After having completed developer Quantic Dream’s most recent game Beyond: Two Souls, I felt myself compelled to tweet that the ending had made me laugh out loud.
All right, I just laughed out loud at the Beyond: Two Souls ending.— Gavin Craig (@craiggav) October 29, 2013
Now, like other Quantic Dream games — Heavy Rain, Indigo Prophecy/Fahrenheit — Beyond: Two Souls can pretty fairly be described as a game that is not trying to engender laughter. It’s a serious game about 15 years of its main character’s life in which serious things happen. Like being abandoned by her parents to be raised in a secret lab, and fighting Very Bad People in the Third World, and then discovering that maybe the Very Bad People weren’t who she was told they were. Also, there’s a ghost who follows the main character everywhere. Did I mention the ghost?
There are also big problems with the game. The nonlinear structure of the game’s chapters doesn’t appear to be very well thought out. For a character-driven story, none of the characters are particularly realized. I’ve heard more than one person comment that it appears at times that the writers have never actually had a conversation with another human being. I haven’t even mentioned the “Navajo” chapter, in which the white main character saves a Native American family by recovering the rituals of their people, and, um, yeah.
But for all this, I found myself laughing at the end of the game. Not screaming, not throwing my controller at the TV, laughing. Somewhere, at least for a minute, Beyond: Two Souls had crossed the line separating the ridiculous from the sublime, and that, for me at least, was a striking event.
While videogames are built on over-the-top, excessive worlds, where if one of anything is good, fifty is better, I’ve almost never seen a discussion of a game in terms of camp — extreme, self-conscious, ironic, pleasurable excess. Don’t the Grand Theft Auto games cry out for a discussion of camp? What about the hyper-stylized, heavy-on-the-hairspray-and-leather characters of Final Fantasy? What is it about games — a medium ostensibly, uniquely centered on being “fun,” in one form or another — that seems to mire the form in bog of dull, dreary seriousness? Is it the sheer amount of money involved in building and marketing triple-A games? Is it the way in which contemporary games seem to be built almost exclusively as non-communal experiences? (As either single-player narratives or competitive multiplayer challenges.)
Is it the fact that a great deal of camp gives voice to marginalized identities, and the vast, vast majority of games are created, to the exclusion of almost any other concern, to be marketed to heterosexual white men?
In any case, although perhaps most especially the latter, it might be useful to recall Susan Sontag’s distinction between “naive camp” and “deliberate camp.” That is, something doesn’t have to be trying to be camp in order to be camp. Maybe it’s time to start talking about what a camp playthrough might look like. Maybe it’s time to start throwing toast at the screen.