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Prince of Persia Sands of Time Trilogy and Violent Video Games

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Previous Entry Prince of Persia Sands of Time Trilogy and Violent Video Games May. 24th, 2006 @ 05:44 pm Next Entry
I recently finished The Two Thrones the concluding game in the Prince of Persia Sands of Time Trilogy, and I must say I was very impressed.  I am going to talk about some minor plot points of the games, but I promise I will not reveal anything that you could not get from reading the box cover art or game manuals.  So this will be spoiler free.  At the end I am also going to talk a little about violent video games, so be prepared (ohh yes, be prepared).

The great thing about the Two Thrones is that it truly is the completion of the previous two games.  The Sands of Time (SoT) introduced the noble and, slightly, arrogant Prince.  He was fairly good natured and a nice guy.  My favorite part is at one point you are sliding down a lot of ropes and he yells something like “Yippie!” (okay that may have been a spoiler, sorry to all you “I wanted to be surprised by the rope climbing joy scene” people)  It looks like a lot of fun in the game, and it is just cool that the hero has a really fun time doing it.  He is an innocent young man trapped in a complicated situation. 

 In the Warrior Within (WW), the prince is very different.  He is dark and boarder line evil.  It is a radical departure from the serious, but happy-go-lucky, character you played in the first game.  A lot of fans were disappointed by the darker direction the game took.  I was at first.  As you play the game you start to understand why the prince has fallen so low, but it is still hard to enjoy the game’s story sometimes.  The prince has become a killing machine.  The WW is a very violent game, but it uses the violence to make the point at just how corrupt the hero has become.

Then the Two Thrones (TT) comes along and really twists everything on its head.  The prince is back, but there are now two souls trapped in one body.  There is the kind noble prince form the first game and the dark violent prince form the second game.  Suddenly the dark twist the second game took becomes a crucial part of the storyline.  Far from celebrating the violent prince, it shows him in a complicated light.  It does not dismiss his battle prowess offhandedly: the prince is forced to fight for his and other’s survival.  Yet, the game does not excuse his lust for carnage.  It is a very good look at violence and force.  The game was masterfully done, and the ending… WOW!  I don’t want to give it away because it is something so unique to games, but wow is it good.  It is a poignant and wonderful commentary on the use of force to accomplish goals.

I read recently Will Wright’s (creator of Sim City, the Sims, etc) commentary on video game violence studies.  He brought up an amazing point, most of these studies are conducted by people who do not play video games.  So the authors do not know the way video games give users a sense of accomplishment, engage them with solving puzzles, etc.  He compared these studies to someone that studies the affects of movies without having ever seen a movie.  If you only observed the audiences watching a movie you would probably conclude that movies encourage slothfulness, consumption of junk food, and antisocial behavior and that’s it.  You could never truly know the emotions that a movie can invoke.  And forget about books!  If you studied the negative affects of books, having never read a book yourself, it is fair to say that books would look worst of all (complete antisocial behavior, extreme slothfulness, long periods of inactivity, strain on the eyes, etc.).  In essence, unless you have watched a movie, or read a book, or played video games, it is difficult to really study any of them in a meaningful way.  He does not defend video game violence (his own games are very tame in regards to violence), but he does bring up a valid point about the methodology used in most of these studies.

The Prince of Persia series really crystallizes that line of thinking for me.  On the surface it is a fairly violent series.  Casually it may appear to glorify violence and encourage it.  But when you play the game you realize that most of the time violence accomplishes nothing for the prince, and, in many cases, only makes the situation far worse.  Does that mean that I think every eight year old should play it?  No, the last two games are rated M for a reason.  Parents still need to be parents and do their job by truly examining what their children are consuming.  The subtlety and skillful application of the anti-violence message contained in the games is probably way too difficult to grasp for younger kids, but this series (and others like it) should not be condemned out of hand. There is more too it than gruesome sword fights and blood:  there is morality.  Which is something studies rarely measure.

Also, I have a new "entertainment" icon (shown here).  I didn't like the old azumanga daioh icon so it has been DELETED.
Mood Data: sad100% missing PoP +/- 20%
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Date:May 24th, 2006 09:09 pm (UTC)
I was really glad to hear you'd started playing the Sands of Time trilogy a while back. Each game is so unique and deserves to be in every true gamer's library.

(WARNING! Here comes my rant/personal analysis of the series; also spoiler free, though)

It's hard for me to determine a favorite. Truth be told, it's a tie between SoT and TT, because.... How can I explain this! :( Sands of Time was almost--ALMOST--masterful in everything that it did. It had a unique graphics scheme (the hazy, somewhat dreamlike look), a great soundtrack, great storytelling (I don't mind cutscenes all that much, but I prefer a video game to tell its story through the actual PLAYING OF THE GAME rather than through movie interruptions), and great characters/character development. The only thing it didn't do right for me was the combat. Even back in the day of the original 2 (PoP fans do not acknowledge the existence of PoP 3D) Persias, combat was never what the game was about. Prince of Persia games are about exploration and puzzle solving. My problem with SoT was that after a time, combat segments would get extremely annoying (the "elevator" sequence near the end of the game comes to mind).

As a sidenote that has to do with your violent video games tangent, I think Ubisoft did the right thing in including little to no blood whatsoever in SoT. Yes, the game is violent, but only like Zelda games are violent. When Link slices enemies apart with his sword, you don't see fountains of blood; in fact, most of the time you don't see anything at al--because you don't need to. Blood would make the violence extraneous. Just as in Sands, enemies "bleed" sand, which I think is not only a terrific way to further integrate the power of the Sands of Time, but also a way to make sure your gaming audience doesn't feel alienated by making the game too violent. Although--and here comes a sidenote to a sidenote--I will admit to being rather startled when I first skewered the prince on spikes and gore didn't fly every which way. The classic PoP games were gory as mess, man!

Speaking of violence... Warrior Within. Ohh, WW, how misunderstood you are. I loved this game, but I will admit to it being my least favorite in the new PoP trilogy. The rock music and the prince's Trent Reznor appearance made me gag, and it's like you said: you get used to it, but you never completely accept it. I think Ubisoft sold out in a way b/c as critically acclaimed as SoT was, it didn't do well in terms of sales, which is a shame. SoT got me so hooked on the new violent-yet-not-messy style of PoP games that returning to near wanton amounts of blood and gore was rather disappointing. Add to that the fact that WW had constant backtracking (sometimes I like it, but in this case in rearer its head way too often) and... yeah, WW is defintely ranked #3 in my personal order of the series.

My major beef with WW came from the absurd amount of fighting you had to do. It was as if Ubisoft was so impressed with their multi-weapon combat system that they wanted you to do NOTHING BUT FIGHT! I think you can agree with me that almost every screen featured a battle (or 2) of some kind. Again, PoP has always used combat as a prop; it is not the point of the games.

The Two Thrones is probably my favorite. The more I think about it, the more TT perfects everything good about SoT and WW. First, the combat. Yeah, there's still a lot of it, but the Speed Kills make it optional in a way. If you're good at Speed Kills, 8-9 times out of 10, you don't really have to get your hands too dirty.
Date:May 24th, 2006 09:10 pm (UTC)
continued (and concluded!)

Second, the awesome story-telling and emphasis on exploration and puzzle solving from SoT is back! You gotta love the Dark Prince's quips about... you know... a certain female acquantance to the prince. But the DP was also a great way to show the conflict and growth the prince went through during the course of the series. And yes, the ending to TT is something I really haven't experienced in a game before. It was just soooooo well done.

Just my thoughts. :) Whenever you have the chance, "back up" the original Prince of Persia and Prince of Persia 2: The Shadow and the Flame. I'm pretty sure the Gamecube version of SoT unlocks PoP(1) when you finish the game. As for PoP2... expect to pound your keyboard at least once. Ask anyone: PoP2 is one of the hardest games ever made. EVER.
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