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.


            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,


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

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