Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: Bad Game or Societal Narrative?

Many of you have probably never played, or have even heard of the video game adaptation to Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I for one had never heard of it until my brother told me about it. My brother loves old video games, and was on the lookout for a good one for the NES. He came across this game after he had seen a review on YouTube done by the “Angry Video Game Nerd,” a popular, and comedic game reviewer. In his review, the “nerd” as he calls himself, expresses his extreme hatred of the game, saying that it is the worst thing he’s ever played. He, like many other gamers, finds the game unnecessarily difficult and frustrating. You can see the review here:

 

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In the game, for the NES, you start out by playing as Jekyll, in the usual side-scroller setting. Jekyll has no weapon except for a cane, that does absolutely nothing. Meanwhile, countless enemies are coming at you from all angles in what appears to be pandemonium. It isn’t until you turn into the evil Mr. Hyde that you gain the ability to fight back with what the game calls the “psycho wave.” Game reviewers collectively agree that this game is one of the most aggravating games that they have ever played, but is it a “bad” game? One can read game reviews here,http://www.gamefaqs.com/nes/563406-dr-jekyll-and-mr-hyde/reviews    You can see that the majority of the reviews are in fact negative.  I argue that while it is indeed infuriating, it has a deeper meaning. The game itself is a societal narrative that is clear especially when looking at the use of weaponry.

jekhyde Dr. Jekyll vs. Mr. Hyde

 

Dr. Jekyll is representative of the good in the world, while Hyde is representative of all that is evil and corrupt. It makes sense then that Jekyll is unable to fight back with any sort of weapon against his various enemies. To fight back with a weapon would be giving him characteristics of Hyde, meaning he would be more evil. Sure, it would seem as though the game rewards you for being bad by giving Hyde the ability to fight the enemies, but because one of the overall goals of the game is to stay Jekyll for the longest period of time, the game is actually punishing the player for being bad. In order to turn into Hyde, the player must die as Jekyll, but once you die as Hyde, it’s game over. This is another instance in which the game punishes evil, because when you die as Jekyll, you at least get a second chance, but when you die as Hyde, you get punished with a game over. What many aggravated gamers don’t realize, is that behind the seemingly deplorable gameplay, there is actually a message. It really is a good vs. evil narrative built into a video game, which rewards the player for being good while punishing the player for being bad. Later in his review, the “nerd” actually does contemplate the meaning of the game, and also concludes that the game must be a narrative of how society punishes evil and rewards good. It must be, otherwise, Jekyll would have been given a weapon and Hyde wouldn’t.

  2 comments for “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: Bad Game or Societal Narrative?

  1. dgreene3
    February 13, 2015 at 12:23 am

    This is fascinating. I think the overall message of the game is very interesting once it is spelled out like this. The idea that evil is actually rewarded is definitely different. The giving of a weapon could be viewed as a reward as you posed, or if you look at it through a moral lens, giving someone the ability to do harm could be a bad thing. I like to think it is purposefully left to be self interpreted. Overall great article and great perspective.

  2. March 15, 2015 at 11:15 am

    I agree with dgreene3, this is a really interesting way to respond to this game — I’m always (almost always) in favor of approaches like this where you can find an interptration that justifies a reading that runs against a prevailing opinion. Do you think, though, that your reading really depends on the having walkthroughs and responses like Angry Video Game nerd readily available? That is, it seems like it would have been hard — back when this game first came out — to discover this kind of recuperative reading since you’d have to play through this game yourself to find that reading. And since it’s apparently a rather difficult game, you might not have had enough patience with it to get to that point.

    It’s just interesting how one consequence of Let’s Play videos has been that they create space for more varied responses to games.

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