Monday, October 10, 2016

Ask JKM a Question: Friday the 13th: The Game?

A reader named Kenny writes:

"Being an admirer of the Friday the 13th movies (and the slasher genre in general), as you are, I'm curious to hear your thoughts on the upcoming Friday the 13th videogame --

In the game, you can play either as Jason against up to 6 other players ("counselors") or as one of these potential victims trying to outwit him for an entire night.

Here's my issue, such as it is:  

As a gamer (and also a fan of these movies) I'm kind of excited about this development.  

However, I cannot help but feel at least a tiny bit queasy at the thought of a game whose point is (at least some of the time) to play the killer and indulge in vicarious serial murder. 

Most other games (excepting so-called "open world" games like Grand Theft Auto where all bets are off and you are left to your own devices to do as you will) at least make a half-hearted attempt to portray your "enemies" as evil-doers who are there to be eliminated for some putative "good" cause within the game story. 

While these other games often (okay, usually) involve virtual death on a wholesale basis, I can't think of another where you are literally expected to hunt and slaughter innocent people for sport. 

Am I just being a Pollyanna for having qualms about this when I've spent a good amount of time wiping out whole planets-full of alien species in the past? Why is THIS, so to speak sticking in my throat? Curious to hear your thoughts..."

Kenny, that is an excellent question.  

It's actually funny to think about your question, because I have probably spent a good part of my professional career defending the artistry and social value of slasher films from naysayers and moral watchdogs. 

In particular, I have argued that the first person, P.O.V. subjective shot -- "seeing through the killer's eyes" -- is not debauched or vile or damaging to society; that although this camera angle puts us in the eyes of the killer, we are still not the ones doing the killing.  

We are just being...well, voyeuristic. And in some sense, all movies are about voyeurism; experiencing sex, violence, excitement or fear vicariously, but in a setting that is safe. 

With the advent of a game like the one you describe -- one that makes you act, at least virtually, like a serial killer -- it's a bit harder to make the same defense so coherently.

In terms of the Friday the 13th films, I have long claimed, too, that the movies exist for reasons beyond seeing people get murdered.  

We watch the films to test ourselves; to run the same gauntlet as the surviving Final Girl.  Would we survive?  Would we run to the car? Or hide in the shed?  Would we fight back? And would we be successful?

Thus the slasher films are, in some way, cathartic. 

They ask us to face our fears; but (unlike found footage movies...) almost always feature a person who survives; a person who is triumphant. Just think of a final girl's qualities for a moment. She is typically more insightful, resourceful, courageous, and determined than those who fall before Jason's machete.

Moving into the game world and playing as the killer, again, mitigates that argument to a significant degree. 

Achieving catharsis by surviving a mad killer's spree is one thing.  Achieving catharsis by acting as a mad killer is something else, isn't it?

So how can I justify or rationalize and enjoy the game?

Well, speaking solely for myself now, I probably won't play as Jason. 

I would rather outwit and escape Jason (think: Alien: Isolation).  

However, stepping back and taking a greater distance from this question, I could also argue that playing as Jason in a game in the year 2016 is no more debauched than playing a make pretend game as Dracula, or King Kong, or Frankenstein.  


Bad guys are appealing.  Sorry if some people can't deal with that fact. But I believe the statement is true.  And not a horrible thing, either.

Villains like Hannibal Lecter, Darth Vader, the alien, or the Borg all carry a real fascination for audiences. That's why they keep popping up, often fronting a franchise.

My nine year old son and his friends, for example, play make believe games around the video game Five Nights at Freddy's. They turn off the lights in our family room, and play as the evil animatronics while one unlucky friend is the security guard with the flashlight.

Evil? Debauched? Anti-social?

I think not. 

I just think it's part of the way we negotiate our world, and come to understand, in some way, what morality is.  Maybe it helps to understand what humanity is too.  Sometimes we can't really know the concept of "good" without understanding the concept of "evil." (See: Star Trek: "The Savage Curtain.")

Another point worth noting: Friday the 13th and Jason stopped being truly scary, and unsettling, a long time ago. 

Probably about the time Jason went to outer space, and medical nanites turned him into a cyborg. 

That doesn't mean I don't love the character.  It just means that Voorhees isn't the avatar for pure fear that he once was. I might make the same argument of Dracula, or the Mummy.

When I remember the fuss critics made in the early 1980s over the Friday the 13th films I just have to laugh.  What a bunch of whiny nincompoops. The widely-heralded Game of Thrones is gorier, raunchier -- and fuller of sadism (and rape) -- than anything ever seen in a movie starring Jason Voorhees.   

That's a simple fact.

And Game of Thrones is on TV where kids can watch it. 

It's not even horror, but it makes Friday the 13th (1980) look like King Kong (1933). B

y comparison, to Game of Thrones, the Friday the 13th films look campy and, well, innocent.

So, if the video game play is also campy and innocent in the same sort of sense -- and not ultra realistic -- it may get by the "debauched" argument on a technicality.  It's not to be taken seriously.  

Another argument to consider: I can think of one game, horror oriented, that also puts us in the role of a killer.

Jaws Unleashed.  

There, you can play as the great white shark. Now, a shark is not evil, it is just doing what it is supposed to do, biologically speaking.  It's a predator..and it's hungry.

Jason of Friday the 13th has frequently been described as "The Shark in Jaws," an inhuman predator who hunts and kills his quarry.  

Because he looks human -- and uses human-made implements -- we start to bring in all these moral arguments about Jason's actions.  That may or may not be necessary, depending on how we understand the character's nature.

But let's face it, Jason stopped actually being human a long time ago (Jason Lives in 1986))  He's a supernatural predator seeking out vice (premarital sex and smoking weed...) and punishing it.  

Sure, Jason is a step closer towards playing as a "murderer" than the shark in Jaws is.  But is it a catastrophic step?

I'm not sure, to be honest.  I think it is hard to gauge.

In the end, it probably comes down to a personal decision. If you are feeling about discomfort playing as Jason, then don't play as Jason. 

 If you feel like it's no big deal, it's not a big deal to play as Jason. 

But if you do play as Jason, I don't think you are going to become a "killer."  

Unless I'm wrong (which is always a real possibility...), I think the game is going to appeal mostly to folks who grew up with Friday the 13th as a franchise.  I'm 46.  I'm not about to play a game, have a psychotic break, and go on a killing spree.

At least I hope not...

I took the liberty of running this question by my wife, a therapist, and my son, a major league gamer at 9. (!)

My wife noted that everybody is wired differently. And that if it feels wrong to play as Jason in the video game, you shouldn't do it.  That's just the way you are wired. It's the way you are "coded" to view morality and your actions, perhaps.  Don't feel like you have to play the game as Jason, if something is telling you that you just shouldn't go there.

My son's answer is more basic.  I

t's a game, he says.  

Just a game. 

Have fun with it, whatever role you play, and don't start thinking about all these things outside the game. 

Don't forget to ask me your questions at

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