I’ve never been a fan of Westerns, but the many Americans who are will soon be able to enjoy the return of Red Dead Redemption to their consoles and computers. Rockstar Games sits upon a deep bench of intellectual property, and while I adore the Grand Theft Auto series, I believe two additional cult favorites should return—Bully and Manhunt.
Manhunt should be revived because America is in desperate need of a cathartic release. Much in the same way that the 1970s vigilante and Blaxploitation hero have made a resurgence, the time is right for a character that gives voice to those who believe they are voiceless. It is the perfect point in time to provide a powerful avatar to the disenfranchised (or merely disgruntled)—one that they may live vicariously through. Were I at the helm of such an undertaking, I would make certain that the lead character be mute and fully customizable. And as much as I clamor for female leads (especially for the Grand Theft Auto series), I would make the character male to best fit the initial setting of a privatized prison for men. The villains of note? Avaricious elite who use the marginalized for profit and corrupt officers who abuse them for sport.
While I would stress full customization, I would in no way ignore the impact that race, nationality, religion, and sexuality have on one’s life—especially in prison. These elements would affect gameplay, altering alliances, opportunities, and privileges. I would lean heavily on real-life data in design, and would hope that players would discuss said data as they shared tips and commented on unique walkthroughs. The goal would be to create a work that allows individuals to see themselves and have their grievances validated, but also see “the other” as human. In fact, reaching out to the other—by either playing as a different type of character or having a conversation with one who did—would allow one to enjoy different cut scenes and exclusive side stories. In real life we don’t have much of an incentive to step into the shoes of another. Our games—our stories—can provide that incentive.
Where Manhunt would pinpoint where we are devoid of power and provide an emotional salve for said lack, Bully would highlight the areas of our lives where our actions leave an impression. It would show how much speaking out and speaking up can change things for the better—both personally and for the community at large. Harassment is a topical issue. And I think the more we only encounter people who are different as static images and words on a screen, the easier it is to abuse them. It is ironic that a connection to virtual characters might allow children to be more empathic to peers in real life, but if our technology allows for that, should the option not be explored?
I wouldn’t back away from sensitive issues. If today’s teens are experiencing it, creative adults should be brave enough to confront it—and be able to do so with humor, honesty, and grace. To provide not only an amazing and entertaining game, but also a “life simulator” for the more socially disconnected to explore potential consequences would be highly beneficial—and lucrative.
It would also be controversial, but Rockstar Games has never been one to back down from controversy.