A couple of weeks ago, I posted something about smoking in video games. One of the games mentioned in an article about smoking in video games was “Bioshock: Burial at Sea.”
Well, I’ve been playing it, and noticed an ad in the game for cigarettes … an ad featuring a pregnant woman.
Now, if any of you have ever played any of the Bioshock games, you know there’s a lot of twisted advertisements in these games … really, openly racist ads, etc. If you understand the Bioshock world, you realize there is a lot of irony and dark views of the worst instincts to be found in current U.S. politics (Libertarianism, Objectivism, white supremacy and anti-immigration bigotry … if anything, the anti-Libertarian and anti-racism messages in Bioshock are more compelling today than they’ve ever been).
So, the ad with the pregnant woman falls right into the twisted, ironic world of Bioshock. “Bioshock: Burial at Sea” takes place in 1958. Is this ad that much different from real ads from the 1950s? It’s only slightly more extreme than this:
There is a lot of smoking in Bioshock Burial at Sea. In fact, in all of the Bioshock games, you can smoke a pack of cigarettes to gain more powers (called “Eve” or “Vigors” depending on the game), but it takes away a bit of your health. I don’t know if there’s enough cigarettes in Bioshock to actually kill yourself, but it would be an interesting experiment to try.
So, while I singled out Bioshock in my previous post about smoking in video games, the game does take a very twisted look back at real cigarette advertising and just how insane it actually was.
Wow, here is something I’ve honestly never even given the slightest thought to — the prevalence of smoking in video games.
Here’s a good story, one that actually made me think because honestly this is something I’ve never even considered before, about smoking in video games. According to the study from UC San Francisco (No surprise there, that is the home of Stanton Glantz and the Center for Tobacco Control), smoking shows up in 42 percent of video games participants reported playing.
No surprise there is smoking in Grand Theft Auto games. These are about the most adult games you can find out there (I’m not a fan, too much sexism). I remember smoking first showed up in Duke Nukem 3D about 20 years ago. In particular, I remember one cut scene in which Duke cuts off a monster’s head, then takes a poop down his neck while lighting a cigar (I am NOT making this up … it’s Duke Nukem, man).
Smoking also shows up in Bioshock: Burial at Sea (Elizabeth smokes cigarettes in a very sultry way in this 1930s-themed game) and in Halo games with Sargent Johnson always chomping on a cigar.
I have mixed emotions about this initially. I wouldn’t go so far as to call myself a gamer, but I will admit I play video games and find them fun, especially really violent first-person shooters. I know full well these games depict almost non-stop mayhem and gunplay (and in the case of Duke Nukem … extreme sexism) and I find myself saying, “am I supposed to be concerned about characters smoking? Jesus, Duke takes a crap down an alien’s neck.”), but to be fair, as someone who worked long and hard to try and get smoking out of PG-13 movies, I know darn well these “M” rated games are being played by 12- and 13-year-old kids. Heck, I let my 10-year-old grandnephew play Bioshock Infinite at Thanksgiving and that’s an M -rated game.
Here’s some sobering statistics from this Truth Initiative story.
Grand Theft Auto, Halo and Bioshock are all wildly popular games. Counting all the games that have been sold or downloaded, that’s more than 100 million copies of games out there depicting smoking by its characters, with characters either appearing gritty (Sgt. Johnson and Duke Nukem) or suave (Elizabeth from Bioshock) due to their smoking.
So, the message here is, yeah, I get it, these games are M-rated, supposedly intended for adults, but we all know pre-teens are playing these games, and that maybe game developers might try to give this some thought to not encourage 12- and 13-year-old kids into thinking that smoking makes characters cool …. just like movies did for over half a century.
After 71 episodes (68 of them official), 7 years, legal hassles and a couple of long hiatuses, Freeman’s Mind came to a climax on Dec. 31, 2014. Freeman’s Mind was the YouTube creation of Ross Scott on his YouTube Channel Accursed Farms. Scott does game reviews of old, obscure video games, he did a video series called “Civil Protection,” but his masterpiece so far, truly one of the most enormous projects ever undertaken on YouTube, was Freeman’s Mind. Scott’s technique has been copied by many, many people, and in fact, live video game commentary is pretty common now on YouTube. But, no one as far as I know kept up their projects anywhere near as long as Scott did and no one has created a character as memorable as Gordon Freeman.
Freeman’s Mind is a machinima (machine + cinema), essentially a film made from a video game. Scott started this series way back in December 2007. It’s a series of videos released roughly once every three or four weeks (averaging about 10 minutes each … so we’re talking maybe 700 minutes total) of the musings of Gordon Freeman, the otherwise silent protagonist of Half Life and Half Life 2. Gordon Freeman is mythic in gaming circles as being one of the most unique and iconic video game protagonists ever. He’s a 27-year-old physicist with a goatee and glasses who has to fight himself out of endless battles, often times armed with nothing but a crowbar.
Scott puts himself into the head of Freeman, often times yammering mostly to himself about mundane things such as trying to avoid getting blamed for things at Black Mesa going wrong, wanking about his coworkers and trying to figure out ways of getting away with petty crimes. (I’m including a number of Scott’s Gordon Freeman quotes. These quotes are literally endless over 70-plus videos, I’m only including a couple of dozen that I actually wrote down. Warning, the humour is R-rated, with plenty of bad language.).
“Coffee coffee coffee! Coffee! It’s not as strong as methamphetamine, but it lets you keep your teeth.”
“Whoa … a human skull. That’d go great with the rest of my collection.”
“Let’s face it, not everyone is cut out to be me. I’m a physics-crunching badass. I’m the complete package.”
“Through the power of hypnotic suggestion and a tank, I was able to convince all these people they were dead.”
“Heyyyyy … wait, I don’t know you. Don’t confuse me!”
“This is why I’m such a good theoretical physicist. I solve problems that shouldn’t even exist.”
“I have to blow everything up! It’s the only way to prove I’m not crazy!”
I never played Half Life, it came out in 1998 when I wasn’t into gaming, but I did enjoy Half Life 2, part one and having a pet ant-lion and Half Life 2, part two (and really enjoyed the Portal game that came with those games), so the Half Life universe and story of Gordon Freeman was familiar to me. I first stumbled onto Freeman’s Mind by total accident way back in 2011 (So I’m a bit late to the party, the series had been around for four years already). I think I was trying to find some way to beat a level in Portal 2, when I stumbled onto a Freeman’s Mind copycat that wasn’t very funny. The guy at the end of the video said, “what do you expect, Freeman’s Mind?” I wondered what that meant, so I searched for Freeman’s Mind on YouTube and I found about 30 episodes. I started watching, and I was hooked. It’s a huge, monstrous game.
Scott’s videos are very addicting. His video begins with Gordon in the tram to work, as he’s complaining about being late and getting in trouble with his bosses. His main concern is sneaking into work without being caught by his supervisors. Gordon is already kind of paranoid, snapping, “who is that?” when a voice comes on the Intercom. Of course, we all know things go horribly wrong from a resonance cascade being created and aliens from Xen arriving and Earth, and Gordon has to kill them as he tries to slog his way out of his lab, Black Mesa.
“Kind of sad though, here we have this giant underground complex and all these lasers, and instead of having a rave, we’re using them for evil.”
“When the answer proves elusive, never rule out ninjas.”
“This is Innsbruck all over again. Go back to nothing!”
“‘Oh … [this is] my shit is getting wrecked face.'”
“Chess doesn’t prepare you for this. You can’t say that a rook and three pawns flanked your knight, but he laid down suppressing fire and punched through them anyway. You’d get disqualified if you tried that. Maybe I’ve been disqualified from reality.”
“The ghosts didn’t tell me to kill you, so you get to join the Freeman Fan Club.”
Gordon never speaks once in the video games, but Ross Scott creates 700 minutes or so of stream-of-consciousness ramblings and he manages to create an actual character. Scott’s Gordon Freeman is utterly amoral and narcissistic, pats himself on the back quite a bit and doesn’t have a strong sense of right or wrong and doesn’t show much concern for others in the video game. When they are killed, he will often say something to the effect of “better them than me” or “I’m sure they had it coming.”
Gordon also every once in a while will reference some shady character in his life known as “Eddie.” Eddie seems to have a lot of drugs and skulls for sale. He sings show tunes from the HMS Pinafore along the way and for an entire episode, he talks like a pirate. He comments on the illogical quirks of his situation at Black Mesa, such as being able to blow up a tank with bullets … and guards lurking right around a corner apparently not hearing gunshots and explosions.
“That’s right. Moan. Moan! That noise is exactly what I’ll be thinking of when I try to go to sleep tonight. And I’ll be dreaming of you sucking out my eyes out with your tentacle face, while I’m nestled up against a stack of rotting corpses, then my intestines will burst with insects crawling out of them!”
“You’re the reason we have napalm. There’s no excuse for you being what you are.”
“OK, so we have some more dead people. But, we’ve established that I can murder an unlimited number of people and the universe won’t be affected in any measurable way.”
“I can’t tell if you’re just a voice in my head. So you don’t count.”
“I don’t need another Hell inside my existing Hell. Hell squared is still Hell …. what the hell is this?”
“Ohhhh … what happened? Besides me being awesome!”
“Yeah, I’m pretty sure I could take this place over. It’s ripe for colonisation. I just need to find the leader, blow his head off, and then they’ll start bowing to me.”
“You’ve been downsized … with a bullet.”
You obviously can’t watch all these videos at once; there’s simply far too many of them. You have to watch one here and watch one there. Before I knew it, I had managed to plough through all 30 of the original videos. I was disappointed that the series ended anti-climatically with Gordon Freeman literally swimming around underwater. I didn’t realise at the time that there were apparently some legal issues with Valve or Steam, the owners of Half Life, over the use of their game to make a series of YouTube videos.
After a hiatus of several months, I noticed that Scott had started making Freeman’s Mind videos again. Whatever legal issues there were apparently had been resolved.
I was hooked again, until September 2012 when there was another long hiatus, this time on episode 44, with Gordon Freeman stuck high on a ledge on a cliff. This hiatus lasted 8 full months.
Again, I was pleasantly surprised to find out in June 2013 (I don’t even remember how I found out) that Scott had started making Freeman’s Mind videos again. His videos had been hosted on a channel called Machinima, but there were apparently some legal hassles with Machinima, so Scott formed his own Website and YouTube channel called Accused Farms. This time, he was all on his own.
“Your death will go toward a greater good … me.”
“I guess I’m going to have to consort with the dark powers here, because I’m out of ideas. OK, thank you, oh, dark ones … I pay homage.”
“I probably should keep moving because the aliens will teleport behind me and then collapse the building. And then they win, because they’re aliens, so who cares … and I’m dead.”
“At least this shotgun won’t deceive me. It’s filled with pellets … not lies.”
“The quality of my life is going straight up … now that I have a shotgun.”
“Comic book writers know as much about science as I know … well, I’m not a good example since I know almost everything.”
“Monkey on a stick! We’re getting fingered by Godzilla!”
Now there were few hassles with Freeman’s Mind, other than a lot of technical computer problems Scott talked about a few times that I didn’t totally understand. I know it’s hard to emulate 15-year-old games on today’s computers. But, he kept plugging along, and his fans kept eagerly awaiting his new videos. Along the way, he started up another series called “Ross’s Game Dungeon,” reviews of really, really obscure video games that I’m sure Scott will keep going.
Over the next 18 months, Scott released another 24 episodes, rushing a little bit at the end because he promised his fans he would complete the game by 2015. And sure enough, he kept his promise, loading the final Freeman’s Mind episode on Dec. 31, 2014. Along the way, Gordon Freeman had become a little more frantic and stressed out, prone to screaming fits of profanities, as the aliens got tougher and faster and harder to kill. I’m not sure if that’s Ross Scott’s evolution of the character over 7 years or if he consciously made Gordon Freeman more wigged out as the action gets more intense near the end of the game. You can see how tense and demented Gordon is becoming toward the end:
“Shoot away the madness! Shoot away the madness!”
“Die! Die! Die! Die again! Die more!”
“Stop shooting your white spiderweb hell milk at me!”
“A wise man once said: ‘Jesus tap-dancing Christ.'”
“OK, don’t freak out. Don’t freak out. I said don’t freak out, dammit! I’m totally not freaking out right now! Because this is me not freaking out. What do I have to freak out over anyway?”
“Fuck you reality! You’re full of shit!”
“I really hope I did kill their prophet or oracle or whatever. … if I get up there and find some religious symbols, I’m going to wear them like a hat. If I’m lucky, they’ll bow down to me, but if not, I might at least demoralise them. If I want to go the extra mile, I could cut off the leader’s head and wear it around my neck. I think even among complete aliens that still sends a pretty universal message. Aww, I probably won’t do that. It would smell awful … and I don’t have enough rope.”
“Dead explorers leave the best mementos. If it’s not supplies, you get a long, detailed log of what happened.”
“I’m totally not fighting an elder God! No, no, no, that’s not what’s happening! It’s just really big, levitates and looks like an elder God.”
“Stop being assholes! I know you can do it! I just have to teach you with my bullets! You’re not learning! Open your mind!”
I was sincerely impressed with the amount of time, energy and even heart Scott put into the project. His videos receive on the average of maybe about 100,000 hits apiece, so we’re talking probably more than 7 million hits total on the series. Along the way, several other Freeman’s Mind clones came and went on YouTube — Barney’s Mind, Chell’s Mind, etc., but none of them were as funny or well-thought out to me as Scott’s original Freeman’s Mind (there is even a video of a bunch of the people who have made these “Mind” videos getting together to discuss their work). I’m sincerely thankful for all the laughs and entertainment over the years. In the end, Scott thanks a number of people who helped with the series in a long series of credits and also highlights some of the goofy comments on Accursed Farms, including a few dozen comments of “What game is this?” (Apparently, even Half Life 2 is becoming obscure for some YouTubers today.)
Scott has hinted that he has other projects in the works. A number of people are pressuring him to continue with Freeman’s Mind through the Half Life 2 games, but if he’s burnt out on playing Gordon Freeman, that’s fine by me. After 7 years and 71 episodes, if he wants to make a clean break and do other things, more power to him. Freeman’s Mind has moved on to legendary status on the Internet.
Here is the original Freeman’s Mind from December 2007. Careful, if you watch, you might get sucked in!