So you're already wondering what the heck a tobacco game review might be. I suppose that, this being the first I've written, I should explain it. I could, but these reviews are short and won't take long to read, so I'll let them stand for themselves.
Red Dead Redemption (Xbox 360, PS3):
This is a great game. A near-perfect game, even. The landscapes of the old west are beautiful and haunting, regardless of time of day or weather. (Standing in a graveyard at night in the rain is particularly moving.) The story is good, although it is a bit anticlimactic. And the gameplay is simple enough for a video game rookie to enjoy while challenging enough for veterans. The game is a classic western with terrific acting and directing and enough storyline to keep you at this for weeks, even if you can't put it down.
But that's not what you're reading this to learn. You want tobacco, and so you should. Red Dead Redemption is littered with unqualified smoking (unqualified meaning it's not put in some liberal "context" to show how bad it is). The Marshal, the first major character you meet in the game, has a chronic cigar habit. It is rare to see him without one, but never once does he cough or show ill effects. The main character smokes the occasional cigarette, again without negative consequences, even being offered one by another character after a successful raid as the two spoke casually. There are stories in the local newspaper that show the miraculous healing powers of smoking, so it can be a little tongue in cheek, but the most prevalent tobacco reference more than makes up for it. Your main character, John Marston, has the ability to seemingly slow time as he focuses on the men he needs to gun down, but that ability is limited. To restore his focal powers, he need only chew tobacco. This quality of chewing tobacco has no negative side effects, even with repeated use (unlike alcohol, which makes you unable to walk up the steps).
Brütal Legend (Xbox 360, PS3):
This game is based around the acting of Jack Black, and I do imagine this is what his dreams look like. Black's character, Eddie Riggs, is a roadie from the error of "real" heavy metal, meaning the late 70s and 80s. He is leather clad and accented with the traditional headbanger adornments. The gods of rock transport him to another world, where he must defeat all manner of evil with an ax and an "ax" — he can either mow enemies down with the steal headed cleaver or brandish his guitar and kill them with the power of his rock, and yes, that does look as cool as it sounds.
But between bouts with skeletons and monsters, Eddie feels the need to light up a cigarette because… Well, because he's a bad ass, and we're better off leaving it at that if we know what's good for us. You do get an impression that the game, being a clear parody, is trying to tell you how not to act, but for not making the obligatory anti-smoking jokes, I salute it.
Batman: Arkham Asylum (Xbox 360, PS3, PC):
If you've ever wondered what kind of dungeon it took to house all the villains plaguing Gotham City, you can now find out first hand. Arkham Asylum, the game, puts the Dark Knight inside Arkham Asylum, the psychiatric hospital, where he must face all his greatest foes, from Killer Croc to Scarecrow to Poison Ivy to, of course, the Joker. Pretty much everyone in the Batman chronicles makes an appearance, even if it's only a cameo. The game heavily features Batman's stealth and detective skills, putting an emphasis on catching your prey by surprise. The visuals are beautifully gothic, often disturbing, and always engrossing, and the gameplay is unobtrusive in the story and atmosphere. You could loose your mind wandering the sanitarium to find all the little avatars left for you by your greatest nemeses.
This game also features my favorite tobacco reference of all the games I've ever played. During the story — don't worry, I won't give too much away — Commissioner Gordon is captured by the Joker, but we all know old Jim won't go down easily. To alert Batman to his whereabouts, Gordon drops his prized pipe, the one on which his initials are carved that he is never without. Over his in-suit radio, Batman has a lengthy discussion with the Commish's daughter about the value Gordon places on that pipe, including a bit of his history with it, and how it could only have been dropped as a clue for Batman to follow. But he doesn't stop with the pipe. On his way to Gordon, Batman follows a trail of bread crumbs in the form of Wild Country tobacco, Gordon's sole blend, proving that the Commissioner is not only a pipe smoker, but a codger too.
Ghostbusters: The Video Game (Xbox 360, PS3, PC, Wii, Nintendo DS, PS2, PSP):
Sadly, not all these reviews can be positive. Ghostbusters: The Video Game falls right in line with the movies, giving you some suspense with your sarcasm and banter. As the game begins and you fight some of the more recognizable characters of the movies, you can take a break from chasing the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man on the upper floors of a New York skyscraper to take a drink from the water fountain. All the major characters, save Sigourney Weaver and Rick Moranis, reprise their rolls with their trademark charisma while you take the roll of the fifth and newest Ghostbuster. It truly is like playing through Ghostbusters 3.
But the less things change, the more they never seem the same. Riding up the elevator of the Sedgewick Hotel, where the team encountered (and now must apprehend) the green goo'd Slimer, the "No Smoking" sign remains, but it only reminds us of what we're not seeing. The Ghostbusters have quit smoking. If you remember back, to the movies, Ray Stantz is a cigarette smoker. No more, though. The sole tobacco reference I've found is a pipe in the mouth of the ghost of a sea captain. Of course, I haven't finished this one, so finger's crossed, but it looks like you'll have to join the Ghostbusters for the fun and excitement, not the smoking.
While we've become used to tobacco as an indication of foolishness or villainy, it's refreshing to find tobacco, even tobacco use, without the drudgery of some contextual life lesson about how dangerous tobacco is. In these games, the character would smoke, so the character does smoke. It's a refreshingly honest approach to a needlessly taboo subject, and it's about time. Contrary to what all those horrified mothers must be thinking, these games don't encourage smoking as much as acknowledge the habit. What it does represent to me is not that smoking is making a comeback, but rather that our culture is tired of the fight. Maybe the anti-tobacco crowd has found a new cause, maybe even one that they can use fact rather than doctored studies and public opinion to battle, and is leaving us smokers alone to enjoy our hobby below the 17th Parallel. Probably not, but I can hope, and I can hope while playing video games that feature people like me, people who made the choice to use tobacco and don't need to justify it to anyone.