About five, maybe six years ago, I was working as a bouncer at the Bad Axe Lanes and Lounge for their annual New Year's party. Although the previous year had been uneventful, this year, I wound up getting into a very serious altercation with a corn-fed country guy who, lucky me, didn't have a lick of body fat on him, and had spent his entire life working with his hands. Unfortunately, he liked to carry a big Bowie knife on him, and to make it worse, this guy was not all talk.
The brawl had started over something very trivial; he had gotten a little loud and my boss asked me to say something to him. I did, he got belligerent, I turned my back, he went to push me, I restrained him, he drew the blade, the band plays on.
I remember during this entire battle that I felt if I got a single technique wrong, this guy would capitalize and kill me. Every hit had to count. Nothing could miss. If I kept my distance, I dared not to rush in for fear of being impaled. I let him come in and intercept him. Once I got in close, I wouldn't let him get away until I did as much damage as I could. Try as I might, I could not get that knife away from him. I was suddenly very aware of every artery in my body.
There is something to be said about the power of sheer hatred. I had martial arts, a somewhat clear head, and experience on my side, but this guy was motivated by a sheer hatred that fed off of destruction, that needed no rhyme or reason, that existed only to see every person of color dead. For me, I was trying to stay alive (and got knicked up pretty good in the process) but for him, it was an opportunity to personally take out an object of his hatred. When I first start a fight, I hold back the full power of my moves for fear of permanently damaging my opponent, but every single time I hit him, he just got madder and madder. By the time the fight reached its bitter, bloody conclusion, I was drawing on reserves of strength I didn't even know I had. Ultimately, the fight came to a very brutal end.
Fast forward. This past weekend I finally got a chance to play the much-maligned Rockstar title "Manhunt" and considering the colossal uproar this title caused, I was expecting something pretty violent. Granted, I'm pretty jaded, but I can still be moved. I was impressed with the outright gritty storyline, and maneuvering James Earl Cash felt natural. I felt a dark, sick glee come over me when "plastic bag" became one of my weapons.
I was, however, greatly disappointed with the execution. I was thinking to myself; this is it? This is what everyone's flipping out about? They have Disney movies with chicks getting shot in the head and this is what everyone's mad about?"
I thought Kojima-san's Metal Gear Solid was waaay more brutal, but even better, it made a point.
The terror-factor from getting suffocated with a plastic bag comes from tightening the plastic as the victim fights for air, struggling harder as they feel their life slipping away. A cutscene doesn't convey this appropriately, because you're watching it, not doing it.
In the first Metal Gear Solid (PS1) there's a scene where you're breaking out of prison, and the brutality factor is best conveyed here. Throughout the game, the faster you press the button, the quicker you end your captive's life. Hesitate, and they may struggle and get free. Even better, do it with just enough force, and you only put them to sleep. But there's a certain finality you feel when the neck snaps, the pad JOLTS ever so slightly, and I remember I found myself looking around in real life as Snake set the carcass down.
When Snake is trying to break out of prison, he's been tortured and injured, so the button pressing, no matter how hard you're doing it, feels a little weaker. This is conveyed by the soldier, who is not screaming as frequently as he would be if Snake were in optimal condition.
To me, the act of holding onto a guard and making an effort to kill them, when you have other options, that is brutal. That is jaw-dropping. That is scary.
Brutality is a choice, not a vision. This is a hell of way to be approaching the game development biz, but this is what I know, and this is how I tell it.
But that's just me.