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Commentary: How DmC Betrays No One

Posted on January 16, 2013 AT 09:00am

News Editor
Chris Holzworth

Despite all the open-mindedness they espouse, gamers are a pretty damn conservative bunch. To be clear, I don’t mean anyone and everyone who plays videogames. I’m talking about a very specific subsection of gamers—the ones who culturally define themselves through videogames and videogame fandom. The ones who, like all conservatives, often equate change—something they are notoriously slow to adopt—as cultural betrayal.

This is hardly unique to videogames. You see it all the time with teenagers and young adults heavily invested in music scenes. These scenesters buy into a certain type of music wholesale and virtually brand themselves in service to it. Everything from the clothing they wear to the ideologies they embrace serves as an identity package designed to let others know what music genre they’ve sworn loyalty to and what that musical loyalty stands for.

The behavioral patterns of music scenesters and videogame scenesters are strikingly similar. In the music scene, an album drops. Fans love it. It becomes one of the defining examples of such-and-such genre. Years go by. The same band releases a new album. But it’s not exactly like the old album, so people feel betrayed—betrayed by their own culture. The same thing happens with video games.

Of course, this rejection has nothing to do with cultural betrayal. There’s no such thing. “People can be wrong, and movements can be wrong. But culture—as a whole—cannot be wrong,” essayist Chuck Klosterman once wrote. “Culture is just there.”

The issue, then, is never about culture, but rather nostalgia. Markets often sell products to consumers by associating them with past successes. But hardcore music and videogame enthusiasts don’t just want association—they want products to generate that feeling unendingly. This is why Halo games have remained largely the same since 2001. Bungie and now 343 Industries know full well fans hate change, and so, crippled by fear of rejection, they stunted Halo’s growth to ensure every new game feels like Combat Evolved all over again, only prettier.

And you know what? They aren’t wrong. Just look at the fuss gamers have made about DmC: Devil May Cry. It exemplifies the very scary, very crazy reality that gamers aren’t satisfied to just hold their values. Gamers want their values to win.

For seven years, Devil May Cry games were developed and published by Capcom. Created by Hideki Kamiya and Noboru Sugimura, DMC actually started life as Resident Evil 4. At some point during development, producer Shinji Mikami felt their attempts to infuse the game with “coolness” had caused it to stray too far from Resident Evil’s roots. The project was repurposed. The biotech superhuman protagonist, Tony, became the demon hunter Dante. The title became Devil May Cry. Lingering elements of Resident Evil remained, such as the game’s setting—a Gothic manor where players must solve peculiar puzzles that call into question the architect’s sanity—but the slow, methodical pace was replaced with the hyperstylized combat that would become the franchise’s trademark.

What the original DMC really did was plant seeds, seeds watered and nurtured by Devil May Cry 2 until they fully matured in Devil May Cry 3. This is the game we’re actually talking about in any given discussion about the series. By the third iteration, combat controls were tight, refined, and fluid, and Dante had actually developed an ounce of personality. DMC3 stands up to the test of time; the original Devil May Cry does not. Playing DMC1 now, a decade later, is an exercise in frustration and embarrassment. The controls are more than a little stiff. They’re often infuriating. Plot and character development are nonexistent.

Don’t believe me? Here’s the opening scene from Devil May Cry—the only exposition and the longest narrative thread in the entire game:

This was uploaded by YouTube user FastandFurious450. His description of the video reads, “This is one of the coolest games ever. The original Dante is by far the coolest videogame character of all time. This is a fact so screw you Ninja Theory and screw you too Capcom because Dante is not some boring emo hipster idiot. If you think that the new Dante looks cool than you are a SPAZ and a complete loser with bad taste. END OF STORY.”

In Devil May Cry, Dante has about as much personality as a broomstick with a red coat draped over it and two guns crudely taped to the handle. The dialogue between him and Trish is laughably terrible, awkward, and vacuous. Still, FastandFurious450 is free to like it, as is anyone else, just as he’s free to dislike the new Dante.

But for FastandFurious450, like and dislike simply aren’t enough. He feels culturally betrayed. He wants universal consensus. He wants his values to win. If you don’t share his values, you’re a complete loser with bad taste. End of story. And FastandFurious450 is far from the only person who thinks this. Ever since Capcom unveiled the new Dante, the Internet has been inundated with fan rejection. Enter the scary and crazy conservatism of gamers, complete with language borrowed from scary and crazy political conservatives. “Donte,” they called him. “Dino”—Dante in Name Only.

FastandFurious450 and the rest of the Dante detractors aren’t really upset about the new look. I mean, they are, but not really. People eventually get past superficial changes. Vitriol this pervasive, however, is reserved for larger issues—real or imagined. In the eyes of FastandFurious450 and others like him, DmC threatens the videogame culture they cling to so dearly, and its success means their values are wrong.

In music terms, Devil May Cry went from punk band to pop in one sense, and from pop to punk in another.

Up until now, Japanese and Western games happily coexisted as two different things that offered gamers two distinct styles of play. But by handing Devil May Cry over to U.K.-based developer Ninja Theory, Capcom has all but admitted the superiority of Western game design—at least in the eyes of Dante detractors. Next thing you know, Square Enix will call up BioWare and ask them to develop Final Fantasy XVDmC2 will probably be a first-person shooter.

This is what I mean when I say that Devil May Cry went from punk to pop. Japanese games are no longer ubiquitous. They’re niche. For scenesters, niche is good. The more esoteric, the better. Western developers are the videogame equivalent of mainstream music, and everyone knows how scenesters feel about mainstream music. It has no oomph. It lacks soul. Ninja Theory can’t put soul into Devil May Cry—not like Capcom can. So, that means theirs must be soulless. This is why I’ve been accused of taking payoffs from Capcom to report about DmC: Devil May Cry, and why one of my colleagues, EGM associate editor Josh Harmon, has been accused of taking payoffs for liking the game and giving it a positive review. We sold out. Real Devil May Cry fans are purists, traditionalists (both synonyms, as it just so happens, for “conservative”). Real Devil May Cry fans keep things real by not accepting change.

What really has some people bent out of shape, though, is how Devil May Cry went from pop to punk. Pop is fluff. Pop is intellectually unchallenging, undemanding. Pop is manufactured cool. Devil May Cry is pop. Was pop. But now Capcom has traded in anime escapism for a Dante who, sans the guns and sword strapped to him, you might find walking the streets of Philadelphia. His world is still over the top and larger than life, but in a way that traces back to reality, to real-world issues. Ninja Theory’s Devil May Cry asks players if they can trust the media, if they can trust the government and big business. Crudely, yes. Obnoxiously. Overtly. But it’s still a form of cultural criticism, regardless how ineffective it may be—and, as such, alienates anyone who still wants Devil May Cry to be simple, unchallenging escapist fluff. By not being innocuous fantasy, DmC betrays what it means to be a Devil May Cry game—at least, what it means in the eyes of a certain group of people, none of whom work for Capcom.

No feeling cuts as deeply and personally as the feeling of betrayal. Since they feel culturally betrayed, Dante detractors want universal consensus—even if it means being irrational, because it’s unthinkable that our values simply differ from theirs. For them, DmC has to be bad—it doesn’t line up with their expectations, with their values.

But DmC doesn’t have to be bad. You don’t have to like it, but it doesn’t have to be bad. There will never be universal consensus. Your values will never win, because they can’t win. The sooner you stop focusing so much on the need for this unattainable victory, the need for this validation, the sooner you’ll stop feeling culturally betrayed.

Chris Holzworth, News Editor
Chris Holzworth has wanted to write about games all his life. He first cut his teeth writing for enthusiast sites such as RPGFan, and after writing for just about every other enthusiast website he could came across, wound up as EGM's east coast news correspondent (read: editorial intern) before relocating to LA to serve as news editor. You can follow his rants about storytelling on Twitter @manadrive.[Meet the rest of the crew]

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