Max Payne: The Video Game Addict

By Adam K. Raymond 05/02/12

One game character deals with his admittedly extreme problems like many real-world addicts. And it shows in the gameplay.

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In the fantasy worlds most video game characters inhabit, a chest full of bullets isn't a big deal. After a few minutes to respawn, a man turned to Swiss cheese is good as new. Apparent tragedies—like seeing a bazooka blow a tire-sized hole through one's wife—aren't enough to change the steely expression sported by the brutes of the virtual realm.

Max Payne is different. A former cop who's endured his wife and daughter's deaths—along with thousands of bullets to his body and kill shots to his conscience—Payne deals with it all like people would IRL—with drugs and alcohol. In Max Payne 3, the latest game starring the iconic character, he dulls the pain of his past with a bottomless bottle of painkillers and an ever-wet whistle. And it shows in the gameplay. The world around him is twitchy, blurry and manic. In the words of Dan Houser, vice president of Rockstar Games, it gives the impression of a "middle-aged, functioning but somewhat addled drunk."

"From a visual design perspective, we wanted the visual effects to give the impression of a blurred somewhat hazy look that would give a sense of someone stoned on booze and heavy painkillers," Houser says. From a narrative standpoint, [addiction] is entirely central to the game—the story depends on it." After all, as Houser says, "A man who has spent his life killing, even in the service of his idea of what is right or wrong, is going to be extremely damaged. That seemed the only way to approach this game and it is who this character is."

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Adam K. Raymond covers politics and sports for New York Magazine. Visit Adam's website and follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.