Video games have become a completely integrated facet of modern, Western entertainment. While there is still a stigma about “gamers” (… mostly encouraged by said gamers…), we are well past the days when video games were assumed to only be the domain of children and shut-ins. Where once a fictional character owning a game console was an indicator of immaturity, we’re now in a world where seeing a couple without a console peeking out of the entertainment center seems unusual. I suppose it’s only natural, as the generation of children with videogames eventually grew into adults that never truly left the hobby behind (aided by an industry that did its best to grow up, too). Videogames have become an integral part of our lives now, and, even if you don’t play video games (unlikely if you’re reading this blog), it would be almost impossible for you to avoid interaction with someone that does.
So, as a result of videogames being so ubiquitous, we are past the point where we can say whether or not videogames have had an effect on society as a whole. Yes, of course, we’ll be reading studies on violence in the media until we’re zooming around space chasing the Zohar, but what I’m referring to is how videogames have impacted us in more subtle ways. Gaming is, and always has been, an active hobby, and one that encourages lateral thinking and problem solving (even if the “problem” is “how do I punch this guy in the face faster”). I’m not psychologist, but I’m going to guess exposing a human to hours of (incidentally entertaining) problem solving from childhood might have a slightly different effect on development than if the kid was just sitting around watching Westerns. I consider myself a smrt person, and, while my profession might be more overtly connected to the medium than some, I don’t think I’d be as accomplished without my gaming influences. Finding a troublesome bit of code isn’t all that different from searching for Level 8…
Catherine is a video game about an adult gamer with a problem. Vincent is a 30 something man in a relationship with Katherine, an attractive woman that, incidentally, wants to see Vincent get off his duff and accomplish more in his life. Vincent is not fond of this fact. So, during a night drinking with the guys, Vincent encounters Catherine, a girl one pleated skirt away from being a walking (skipping?) cheerleader fantasy. Catherine asks nothing of Vincent (but his wang), and, naturally, Vincent decides to have an affair with the cute blonde. This leads to further issues when Katherine announces she might be pregnant. Vincent is trapped attempting to decide what to do with his life and loves: “settle down” with his reliable girlfriend, or run away with lil’ miss pigtails.
Vincent is stuck between a rock and a hard place… and the video game proper kicks in with Vincent forced to navigate his way out of an area between a rock and a hard place.
While you do “control” Vincent during some of his waking hours, the true game of Catherine happens as Vincent sleeps. In slumber, Vincent has recurring nightmares about attempting to climb a seemingly endless tower of blocks. Your job, player, is to guide Vincent through these action-puzzle stages, and shove around the blocks into proper stepping stones to scale the stronghold. The greatest challenge to Vincent’s safety is not “monsters” (there’s a few, but they don’t have much of an impact on the proceedings), but careless block pushing. Sure, there’s a ram with an impossibly large mace hopping around the arena, but Vincent is a lot more likely to be impaled on a foolish mistake than any mutton weaponry. Vincent is in an untenable, sinking situation, and you’ve got to help him make the right decisions and climb his way out of it.
Yes, it’s a pretty obvious metaphor.
While you could create a pretty sound reading of Catherine based on the fact that the plot is everything wrong with current gaming attitudes (male fantasy that involves having sex with two attractive women, but, oh noes, all they want to do is ruin all “your” fun, the horrid bitches, you’re such a beta [ugh, writing that makes me feel sick]), I feel like that ignores the more overt message Catherine is trying to relay here. Yes, Catherine’s sexual politics are repugnant (one way or another, a woman is a villain pretty much just for having her own desires), but, if you can put yourself in the head of the protagonist, it’s actually a pretty worthwhile lesson for modern life. Vincent is stuck in what he believes to be a completely impossible situation (just like the nightmare tower that is impossibly high), but, with hard work, patience, and a touch of critical thinking (mostly block pushing), there is a solution. And, in the end, Vincent survives his “deadly” situation, doesn’t run away, and makes a deliberate choice to be a better person (whatever his final choice, he does his best to make sure no one is hurt… or at least mortally wounded).
The lesson is clear: some problems in your life may seem insurmountable, but there is always a solution. There’s always an answer, do not dwell on your hardships, but fight to find the resolution.
Except… that’s the lesson of every video game.
Videogames, almost by definition, always have a solution, an ending, which you can fight to achieve. Okay, some videogames are endless, but even in those situations, there’s a score, or some other gauge indicating whether or not you rappin’ good. If you’re sitting down with Super Mario Bros. 3 or Dark Souls 3, you know there is an end in sight, even if you’re still in the first thirty seconds. Videogames are games, and games have win conditions. With hard work and determination, you can achieve anything.
That is not real life.
Reality is a pain in the ass. You could be the smartest person on Earth, but you’re not going to be the richest unless you know the right people, and have the right skills to parlay that intelligence into an actual income. You might be the strongest, quickest, or most… what’s a good sports verb… ballingest (?), but it means nothing if you hail from Podunk, USA, where the best job available is rootmarm mixer. Hell, arguably every single person on Earth is fighting against the “problem” of not being the wealthiest person on Earth, but only one in seven billion is going to achieve that goal. I don’t care how good you are at block puzzles, it ain’t happenin’.
However, videogames have penetrated our society so completely, it’s hard to guess how much of the American Dream has been influenced by “gamer thinking”. Perhaps the most obvious example is the “pick up artist” culture, which boasts that if you follow steps A, B, and C, you (yes, you!) can pick up any woman on Earth. Obviously, this kind of thinking is nothing new, but it’s hard not to draw a comparison between it and videogames with similar “tips and tricks”. And that’s just the most blatant illustration, look no further than the bottom of most websites to find a myriad of simple steps to owning a home, boat, or trophy assembly factory. Questions about making your life better? Check the FAQ!
Except… I learned a thing or two from video games.
If there’s a crack in the wall, you don’t ignore it, you set your bomb right there. Ice is there to be melted, and fires must be extinguished. An unusual block is begging to be pushed back into place. Gaming taught me to be critical of everything, whether I’m looking at dungeons, games, or stories. Gaming has taught that to an entire generation, and it’s only going to continue.
So thanks for the moral, Catherine. Thanks for explaining that there’s no problem so insurmountable, that it can’t be solved through careful thinking and perseverance. And if this were someone’s first videogame, that would be a meaningful moral. But when you’ve got the same basic lesson as every other video game (work hard and you’ll reach the goal!), well, your “adult” story just got a little more childish.
Catherine, I think your thesis just got crushed by the last thirty years of block towers.
FGC #118 Catherine
- System: Playstation 3 and Xbox 360. Like Nier, this is the kind of game I’m rather amazed made it out of Playstation’s gravity.
- Number of players: Considering how the main campaign is so focused on “you”, it’s kind of odd that there is a two player mode. I mean, yeah, it makes sense for the actual gameplay of Catherine, and even theoretically makes sense within the realm of the game’s mythology, but it still seems weird. It would be like making a Final Fantasy 13 game where you could compete against “other” Lightnings.
- Just play the gig, man: I was just complaining about a lack of classical music in modern gaming, and here’s Catherine with remixed hits from the last few centuries. I really enjoy this soundtrack, and not just because it samples heavily from Mad Maestro tunes. Somebody in the sound booth understands what makes lil’ fugue great.
- Edge? Edge. Edge. Edge.
- Ghosts ‘n Goblins: There are major references to Capcom’s G ’n G series throughout the game. There’s a protagonist frequently stripped down to his boxers, a dotted world map, and an ending that winds up with a very familiar demon realm. Firebrand should have guested in this game, and not that one from earlier in the week.
- An end: Speaking of endings, there are a couple of different “choices” for Vincent’s finale. In one ending, he marries his long-suffering girlfriend, Katherine. But didn’t she find out about his affair with Catherine? Oh, that’s not a big deal, Vincent and the gang convinces Katherine that Catherine never existed, so there wasn’t ever any real cheating. That’s right, kiddies, at least one ending features our hero gaslighting his girlfriend into matrimonial bliss! Something horrible is happening here!
- Did you know? If you ever hear me spouting trivia about alcohol, it’s because I learned it from this game.
- Would I play again: I know I’m being really hard on Catherine’s plot and morals, but it’s only because I really like actually playing the game. It’s unique gameplay in a sea of games that have been recycling the same playstyles for the last thirty years, so I’ve revisited Catherine many more times than the majority of my PS3/Xbox360 library. It’s also fun for random “pick up and play” gameplay. So, yes, long story short, I’m going to be playing Catherine again. I reserve the right to think it’s stupid, though.
What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Link’s Crossbow Training for the Wii! ROB… was that even a full game? Does it… count? Eh, I guess I’ll figure that out. Please look forward to it!