Hey you? Yes, you! Are you a gamer?… of course you are! I’m not down with all these narrow and divisive labels because the truth is that whether you enjoy tapping away on Candy Crush, constructing new worlds in Minecraft, fighting to be the last alive in Fortnite, exploring a dreamlike narrative in Kentucky Route Zero, or just plain blasting demons in Doom then you’re a gamer. It’s also probably true to say that if you are a gamer you probably also have a guilty gaming pleasure; some title that you’re not “supposed” to enjoy, but you always have on hand for some guilty pleasure fun. Like a cheesy movie, well worn comedy series, super-happy-fun-time pop music when you only wear black, or big bowl of ice-cream, it’s a title that you fire up when you just want to enjoy something and let any sense of self-consciousness fall by the wayside … assuming that you’re in your own home.
I have at least half a dozen guilty gaming pleasures, but one of them is undoubtedly PayDay 2. Overkill Studio’s squad-based crime shooter sees players undertake a plethora of heists from breaking in to bank vaults, smash-n-grabs on jewellery stores, and (the always ill-advised) stealing great heaps of cocaine from other underworld organisations. Assuming that you armour up and go in loud (yes, you can stealth missions, but that is certainly not why this game is one of my guilty pleasures) then this descends in to some adrenaline fueled fast paced shootouts with some of the most numerous and well equipped law enforcement officials you’ll ever encounter.
Putting everything morally ambiguous to one side for a moment; PayDay 2 is an very tight FPS experience. Combat handles well, missions have a large variety and generally take place around a realistically laid out location allowing for variety in how you and your teammates decide to approach the situation. The waves of increasingly aggressive enemies force players to time their progress to allow for moments of ‘burrowing in’ and frantic action… at least those times when you’re not watching the painfully slow seconds tick down on one of the world’s least reliable drills as it merrily works its way through a safe’s locking bolts. Add to this a range of difficulty options from mild to insane, a healthy selection of unlock able & up-gradable weapons, and a comprehensive levelling system (which includes the ‘infamy’ system that allows you to cash in your entire character’s progression for a single infamy point, effectively letting you restart progression) players get one heck of a co-op squad based package.
… but at its core this is a game about committing crime, gunning down police officers, and basking in the warm glow of success. The player can even virtually visit their own personal vault and feel smug looking at the millions of dollars they’ve liberated which are only slightly stained by the digital blood of hard working cops. I’m not embellishing here; this isn’t a game with a hidden “Robin Hood” style morality, you’re not trying to destroy the status quo, or fund an underdog group of rebels, it’s just about the money. To quote the game itself:
“Push Harder, Shoot Better, Get Richer!”
…As a guilty pleasure, there is none guiltier….
Of course, I’m well aware that games represent a non-reality, a fantasy, and that whilst I’m in that fantasy I’m playing a part. In short; it’s just a game. There have now been many studies that have disproven links between violent games and violent behaviour and honestly, whilst I’d fight for creative freedom in the games industry, I’m not qualified to comment on those issues. What I am qualified to comment on are my own experiences of playing this game…. and for this it I suggest you put some headphones on and listen to the incredibly stylish opening theme of the original game (just wait for that guitar to kick in around the two-minute mark) that oozes edgy and cool, or the fantastic “Sirens in the Distance” from PayDay 2.
PayDay 2 is bursting at the seams with so much gritty coolness that I doubt even a Guy Richie re-imagining of The Fonz would be able to beat it. It’s a game that features cameos from John Wick and Ron-flipping-Pearlman! It is the crystallisation of that tiny part of your mind that wonders just what it would be like to idly stroll in to a high end department store with a baseball bat and see how many glass cabinets you could take out before security wrestles you to the ground. It is entirely inappropriate and there is absolutely no way that I can defend it as an intellectually enriching experience; all that it is good for is to indulge a desire for chaos, and it that role it succeeds superbly.
… oh, and did I mention that it features a full VR mode; one of the best I’ve seen for any game. Not a mini-game, not an ‘experience’, but an actual VR mode of the full game that allows you to play with your non-VR crew. I can’t stomach long play sessions, but dual wielding machine guns to hold off a SWAT assault, smashing glass cabinets with the butt of your pistol, or trying to frantically empty safety deposit boxes in an immersive VR environment, soundtrack pumping, is exhilarating.
The point I’m getting to is how can I legitimately defend this? I’m sure all you good people out there reading this will say “Go easy on yourself, it’s just a mindless game, the theme doesn’t really matter”… ok, maybe some of you will just condemn me for admitting all of this and stop reading my blog… but I’ve often said that in-game theme-ing is very important to me. It can make or break a my enjoyment of a title, and I’ve failed in the past to do “Bad/Evil” playthroughs of games, even when I’ve set out with that intention. A principle part of my gaming enjoyment is allowing myself to be adsorbed in to that world and guiding a character to behave in the way that I imagine I would in the same situation. In the case of PayDay 2 I revel in the experience of a high stakes bank heist.
… I guess you could say that I’m having a crisis of conscience about my guilty pleasure gaming. Our online gaming group had a stint playing this game some time ago and when I tried to get it back in to our rotation recently one of them (quite rightly) pointed out that they enjoyed it, but weren’t exactly ‘down’ with the whole shooting police thing… and yeah… I mean, it’s horrific when you think about it, but doesn’t stop me from taking out a few more virtual cops (not to be confused with Virtua Cops) just to go back for that last hold-all of unmarked bills, or being secretly a little disappointed if I don’t get the highest body-count or accuracy of the crew by the time PayDay rolls around.
As a society we see debate about violent media everywhere, but ultimately for those of us who have violent games in our rotation we’re often reluctant to acknowledge what our enjoyment of these games reflects in aspects of our own personalty. My own view is that it’s important to face these parts of ourselves and, whether or not you think I’m reading too much in to some mindless entertainment, at least be aware that we’re happy to indulge these artificial realities.
Finally… and I’m pretty much just blurting all of this out on the page so I don’t have much of a point…. does anyone want to play some PayDay 2?….