Art in Video Games: The Butcher Boy

Tuesday 17 May 2016

In one of the most memorable scenes in Resident Evil: Code Veronica, where Alfred Ashford, the arch-villain of the game, makes a dramatic appearance wearing a dress and a wig, it is revealed that he likes to pretend he is his twin sister Alexia, who is presumed dead, and he even chats with her. Alfred is not exactly a split personality, not exactly a transvestite. Basically, he is schizophrenic and has a completely twisted notion of reality in his mind.

This concept of things not being what they seem is very prominent in the game; pretty much like Alfred, several elements have a secret "identity", a second "self".

Alfred is the commander of the island where Claire Redfield had been imprisoned, and which got attacked by Wesker, causing a biohazard and a zombie apocalypse. Although it's pretty clear that he is one of the very few human survivors of the attack that were not affected by it, he refuses to co-operate with Claire and from the beginning sees her as an enemy. Claire immediately starts exploring the areas, including Alfred's huge mansion, and locates, among other things, a complex building just outside which is Alfred's Training Facility.

Now inhabited by zombies and monsters, this building is full of traps and secrets. There is no straightforward route to Claire's salvation; she has to go through numerous obstacles and puzzles until she is able to gain her freedom. Not to mention that Alfred is watching her every step, cruelly teasing her and making her life even more hellish by locking doors, releasing monsters and even trying to shoot her himself, while descending more and more into madness.

However Claire, despite her young age (she's 19 during those events), manages to remain relatively cool and extremely focused on her tasks. The reasons for this attitude are mainly two: first she has been a survivor of the Raccoon City outbreak so she may have seen worse, and second she is the sister of the heroic Chirs Redfield, therefore she could be nothing less than heroic herself.

In the process of exploring the Training Facility, Claire comes across a save room; it is one of those areas in the game that host a typewriter, where the players can literally save their progress up to that point, and which areas are always protected one way or the other and the characters are safe from enemies while being there.

Unlike most save rooms, this specific one is not there merely for practical reasons. It plays a vital part in the game and the development of the plot, as it is the springboard of a long and complicated puzzle to which you have to return every now and then to complete all its parts.

When you first enter this room, it is almost empty; but we can see a framed picture on one wall which shows this same room with several items that are not there at the moment.

The only thing that is actually there is the painting seen on the left, which is the full body portrait of an officer dressed in red.

The wall opposite this portrait hosts an emblem, but as we can see in the framed picture,there should be another painting hanging there.

Claire has to take the emblem from the wall, go down to the yard of the Facility and place it in its receptacle. This action will give her access to a key card, with which she will be able to open a locked part of the Facility and locate the missing painting through a camera: it is on a wall of a room which has been automatically locked down due to toxic gas erruption. Looking through the camera to check the secret code written on the painting, triggers the automatic lock to be released. Now Claire can go to that room, enter the code and finally get the painting, which is a skeleton version of the other one:

Taking the painting triggers an emergency situation, and you only have a few seconds to leave that area. Then Claire has to go back to the save room and place the skeleton painting on the wall opposite the other one, where the emblem initially was. This causes a hidden area of the room to be revealed: a model of the Facility, which actually contains an important puzzle item: the Gold Key which opens a room back in Alfred's mansion.

Claire doesn't have other things to do in that room; later on, when Chris arrives here looking for her, he will have to solve the rest of the puzzle so as to continue.

From the first time that I saw the original painting, it looked vaguely familiar; there was something about the pose of the man which was so characteristic, that made me certain I had seen it before. Of course in the game's version, the person depicted is supposed to be an ancestor of the Ashfords, given the white skin and red hair; but I was sure I had seen the original before. After a really long research, I finally managed to track down the painting which was, obviously, the inspiration for the one appearing in the game.

It is the portrait of Banastre Tarleton, by painter Joshua Reynolds.

I don't know if the creators of the game picked him on purpose, however some of his life facts are quite interesting: he was a general in the American Revolution war, nicknamed "Bloody Ban", "The Butcher", and "The Green Dragoon", due to the brutality which he had shown during the War of Independance. Considering the portrait in the Facility is connected to Alfred Ashford who is such a sadistic and ruthless officer, this choice doesn't seem random at all.

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