Celebrities in videogames…
Celebrity culture spreads like a virus, infecting everything it touches. It’s been called a modern evil, and Lewis Anderson agrees…
BEING A fan of skateboarding and the myriad skateboarding games that have been available over the past few years, I thought the Skate 3 demo might be worth a look. So I downloaded it and booted it up. Expecting pretty much more of the same as the previous two Skate games, imagine my pleasant surprise when confronted by Jason Lee.
Some of you might know him better as the endearing yet karma-fearing Earl from My Name is Earl, but in Skate 3 he gives his image, voice and moustache to the character of Coach Frank. Presumably he’s just meant to be a friendly face that guides you through the opening moments of the game, and his vocal tones are oddly reassuring.
But it strikes me as slightly odd. There’s some sense in him being there, as – believe it or not – Jason Lee was actually a professional skater back in the day. So there’s a kind of logic behind his inclusion, even though he’s most likely not been near a skateboard in years. But logical or not, it’s still strange and makes me ponder. Do we really need celebrities in videogames?
Of course, some types of game utterly rely on famous types and need to feature them. It’s almost comical to look back at older sports games and see teamsheets full of players that never existed and never will. Simulating reality, and allowing the player to live out whatever sporting fantasy they’ve dreamt up, is the whole point in the genre – so including genuine sportsmen is key.
And, in a similar vein, relative unknowns having their own videogame series can cause them to become celebrities in their own right. Tony Hawk is the prime example: 1999 saw the release of his first video game and his resulting transformation into a household name. Prior to that he was merely a key figure in the skateboarding world, but having teenage boys the world over play with him (ho-ho…) guaranteed his ascendency into the mainstream.
Don’t you know who I am?
But then there’s a different kind of implementation, a much less refined approach: the wanton bludgeoning in of celebs into average videogames that stinks of crude marketing. Think Jack Black in Brütal Legend, and all the famous faces in The Sims: Superstar.
The best example, though, is a game released more than a decade ago: Activision’s Apocalypse. It still irks me to this day. Apocalypse (pictured right) was a run-of-the-mill shooter in which you fought through – you guessed it – an apocalypse. As though recognising how mediocre the game was, the producers brainstormed for weeks and weeks before coming up with an idea both brilliant and beautiful in its simplicity: make the player character Bruce Willis.
Yes, that’s Bruce Willis the famous action hero. For no reason whatsoever. With no movie tie-in to justify using the actor in the game, it just looked like a desperate bid for more sales. In fact, the game was released about the same time as the film Armageddon, and possibly looked to take advantage of misinformed customers by having a title with a similar doomsday theme. A devious marketing tactic, but that’s another story.
To me, seeing celebrities in-game will always be bizarre. There’s something noticeably eerie about in-game versions of people who have forged their careers in reality. Although Heavy Rain showed just how far virtual characters have come, there’s still something not quite right: the Uncanny Valley effect. If you try to mimic reality, you had better watch out. People are pretty damn good at noticing when things are wrong. Even if it’s the most subtle of aberrations, it’s still an aberration.
Unless the animation is really, really good, virtual people just can’t move their bodies in a way that seems natural. They stare wildly into the distance and speak with faces that don’t match up to their emotions, things that can be easily ignored when the character isn’t meant to be a real person, but which become glaringly obvious when the character is meant to be someone who you’ve seen walk and talk in the real world.
But with every aspect of our lives seemingly being infected by celebrity culture, it’s no surprise that videogames should follow suit. Who knows – if we’re lucky we might one day get to play Katie Price: The Revenge of Peter André. That said, I’m not sure if ‘lucky’ is the right word.