God of War (2018) – Gouranga! as Art

“Your arrows may strike all things else, Apollo, but mine shall strike you.” Thomas Bulfinch

We must endure the silence of our deities. Any outline in the clouds is relegated to creativity. Each heavenly feature has been stuck at the end of a trance. Who hasn’t plotted revenge for such negligence? Now imagine the pleasure of ripping so many of your gods apart – slaughter in return for theirs – that only another mythology will do. The meta serial killer who hunts his own kind (Dexter), the boyfriend who kills bad boyfriends (You), the god who slays gods (God of War, championship title belt snatched from a downed Ares), these are the antiheroes of our tilting Rome. Kratos, not the binder of Prometheus, but a Spartan suicide soldier daywalking as a demigod father-murderer in the Olympian registry, a 3D platform hack and slasher (back when side-scrollers first found numerous other sides to run up) full of neat fatalities, has been retconned into a burlier, even more stoic, Joel from The Last of Us, and it works because there are no men anymore (jobs neither, fetch quests will do). We have to populate our video games with the dick where it once stood. The game’s creator can record himself weeping before the endless (and deserved) list of thumbs up, because pushups have become mostly cosmetic. He tortured his crew into making a very well-crafted game with passive aggression, not a gauntlet of Spartan beatings to ensure survival. Grown male fans can scream like girls at a Beatles concert when the game’s trailer hits the right mark, because wine baths at birth failed to eugenically abort the weak (allowing me to write reviews), and gymnopaedia was cancelled with a silly Netflix twerk.

The twentieth century pulled apart the atom, our latest eviscerated god. No trad answers will suffice, unless we film them sexily (and grow strong by proxy, spamming buttons). There is a carpentry behind the gods that gets revised every couple thousand years. They came from chaos, a line of giants multiplying out of their own castrated seed. We performed sacrifices to this soap opera, in paltry imitation, hoping for more of the wheat that has kept us as unlike gods as possible. Then earth was rebooted as the compost of a fallen titan. Their names clanged with Teutonic umlauts. Dethroned, condensed into a crucifix so virgin blood could stay deliciously intact, we finally got to spill in unison, surpassing stifled, expository exclamations of what just happened, advancing toward existential prestige, the division of elements into an instinct, fertilization technique, the nut in fruition as one universal son (after Kratos kills Thor, he should outdo Christ by being tortured for a whole game, combos on each cheek, gold-plated inquisitions – he’s already Christian in that he no longer fucks – the Spartan ghost, slathered pale in the ash of the previous family (murdered half-accidentally), deals with the 2010s by picking flowers for a hippie chick). Wolves swallowing son and moon, serpent babies constricting the planet, kin of bored gods metamorphosing to taste test beast loin, bound to host the resulting infant organs through slow drip venom a wife can never fully wipe, endless winters rife with whoredom, The Poetic Edda and the Prose Edda did Revelations best. Only Wagner could furnish it accurately before animation caught up.

People seem like consciousness poseurs to the gods, even if they’re born from ours. Honor-free millennial excuses nailed controller to palm, forsaking us from pantheons, but if you think the interactive element of gaming interferes with art, watch someone else play. It’ll provoke you into an eclipsed cognition the same as any medium. Unfortunately we can’t wind the clock back to when everything wasn’t an obfuscated poison framed inside a frame, a squawking industrial post-merit functionality, but we can select the best elements of the shit available and manipulate it to our preferences (addictions), especially if we’re well enough trained by reading the dead greats (the ones we seek out, not the ones we’re given). There’s room to color in something new with quality homage. We may disport a stark Laconophilia into our 16 bit bouquets. Lycurgus will spare the hierophants, no matter how alliterative our thumbs get. The lost art of button combos and strategic spatial puzzles has been replaced with a script you click through. Perhaps our masters find it healthier for us to watch someone else be the talent. Leave sports on the field? I empathize with the player’s complaint that inserting numerous cut-scenes belittles the grace of their skill – an artistically performed tournament, mastered via godlike hierarchies of control, abandoned like Kratos by his Olympians, in favor of showy graphics and inclusive gameplay. (The beloved Doom reboot better incorporated an old school gaming nod or two, but the gore seemed too pointy, overly angular (and demons defecate rainbows?), brutal in theory, somehow less mean, no rounded grit to the vision, crowd service, if close enough) Simplified fight controls, chessboard distance wide angles stopped down to a single, over-the-shoulder long-take (god’s eye view shrunk to realism), no kookily named rewards for innovating murder proficiency, too much felt leisure to build a feeling: emersion over technique to advance an image is cinema. Motor skill athletics devolve into art. Apologies. Idiots like me facilitated the shift. I excelled at dumb, forward momentum trials like Super Bunny on the Apple II (crushed those critters) and favored the kaleidoscopic violence my Sega offered (no brainy Super Nintendo roleplay games – Link’s squat missions had pacing. Anything deliberate troubled me: I didn’t know about Tarkovsky yet), sticking around only a little for the groundbreaking AI of Half Life on PC, occasionally LAN partying Counter-Strike to torture hostages while real gamers employed strategy against the others dialed up online. (Call of Duty and its like Disneyfied the round by round assault with instant respawns. You should have to ghost in limbo as punishment for being shot. They cured the spying-on-other-players-for-your-teammates issue with stabilized camera angles. The ancient betas of Counter-Strike allowed for gun walking (continually dropping and picking up dead people’s guns so that next round you could spawn atop an arsenal) and team surveillance, thrilling programming accidents almost on par with hostage screams as my blade drove into their twitching form. These early online multiplayers got sped up in the wrong direction (a thousand mile per hour dying cycle) or became heady roleplay fantasies. DayZ combined the best of both, until narrative and atmosphere swooped in on aptitude.)

Gaming has revealed its twentieth century origins by giving us the anti-game. I’m here to be a passenger of the vision, not to conquer. It’s sad that the world is on autopilot, but coordination and accuracy are not necessarily aesthetic. The splatted canvas of thoughtless glee Grand Theft Auto gouranga’d into popularity did wonders for voyeuristic sadism. God of War should just be watched through an online peephole. A nineties Ichi the Killer bad guy, punk Jackass, Viking Jeremy Davies, nostalgic for pain, is done in by the instinctual manslaughter of a retired demigod who, in cruelest irony for his hubris, has been forced to care for a blithering millennial brat while he carries the second wife’s pyre ash to a mountaintop (press square to consult with Mímir’s severed head). But he tells the kid to shut up a beautiful amount. A series of well-written lines and stunning sights will help me move past any reciprocal plot. Perhaps it speaks to the durability of the craft of gaming that you can remove almost everything that makes a game a game and have it work like a movie regardless. I realize they don’t want too many people dying over and over far beyond a goddamn commercial break. That would require too much technical skill unconducive to something written for you. A poet’s curse, to embrace the new, even, or especially, as it erases you. Maybe weed consumption popularized this travelogue of inching forward free of game overs (we could all use more game overs), religion stripped down again, minimalized to the most basic ritual: drooling. Just let me headbang.

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Sean Kilpatrick