Obviously, the enthusiast press that covers videogames is no where near the standards of real, big boy journalism. One good indication of this fact is that most of the big sites spent most of the last week publishing stories about where to buy which games for a discount and not much else. Can you imagine your local paper running random stories about a shoe sale or toy clearance to fill pages whenever they had a slow news day?
But this story by Frank Rose published on Wired’s Game/Life blog about the Avatar movie tie-in game is even embarrassing by those standards. The author, or more accurately the marketing professionals in charge of feeding the press this kind of garbage, would have us believe the game being released this week by Ubisoft constitutes some kind of game changer. The best thing I can say about the game is that it’s just about as revolutionary as the film itself. That is to say, not very much.
If you haven’t already put two and two together from watching the trailers for Avatar, the movie is basically a big budget, sci-fi retelling of FernGully: The Last Rainforest. The bad guys are the humans who want to pillage this alien planet. The hero starts out working for the bad guys, falls in love with a native princess and fights against his former employers having gained an appreciation for nature. It’s also the basic story of Disney’s Pocahontas and any number of films and books about a white man going native and fighting against imperialists.
The hook is supposed to be the world building Director/Writer James Cameron has done in creating the planet Pandora and the life that inhabits it. That would be more convincing if the game demo didn’t expose that aspect as well. The game drops you into a Space-Jungle where flowers glow for some reason, where you must fight your way through against Space-Rhinos and Space-Wolves and the occasional Space-Plant that spits Space-Ferries at you. Yes, you literally have to shoot foliage. Sadly, I think the developers and Mr Cameron actually think of this as clever subtext.
The real problem with Avatar, writ large, is the way Cameron has made the subtext the text. Even that wouldn’t bee so bad if his understanding of environmentalism wasn’t so completely juvenile. Like other people who don’t know what they’re talking about, James Cameron is under the mistaken impression that Native Americans, upon which the humanoid aliens the Na’Vi are based, lived in “perfect harmony” with the environment. Such a romantic notion, likely born out of the brevity of our observation, is a pervasive and popular fiction espoused by many people who really ought to know better. Ironically, the science of evolution tells us pretty clearly that all organisms are in constant competition with all other forms of life over limited resources. There are winners and loser. While you may not be able to see this clearly in a day, or even over a lifetime, it’s how the “selection” part of natural selection works.
Perhaps the most interesting revelation in the article comes with the explanation of how Ubisoft got the contract.
“When we approached Avatar,” Mallat says now, “the very first question we had was, ‘What does Jim want to express?’ The true meaning as we understood it.” He looks about, grasping for the word. “Cupidité en anglais? ‘Greed.’ Greed is the cancer of life. In one sentence we defined it: What are humans doing on Pandora?”
It would seem the best way to get in Jim Cameron’s good graces is to stroke his ego just so. Tell him, “yeah, we get it,” no matter how ludicrous and absurd “it” is. But maybe I give Ubisoft and the developers too much credit. They may be true believers, after all.
It was their idea to create a “Pandorapedia” cataloging the minutia of Cameron’s cliche-filled universe in game. Jim was so tickled pink by the idea he hired a team of writers to generate this encyclopedic understanding of his creative vision.
The resulting compendium provides a detailed guide to every creature on Pandora and every RDA war machine, as well as such critical info as the cost of a phone call to Earth ($78,000 per minute).
Clearly, Cameron’s egotism knows no bounds. One has to wonder, given how derivative Avatar is, if he believes his own press, this article included. It’s hard to imagine the delusion necessary to lift ideas from other creators as freely and completely as he does and maintain the self image of visionary creator. In most people we’d classify such levels of cognitive dissonance as a mental illness. But he may just be full of shit.
As for the game itself, the demo released on PC is pretty bad. The graphics are serviceable, but the controls, especially for vehicles, are atrocious. The levels are extremely linear and the objectives meaningless. You don’t even need to fight to beat the included level in the latter half. Once you reach the Na’Vi village you can pretty much walk past the battle, let the AI enemies and allies fight each other until you reach the “finish line” and get a mission complete message.