I’ve discovered I’d make a lousy thief. I’ve been playing The Marvelous Miss Take for the last couple of weeks. It’s a tactical stealth game with mechanics similar to the late 90s title Commandos, but like the more recent Monaco, it’s dressed up as a stylish heist game. I decided to play it because it got me away from the standard video game question of whether it’s okay for me to shoot some pixels. Instead, I was asking if it was okay to steal some pixels—and often asking whether I was even able to.
It’s hard to take this game too seriously. The designers clearly meant to be a clever time-waster with all the substance of popcorn. The narrative is very light: Miss Take is on a mission to recover her rightful inheritance, a collection of artwork somehow appropriated by a cartoonish villain. Given the cliché but amusing banter and the flair of the sound and visuals, this is not exactly a game that invites philosophical review. But I’ll try it anyway, because I’m curious: why is it so easy to engage in immoral activity in games and watch it in movies?
When I say it’s easy, I don’t mean the game is simple. Apparently, I’m not only a lousy thief in real life: I don’t have the dexterity and cleverness to allow me to waltz through these well-designed levels, so I struggled with the game. Rather, the game makes the moral side of thievery much simpler. The idea of illegally taking something for real makes me seriously uncomfortable. Even snitching a candy bar would be enough to give me a crisis of conscience, but in Miss Take? Plink! There goes another painting or priceless statue. Where’s the next one?
And of course it’s much easier. It’s hardly real theft, right? The game is immaterial. The premise is cartoony in all senses of the word. Heck, you’re crusading against the bad guy, almost playing Robin Hood.
But I keep coming back to the fact that the narrative premise of a game does matter, at least a little. I mean, I’m not really thinking of it as theft as I’m dodging guards. But it would be a different game if I were utilizing similar mechanics but instead was, oh, I dunno, rescuing squalling infants from Nazi guards, or plucking candy cane seeds while trying to avoid sticky sugar tumbleweeds. So while it’s not much like the real thing, narratively speaking, it’s theft.
And the heist genre makes theft fun. I’m not saying this for effect: I really enjoy the Ocean’s movies. I love the clever humor, I love the twist at the end, and I love the tension of the heist. It’s the actual theft that makes the story compelling, and I think that’s true for Miss Take as well.
I’m really not sure what to do with that. Have Fun Kevin tells Grumpy Old Codger Kevin to lighten up and stop taking things so seriously. And I certainly don’t expect the game to inspire players to commit their own art heists. But I also can’t escape the nagging feeling that making thievery glamorous is a bit problematic. It almost seems to say that, hey, if the conditions were right, this could be pretty cool. I guess I could imagine situations where theft would be arguably okay (e.g. the Resistance stealing supplies from the Nazis), but I don’t know if thievery should ever really be fun. Again, I don’t see this as the beginning of the downfall of our civilization, but it is worth considering. Miss Take is a lot of fun but if you play, I’d encourage you to think about how good of a thief you are.