Abyssal Pixels: Breaking Bad And Emotional Conflict
With the airing of the series finale of Breaking Bad, I could not help myself fondly remembering the first episode of the series and how amazing the journey was throughout. Hold on, I’m getting to games in a second. I’m going to stop you here for a second and say that there are a few spoilers throughout the column. So if you haven’t watched it yet, go watch it and come back. Seriously, binge watch this bitch. It’s all kinds of worth it.
Breaking Bad is, in my opinion, the best case of character development that I have ever seen across all mediums. The reason why I’m saying this is that in the start of the series, Walter White was a sympathetic character that you kind of rooted for and by the end, you wanted him dead. When I first started watching the series, I thought of Walter as a down on his luck guy that is going to extreme lengths to ensure that his family is going to be okay after he is gone. As the story progressed and more and more shit went down, I felt hesitant towards rooting for this guy because he kind of lost his marbles.
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By the end of the last season, Walter disgusted me. He was a selfish son of a bitch and one evil guy on top of that. He committed atrocity after atrocity with little to no sense of remorse. I quite frankly wanted him dead. This is amazing character progression just because I felt this way and why I love this series so much. I was so infatuated with the series that I could not wait for my weekly dose of it. Every Monday I downloaded the newest episode and stopped everything in my life just to watch it. Simply because of great character progression.
Then I thought, this should happen in games more often. The only game where I felt emotions similar to this was in Spec Ops The Line where you also started off quite well with Captain Walker being a normalish soldier sent into a desert environment to complete a mission. A scenario that has happened about 1 459 392 times already (slight spoilers follow). But by the end, you hated what this man has become. I actually wanted this man dead, even if I was playing as him. During the late stages of the game when the tooltips said “you’re a horrible person” I actually believed it. It was powerful as all hell.
Now I consider Spec Ops to be one of my most influential videogames of my entire gaming career. The narrative power in such strong character development has the potential to stick with me for years. It’s really one of my all time favourite games right now simply because it made me feel such emotional conflict with myself.
This brings me to why this doesn’t happen more often in games. Anti-heroes come close to realising this Breaking Bad Spec Ops phenomenon, but they don’t quite get the finer points right. It’s always either straight up psychopath or one of them “finding their calling” even after mowing down hundreds of civilians. I want to be a bastard, but I want some context for why. Just like Captain Walker and Mr. White, they have to first start out like any other person and then become so depraved and disconnected from reality that you feel disgusted with yourself for even liking them in the first place. That’s strong storytelling right there.
The gaming industry is reluctant towards this type of idea though. They want something safe. Something that they can flog to the 12 year olds without even breaking a sweat and just rake in the dough. I promise you, if Call of Duty did a storyline that was similar to Spec Ops, it would gain so much respect within the gaming collective. Don’t worry about 12 year olds being scarred for life, because they don’t even play the main campaign. I’m tired of playing some American war hero that stomps out terrorist scum in the name of freedom. I want to be a douchebag. Modern Warfare 2’s infamous No Russian mission came very close to this, but in the overall story, it was just a plot device and nothing else.
They will never do such a thing though all in fear of controversy and piddling to fans. It’s a wild dream, but one I sorely hope gets realised. In order for videogames to go further as an artform, we need to break free of conventions and common practice. Indie games have started traversing into this direction because the developers are not constrained by target audiences and making a game to “appeal to the masses”. Let’s hope some real development finally takes place.
I imagine a Breaking Bad videogame would be kind of awkward though. A meth cooking mini-game would be fun, however.