Total Rendition concept art courtesy of Julien Hauville

Is Total Rendition protest art?

It is time to be a bit more explicit about what Total Rendition is not and more importantly, what it actually is.

Some time ago, an article appeared on gamesindustry.biz which quoted from a Q&A session with a certain Tommy Francois from Ubisoft. In it, he makes statements about video games like: “They can talk to things in real life. They can make us better people.” And frankly, I absolutely agree with that.

Medium is the message (or massage?)

Sneaking through shafts.
Sneaking through shafts in Total Rendition.

Some of the statements made by Tommy Francois are more worrying however: “If my game was set during the Vietnam conflict, for example, we would want the Viet Minh, the Viet Cong … basically everyone’s point of view. And that relates back to people making up their own opinions and our ability to create more mature games that are nuanced, versus being black or white.” Here he imputes the preposterous claim that not taking sides in a narrative equals nuance. Baloney!

This what I have to say about it in depth: Creative works cannot avoid having messages. If you try too hard avoiding messages, the message will be “dog-eat-dog mentality is good.” That’s why the Far Cry series were narrative-wise quite bad compared to [the first entry of] Beyond Good & Evil (another Ubisoft title WITH a message). The point is to bring messages in a detailed and measured way. The Witcher, Grand Theft Auto and Deus Ex are very politically opiniated. Yet their narratives are compelling since these are brought in a subtle way.

Take the Grand Theft Auto series, for instance, which engages with consumerism. GTA shows what its writers deem to be consumerism’s logical consequences. If you disagree with it, you will likely not be able to appreciate the comedic aspects of the GTA series. However, such does not prevent you from enjoying GTA’s gameplay. Nevertheless, GTA makes a very strong political statement.

Blood and Soil (gobbledygook)

Besides, post-truth politics, Total Rendition is also about the consequences of ethnic nationalism, authoritarianism and filial piety. Basically, Total Rendition is about the consequences of the ideologies of blood. You will fight those who believe in it, because they have decided to pick a fight with you. You did nothing to warrant that kind of attention.

In the eyes of Total Rendition’s chief protagonists, Tzipora Herzog and André Weiland, both belong to the “wrong” race. Tzipora also belongs to the “wrong” sex. Also, André comes from the “wrong” (disadvantaged) social background. Players will empathise with André and Tzipora in some way. The first-person perspective has been deliberately chosen, not to copy Call of Duty. Rather, the first-person perspective really shows the players the world from the eyes of our (anti-)heroes.

Weiland’s and Herzog’s professions are hardly the cleanest. However, as both discover, their career paths seem to be rife with ideologies of ‘blood’.

Thanks for taking the time to read this, as I hope this gives a clear view what has inspired Total Rendition and in particular, its subject matter.

-Mordechai Gabai