The Banal

I’ve returned to playing Deadly Premonition after a substantial break from large-scale video games of all kinds. The break wasn’t really intentional, just a consequence of work and GuruQuest, really. But it really is great to be back in a video game world – I missed it.

One thing that’s particularly interesting about Deadly Premonition is its foregrounding – intentional or not – of the banal. Having just been re-reading some of the “games and art” debate stuff (Ebert and Moriarty in particular) and the corresponding attachment to The Sublime, I find The Banal to be a rather nice antidote and counterpoint.

While plenty of the game is extraordinarily off-kilter and bizarre (the scale of certain objects is insane, the facial expressions of characters are disturbing, etc.), it really does lovingly insist on numerous banalities which make for an oddly good time in my books.

“Walking around” is one of them. Having not played video games in a while, simply being in control of a new virtual body has been a simultaneously satisfying and eerie experience. In Deadly Premonition you do an impressive amount of just walking around without much in the way of anything else to do. The walk down a highway early in the game is emblematic of this, but throughout the non-shooting portions of the game I find I’m just walking along corridors like a regular person. Less do, more walk.

This extends to the driving portion of the game. I was delighted to discover that you have to actually drive yourself from the hotel into town to the police station and that driving in the game, to this point, is literally just driving. There’s no sense of cinematic thrill, as in the Grand Theft Auto games, for instance, just… using a car to get somewhere. The controls are sufficiently poor that it’s not even all that fun to drive, it’s a chore, and this fits rather well with the protagonists oddly humdrum attitude to his supernatural investigation.

Along with locomotion, there are all sorts of other “normal” activities you’re led to perform. Shaving in the morning, calling into the office (saving the game), drinking a cup of coffee, having breakfast, and on and on. It reminds a little of Fahrenheit, except here I feel as though the activities don’t so much set some kind of mood as just emphasise life itself, in all its triviality. And nor is there a Secret Sublime behind it all, that we can sometimes sense in our real life. There’s no magical other layer where shaving becomes a deeply fascinating and important activity – in the game a shave is a shave is a shave.

All of these minor, yet fundamental, activities combine into this idea of The Banal which stands in opposition to romantic ideas of The Sublime. It’s likely just my mood and my current feelings of ennui surrounding “standard” game designs which insist of large-scale action and weighty decisions, but The Banal is just what I need right now.

7 April 2011
← next words previous words →