Monday, February 28, 2011

Let's Talk About: Travis Touchdown (sort of not safe for work)

Good evening,

            I took some time off to work on some little projects and gather my thoughts on a subject that has been on my mind for about a year. The end result was an analysis I had originally intended for Valentine’s Day, before I decided to finish the L series. I put it off because I did not want to approach a topic like this half-cocked, because, dear readers, you always deserve the whole cock.

            Um.

            Anyway, video games are weird. Certainly the idea of an interactive medium is old, but there is something about the video game that grabs us. From elaborate worlds to the ability to have your character do squats on the face of a man living miles away from you, there is a powerful draw. More and more, developers are realizing that this medium is also great for storytelling, and people now have the ability to take advantage of today’s technologies to create something compelling and fun, although most of them seem to be focused on having a large man punch or shoot at a larger thing.
               
            And every now and again, a character is created that draws a lot of attention. Look at the popularity of characters like Mario, Sonic, Kratos, or Master Chief; these figures are now as popular as fictional heroes and antiheroes of other mediums like Holden Caulfield or Sherlock Holmes, their power shown not only in the worlds of their respective products but also how they influence the video game medium and pop culture itself.

I want to talk about one in particular who is near and dear to my heart, someone who I discovered back in 2008 and had me captivated from day one.

            I want to talk about Travis Touchdown.

Oh by the way: unlike my Black Swan review, this is going to be a little spoiler-heavy. Whether or not you played or enjoyed the games, this might be insightful, but you have been warned.

            No More Heroes was a game for the Nintendo Wii, a third-party title popular enough to warrant a sequel called Desperate Struggle. Both games dealt with Travis, an egomaniacal, unemployed assassin who spends his days murdering for money, farting around his apartment, and getting screwed over by women. His is a journey of blood and tears – mostly blood – an arduous path of revenge and redemption spread across two games. Allegedly, he won’t be the main character, nor possibly returning at all, should a third rotation in this grim cycle come along, so let’s work with what we have right now.

            Travis appeals to me because of what is revealed about him outside of scripted cutscenes. The games are very much reflections of his psyche. Everything from the design to the mechanics tells of a beaten man with a plethora of psychological issues. Let’s talk about some of them.

            I like Travis because, though he hides it well, he’s incredibly insecure, especially when it comes to dealing with other males. Many of the boss fights are with men of higher standing in society than him. The first game alone is bookended with aristocrats, and the other male assassins he faces include a police officer, an actor, a scientist/rock star, and a stage magician. He treats them all with hostility, and why wouldn’t he? His only sources of income come from murder and mini-game jobs picking up trash or cleaning off graffiti. Plus, when you weigh in the fact that Travis is motivated by getting under the skirt of his manager and tracking down his ex-girlfriend, you get a strong sense that Travis is fighting through waves of suitors rather than bosses and their disposable henchmen.

            This is further explored with the presence of the equally silly-named Henry Cooldown, Travis’ twin, rival and something that I’m certain all single males fear meeting: a better version of themselves. Henry is calm, dedicated, gentlemanly, and exotic with a better dress sense and a more finessed fighting style. In any other game, someone like him would be the main character, and that’s frightening to someone on a quest of self-validation. Henry’s existence is also a good jab at similar characters like Shadow the Hedgehog, who are seemingly created to appeal to all the “cool” nerds out there.

            However, Travis’ core problem is that, like Canadian anti-hero Scott Pilgrim, he is a victim of nostalgia. Nostalgia itself can work as a coping mechanism, an anaesthetic to make the past seem simpler and better than what it actually was. With his background being so messed up, it makes sense for him to pine for such times. This is referenced to by all of the 8-Bit sound effects and visuals in both games, as even the overall art style brings to mind the overly exaggerated characters of yesteryear. Travis is a child in a man’s world, twenty-seven years old (thirty by NMH2) and determined to live out his days as a crass and crude teenaged boy.

            He cannot, and will not, let go of the past, especially when it comes to his aforementioned ex-girlfriend Jeanne. Without giving away too much, Jeanne ruined his life when they were together and he can’t get over it. He feels a need to confront her, but at the same time does not want to admit that she’s as cruel as she truly is. My personal theory is that Travis regressed because of her, developing also a juvenile, half-cynical and half-saccharine vision of the opposite sex. Not only do you see this in his room through Jeanne’s old photo by his answering machine and the moe anime posters on his wall, but also in the boss fights with female characters. In those, Travis seems unable to admit that there are women out there who are secretive, self-destructive, crass, and bloodthirsty, and it’s not until the climax of the game that he conquers this.

            Travis’ violent and rude attitude is a mask hiding his inner demons. Rather than let it slip off and show his true colours, however, he seems content to rivet it into place. In fact, he actually becomes more vicious and more egocentric once the second game rolls in. This owes to his rise to fame after the events of NMH1, feeding his ego and also trapping him in a cycle of violence and vengeance, and whether or not he overcomes this aspect of his life becomes the focus of the second game.

            I can’t think of any other game character like this, and that’s a good thing. And as much as I enjoy him, I don’t want other characters to follow this model. I can’t picture Mario jumping off of Yoshi and slicing up goombas as he calls them fuckheads, no matter how much game creator Suda51 seems to. And rather than having the designers write him off as just another jackass, Travis had presented a number of characteristics and psychological problems that are unique because they break the bastard down to his bones and show you his ugly, frightened interior.

I’d recommend playing the games to see what I mean, but they aren’t for everyone. If the overall visceral and exploitative style doesn’t bug you, then the gameplay or the hammy voice acting might. I got into the first game because it was over the top and it wasn’t until I finished it and played through it again that I started noticing the fine details of a product that was mature in its immaturity. This is just me, though, and I once wrote half an essay on one paragraph of The Makioka Sisters.

See you next time,

RWI

EDIT: Seeing as this one has OVER TWO HUNDRED VIEWS, this one gets a big, big Edit.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Flash Fiction - L4

Good morning and Happy Valentine's Day for those who give a damn,

 It's time for the final chapter of this strange tale.

 For those of you who read and enjoyed L, L2, and L3, this one's for you.

 One last time. Here is L4:

***

"And then, I am punching her in the tits?" Leila was telling me, "And I am laughing because she is fat."
I was laughing, myself; genuinely, at that. After dinner, I agreed to take her home, and together we hopped a bus heading north, leaving my idiot friend and that thing he dated downtown with the bill. I didn’t care; this girl had a spell on me. I had only known her for such a short while, and yet it felt like I had known her for years.
Now, to say I was still angry at Mark for tricking me into a double-date would be an understatement. To say that I wanted to beat him with a trash can until he looked like half a cantaloupe filled with ground beef and jam would be another understatement. But I was also grateful. Without him and that mewling abomination he called a girlfriend pulling a fast one on me, I wouldn’t be here, earnestly joking around for the first time in a long time.
Once her story was done, she cleared her throat and composed herself. "So," she began, "Mark told me you are Korean?"
I blinked, "What? No, I'm Cambodian."
"Really?!" she exclaimed, giggling.
This piqued my interest, "Why?"
"Because Mark said, 'He is Korean. Korea is cool place, not like Cambodia!'" she laughed.
I felt my blood boil a little. Actually, a lot. I'm not a patriotic man, but a big part of me suddenly wanted to make Mark's skin into a nice new coat. "That dick! I will fill his ass with concrete and throw him in a lake!"
"We can attach a weight to his face!" Leila beamed, still laughing as she pet my shoulder, “And feed him to crocodile!”
I reached for her hand and stared at her, my face close to hers as though I had just heard divine wisdom. “Will you join me on this magical adventure?”
We were suddenly very silent. Our eyes, however, carried a conversation. I don’t know why, but there was a certainty here that made me feel safe and warm. Everything I knew and loathed – the shop I worked in, my apartment, my insane best friend Mark, his screeching Haruka, and, yes, Sylvia – was miles away. All that stood in my life was her.
Leila brought her other hand up and put it on top of the one I used to pin her to my shoulder, “When can I see you again?”
“Tomorrow,” I proposed, instantly.
“No,” she whispered, “I’m going to mosque tomorrow.”
This caught me off guard. “I didn't know you were –”
A flick of the wrist, and a long blue and silver-lined kerchief, perfect for wrapping around a young woman's head, produced itself from her coat. She held it up to me.
My eyebrows nearly flew off my face. “Oh.”
“I take it off when I leave the house,” she said, tucking it away, “Is it okay?”
I shrugged, “Well, I'm not even remotely religious. Is that okay?”
She paused for a moment and turned her eyes up, considering that before finally saying, “Yeah, it's okay.”
“Oh, goo –”
“But my father, he might kill you many times.”
All coronary systems ground to a halt, “Oh. So, what are we –?”
“Jeff, are you Muslim?”
I blinked. “What? No –”
“No, pretend I am my father. Jeff, are you Muslim?”
“No?”
“I kill you with brick. Try again. Jeff, are you Muslim?”
I hesitated, feeling a cold sweat, “Um, yes.”
“Good.”
“Phew.”
“Sunni or Shia?”
“What?”
“I kill you with brick.”
“Jesus!”
She giggled and touched my arm, “He is very protective, that's why.”
“No kidding,” I gasped. “What’s he do for an encore, eat my dog?”
She gave a spry little laugh. “So funny,” Leila said, gripping me by the neck and pulling me close. “He’ll like you.”
I put my hand up. “What if he asks more questions?”
She pursed her lips together and smiled like a cat that ate all the birds in the world. “Don't worry. I am a good liar.”
As she kissed me, I began to realize that I was incredibly lucky.

***

 Now I'm going to take some time off to work on some little projects I've been neglecting. Find me on the 28th.

See you next time,

-RWI

EDIT: May 17, 2012. Edits! I'm doing a lot of these.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Flash Fiction - L3

Good morning,

 I have a surprise for you: a direct sequel to L and L2.

 This is L3.

***

It took some time before I stopped strangling Mark. Really, the only thing that kept me from relieving him of his mortality was the head waiter who adamantly cracked me across the cheek with a bottle of vinegar. Staff and patrons alike put aside their differences so that they could pry my hands from my best friend's neck. After my kung-fu grip was released, the head waiter gave us a stern warning and put us back in our seats.
My best friend rubbed his collar and glared at me. “Okay,” he huffed, “Are we done attempting murder now?”
“Dick,” I sulked, turning from him.
“You wouldn't have come if I told you –”
“I should've known you were planning this, you goddamn villain.”
“I'm trying to keep you from going insane.
“Yes, because inviting your brain-damaged girlfriend out to our dinner is sure to keep me out of a straight-jacket.”
“Jeff, come on, I want you here.”
I don't want to be here.
“Oh really? Why the hell aren't you leaving, then?”
I paused for a moment, tracing my finger along the menu, “I really like their garlic bread.”
A waiter walked up to me as though he stood on glass, “What will you have to drink, sir?”
“Kerosene,” I snapped, passing him the wine list, “And mothballs instead of –”
“Maaaahkuuuuu!”
I winced. That high-pitched, motherly squealing could only belong to Mark's beloved Haruka. She was a pharmacologist he had met on the internet. He claimed that she was The One, but then again he's said that about every relationship that passed a season.
I felt my intestines bleed as Mark leapt from his seat and wrapped his arms around the woman's neck. The sounds of their kisses, coupled with the gurgles of their disgusting fusion of English and Japanese ruined my appetite. Not even fancy garlic bread could save me now.
“How are you, Jeffu?” she warbled, coming over and patting my shoulder like it was one of her rubbish toy dogs.
My face hired a crack team of specialists to force my lips up into a smile. “I'm okay,” I seethed, “Just a little taken aback.”
“Yeah,” Haruka peeped, setting herself across from Mark, “So surprise, right? But Reira wanted to meet you.”
“Reira?” I mused aloud, my mind immediately conjuring up a three hundred-foot tall dung beetle terrorizing downtown Tokyo.
Leila,” Mark said, reaching over to seize Haruka's fingers, “She's one of Haruka's classmates. We told her all about you.”
Immediately, I realized what these idiots had concocted. This was a double-date. A blind double-date. I'm pretty certain that all colour fled from my face, “You bastards, why?
Haruka leaned in and smiled, “Because so funny, you are! And she is so, so excite to meet you now! Is good, right?”
Another image invaded my thoughts. This time, the dung beetle was replaced with some horrible, emaciated thing with half its hair torn out. Dressed in the finest road-kill, she limped towards the table, cackling. Her voice was like a haunted house. A pie made of skin flakes, prescription drugs and raw fish sat in her hands.
I snapped awake. “I have to go.”
Mark raised an eyebrow, “You sure about that?”
“Yes, I’m sure!” I cried back, grabbing my coat, “If you think I want to end up in a morgue, then –”
“She's right behind you.”
My blood ran cold. A newspaper article detailing my graphic death shot through my mind’s eye. Slowly, I turned to meet my date.
A small, curvaceous woman in a simple black dress and handbag stood in front of me. Dyed red hair was done up in a bun. Her skin was caramel-coloured, her face mousy and demure. Her eyes, shielded by a red-framed pair of glasses, were wide and brown.
She gave the nicest smile I had ever seen. “Hi,” she chirped, “I am Leila.”
I sat down.

***

 I smell a conclusion in sight.

Stay tuned,

-RWI

EDIT: May 17, 2012. EDIIIIT.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Flash Fiction - L2

Good day,

 Do you remember Jeff from L? I remember Jeff from L.

 Let's have a sequel.

***

            Someone took a dump in the stockroom. I really don’t know who, but I swore to find out. I didn’t know what I would do once I found the culprit. Scowl, maybe; especially if he turned out to be the one guy we hired who was afraid of public washrooms. But I wondered: what if it was my manager, or someone trying to make a postmodern statement about the nature of retail work? I hadn’t thought about that. Then again, some jobs aren’t for thinkers.
            That only ruined part of my day. On top of that, I had a swarm of customers nattering to me about delays in deliveries and my co-workers blasting some horrible euro-dance apocalypse over the speakers. Awful, yes, but did it make me want to light myself on fire and jump at an oil spill?
No, not yet, I told myself, but that day will come, and it will be totally sweet.
            I returned to my apartment, my sanctuary from the rest of the world. I hoped Mark wouldn’t be home. The last time we spoke, he was mostly naked and trying to discuss something personal with me. I was not in the mood for it; I’m never in the mood for it.
            Setting my key in the lock, I threw open the door and waltzed in. Almost immediately, I felt like I had just won ten million freeze-dried dicks. Arms crossed and stern-eyed, my roommate and best friend Mark was leaning against the wall and watching as I entered.
            “Oh good, you’re dressed,” I told him, bitterly.
            “Oh good, you’re pissed,” he retorted.
            I set my bag down and strolled past him, “We’re not having one of those touchy-feely broments now, are we?”
Mark shrugged. “Now’s a good as time as ever.”
“Well, let me break out the violins, first,” I said, throwing myself at the couch and seizing the remote.
As I flipped through channels, my concerned roommate paced into my line of sight. “Look, Jeff –”
“Move.”
“You’ve been taking it hard the last five months, I know –”
Move. I can’t see Spongebob.”
“But that doesn’t mean you should be taking your frustrations out on me. Or Haruka, for that matter. She doesn’t deserve it, and neither do I.”
“That girl’s gonna ruin you, man,” I said, jumping topics and still trying to look around him, “Can’t trust Asians for one second.”
He blinked. “Jeff, you’re Asian.”
“Yeah," I nodded, "Your point?”
Shoulders slumping, he kept appealing, “Look, I know that this is about Sylvia –”
“Broke my heart and fed it to pigeons,” I snapped, “Case closed, roll credits. Let's order pizza.”
            He rolled his eyes and left the room, “I know, but can’t you let that go?”
            “I’ll forgive her when she brings me the moon on an iron leash.”
            “Give her a break,” he said, going for the fridge, “She just got back from Siberia, and apparently one of her friends got killed by a bear or something.”
            I looked at the ceiling. “Someone’s been reading my diary.”
            Mark jolted erect and glared at me. “Okay, even for you, that’s cold.”
            I hated admitting he was right, and so I said nothing.
Unfortunately for me, he said everything. “Listen, Jeff, you got reasons to be mad, I know that more than anyone, but letting it get to you like this is insane and childish. I know you’re better than this, and I sure hope you know you’re better than this.”
“Heh-heh, Patrick,” I chuckled, pretending not to hear him.
            It didn’t work. He came back after pouring himself a glass of orange juice. He stood, looking angry but thoughtful. After a minute, he piped up: “Why don’t we go out tonight?”
            This hit me like a train. “What?”
            He shrugged. “Yeah, for old time’s sake. You, me, dinner, someplace nice?”
            “You know you have a girlfriend, right?” I said, eying him.
            My friend sneered and sat next to me. “C’mon, man.”
            “Fine, fine,” I smirked, “Just wondering if I needed to bring some peanut butter for later.”
            “A gentleman always brings his own, thank you,” he joked, his face warmer than before.
            This made me laugh. “I’ll get ready.”

***

 What's that? It smells like a cliffhanger to me.

See you next time,

-RWI

EDIT: May 17, 2012. Edits!!