God Hand Is The New Final FightDecember 24, 2007
To the unenlightened: God Hand. The commercial really says it all.
I picked up God Hand under the recommendation of the Select Button forums, where people widely hailed it as one of the best games on the PS2. My tastes don’t always fall quite in alignment with many of the posters there, but they won’t fail to provide interesting suggestions, to say the least. And, just to get this out of the way; if this were a game review, I’d be talking about how God Hand is definitely in my PS2 top five, no question. But it’s not, so I won’t. I’d rather talk about things that I like to talk about. (Reviews, you gotta pay for.)
God Hand is the Final Fight of the 3D generation of video games, right down to oranges and bananas the size of your torso that restore your health. However, where Final Fight was, in its era, simply one of many beat-’em-ups that held a late-’80s-early-’90s aesthetic, God Hand translates that feel to the PS2 audience. Final Fight has Poison, an originally female character that Capcom USA declared was actually a post-op FTM transsexual because they felt that punching transsexuals was more family-friendly than punching women. God Hand has the ridiculously gay Mr. Gold and Mr. Silver, the spanking finishing move which is only usable against female enemies, a fat Latino Elvis as a main boss, a boss encounter that begins with “The only bitch here that needs training is you! “, and a female civilian character who, upon being rescued from enemy torture, tells you, “They kept on spanking me…but then the strangest thing happened. I started to like it!”.
In Final Fight‘s heyday, of course, no one paid attention to video games, except to say that Mortal Kombat and Doom were teaching children things they probably shouldn’t learn. Now, well, some people pay attention to video games, I suppose, though except for perfect storms like GTA’s “Kill the Haitians” bit, not a whole lot of people are going to pay attention to things like gender and race and sexuality in any video game. So I imagine that God Hand‘s joke is largely lost on a lot of the gaming audience at large; the post-16-bit-kids probably just think it’s wacky and offbeat and maybe like the fact that it lets you spank women, and the pre-16-bit adults, judging from Select Button’s reaction, appreciate it as a game that throws back to the car-smashing, take-no-shit nonsense of Final Fight, Streets of Rage, and our childhoods. I imagine that if any of the more critical students of video games have played God Hand, however, they might be puzzled, like I was; somehow, the game gives us a main character with the emotional depth of a teenage boy watching Die Hard, a set of female characters that don’t really wear much in the way of clothes (except the protagonist’s sidekick, though you do unlock pictures of her posing cheesecake as you progress through the game), and for god’s sake the spanking move, and doesn’t elicit much in the way of an indignant reaction, at least not in me, and I’m the guy who got pissed off at Indigo Prophecy so clearly something is up.
This kind of discussion is always a little tricky, especially on the Internet; most people want to hear that “word XYZ” is either okay or not okay, or worse yet, they don’t really read the stuff we write and isn’t everything just all in fun anyway, guys, it’s just a video game for crying out loud, there are Real Problems out there and why are you wasting time writing about video games (or playing video games) when you could be out there helping fight AIDS in Africa if you really wanted to Make A Difference. Usually these people are the same ones who post things like ‘there is no more racism’. I get one of these comments every few days.
The truth is, of course, that it’s too simple to just say that This Word Is Cool, or even that This Word Is Cool (But Only If You Are Black/Female/Queer/Etc.). Words, and images, and their meanings, are highly sensitive to context, and it is often the context that determines people’s emotional reactions. So if you are genuinely concerned about whether This or That is Okay, you’re going to have to accept that, really, the only way to find out is to ask people, particularly the people that it might not be Okay to, and if they say No, it’s Not Okay, don’t argue with them or try and reason with them. (If, on the other hand, you just want to look like you give a shit, then you can go ahead and argue with them and remain more or less free from public censure. Life.) So if anyone out there actually reads this post before commenting, don’t get all pissy with me because I think that God Hand is not as offensive as Indigo Prophecy or the Resident Evil 5 trailer and therefore I am a hypocrite. Instead, drop me a comment saying you’d really like to talk about this, and maybe you’d like to buy me a Jamba Juice or something. Word.
God Hand takes itself completely seriously while laughing its ass off at you, because you think it’s totally awesome. “Takes itself completely seriously”, insofar as it’s internally consistent, and while it’s plenty goofy, it doesn’t do a whole lot of fourth-wall-breaking humor. While the characters are outlandish, they’ve also got plenty of depth and appeal; the fat Latino Elvis demon isn’t just a fat Latino Elvis demon, he’s a genuinely interesting character with a range of emotions. So is the dominatrix demon, and even some of the bit characters. In fact, probably the only one who doesn’t really have a whole lot of depth is Gene, the main character. This is probably because his response to pretty much any situation can be paraphrased to, “Oh yeah?! I’m going to beat your ass!”. (Try it with your own running commentary during the game – you’d be surprised at how well it works.)
I don’t think this is accidental. I think this says something about us, as the kinds of people who enjoyed and got used to playing games like Final Fight, where we fed the machine quarters and yelled “Oh yeah?! I’m going to beat your ass!” during every boss fight and punched punk stripper transsexuals all day and didn’t give a fuck. God Hand is laughing at you because you love it, because it has translated all the gendered and racialized images of our games of yesteryear into actual goddamn dialogue and you still don’t really notice it. It’s bringing us back to the Old School, complete with everything that was kind of messed up about the Old School, and so I propose that perhaps God Hand‘s inclusion of blatantly Bad Things is actually so pronounced and over-the-top that it actually has a point, a thought-provoking point, and not merely gratuitous, sensational stupidity. Maybe it’s gotten a few people to idly ponder the games they played when they were young, and what they learned from it. It’s messed up, but it’s closer to the Chappelle’s Show end of the spectrum (thought-provoking and possibly educational) than Indigo Prophecy (which is basically ignorant) or Border Patrol (which is actively messed up).