The House of Mouse

The House of Mouse
Disney-Colored Death

Alex Spencer | 17 May 2011 11:18
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Before Carl can reach acceptance, however, there's a sequence that shows him, in silhouette against an ominous red sky, dragging his balloon-buoyed house along. It scrapes along the ground, the metaphorical weight of grief and all its baggage made literal. It's only after Carl ditches all the mementos of his life with Ellie that he's able to rise triumphantly into the air. This would translate perfectly to videogames. It provides the plot with a third-act reversal that helps the hero beat the baddies, but also marks the emotional journey Carl is on. Best of all, it does it in a way that games could do better, by using restriction of movement and the discomfort of a physical burden to get its subtext across. Made interactive, it could be so much more tangible.


All three films strive to introduce big, hard, grown-up concepts to children, and suggest that dying, and mourning that loss, is natural. People talk about how getting a pet helps teach about life and death, and when I have children of my own, I'll be glad to have Bambi, The Lion King, and Up there to help me in a similar capacity.

Meanwhile, few games - certainly not those aimed at children - have even tried to match up to this. Right now, the medium's relationship with death falls mostly within the Tom & Jerry tradition of consequence-less violence: Characters get crushed by giant anvils and pop right back up. Super Meat Boy pushed this to its extreme with end-of-level replays. A hundred Meat Boys - each one representing an attempt at its frustratingly difficult levels - run simultaneously across the screen, all but one splattering at a different hurdle. It's a smooth parody of how mundane death is in most games.

This needn't be the case. Gaming has evolved a lot since 1994, developing a vocabulary and toolbox all of its own. With sly steals from the right places, the potential is massive; after all, it's easy to make you care about something you've spent any length of time interacting with when there's a risk of losing it. I remember catching my girlfriend sneaking up the life expectancy bar in The Sims 3's options screen. A couple we'd guided together from childhood had reached old age, and she was trying to keep them alive just a little longer.

So, people often ask: Where is gaming's Citizen Kane? I say: Who wants an over-extended, self-important snorefest about some rich old geezer and his sled? What we really need is our Bambi.

Alex Spencer spends too much time thinking about pop-culture. See for further examples.

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