“Government unorthodoxy, judgment of morality, and origins of evil.” These are the great thematic discussions Sucker Punch Production’s Infamous subtly has with those who play the 2009 PlayStation 3 exclusive title. While these are things we all know much about, it bares mentioning here due to the fact that rarely do you play video games to learn these things. It is thus a true feat of writing and exposition that an action game such as this can speak so profoundly and clearly about such things and not at all detract from the overall experience it has to offer.
The game is set in a quarantined city meant to mimic the conditions of Middle Eastern towns occupied by military forces. This is accomplished well by the inclusion of soldiers who kill any innocent civilians who draw too near and later bombings of the city by the air force when it appears the plague will be released.
Inside the city we are informed by television reports that in the outside world people are being told that the government is handling the situation and that people in the city are treated with the utmost care by soldiers portrayed as vigilantes. But as another man trapped inside, we know these are all lies the media is telling; a friend of yours even says to you early in the game “You don’t see any Red Cross out here, [do you]?”
It seems that in this day and age of violence-obsessed, warmongering shooting galleries called “games” the only political discussion wanted is that Russia is still out to dominate the world and the fate of billions lies in the hands of the United States of America. We cannot escape the fact that this repeats every year and that this biased notion pulls down millions of figures , but for the dwindling number of gamers who wish to think before they act, hope will still sometimes manifest itself in the form of titles like Infamous.
A key element in Infamous’ gameplay is the morality system. Throughout the experience, the player is presented with situations in which they must choose to either make the selfless or selfish choice. Almost always the event will have an ultimately similar end despite what choice you make, but this puts a higher focus on the means by which you reach that end. Thus our character is judged not by the outcome of his actions, but by their methods. It draws our attention to a little-noticed habit people have with judgment. Far too often do we only admire or scorn the end result of things. Effort is often overlooked human ingenuity becomes an unturned stone in the grand scheme of things.
But perhaps the most assertive point made in Infamous is that heroes and villains are made by those around them- that we are products of our environments. Those with strong will and morals become heroes whereas despite how strong they may be, villains are only people without the will to resist struggle.
When I first played through the game, my first big choice came after climbing a tower to deliver to the starving masses crates of food dropped by the government that had gotten hung on a place too high for anyone else to reach. After getting the package down onto the ground, I had to make a choice: do I just take a share of the food and keep myself alive until the next drop, or do I kill a couple people to scare the others off and keep all the food to myself so I don’t have to worry about starving? I decided to do the selfless thing and let all the starving families take the food, but soon after speculations arose that I was responsible for the plague in the city. I, who just saved several from starvation was then portrayed as the villain- an outcast. People began to throw stones at me and kick me when I walked by.
I thought these people didn’t deserve the help I gave them, and it is moments in life like that at which the strong will bear with it and wait for better things to come to them and the weak will give and make things better for themselves at any cost. We often think the statement “We are products of our environment” means that people living in impoverished areas will become criminals to survive, but often this speculation is made based solely on the wealth of an individual. Rich men can become corporate villains just because of something a man says to him on the streets.
Looking at the three thematic points of Infamous side by side, there is one factor within them that they all share: ignorance. Civilians are often ignorant of what their government leaders are really doing. They often pay attention to results and what they read in the headlines of the news without bothering to read the print below. Just as such, we look at things in a shallow state of mind never wanting to think it could be us who craft the modern villains. Infamous is a rare game that chooses to overturn stones that are nearly taboo in an industry meant to glorify the military and justify death and destruction on horrific scales, and though it may be years old now, it’s themes have not lost relevancy.