Lip Service: A tribute to moustaches in games
Earlier this afternoon I was sent some brand, speaking new screenshots of the classic line-up of Queen in LEGO Rock Band, and I couldn’t help but admire the moustache on LEGO Freddie Mercury. It got me thinking about other game characters with memorable moustaches, which then got me thinking about how intertwined moustaches and games have been almost since the very dawn of gaming, and that got me thinking about how I could write a blog about moustaches for NowGamer, and that got me writing one, which I am. Right now.
So perhaps I’d better start at the beginning – gaming’s first, and most famous moustache: Mario’s. Mario’s moustache is proof that great things are borne out of necessity. Mario’s creator – father, if you will – Shigeru Miyamoto didn’t give Mario a moustache because he wanted Donkey Kong to star a character with a moustache, he did so because the 8-bit graphics technology he was working with back in 1981 put severe limits on the number of pixels each character sprite could be made of. The original Mario was only 16 pixels tall, which made it impossible for Miyamoto to give him a proportionately sized mouth. Most game characters at the time either had no mouths (or were made almost entirely of mouth, like Pac-Man) but Miyamoto wanted Mario’s face to have a distinctive look about it so he gave him a thick, blue ‘tache. And a legend was born.
Mario has, of course, kept his moustache despite the fact that he’s now made of thousands of polygons and even has a mouth and many characters now have moustaches simply because their creators feel that they’re the kind of guys that would have them. But is it that simple? Sometimes it probably is. Ricardo Diaz and Umberto Robina, both from Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, have ‘taches because they’re Latin American gang leaders and Latin American gang leaders stereotypically have moustaches. Especially in the eighties.
But there are other occasions when it seems as if a little more reasoning has gone into the unshaven top lips of our favourite game heroes. Take the McCall brothers in Call Of Juarez: Bound In Blood, for example. They’re both wild west outlaws, and they’re brothers, and they dress pretty similar and they both ride horses. There’s a danger you might have trouble telling them apart. I suspect this why Thomas has a moustache and Ray doesn’t. Trouble is, I still can’t remember which uses the rifle and which uses the pistols. I looked it up then I came back to write the rest of this paragraph and had forgotten again. In this instance, the moustache has failed. It’s also worth mentioning Juarez himself of course, who has a moustache because he’s a Latin American gang leader.
Moving on, you may have seen comedy writer Graham Linehan waxing (pun so, so intended) lyrical on Charlie Brooker’s Gameswipe about Captain Price’s moustache in Call Of Duty 4. I don’t want to just repeat everything he said – so if you missed it go watch it now on the BBC iPlayer – but to summarise he reckoned that Price’s Burnside style face furniture was a great (although unfortunately rare) example of an effective narrative motif in a game. He seemed to be suggesting that the scene in which Price is being resuscitated would have been far less powerful without his moustache. Sounds a little bit crazy, but I’m going to go with it because a) he really seemed to know what he was talking about, and b) this is a tribute to moustaches, so I’m inevitably going to give the ‘tache as much credit as possible.
Another of gaming’s best ‘taches was grown recently in Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns Of The Patriots. Solid Snake’s bushy, grey soup strainer is actually made of more polygons than an average enemy character model in Metal Gear Solid 3. But it’s not just a technical feat, it’s a powerful symbol, so much so that Konami chose to make it the central feature of the game’s packaging. I’d be tempted to say that it’s a symbol of Snake’s maturity and seniority, and of the respect he commands within the Metal Gear game world, and in the real world among gamers. But that’s far too straightforward. Knowing Kojima, it’s probably supposed to represent the bristles of war hanging over the lips of love as it tries to bloom on the battlefield of 5 o’ clock shadow. 5 o’ clock Shadow Moses perhaps.
Anyway, whatever moustaches mean to Kojima, to me they’re as important to games as shotguns, exploding barrels, powerslides, QTEs, bullet time and fragile boxes with shiny things inside them – you can have a game without them, but it doesn’t feel right somehow.