They Piss In Their Suits. Obviously.

I’ve been playing a lot of Mass Effect of late. I picked it up again on Monday after having only played the first hour so previously. This time I restarted with a female (Jess) Shepard, based on reading about Tom Bissell’s experience in Extra Lives. It’s really made a difference and for various other reasons I’m finding the game weirdly engaging and moreish. So I ended up playing about 10+ hours in two days. A lot for me.

Anyway, part of what I’ve found myself thinking while playing is that age old “ha ha” about representations of people in media, which is “when do they go to the bathroom?” You know, that old chestnut. Other than the very occasional scene which emphasizes it (Travolta in Pulp Fiction, say), it just doesn’t happen. It’s implied. Maybe they do it when they’re not on screen for a scene, maybe they do it between shows, maybe they do it in an ad break, like us.

But that doesn’t parse quite as well with a video game, where time is most frequently represented as continuous. So when does Jess Shepard go to the bathroom? When does Gordon Freeman? I mean, they need to go to the bathroom. They’re human, it’s an important characteristic. Humans go to the bathroom. So Gordon and Jess go the bathroom. Got it?

So, obviously, they just go in their suits. Presumably their suits, along with the armour-plating and flashlights, have special waste disposal (or recycling) facilities. Recycling, perhaps, because they don’t obviously eat, either. They probably subsist on health packs and medigel. Not tasty, but it keeps you going.

This kind of silly question gets at larger issues I sometimes think about as I play games. What does it take for something to be “real” in the world of the game. Is the moon in Grand Theft Auto real? You can’t go there – you literally can’t, it’s not a space that the game represents beyond its appearance in the sky. On the other hand, there’s the moon up in the sky, and you’re down on Earth and not expecting to go to the moon – it’s not part of your experience in the world, suggesting that the moon is real. Much as Jess Shepard and Gordon Freeman must piss in their suits, the moon must be real.

The only other option I can think of is to imagine these games as sets populated by actors, some of whom we control. When we turn off the console, Gordon Freeman tears open his fly, Jess Shepard runs to the catering table, and the moon falls off the nail it’s hanging on and has to be replaced.

Frankly, I like both options, so I’m happy.

1 September 2010
← next words previous words →