Umberto D and the end of Neorealism

Vittorio De Sica’s Umberto D is a film of great significance, not only in its cinematic quality but also in its historical context. Released in 1952 and considered by many to be De Sica’s most prestigious work to date, Umberto D is a celebration of every facet of Italian Neorealism, and is heralded by many critics as the pinnacle of the movement. One such critic was Andre Bazin, who stated that it was “the ultimate expression of Neorealism”, revising his previous claim for De Sica’s Bicycle Thieves (1948)(Grimshaw, 2009).

The sub-genre of Neorealism has a number of qualitative signifiers, both thematically and visually, including the use of non-professional actors, location-shooting and a thematic focus on the plight of the poor and working class. Born as an antagonistic response to the conservative, upper-class “white-telephone” films that were heavily promoted by the Fascist Italian government of the ‘30s and ‘40s, Neorealism resonated with the downtrodden masses, ultimately finding a place as one of the most significant cinematic movements of the 20th century.

De Sica’s neorealist trilogy, consisting of Shoeshine, Bicycle Thieves and Umberto D, provides an accurate lens into the socio-political environment that spawned these films. By studying the trilogy, it is possible to identify the metamorphosis of the Neorealist movement, simply by examining key elements within them. For example, the ending of each film is indicative of its historical context; Shoeshine ends with the disintegration of friendship between previously codependent characters, reflecting the crumbling post-war dichotomy between the upper and working classes. Bicycle Thieves is the logical progression of this sentiment, openly depicting the harsh, uncompromising circumstances that the working classes were subjected to. Concluding with a loss of innocence, Bicycle Thieves delivers a similar message as Shoeshine, if ultimately more damning.

Each film deals with the primary characters being forced to compromise their principles and ultimately being punished for doing so. The reveal of a secret, the stealing of a bicycle and the act of begging are all actions taken as a result of desperation, which in turn reflects the national sensation of loss after the irreversible effects of World War II.

One of the key elements that separates Umberto D from its contemporaries is its comparatively optimistic ending. As opposed to De Sica’s earlier forays into Neorealism, Umberto D ends with a distinct sense of nihilism. Umberto Ferrari, the aging protagonist, ends his tale by playing with his dog, following a failed suicide attempt which seemingly gives him a new lease on life. Under further scrutiny however, the ending reveals itself to be an self-referential analysis of Neorealism, as Millicent Marcus suggests:

Significantly, there is no child at the end of Umberto D to embody the hopes for a better future, there is only an old man whose refusal either to die or to prolong an unviable existence reflects the dilemma of neorealism itself toward the end of its first decade of life. (1986, p.117)

For many, Umberto D marked the end of the Neorealist era, as it reflected the contemporary position of the movement, whilst subtly illustrated its less than concrete future. This conclusion was not entirely unexpected however, as Anna Grimshaw (2009) notes in reference to Bazin:

“Bazin was among the first to acknowledge his doubt as to whether there was any future for neorealist cinema once the crisis of the war and occupation had passed.” (2009, p.17)

Neorealism’s role as anarchic contrast to the heavily regimented fascist industry was slowly diminishing, as without the context of wartime occupation, Neorealism lost its relatively apolitical position. This would eventually lead the movement becoming politically motivated, rather than morally, as Federico Fellini explains in an interview circa 1969:

It’s simply a way of looking at the world without preconceptions or prejudices. Some people are still convinced that neorealism should only be used to show a particular type of reality – social reality to be exact. But then it becomes propaganda. (Pasquale, 2013)

Serving as an apt demonstration of the effect that a historical context has on a production, like Shoeshine and Bicycle Thieves before it, Umberto D embraces these contextual elements and uses them to enhance and emphasise its subtextual themes. A delicately-crafted product of its era, Umberto D defines, and concludes, the first age of Neorealism.

Bioshock & The Role of the Player

To see this feature in its fully published, fully edited, fully full form, head here: http://film.falmouth.ac.uk/2013/04/culture-shocked-bioshock-the-role-of-the-player/

Recently, whilst discussing the largely fruitless environment of game-to-film adaptations, a friend walked me through his premise for a cinematic reinterpretation of 2007’s iconic Ayn Rand-em-up, Bioshock. He posited that as Jack, the traditionally speechless lead, brutalises his first splicer (Bioshock’s genetically modified cannon-fodder), he should show remorse or sorrow, perhaps even crying as he laments over taking a life.

On the surface, this makes sense. Jack’s introduced to the player as an understated city-slicker, who inadvertently arrives in the Atlantean dystopia of Rapture via plane-crash. Cracking skulls with a pipe wrench is hardly his domain. However, as his role develops Jack gradually morphs into less of a character, and instead serves as a lens to the player. Jack’s lack of personality is reflective of his new environment, with themes of servitude and unquestioning obedience littering the narrative.

Showcasing Rapture and chronicling its turbulent history are all key in developing Bioshock’s iconic sense of tension and depth, and the majority of this information is provided via logs, journals and audio diaries. This potent sense of discovery is what initially elevates Bioshock from standard FPS fare. The rich history is open to interpretation, and Jack’s lack of dialogue or input allows the player to draw their own conclusions. Were Jack to voice concern, elation, fear or relief, Rapture would cease to be the player’s experience and would morph into Jack’s, with the player serving as a secondary audience.

Whilst there’s nothing wrong having an interesting story presented to you directly, the medium of gaming has the unique opportunity to actively engage the audience, allowing the story to bleed through the mechanics. Bioshock understands this and in turn understands that this isn’t the story of Jack; It’s the story of Rapture.

Written as less of a character, and instead as a blank slate for audience projection, Jack is a product of his medium.  Adapting what is an ostensibly silent role into anything else would feel token and forced. This showcases a concrete separation between the mediums of film and game, the mistranslation of which leads to characters with irrational motivations, fractured traits and one-dimensional arcs. Were a film to neglect something as vital as a distinct protagonist, it would sacrifice any hope of audience reflection, leading to utter narrative breakdown. Star Wars: Attack of the Clones anyone?

Bioshock rarely forces the player to make plot-altering choices, the only exception being whether the player chooses to absorb the game’s Adam-hoarding ‘Little Sisters’, or set them free. Moral choice mechanics are ubiquitous within the modern gaming scene, but with the exclusion of a fairly inconsequential alternate ending, Bioshock doesn’t place the onus on the player. Jack is very rarely an operant influence on the narrative, but instead a witness to the atrocities committed by the desperate citizens of a crumbling Eden. Jack is not the catalyst of change, a theme that is expressed though both the mechanics and aesthetics of play. NPC characters in the story meet with overwhelming challenges, and the player sees them, more than often, meet a grisly demise.

This introduces an interesting dilemma though; If Jack is simply a visual surrogate for the player, then who is the player? Certainly not Jack. He’s an enigma, with a shrouded past and an uncertain future, with only a brief vignette of his life revealed to the player. If we’re speaking literally, then the player is Jack’s limbs. Running, gunning and Splicer-stunning. That almost seems too distant though, doesn’t it? Whilst the game doesn’t intend to make the player feel like an inhabitant, they should still feel emotionally invested in Rapture. It resonates with the head, not just with the hands.

Perhaps then, the player’s role is that of Jack’s subconscious, only truly coming into their own as he decides whether to kill, where to go and what to do with little girls.

That sounded better in my head.

With this in mind, the question extends to other genres, games and even mediums. From Pac-Man to Niko Bellic, who is the player? Does the player eat the pellets? Does the player shoot the hookers? Does the player adapt to the game, or does the game serve the player? Even when the player creates a character, do they infuse that character with their own traits, or do they role-play?

Games are the only artistic medium that demands an active audience. A film on a reel is permanent. A novel on a dusty shelf is complete. A painting in the Louvre is timeless. But a game without a player? Incomplete. The player is a crucial part of the puzzle, and although people may differ when analysing the subtext behind a painting, or the themes behind a film, their fundamental experience will never change. Games are different.

Say for example you and a group of friends took a trip to your local cinema. You walk into the building, you make your way to the till, you purchase your tickets, you pay an inordinate amount of money for popcorn, then a passive-aggressive teenager shows you to your seat. You wade through a tsunami of trailers and ready yourself for the journey ahead. Approximately 120-minutes later you emerge bleary-eyed and soda-stained to the muffled tune of the end-credits sequence. There’s a brief silence, punctuated by one of you saying “I liked that bit when…”.

Do you agree, though? Did the scene resonate with you on the same emotional level? Perhaps you felt that Luke’s “Nooo!” was an expression of anger, whilst your friend perceived a reluctant sadness as he defiantly screamed at Vader. You all saw Luke lose his right hand, but perhaps the lefties among you struggled to sympathise. Providing that you all had bladders of steel, each of you experienced the exact same sequence of events, with the only variable being your reactions.

Someone’s experience of a game is just that. Their experience. Games are not only enhanced by audience participation, but demand it. The role of the player is a vital component of the game. The player is not only a witness, but produces what they’re witnessing. The player does more than play, and the audience is more than audient.

Dr Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Use a Predictable Title

How was I supposed to know my University expected me to submit work? It’s a film course.

Anyway, here’s my piece for last term’s Criticism, Analysis & Theory module, in all it’s Harvard referencey glory.

I talk about the historical context of Strangelove. You should read it.

Please?

Stanley Kubrick’s political satire Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964), a loose adaptation of the novel Red Alert (1958), is seen to be as influential in the public shaping and definition of the Cold War as it was controversial. A farcical satire of the contemporary political landscape of the Atomic age, Strangelove was a impactful game-changer, and a bastion of cinematic aspirations.

Strangelove garnered an extremely positive critical reception, receiving four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and is still considered one of the most prestigious films of the 20th century, earning a placement in “The 50 Greatest Comedies Of All Time” (Premiere, 2006), 14th in “Greatest Film of all time (Entertainment Weekly)”, and 3rd of “100 greatest comedies” (American Film Institute). Many attribute Strangelove’s critical and commercial success to its biting wit, surreal comedy set-pieces and iconic performances. However, I believe that a large portion of Strangelove’s success is owed to the manner in which it resonated with its contemporary audience.

George C. ScottAs Cold War tension escalated, due to events such as the Cuban Missile Crisis and the infamous Bay of Pigs invasion, the general public was left in a state of consternation and dread. Kubrick chose to use this tense environment as the basis for comedy and farce. Not only would this approach appeal to those wishing for escapism in an era wrought with fear, where terms such as “Missile-gap” and “Megadeath” (Henriksen) entered common parlance, but also resonated with a demographic that were surrounded by post World War II idealism permeating all entertainment forms, and yearned for something innovative.

Between 1947 and 1960, the major Hollywood studios released an approximate total of 300 films per year (Shaw, Tony 2007, pp.158-159). Post-war cinema in the USA, whilst hardly stagnant, had its ideology firmly rooted in the principles established in a wartime environment. These principles promoted individuality and a pride found in masculine role fulfillment. These themes often manifested as lone gunman action films (Fistful of Dollars, 1964), or spy thrillers (Dr. No, 1962) that reinforced the strength of the individual. Tony Shaw references this with regard to films released in the 1960s:

“A relatively small number of these movies were explicitly anti-communist or anti-soviet. A far greater number lent implicit ideological support to the US government’s Cold War stance through their inherent endorsement of individualism, consumerism and patriotism.” (Shaw, 2007)

Horror films, such as Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), used this escalating sense of fear in the American populace to their advantage by playing upon the paranoia of the American people. Historical dramas were also extremely prevalent, such as William Wyler’s Ben Hur (1959) and Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s Cleopatra (1963), and were the bulk of what remained true to the traditional Hollywood production system. These historical dramas were, in part, generated by cinema’s tendency to reminisce, a habit that was strongly rooted in the post-war mindset.

In many ways, Strangelove was the catalyst for a fundamental change in the understanding of comedy, as it chose to mock and satirise a subject that was so deeply engrained in the public consciousness, making it all the more impactful. More than just a comedy of forgettable laughs, Strangelove used comedy to deliver poignancy. This technique is clearly demonstrated in Blake Edwards’ romance/comedy Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), which elevated the concept of a comedy-drama, using subtle comedy to conceal a harsher dramatic undertone. These two quotes, whilst tonally different, carry heavy subtext concealed within a quippy quote:
Certain shades of limelight wreck a girl’s complexion.” – Holly (Breakfast at Tiffany’s)

Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here! This is the War Room.” – President Merkin Muffley (Dr. Strangelove)

Strangelove was clearly influenced by films of this nature, as the themes at play were far too macabre to present without subtlety, and the political statements that are made never seem especially heavy-handed. The jokes were presented with an air of flippancy, a tone that the film generates throughout. From the film’s character names to its ludicrously long title, Strangelove oozes a decidedly facetious style. This comedic renaissance paved the way for satirical deconstructions of pre-established genre conventions, such as Theodore J. Flicker’s The President’s Analyst (1967) which sharply spoofed Ian Fleming’s “James Bond” series, first brought to the cinema by Albert R. Broccoli in Dr. No. In a similar reflection, Stephen Sondheim’s musical A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum was adapted to film by Richard Lester in 1966, and clearly parodies the historical dramas that were so prevalent.

One interesting element of the film is its entirely male main cast. With almost no female characters appearing on screen, and those who do having little or no impact on the narrative, it’s certainly noticeable. Although elements of this are due to the era of production, as there would almost certainly have been no women with the political standing to enter the war room during the 1960s, I believe that it may have been a conscious decision by Kubrick. Since a large portion of the narrative consists of archetypal masculine self-fulfilment (eg. warfare, weaponry, political dominance) leading to mutually-assured

destruction, it’s entirely possible that Kubrick supported gender equality and was demonstrating this through a dark depiction of the alternative.

Sellers

A vital member of the writing team, and the man largely responsible for the vein of authenticity running throughout Strangelove, was co-writer Peter George. Author of Red Alert, and former RAF pilot, George imbued the criticism with sincerity and validity, never allowing the narrative to stray too wildly into the absurd, whilst still remaining farcical. This delicate balance between the real and surreal is very much the basis for all humour and observation in Strangelove. The comedy stems from the juxtaposition of absurdist circumstances against a real, relatable backdrop of nuclear war. This dichotomy fuels the majority of the narrative, and lends context to the parody. However, if the narrative were to deviate too far into the absurd to the point of becoming inane, the weight and delivery of the themes are eliminated. Even in a farcical comedy, a narrative must have a logical progression, as Jane Gaines explains:

In classic realist narration everything that happens must be clearly motivated by a plausible clause. This chain of cause and effect produces narrative as a linear sequence of logically motivated events.” (Gaines, 1989 pp.138-139)

The film takes liberties in extending and exaggerating the political archetypes that it parodies, but the themes always remain grounded in reality. Whilst Peter Sellers’ Dr. Strangelove exudes ridiculousness, and George C. Scott’s deliberately overacted General Turgidson is a wry caricature of government shortcomings, the narrative never strays from its central grounding in the real world. The alternate, apocalyptic, timeline that Strangelove proposes seems like a tangible, if worrying one.

The feeling of realism overtly clashing with absurdity stems from a series of tactical decisions within the screenplay, choosing to infuse certain elements of the film with a peculiar feeling of irony. One example of this lies within the film’s opening (Falsetto, Mario 2001, pp.143-144):

From the beginning of its credit sequence, over the visuals of the refueling of a B-52 in midflight by another aircraft, one can sense the dialectic of realism and artifice at work in the film.” (Falsetto, 2001)

The visual component of this scene is a realistic portrayal of the refueling process applied to B-52 aeroplanes, an iconic image that carried many connotations for American audiences at the time, and alone this portion of the opening could easily be mistaken for wartime stock-footage. However, the musical accompaniment, Vera Lynn’s “Try a Little Tenderness”, warps the previously rigid, documentarian nature of the visuals into what is essentially a sexualised sequence. This deliberate juxtaposition of formalism and realism is a product of the brewing Cold War tensions that fuel the entire production, and it’s displayed here to outline the intentions of the film, as Falsetto explains:

Not only does this sequence prepare the audience for the sexual associations to come in the film, it also implies that any piece of reality can be manipulated to become a fiction.” (Falsetto, 2001)

tumblr_m8w1hylb7y1re4uqoo1_1280Kubrick has often displayed an impassioned political stance in regards to warfare, as evidenced in his 1957 Drama Paths of Glory, and later in his critically acclaimed 1987 classic, Full Metal Jacket. For Strangelove, Kubrick allegedly insisted upon a generous marketing scheme, as he believed that for the film to have the intended impact it must be seen by as broad an audience as possible. This included filming a split screen sequence in which one of two characters (Sellers‘ President Muffley & Scott’s Gen. Turgidson) would act out a series of responses over the phone that would then be edited together with a modern interviewee. This particular technique resonated with a much larger portion of the public, as this breaking of the fourth wall appealed to a demographic that appreciated a personalised approach. Peter Sellers’ three roles were also heavily marketed on the posters, as the novelty alone was enough to attract some viewers. Sellers received a payment of one million dollars for his role in Strangelove, 55% of the film’s budget, prompting Kubrick to famously quip:
I got three for the price of six.” (Kubrick, 1964)

As evidenced in his filmography prior to and after Strangelove, Kubrick has no qualms in depicting war at its most savage and brutal, emphasising the emotional turbulence that accompanies it. However, Strangelove is an entirely different depiction of war. Kubrick chose to portray a romanticised, comedic vignette of a potentially apocalyptic scenario, and did so with tongue firmly in cheek. Kubrick was famously quoted stating (Varak-Iglar, 2007):

No better way to express the whole thermonuclear dilemma; it was so crazy and it was so insane that the best way to do it would be as a satire.” – (Kubrick 1965)

Kubrick makes the same disparaging comments here that he had directed towards World War II in Paths of Glory (and later in Full Metal Jacket), but focuses less on the effect of war upon the individual, and instead on the wider cultural implications. The film climaxes with the mutual destruction of both Russia and the USA, instigated by one unstable General, an entirely possible outcome based on true reports of potential doomsday weaponry. Remarkably, the failsafe system that General Ripper exploits was an actual procedure put in place during the Cold War, with twelve fully armed B-52 aeroplanes deployed and prepared for a pre-emptive strike (Kaplan, 2004).

A number of the main characters were based on actual military and political figures, including General Turgidson and the titular Dr. Strangelove. George C. Scott’s General “Buck” Turgidson was based primarily on General Curtis LeMay, commander of the Strategic Air Command and advocate of nuclear weaponry, a trait that was certainly translated to the fiction. The character of Dr. Strangelove appears to be an amalgamation of RAND German rocket scientist Wernher von Braun, Manhattan Project principal John von Neumann, RAND Corporation strategist Herman Kahn and the “father of the hydrogen bomb”, Edward Teller (Peter Goodchild, 2004). A common misconception is that Dr. Strangelove was partially based on German-born American writer and Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger. Both Kubrick and Sellers deny this however, and it is highly unlikely, as Kissinger was not a prominent political advisor until 1969.

The focus on comedy was less a conscious choice by the screenplay and writing staff, although it certainly played its part, and more the only logical direction Kubrick felt he could take. The Cold War was already farcical, and so ripe for parody that no other approach would seem appropriate, as Kubrick suggested:

The only social problem where there’s absolutely no chance for people to learn anything from the experience.”  (Kubrick,1964)

An interesting way in which Strangelove is indicative of its historical context is actually in what Kubrick omitted from the final cut of the film. The infamous “Pie-Fight” scene was cut from cinematic release, but stands as an intriguing reflection of the influence of the culture surrounding the film’s production. On 20th January 1961 John F. Kennedy was officially sworn in as 35th president of the United States of America, serving for almost three years until his assassination on 22nd November 1963. Only two months later, Strangelove was released, on 29th January 1964. Judging by the production conventions of that era, it’s safe to assume that Strangelove would have been in the post-production stage during Kennedy’s assassination.

The aforementioned “Pie-Fight” scene consisted of a custard pie battle between the members of the War Room, including the President. During the scene, President Muffley is struck with a custard pie and falls down, prompting General Turgidson to cry “Gentlemen! Our gallant young president has just been struck down in his prime!”. This scene was originally intended to showcase the hysterical mindset of those involved, and was originally going to be placed near the climax of the film, but Kubrick supposedly cut it as he felt it was thematically out of place (Webster, Patrick 2011, pp. 247-248) :

The custard pie scene in Dr. Strangelove may well have been the best custard pie scene in cinematic history, but Kubrick thought the slapstick quotient did not gel with the satirical discourse of his film.”  (Webster, 2011)

Whether or not that statement is accurate is debatable, as the scene would have carried unfortunate connotations given its subject matter. It’s difficult to say for certain why Kubrick chose to cut the scene, but it’s certainly an interesting discourse to have, as it neatly demonstrates how the socio-historical context of a film can affect not only its reception, but also its production.

dr-strangelove-or-how-i-learned-to-stop-worrying-and-love-the-bomb-original-original1280664254Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb is both a stimulating example of innovative, controversial filmmaking, and a recognisable product of its era. Absorbed in cultural context, Strangelove challenged not only the formal conventions of the comedy genre, revolutionising its development for years to come, but also expanded the demographic that its contemporaries targeted. With a universal message and a masterful, yet accessible, screenplay, Strangelove remains relevant to modern audiences and serves as a fascinating exhibition of wartime psychology. More than just a comedy of errors, Strangelove plays to the genuine concerns of the American populace, and spawns entirely from its socio-historical moment. Without the escalation of cold war tensions, the implications of the arms race and the unrelenting potential of a nuclear winter, Strangelove couldn’t exist.

Strangelove is a product of its era in both production and reception. The film’s message relied largely on the comprehension of its audience, as an extra-textual knowledge of the political landscape is key. This is why the film’s historical context was so vital to its success, as the relevancy of the themes registered with the audience in numerous ways. Kubrick understood this, and tailored the film accordingly. Standing as both a historical and political landmark in film, Strangelove is appreciated for its masterfully crafted script, ingenious narrative pacing and ground-breaking cinematographic techniques, and remains one of Stanley Kubrick’s greatest cinematic masterpieces.

dr-strangelove-or-how-i-learned-to-stop-worrying-and-love-the-bomb-originalThanks.

A Clockwork Clementine

Oh yeah, this site exists.

My posts as of late have been anything but copious, no johns from me though. Been universitising the last few months, honing my understanding my understanding of film. Part of this is watching films, part of it is making films, part of it is analysing films. So what’s today’s topic? That’s right!

Video Games.

The tears are just about dry, so I think it’s time I talked about The Walking Dead.

Holy shit, The Walking Dead is awesome. It’s awesomely awesome. In a world where “awesome” is over-saturated, this game really inspires some awe. Everything from the voice-acting, narrative and themes, to the characters, dialogue and choices utterly shine, and this game takes a prestigious seat at the head of my GOTY list.

A veritable Splash-Mountain of emotion, The Walking Dead absolutely nails emotional set-pieces, primarily through a masterful script and a keen eye for pacing. Of course these set-pieces only carry emotional weight when paired with relatable characters, which the game has in abundance. Lee, our dulcet-toned protagonist is joined by a troupe of compelling companions, one of which is the topic of today’s class.

9 year-old Clementine not only neatly demonstrates every intelligent design decision the series takes (eg. solid voice-acting, logical character progression), but functions as the gold-standard for child characters in the medium.

Clementine effectively fills the role of surrogate daughter figure for Lee, a man with no remaining family or friends, who in turn functions as guardian/patriarch for Clementine. The affection that develops between the characters never feels synthetic, but instead mirrors the growing attachment of the player to Clementine. I’m not the biggest fan of kids (they’re just tiny, sticky people), but by the end of the first episode I was entirely willing to put everything I had into protecting Clementine. This relationship blossoms throughout the series, but would never evolve if she was just another Ashley Graham.

The character of Clementine is an ingenious blend of form and function, and serves as a masterclass in matching gameplay mechanics to narrative context. She never feels like a burden inflicted upon the player, but instead serves as the sole inspiration in an otherwise bleak environment. In a fluctuating post-apocalypse, filled with death, deceit and despair, an unconditionally caring character can make all the difference. The series never feels like an extended escort mission, nor does Clementine ever feel like an obligation. She’s an organic member of the cast, not a curly-haired padlock.

I’m a real sucker for great dialogue, but The Walking Dead has an admirable habit of also conveying it’s story through action. Not to suggest that the game isn’t dialogue heavy, but more that the writers understand poignancy. The game is largely about choice and consequence, and nothing demonstrates this better than seeing your decisions resonate with the characters, altering their actions. Never does this feel more relevant than with Clementine, as her personality develops and changes depending on the example you set.

Kids are really annoying. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen one, but they’re like drunk dwarfs, and can get really obnoxious. They burst into weepy hysterics, have irrational mood-swings and are little to no use in a fist-fight. Their innate weakness is especially noticeable in the context of a video game, as empowerment and progression are the pillars that most mechanics lean on. A kid’s full of traits that betray that design scheme. They’re slow, weak and inexperienced, three handicaps that really stand-out in a zombie apocalypse.

With this is mind, why doesn’t Clementine make the player feel cumbersome? She should feel prohibitive and annoying, not likable and inspiring. Hats off to Telltale here, as they’re playing upon the innately human desire to protect kids. However irrational it may be, Clementine represents the very last shred of innocence in the post-apocalypse, and gives the characters a streamlined focus. The zombies will always win in The Walking Dead’s universe, but the intrinsic need to protect Clementine gives the player, and Lee, a reason to keep on trucking.

Clementine will crawl under doors to unlock them, slip through areas undetected and console you in moments of stress. She’s useful, but not to the point where she becomes token. Much like the rest of the game, she’s excellently written. Remaining relatable and sympathetic without ever breaking her sheen of childlike optimism. She’s as unpredictable and emotionally complex as anyone else in the cast, but often the only voice of reason when surrounded by mixed motivations. With a strong moral compass, Clementine treads the fine line between objectively lovable and obnoxiously saccharine.

At this point you may be thinking:

“But Jordan, you chiseled stallion, children are inherently likable. You can’t help but feel attached to a young character, it’s human nature!”

You want to talk children in games?

Amy.

Fucking Amy.

To the uninitiated, stay that way; ignorance is bliss. Especially when it comes to atrocious downloadable Survival Horror games.

Amy garnered universal critical panning, and rightly so. It was a cavalcade of mediocrity, seasoned with wank. The game neatly encapsulates everything deplorable about the direction of modern Survival Horror, and packages in the most irritating child escort in the history of video gaming.

The titular Amy is bound to you from early in the game, and acts as a poorly modeled ball & chain throughout the experience. The player character can only remain alive by keeping Amy in close proximity at all times, which is as mind-numbingly grating as it sounds. Escort dependance isn’t an inherently bad mechanic, as 2010’s Enslaved: Odyssey to the West shows. Enslaved balanced the mechanic of a powerful lead character whose abilities were more than enough to protect himself, with the hindrance of a three-dimensional, interesting escort character, who functioned as a second, more fragile health bar.

Amy provides no such perks. She’s dull and her character is wafer thin. In essence, she’s a formulaic child character, scared and defenseless, with the burden of her protection falling upon the player, who has no motivation to do so. Bland. Predictable. Clockwork.

The character of Amy is silent, and imbued with no likable traits or affectations. She functions exclusively as a hinderance, and provides nothing but occasional, context-sensitive, gameplay progression.

And she’s got weird beetle eyes.
Compare this to Clementine, the Walter White of child characters, and see how she provides gameplay assistance, as well as emotional stability. More than just a four-foot plot-motivation, and more than just a cheap token. The inclusion of such a rounded, inspiring character changes what would be another solid entry in the pantheon of Telltale adventure games, into a truly groundbreaking experience, and what I’m sure will become a landmark in video game history.

P.s. I like the game.