Injustice 2 has just landed and the NetherRealm sequel to Gods Among Us has wowed audiences with its photorealism and fighting mechanics. The series is based on the characters of classic comic books, with superheroes facing off against enemies in the streets in an attempt to restore justice and order to society. Naturally, then, a few things are going to get broken.
The game’s emphasis on environmental attacks has been retained from the initial title. With heroes able to launch pretty much anything at their opponents while the backdrop sways and crumbles around them, the mechanics makes sense. Comics always saw their superheroes tear their city apart to fight each other. This urban destruction has long been discussed in comic criticism, and the power that comes with the physical manipulation of such space is one that can easily be transferred to the study of video games.
Mehrdad Vahabi, an economics professor and author of The Political Economy of Destructive Power asserts that “Books, movies, and video games are made to satisfy such a [destructive] desire. In this sense, destructive power is part of creative power. Satisfaction in destroying is characteristically human”. Vahabi’s statements suggest that the human desire for destruction is innate and, to a point, creative. If we take creativity to its logical origins, Injustice 2 provides us real time feedback on our agency and control over the world we inhabit.
Creativity is an essential part of the fighting genre. While it may not immediately be apparent, without creativity every fight would run the same, and one hero would not be more exciting than other. The way it stands, however, we need creativity to allow us to design combos that both look visually stunning and inflict the most destruction. The creativity within the game structure itself stems from the environmental attacks featured so heavily in Injustice 2, and the backgrounds that react in turn with a player’s level of destruction.
Injustice 2 can show us how destruction is inherently wrapped in ideas of creativity and spatial ownership, however its role in the dichotomy of power struggle prevalent throughout the title is another route for exploration. Ernest Mandel suggests that power through destruction comes from middle class reaction against the “monotony, uniformity, and standardisation” of modern capitalism. The everyday individual making a permanent physical mark on their surroundings through the process of destruction becomes a force of disorder in a neatly ordered, hierarchical world. It’s a process well established in the comic canon, however we can see such a process entering the realm of the video game in this genre crossover.
During a fight in Injustice 2 there are multiple levels of power struggle emerging. The obvious surface layer of combat, how that combat feeds into the immediate situation of the fighters, and how that situation feeds into the wider justice narrative. However, throughout these levels there are at least two common themes that seem to prevail in relation to destruction and the human condition. There is the rejection of an established order and the loss of situational control.
The most explicit example of destruction affording power over the rejection of an established order can be seen in an early battle with Dr Fate. At a moment when opponents dramatically face off in close up, Fate commands us to literally “submit to order”. We naturally respond with a ‘nah ta’ and send him flying with a special area attack. The rejection of such order is immediately followed by widespread destruction, as if to provide dramatic, physical representation of our ability to smash, crack, and dissolve societal hierarchy as it stands. It’s a powerful thought, and one that has been echoed throughout comic criticism itself.
To destroy, then, satiates a human need for control. If we reject a social system or order, we are feeling the need to control our own place within society. Fighting games, and particularly Injustice 2, exemplify the use of destruction for control. Up against a particularly powerful enemy, health dwindling, thumbs tiring, we might opt for the most outrageous, area wide, stamina-heavy attacks we can pull off to attempt to hold off our opponent for a few moments. This kind of desperate, uncontrolled destruction is used as a way to regain control of our situation. Another way we can regain control over such a fight would be to restart the level, and yet we opt for lashing out far more often. It can therefore be seen that destruction, rather than logic, is the fighting game’s default manner of acquiring control.
There is one final point to make here, which is incredibly interesting when considering destruction for power and control as an innately human desire and need. Gorilla Grood is the least powerful character in Injustice 2. He’s not human, and visually he appears the most primally threatening. However, he does not acquire power through destruction. He is weaker than every other character available. This is where we begin to enter the realm of assumption, but wouldn’t it be cool if this design choice was made because of the fact that Gorilla Grood is not human, and so doesn’t directly connect destruction with power, creativity, and control?
Let me know what you think in the comments!