Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Alluding to Books While Left for Dead, Too

WARNING: The above trailer contains gratuitous zombie killing!

Following my recent fascination with Walking Dead it seemed only natural to pick up one of the many zombie first person shooters available for the X-Box 360, and following an entirely too long conversation with the electronics department representative at Target, I settled on Left for Dead 2. My son, who had come shopping with me, reminded me that we had actually ha the game briefly on our house a few years ago (a friend of his had brought it over), but that must have been during my "I don't do first person shooter games" phase which I have thankfully (?) "grown" out of.

Left for Dead 2 is an entertaining game with some good old fashioned jump scares and a great potential for replayability. Though I had been lead to believe it was a gory, I did not find it very objectionable at all--it is after all a zombie survival game, so what is one to expect?

Like any high quality video game, Left for Dead 2 has an engaging narrative and fairly dynamic playable leads whose canned voice work avoided being too caricature-y despite the potential for such a thing given their diverse backgrounds: a middle aged African American professional male, a twenty something Southern good ol' boy, a twenty-something African-American woman, and a thirty something Caucasian male grifter. After a week of occasional play, there is still much to discover and I have yet to scratch the surface of the online potential match play.

Another interesting aspect of the game is the use of puns and wordplay in titling the achievements one can master during game play. For the uninitiated, "achievements" are "games-within-the-game" that players can accomplishments during the course of play. For example, if you revive ten other players using a defibrillator during match play who earn x amount of player points which are then added to your "Gamer Score." What is not unique is the presence of achievements (all games have them), but what is rather clever are the names of the achievement, some of which allude to other sources, such as books and historical figures.

In a previous post, I wrote about coming across a similar phenomena observed while playing Rockstar Games' Red Dead Redemption.

In Left 4 Dead 2 there are 65 possible achievements. Of those, the titles that appear to have been given some extra thought seem to fall into two types of allusions to works of literature and to musical works. While nearly all of them engage in some form of wordplay, it's just that these two groups that seem to have a literary bent.

An allusion is a reference to a person, place, or thing in history or another work of literature. Allusions are often indirect or brief references to well-known characters or events. Two titles in particular seemed to most obliviously intended to allude to literary works. Just why they were chosen, other than that they just sound "cool," requires digging a little deeper:
  • "Crass Menagerie": Kill one of each Uncommon Infected. (Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie; pick any single (or all) of the main characters--Amanda, Tom and, most visibly, Laura--each of whom can be said to be "infected" with one malady or another. Though the setting of Williams' play is St. Louis, Amanda is referred to as a Southern belle.)
  • "Confederacy of Crunches": Finish a campaign using only melee weapons. (A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole; the setting of the game is Louisiana, and the author was born and grew up in New Orleans.)
A number of allusions to classic popular music titles are also made.
  • "Bridge Over Trebled Slaughter": Cross the bridge finale in less than three minutes. (A Bridge Over Troubled Water was the fifth and final album recorded by Simon & Garfunkel; the allusion is fairly literal here given the achievement acquired.)
  • "A Spittle Help From My Friends": As the Spitter, spit on a Survivor being choked by a Smoker. ("With a Little Help from my Friends"written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, released on The Beatles album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band in 1967. Other than being a clever play on words... nothing too deep here.)
As I reflect on what this means, the reality is that to many, these allusions mean nothing... sort of like when students get frustrate when the teacher (me) "sees" things in writing that they don't. What I try to remind them is as their own reading grows broader and deeper, they'll see things too--like literary nods and allusions in zombie video games!

No comments: