Sunday, 29 December 2013

You have nothing to fear but the fear of Night Trap itself

Did you see Charlie Brooker's, Video Games Changed the World? Good, wasn't it? Despite containing more Rob Florence than is humanly tolerable, OXM scum, hipster wanking over Parappa The Rapper- yes, yes, it's very funny and the soundtrack is really good. But button lag on a rhythm-action game is an automatic fail I'm afraid- I enjoyed it a great deal. Being reminded of some old classics that might have slipped my memory, including one infamous title from the early 90s, the poster child of the tabloid press' demonising and all 'round hypocrisy of all things video game, Night Trap.

If you're too young to remember, Night Trap was the title any anti-games article/report/champagne would highlight to prove their point before Grand Theft Auto was even in the scheme of things. If you saw it mentioned on How Video Games Changed the World, then you wouldn't be blamed for thinking along the same lines as easily led parents did back in 1992. That was depraved, voyeuristic wank-fodder for horny teenagers and pathetically single adult males.Because the comedian talking about it pretty much described it as just that. Whether she was basing that on her memory of the initial media furore, her experience of playing the game or was asked to comment on the footage they were going to show on the programme I don't know. That Night Trap's infamy still continues after 20 years is quite impressive when you consider that the only thing remotely dodgy about Night Trap is the idea of spying on young ladies. Outside of that, the only thing that's genuinely offencive about it is that it's even considered a video game in the first place.

"I don't have the right cable to connect it to a modern TV either"

If you actually play the "interactive movie" Night Trap (and for the love of god, don't), you'll find it's far from the pornography for kids that it's detractors tried to portray it as. Granted, the gist of the game to essentially spy on a bunch young girls in their -then fashionable- lyrcra outfits (maybe the co-ed damsels came to the slumber party under the false promise of aerobics?) is creepy, sure, and certainly sexist. And even then was pretty much unplayable crap (as were all interactive movies), but even by standards of horror or sex  films of the time it's really  tame. Go watch any playthrough of it and you'll see there's almost no violence or gore and even less titillation.  Which begs the question, why did the British Board of Film Classification gave it a 18 certificate  the US government create the ESRB rating board after it instigated a senate hearing and caused Sega to withdraw it from retail?Same reason why How Video Games Changed the World made Night Trap out to be more sexy than it really was. Selective ignorance, or, "why let the truth get in the way of a good story?"Or a pro-censorship agenda?

Of course, the degree in which selective ignorance (which may very well be a term I just imagined or read about on the back of a box of Shreddies) was used is miles apart. In the case of Endemol (the makers of VGCTW) they most likely were only mentioning the controversy Night Trap created as it's really the only thing noteworthy about it (more on that in a moment) because it wasn't part of their lineup of important titles. Whereas the US senate, the BBFC and the gutter press used Night Trap in the same way Sam Raimi's "The Evil Dead" was used as the quintessential "video nasty", back when the media bogeyman of the day was the fear your child would rent a slasher movie from the video shop and be compelled to raise the devil and murder half their immediate family. Despite clearly being so over the top in it's violence, people who hadn't seen a horror movie since Bela Lugosi donned a cape looked or those who hadn't seen it at all looked past the absurdity of the film and publicly flogged it as an example to introduce draconian censorship on movies that were given a reputation they didn't even warrant. Same goes for Night Trap.

Did you watch that playthrough? Probably not all of it I bet. OK, I'll just show you the most exciting bit in the whole game. You ready? Alright, don't say I didn't warn you, because the shit is gonna hit the pan now. If you happen to get the polarity on your moral compass reversed, then on your own head be it. Here it is...

That's right. A power-pop song and a brief glimpse of a sports bra. That's as racy as Night Trap gets. Forget the cries over the supposedly infamous show scene, forget it. It's just a woman in a night gown being attacked by stunt men dressed in bin liners, armed with one of those grabber things you see park attendants use to pick up litter. You see more naked female flesh and blood letting in a Hammer horror film from the 70s. If Night Trap was released as a film, instead of a dubiously titled, "interactive movie" at the time, no way would it have been given an 18 certificate. I mean, I can't recall every second of footage, but I don't even think there's any swearing in it. But to some on the BBFC board- not unlike what happened to Evil Dead- who's only experience of a video game was most likely Pacman or Space Invaders must have seen the full motion (attempted) horror on display and shit a brick at the very notion of being able to manipulate footage of actual humans. Bare in mind the now legendary story of the BBFC trying to view Carmageddon, and having to call the publishers to ask them how you actually started the game on a computer, so the likelihood that no one at the BBFC bothered to see that Night Trap was almost a tongue 'n' cheek parody of slasher flicks and then only way to harm the d-list actors in the game was to miss-time your button press to activate the booby traps, allowing them to be captured by the burglar, not-really-vampire-type people. Maybe the Hasbro logo at the start was a clue?

 The footage in Night Trap was recycled from a cancelled game called, "Scene of the Crime." Originally filmed in 1987 for Hasbro's never-made games console, the NEMO. On which the games would come on VHS cassettes. If you see the 3DO or PC version of the game intro, you'll see the bargain basement Tom Selleck hold a key pad up. That was the NEMO controller. So even at the time of it's Mega CD release it was already outdated. More so if you recognise a pre-decline Dana Plato. If the publisher had owned up that Night Trap was about as harmful to young children as an episode of Goosebumps, then Night Trap could of at least avoided getting pulled from shops in America. But the video game business being the video game business, either the publisher decided the controversy alone would make the Mega CD  look cool and rebellious, or they were fucking incompetent on the same level as those who condemned the game at the time.

That's not to say I'm criticising Video Games Changed the World was being as selectively ignorant as those who made Night Trap out to be the worst thing since video nasties, or punk rock before that, or comics before that, or rock and roll music before that. But it's amusing that Night Trap's undeserved infamy still carries on today. Were it not for that original outrage, Night Trap would just be part of all the other titles in the failed genre of interactive movies that came and went in the early 90s.