved on to the lyrics of Notorious, Tupac, and a slew of other MC’s. Gamers on the other hand were still experiencing a rather “clique”less form of entertainment. Sure, Parapa The Rapper came in and jazzed things up, but you expected that from the start. JRPG’s lovingly starred angst-filled teens. I even think there was a Michael Jackson game thrown into the mix somewhere along the line.
The point remains though that the majority of games stood outside the bounds of culture’s influence. For instance, I can’t think of one subculture that would lay claim to the legendary Mario mushroom, not including the present day geek phenomenon. Spyro the Dragon didn’t hate himself while listening to My Chemical Romance. Back then, you could simply race in a racing game as you still can through Grand Turismo. I understand the merits of the intense driving simulator; however, I wanted more. As a young, listless teen, I needed an exaggerated experience that I had only dreamt of…
Enter Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit.
This was a strange cornucopia of dreams all meshed into one, albeit graphically limited, game. What teenage, young man didn’t want to race excessively fast and expensive cars? What about police chases? Spike strips? Helicopters? Even the scantily clad, yet quite polygonal women waving on the start and end of a race were something ripped right out of a dream. One inspired shortly after a boy’s realization that women had breasts.
It was everything just about every teen wanted and it lacked exactly what it should have: Plot. Rather than attempting to tell a story through the impersonal actions of cars, Hot Pursuit allowed every teen and me to interject our own plot. Whether I was racing against the school bully for rights to his woman or I had stolen the car and the cops were after me, I could fill the game with my own inner turmoil and desires. In a way, games made in such a fashion allowed the player to practice at an imaginative form of life to prepare for reality.
Enter Need for Speed: Most Wanted
By any means, the most direct sequel to Hot Pursuit as it fully incorporated the presence of police once again, Most Wanted was a much anticipated title for me. It was next gen, better handling, more cars, more customization… On the surface, this was the perfect upgrade. It even had a plot added; then, it hit me. They added a plot to a game that in some ways was all about perfecting male posturing. Rather than allowing the gamer to use the game as a medium for his or her own problem solving euphoria, Most Wanted had become a racing game that tried to tell a story. The even greater injustice in this situation was in fact the insistence on presenting the gamer with a forced representation of the racing subculture.
Now, I could understand if there had been certain undertones relating the game to the racing world. Such as the Asian character using a Japanese make car, a European driving a BMW, and an American of whatever race using “good ol’ American muscle” to win the day. There was no subtlety in this game; instead, Most Wanted relentlessly beat the gamer over the head with stereotypes and unnecessary cultural excesses. Whether it was the graffiti, “street” writing that often times led to illegibility, a main character that seemed more along the lines of an emaciated Eminem, or a host of other drivers that somehow dodged claims of racism only through the sheer lackluster writing behind them, Most Wanted spat in the face of its players. Most Wanted spat on the dreams we used to incorporate into it and told gamers that we should be inspired to fight authority through deep bass hits and baggy jeans.
Let me make something clear: I am not against rap culture. In fact, if I tally it correctly, the only cultures I abhor are the ones that pat themselves on the back for attempting to be a subculture. The problem here is that gamers were forced to relive the poorly written dream of a handful of people rather than allowing us all to live our dreams through it. Allow me to reference another series as a good example. In Grand Theft Auto III, you are in the mafia culture. In Vice City, it’s disco. In San Andreas, it’s street life. In IV, it’s Eastern European immigrant, which I found appealing due to how rarely American society has focused on the culture. What all of these iterations allowed gamers that Most Wanted didn’t was the right to choose. In any of the GTA games, you may be in a certain plot, but your character can change. The gamer has the ability to be a cowboy, a prep, straight gangster, or a host of things I’d rather not mention. You can even go so far as change the radio station to the music form you prefer.
Most Wanted decided for the gamer that we should all love and fight to be the same cheapened stereotype of a white, gangster driver rather than achieve what we want in our dreams and, in following, our own lives. Some games are made based on a culture, so they can’t be held to this argument. No one’s going to whine when 50 Cent’s game has tattoos and guns. No one’s going to blame a Madden game for egging on a house full of frat boys to think they could play football in the big leagues. Those games are based on those cultures whereas previous Need for Speed titles stood outside cultural leaning; though, Underground and its sequel did begin to have signs of a cultural shift. It’s this same vein of thinking that created Shadow the Hedgehog and possibly even the eco-friendly Mario Sunshine. I mean, someone has to appease the hippies at some point or we’ll have Woodstock all over again.
Do I want to race across a city with the police chasing after me? That’s an emphatic yes; however, I won’t do it when force fed a watered-down, stereotype ridden version of a culture. So as you all know, that’s why Most Wanted and the Need for Speed games following it are games you probably like, but shouldn’t.