One would not expect the chirugical comedy Scrubs, the sticky nest of indie mensch extraordinaire Zach Braff, to truly nail the depiction of a serious and controversial mental illness. But, gawdnabbit, in amongst the sometimes trite and sickly 'messages' that are dolloped about like soft-whip at the end of each episode (using a Fray song is not, unfortunately, true pathos) there appeared a truly affecting example.
In the episode "My Catalyst" we are introduced to Michael J. Fox in a guest slot as Dr. Kevin Casey, a truly brilliant doctor played by an excellent actor. It seems that he can do no wrong; diagnosing patients with one wave of the hand, completing surgical requirements with ease, and generally pissing off the inept regular cast. However, at the end of the episode, we are treated (if that is the word) to a small insight into Dr. Casey's personal life. As JD marches to the OR (I watch too much Scrubs, you may have realised) to berate Dr. Casey for showing up the other doctors, he finds the man standing in front of the sink, frantically washing his hands. In a single fit of rage Dr. Casey throws surgical equipment to the floor, and begins washing his hands again. He states that he has been there for several hours, rubbing at the ghost of blood, and is on the point of tears. As JD leaves, there is no resolution to Dr. Casey's frightening problem - he remains, a prisoner, staring through the glass at the empty hospital.
Now, I rather relate to this problem, precisely because I suffer from it myself. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, or OCD, and all the suppurating little demonic afflictions that go with it, is a grossly misunderstood problem. Sufferers are often characterised as merely fastidious, or at worst dull and pernickety. Treatment seems to range from pachyderm-standard prescription drugs to a short sharp shout of "snap out of it!". Most of these do not work.
I have never taken any medication for my problem, mainly because I have seen the effect that it has on my mother and brother. With my brother it manifests as extreme rage and fear; with my mother it is a more persistent, obvious worry. With me, however, it is internalised, and dealt with in the safety of my own head. Most people I know do not know I suffer from it, precisely because I like it this way; the more it remains within, the easier it is to handle. My girlfriend, the poor thing, also suffers greatly, and we try to help each other along, like old people with too much shopping.
Mostly, it manifests in a low-level, quotidian terror - I am, of course, quite square, and suffer from the clichéd "have I left the oven on?" syndrome. Other things, such as leaving taps and lights on, washing my hands and self regularly, keeping track of what I have said to whom and, oddly, remembering what I have done in a day, creep into my everyday routine and slow me down considerably. Anxiety can create false memories, and I try to minimise this as much as possible. It has made me a tidier and a cleaner person, and I am able to control it with various methods - holding my fingers together as if I have just seen a magpie, or clutching a small, round stone that I found on a beach somewhere.
It is not as debilitating as it sounds, and I have sort of accepted it as a burden and moved on. And, so far, it has not affected my enjoyment of life too drastically. I can still drive (or at least learn), go out with friends, read, write (though my output has slowed down considerably; it is hard to try and be funny, or clever, when your entire cerebellum is screaming at you that something you have done may cause the death of those you love, though this is quite rare), and until recently, play videogames without being affected.
I bought Borderlands on Christmas Day in the Steam Sale and have been enjoying it immensely. I have always been a completionist in videogames, which perhaps explains my abusive and Sisyphean relationship with open-ended RPGs. I simply must pick every fungi from the forest floor, and open every chest, and woo every maiden. I simply must. On a practical level it seems foolish to ignore content that you have paid for, but on a more esoteric point I find that it maintains something of a spirit level in my brain - it makes everything just so.
And Borderlands was wonderful food for this addiction. I had completed (almost) every quest. Every weapon was meticulously checked and then discarded to make way for a stronger, more balanced loadout. I spoke to every NPC, killed every strangely jovial bandit or disgusting pus-filled belch worm I could find. The game was coursing into me, filling me with more things to do, see and run over. Some sadistic pump was being racheted up and down, up and down, and I loved it.
And then I started to do something very silly. I started to hold onto weapons that I no longer needed.
It started with the 'Reaver's Edge', a sniper rifle that I had taken from the body of a dead Bandit boss, and had been my weapon of choice ever since; as the Hunter Mordecai, I was loath to wade in, more suited to dissolving skulls from afar. I used it for around three or four hours, levelling at a rate of knots, before I found a Thunder-Bastard 3000 or something or other, which packed more of a punch.
Borderlands is a game that practically forces you to discard weaponry on a regular basis. In a typical dungeon crawl you may pick up 30 or 40 weapons, 80% of which may be complete scrap. You then sell these and keep those that give greater range, accuracy and damage. This list is constantly evolving, and with a limited inventory and only four active weapon slots, sentimentality is not a good thing to possess.
But I did possess it. I felt sick trading in this faithful tool that had saved me from death so many times, and so I moved it to my backpack and left it there. There was no chance that I would ever use it again. The enemies I was now facing would have used it to brush their teeth, or burred chitin or whatever they possessed instead of a mouth. But there it sat. And it was soon joined by others. Weapons I had constructed for missions, or slightly weaker weapons that I had taken a liking to, or pitied, weapons that had no use to me, that were fish with no fins or gills in a big pond full of Semtex and cholera. My inventory filled up, and it got to the point that I was turning down more powerful weaponry, rocket launchers that could have helped against the Rakk Hives or Alpha Skags in my path, so that these coddled, retarded little pop-guns could rest safely in my pocket. I completed the main quest last night, and immediately uninstalled it, my save file going to the cloud, with my backpack bulging with pointless memorabilia of a digital winter holiday. I had become a horrid sort of tourist, a Professor Carter of Pandora, except that I expected the Mummy's Curse to befall me if I did not strip the planet in a bid for superstitious peace.
A much healthier and lighter inventory.
If you think this sounds stupid, you are right. It is incredibly, undoubtedly stupid. But do not ask me to explain it, or how I feel as I ignore the very purpose of a videogame to fulfill some nascent, pointless rule that I have created for myself. It makes me furious. Furious at my own stupid, pointless brain for doing this to me. It became that I knew, instinctively, which guns I had to hold onto as soon as I had picked them up. There was no definite consquence to me not doing so, but the action was a kind of insurance against disaster, an instinct that I had that this was the safest thing to do. I was following the rules of a game I had never heard of, and never played, but that would unleash hell if I lost.
This article is not a cry for help, or even a desire for sympathy and understanding. As videogames become a bigger part of mainstream existence, and a powerful force in timetables and social co-ordination, I am beginning to see how they affect those for whom social co-ordination is a struggle. Borderlands is a limited, comedic representation of a reality on a far-off planet, but it is a globule of reality nonetheless. In those weeks that I existed in it my own, real-world problems manifested themselves in ways that made me want to throw things across the room and scream. But, as always, I was powerless to stop them.
As I watched the credits roll I had a scurrilous and pointless wish. I wished that as the last name rolled past the game would look at my inventory and witness the labyrinthine, unknowable game that I was trying to play, and reward me for my actions, the actions that, in my own fucked-up head, had averted a far-off disaster.
I want you to picture me on the night of December 11th, 2010.
Something had happened to me. To a layman I may have seemed a young victim of a stroke, or perhaps seemed to have finally caved in (literally) and attempted a self-administered rhinoplasty, only to fart, slip and render my own cheek into industrial sealant. My eyes had the doughnut-glaze and a cherubic glow came from within, and the whittering of angels. Except those angels had acne scars, blue skin, red eyes and sung in a gravelly B flat.
Welcome back, outlandeeeeeer...
Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim was revealed at the VGAs by Todd Howard, flanked by cowled artists and designers, to huge praise and not much surprise. The game's announcement was much like a fat bridesmaid at a wedding; the probability of her crying in a corner, holding a plate of coronation chicken, is rather moot, and only a matter of time. I even mistakenly announced its arrival months ago and got all huffy.
And now Oblivion, the loved father, the gleaming mess, the shambolic lover, is on its way out. I may never come back to it again, and so this is to be my last post about the game.
This is the first screenshot I ever saw of the game. I believe I had one chest hair at the time.
I mean it this time. No double triple foolies paxies. The game has inhaled so much of my time as to be an official occupation, and much of that occupation was spent installing mods. I would wager that over 50% of my time spent with Oblivion was installing and testing mods. I have tried pretty much every major mod out there (apart from some of the more perverted and idiotic affairs, which are best left to those who build them), and below have whittled from the lumber of my hard drive a list of my nine favourites.
I must stress that these are not necessarily the best, the most useful, or the most immersive of the 200-odd mods I have in my sleek and mature collection. I do try to play in an immersive and consistent fashion, but even I am not immune to the occasional inclusion of a wise-cracking dwarven sidekick and fluffer, or a sword that calls you a "bally twazzock". You may find better mods. In fact, you will find better mods. But these are nine that I play with regularly, feature in all my games, and that I believe represent the best that Oblivion has to offer. The fact that it is still installed, 6 years after my pre-order, is testament to this.
Thus I would argue that the next 9 months are the perfect time to reinstall this misunderstood blockbuster and give it some real welly. Really tax it. Go for a walk. Stab a little man with wings. Because (I hope, if only to negate the amount of ball-sweat cumulatively produced in the Western hemisphere since 2005) it will all be forgotten soon.
PERSONAL PACK GUARS
Guars look a little bit like dinosaurs with a horrific genetic disease. I rather love them, if only for their spindly frames and stoic acceptance of generational Dunmer abuse. And someone very clever has brought them to Oblivion. Whether I am playing a mage, fighter or thief, it is much easier to get attached to something that looks like a battered (I mean with egg, not a kosh) turnip than a generic stallion. The backstories you create as to how your character got lumbered with such a loveable creature are good fun, and the animation and modelling on this project are very, very well done.
Kvatch, you look like hammered ballbag. I rescued you, what, like five months ago? The Oblivion crisis is over. All your whining citizens, with their dismemberments and horrific cerebral scars of their entire lineage transmuting to charred pot-pourri, are still sitting at the bottom of the hill. Don't you think it's time to get on with your lives? I'll even help. Hell, I'll even be the count or countess, if you like.
I am a consumer of books. I am a bibliovore. In my digital pastimes there is no difference. Oblivion contained some excellent and varied writing in its in-game literature, something that many gamers chose to pass over in favour of, you know, actually engaging in gameplay. But I bet that a lot of them would have hunkered down for some book learnin' if the covers had looked this gorgeous. Being able to tell what is on your shelf without having to mouse over a dark-green square is a revelation. You won't go back.
This is a boring one to take a screenshot of, but a good'un. This program will provide you with a new launcher, a comprehensive mod list and load order, save game editor, compiling software, mod installers, and so much more that it is a wonder that anyone would ever use the little beige ring-piece that came with the vanilla product ever, ever again.
It is difficult to put a small screenshot of this on the page, so go here to see what this mod does. Combined with a better night sky texture, this mod is a tiny, unconscious addition to a world that is already so fantastically detailed that you may only notice a meteor once every month or so. But, if you are trekking through a yew forest at midnight, and stop to allow your nebulous fatigue bar to rise, look up. You may catch a glimpse of my favourite Oblivion mod ever through the trees.
Almost like a series of DLCs rather than a mod, Elsweyr adds the entire Khajiit home province seamlessly into the Oblivion world map. With new cities, quests, dungeons and mounts, the mod stands on its own as the best large-scale addition to the game since its release. However, what really sets Elsweyr apart is the community spirit that had arisen around it. Countless modders wait for each monthly update, and modellers legendary within the virgin lagoons we bask in have added their work to the oeuvre. Other modders have even changed their releases so as to fit in with the expansive vision of Elsweyr. To me this is modding and community at its best, and the quality of the place is just breathtaking.
This is kind of like namedropping The Decemberists at a Pitchfork hula party, but the reputation of the Unique Landscapes series is a deserved one. For transforming Oblivion from a pleasant but dull approximation of the subconscious of a Gloucester pie crimper into an honest-to-god wilderness, one where I fall down ravines with alarming regularity, it deserves to be on every Oblivion player's hard drive. Bar none.
Oblivion does architecture rather well, I like to think. A kind of baroquness emerges, tempered by medieval wattle-and-daub and the alien, almost Hellenistic spires of the Imperial City. However, there is not enough. A few villages filled with cthonic Lovecraft rejects and trout farmers is not enough. We need more. We need more player housing, set high in the hills and low by the shore. We need an ecosystem, one that explains the proliferation of random foodstuffs across the game world. Shezrie's collection brings realism, explanation and expansion to all aspects of the Elder Scrolls. Visit Pell's Gate to see just how much work and invention has gone into this. The most stunning village mod out there.
I treat the yearly Steam Holiday sale with the same equinoxal reverence that a druid might his ritual disembowelling kukri, flaxen with head-stuff, or an aging Mediterranean fishermen the one night of the year, ribbed with sweat and catarrh from misty mornings spent at sea, that his wife lets him have a go on her knockers. It is the time of the year that I take stock, paying less to recieve more; games that have shone all year at the litoral of success are now patched, scarred by review and cutbacks, a little older, and less picky as to who owns them. But, most importantly, I can now pick them up for less than the cost of a copy of The Outsider and some Mr. Brains' Faggots. I reject Mr. Blake's wisdom that one must think in the morning and read in the evening; for the evening of the year is the time to think, buy, install and play. And, apparently, to wipe up fresh piss in prison.
There is no piss in this section. None at all. Such an omission seems inappropriate. Or is that piss to the left? Is it? No, there is no piss.
Mafia 2 is an expensive, vacuous mess at times. It is still on sale in my local Game outlet for £35.99, despite being nearly six months old, riddled with inexplicable design decisions, a hackneyed story, and gameplay so dull that the urge to merge the pixels of the fender of my Custer Empire with the pixels of the fucking great wall that runs around this (like so many other) "open world" games grows in me like mushrooms in a cellar. If someone was to show me an infinite, Gaussian plain comprised entirely of positively charged balsa wood, and told me to be free and merry, I would not be happy. I would not even be more than slightly aggravated. There is so little to do in the game (other than the main story) that the beautiful, period-perfect city that the developers have created is merely an inconvenience. To even save my game and progress I have to open two doors, climb a flight of stairs, follow a corridor, open two more doors and click on a sofa. After saving, the lead character inexplicably removes his clothes so that I have to trudge to the wardrobe to pick my outfit. It is like Polly Pocket or Style Icon. These are not games that I bought on Steam for £5.
And yet, for £5, I shall most likely complete Mafia 2. As a consummate fan of that entirely fictional era of the 1950s (fictional in the sense that we know it), it is a pleasure to merely exist in such a world. Nothing in the world is out of place or jarring with its internal, doo-wop logic, and there is a great, atavistic joy in wearing a deep, navy blue single-breasted work suit and matching trilby whilst driving a car that roars like a middle-aged homo erectus about to discover both fire and smoke inhalation. And it is atavistic. The gangster genre is one so deeply ingrained into the post-modern, Western conciousness, it may as well have been there since the night sky looked different.
However, I am currently playing a section where Vito, the lead character who looks much like Dean Gaffney was asked to operate a water cannon at a student protest, has been sent to prison. Like a good little bitch he has kept his mouth shut, and is spending ten long years putting his skills to use; specifically, the skill to inexplicably dodge any attack thrown at him, and to create some sort of shield around himself that means that only one enemy can attack him at any one time. The ten year sentence is reduced to a few chapters of walking ten feet and then hitting a man until he falls over. When my sentence concluded and I emerged in the 1950s, I literally could not believe it had finished. Though the prison has been lovingly rendered, and the uniforms and convict nipples (more on this later) carefully documented, I had felt so little attachment to the environment that I immediately forgot almost everything about it. There was very little story in the environment; Vito had simply become a nasty, racist little lapdog that merely beat up men because he was asked, and killed others for little reason at all. Even when his Mum died I didn't feel sorry for him. His aforementioned bigotry is given a cause in the both terrifying and hilariously blatant racial stereotypes on display here. I found a hidden talent for crying and laughing simultaneously when I heard a Chinese inmate state "Yoo wood har wun eef yoo hard yewsed Tiger style!"
There is one chapter that I do remember, however. Chapters are rather monumental affairs in the game; a black screen announces their arrival, and they have portentous titles such as "Enemy Of The State" and "Why God Why?" and "A Wiseguy, Eh?". They represent seperate story elements, changes in mood, theme, location and narrative. However, one stellar example of particular artistic merit consisted of the following:
1) Walking from my cell to the toilets.
2) Wiping a urinal with a sponge.
3) Wiping a urinal with a sponge.
4) Wiping a urinal with a sponge while a guard had a piss next to me.
5) Wiping that urinal with a sponge again.
6) Walking to the shower.
7) Hitting two men that wanted to put their penises in my bottom.
I had an epiphany whilst playing this section; it was also in the evening, so Mr. Blake would have been especially livid. I saw myself, completely third-person, pressing the E button to wipe calcified piss and spit from a digital prison urinal, before moving to the next one and repeating the action. The animation lasted around 20 seconds for each one, with a special, extended animation for the urinal that Vito must return to after the guard has relieved himself, complete with a simulated gag reflex. After this I walk to the shower, a distance of ten feet, and in the ensuing cutscene a fat man tells me that I am pretty.
What an utterly depressing and repugnant image.
And my reward for such a task? Literally nothing. The next chapter was set weeks later, and had no bearing on what went before. My guess is that the developers placed the chapter there to accurately simulate the cliché of prison life, but all it did was play out like an incredibly morbid, utterly dull art-house film. My interactivity was reduced to a context-sensitive button that is so sensitive that it can be used to caress a woman's cheek or scrub soiled porcelain. I wondered why I was sitting and watching such a scene. I wondered for how long the scrubbing would occur. I wondered a lot of things.
There is a similar scene earlier in the game; you are asked to take boxes to a truck for $10. With the crawling pace of the animations and the distance of the boxes from the truck, each box takes around one minute. One minute of walking at a Methuselahian pace across a warehouse. There are around thirty boxes. After one box I realised that leaving the warehouse triggered a cutscene of Vito cursing his employee and demanding better work. This was a pure guess. The game does tell you to leave "when you have had enough", but it does not say whether or not you will get the money if you move all the crates. I suspect not, and for the hermetic safety of my own genitalia and facial skin I am thankful I did not try to find out.
I thought over other games that force your hand in this way; how scripting has become a by-word for interactivity. QTEs, a poor, downtrodden set of bleating bastards, is about to get another pithy, lily-skinned ballslap from yours truly; games such as God Of War, COD (in essence, the big kahunas of the gaming, and thus those most open to lay commentary) allow someone to perform incredible feats, many of them by pressing a single button. The lack of feedback is something that is wrong, and it is getting worse. And games designers are letting it get worse.
And, once again, I was back in that toilet, scrubbing, always scrubbing. If the designers really insisted on being this gritty, why not at least have some sort of button combination so that the job is truly unpleasant, instead of merely boring and depressing? Sweeping my mouse in time with my laboured thrusts, tapping alternate buttons to avoid splashing effluent onto Vito's shiny, raisin-like hairstyle? Or at least an option to hit the guard whilst his back is turned, or to refuse the work, or just something to break out of this hellish little piece of scripting.
I hate to make an example of a game that is extremely beautiful, detailed and thoughtful in places, but something in the gluey confines of my skull snapped when a game (albeit one reduced to £5) made me hit the E button and watch my character clean a toilet. There is something very wrong with videogames when this is a major objective in a mission. There is no player satisfaction, or skill, or story progression. It is meant to detail the minutae of the world, as so much that is context-sensitive does. But being sensitive to the context of the world does not mean boring one's players; they are players, and only the doughy child at school whose parents sold cable ties from their front garden is the one who got to play with a toilet. Now we can build powerful machines that simulate that joy.
I usually loathe writing short blogs (it belongs on Twatter) but I have completed Bioshock 2 and it is really quite good. I must apologise for my much earlier blog. I was young and moony-eyed. I loved Ken Levine. I still do, but 2K Marin has my respect and attention.
Here is a picture of Peter Andre and a computer that my girlfriend made.
Note: My previous post was the first in a series about reinventing videogames. However, as has been kindly pointed out to me by Knutaf, and others, it lacked focus or a clear objective. I have hidden it until I can render something readable from it. Until then, here is a knee-jerk reaction to the end of Mass Effect 2. I will keep it quite short, as it is similar in tone to the last few blogs I have written. As I am applying for jobs writing videogames my preoccupation is, I hope, understandable.
I love being unfashionable.
I have practically constructed a religion out of being uncool. I read and watch things so far past the cutting edge they resemble butter that has been fucked halfway through a stargate. I am so uncool I consider "stargate" a common enough noun to make it lower-case. I am not even uncool in a way that is secretly cool because I don't know I am uncool. I have cried myself to sleep over the fact, and try my best to be cool a few weeks late. I became a folk musician after it was cool. I wore brogues after it was cool. I got my hair cut in that silly way that resembles an orthopedic shoe after it was cool.
The word cool has started to lose its original meaning through overuse and has become, I imagine, the noise one's sphincter makes when you sit down and accidentally leak raspberry coulis all over your grandmother's sofa after a trip to that weird nightclub down the road.
But, yes, fashion. I have finally finished Mass Effect 2, after it was cool. Admittedly, the first time I played it through I had completed three fourths of the thing before all my save files corrupted and my dear little Shepherd began to hang, listless and drooling, twenty feet above the surface of a rather boring planet, merely because I had, quite impressively, slingshoted myself skywards using a buggy crate. I sulked for four months and then tried it again. I completed it around an hour ago.
This isn't my Shepherd. Mine had sensible hair tied up in a pretty combat knot, and looked a little bit like someone had melted Evangeline Lily into a tumble dryer. No screenshots survive.
It's a good game. A good, solid game. The combat is sound (occasional game-breaking bugs not withstanding), the dialogue is well written and often hilarious (my favourite line being addressed to the rather breezy Normandy cook for his ability to cook with "more food and less ass" after a side quest picking him up some ingredients) and the story has that figurative scar below its eye, the darker trill that was promised and has been, in the main, delievered. I enjoyed it. Bioware, and its space-opera-galactic-threat offspring, are amongst the darlings of Western game development, a benchmark that companies who wish to produce mature, well-written gaming experiences often attempt to match.
I had been waiting for the ending for some time. I had heard, albeit vaguely, of a suicide mission, of hard choices and sacrifices, of a threat with a real scale and majesty. I feared for my hand-picked team, the morally ambiguous but ultimately loveable bunch. We were the Waltons with high-impact energy weapons and stretch marks; the dark side of the sometimes squeaky and shiny Mass Effect experience.
This is not what we were given. Let me spoil it for you.
The final battle takes place aboard a Collector base, nestled through the Omega 4 relay close to the galactic centre, a vast dying sun or black hole. I am still not sure which. Despite being a rather important plot point earlier on, this hideously amazing fact, that my team was at the centre of the galaxy, was entirely ignored. I know that they had bigger things on their mind, but some resolution of the fiction would have been quite lovely.
The Collector base quickly becomes a series of faceless corridors and low cover that is certainly not wheelchair-friendly; in fact, none of the locations in the game are likely to become local council offices any time soon. What sets it apart, though, are the choices, if only in definition, that one has to make. I had hoped that you would be able to lead your whole team into this final battle, to command the whole lot of them as the game's fiction truly meant. I will admit that I do not know anything about the load limits of the engine, but I find it hard to believe that the game could not handle all nine team members being on screen at once. Instead we are given flimsy narrative pretenses for splitting into two fire teams, for sending a team member back to the ship, for commanding a tech expert into an air duct; whilst these were ostensibly choices, the decisions were quite obvious; I chose Garrus as a leader, because he was one, and I chose Tali as a Tech expert, because she was one. I do not know if another decision would have changed the gameplay dramatically; I think not.
And so you lead your team of two, as always, through this rather brown little level, until the final boss fight. My Shepherd was so overpowered (because I had actually done some mining and side-quests) that I breezed through this in about three minutes. And then, though I was unaware, the final cutscene began. I wanted resolution. I wanted my choices to mean something, as I had been promised. My Shepherd ran back to the Normandy. I waited. The Collectors swarmed. I waited. A three second cutscene showed Mordin and Miranda, members of the second fire team, slumped dead at the feet of scurrying drones. I waited more. The galaxy was saved. I waited. Accompanied by sultry cello music Shepherd laid her hand on two coffins in the Normandy cargo bay. I waited. A link to the third game, a smiling, unknowable man with no answers, and the credits.
What a sad little ending. My choices had meant nothing. I had not seen what had happened to Mordin and Miranda, just their corpses, as if they were shit and I was a dog whose nose had to be rubbed. Look what you did! Naughty player agency! Their deaths had meant nothing to me as they had happened outside of my control and even my vision. They had sunk back into the realm of ones and zeroes, statistics in a set of paltry attempts at "choice" and "drama" that the narrative had promised. But it was more than that. I felt cheated. I had helped these characters resolve their pasts, conquer the demons and vanish their fears. These missions were my favourite parts of the game; they forced you to reconsider your initial impressions of the characters. Mordin and Miranda had been the least likeable characters (one was a huffy spoilt brat, the other a sociopathic Mengelian inventor of a sterility virus) but that did not mean that I wanted them to die off-screen. Those coffins would have been the same whoever had died. It did not matter who I had chosen to perform each task or role. It could have been Thane, or Jack, or Garrus lying at the foot of those Collectors.
It was such a shame. This rather flat pancake of a resolution brought to mind all the other little niggles that chipped away at me as I had played; the awkward silences, the phony moral nudge that was the personal terminal, the lack of direction and continuity in side missions. The galaxy of Mass Effect had become a set of locked doors, of little arenas, where the individual stories may have been interesting and full of pathos, but their part in the greater complex was ignored, or actively destroyed.
Though I have spoken about some mechanical problems, more gameplay than narrative, the narrative is really where this game is supposed to excel. I enjoyed it, overall, but as a benchmark? I am not so sure. The scripting shortcuts that were taken (and not just at the final step) are part of the endemic problem of videogames; narrative must come second to gameplay. Though I am not sure it should.
A final note; I have heard many Mass Effect players referring to their character as "my Shepherd", and an uneducated observer may think of us as a rather huffy and short-sighted Christian focus group. I do not think that this is too far off the mark.
This is something of a rant, though I am loath to edit it as my feelings at the time were quite strong; while not wholly responsible for the success of an article, it is pretty useful.
I realise that the above is a rather dramatic title for what will essentially be an opinion piece. But I enjoy dramatic titles, and I think, beyond the post-modern hissy fits and the paeans for "popular" language, I will only isolate myself from those of you who own more stormtrooper breakfast flasks, can remember the idiotic callsigns of everyone in Battlestar Galactica, or (as you may see from my "About Me" section), can remember which planet the fucking Yuzzhan Vong are from. And so I will stick to what I know. And what I know is writing long-ass articles about the things I like, and why everyone else is starving them like a jealous Rotherford housewife whose neighbour's cat can fit through the catflap they bought at Ikea. You know, the faux-pine one that makes the nice thwump sound when something passes through it, like a cat or the housewife's fist holding a plastic saucer full of industrial-strength lye.
Oh well. I did it anyway. I am hoping that I will get a chance to explain the title, and speak about videogames as well. In fact, I am going to do so right away.
I am now reaching the age and the social inclination where I have absorbed a metric anal ton of culture. I do not use the phrase in an appraising fashion; culture is not a value term. It is what it is. And, bad or good, my position as a fairly well-off middle class product of the private school system in the Western world has placed me in a prime position to do some quality, old-fashioned, curiosity-borne earning. Here are some bad, and good, examples of what I have digested over my time from Oxford hospital (Where I have a memory of my father standing in the hall nervously eating a sausage roll; as I was squeezing into the waiting arms of a probably terrified intern, who most likely remembers my porcine, pleading eyes to this day, this is entirely fictitious, but now I cannot picture childbirth without it involving sausage rolls. It would probably improve the experience all round.) to jobless, failing poet, musician and ceramic hen enthusiast:
- Videogames. Yes, videogames is culture. Not always good culture, but culture nonetheless. More on this later.
- The music of Sufjan Stevens. Say what you like - actually, no, you may not say what you like about him. Because your opinion is entirely moot, as his music is so cosmically undeniable as an art form, as a renaissance in pop music, as a astounding, self-taught achievement, that any denial of said facts would be rather like denying the existence of the pig whilst eating bacon. You fucking toolbag.
- Scotch Eggs. The American continent might hold the dripping, wheezing trophy when it comes to food that is colossal, food that is monstruously blunt and crass. If it was an armed force it would be... well, the American Armed Forces. But British food... we may sell it in tin wheely bins on the side of our depressingly brown little roads, but its deadliness is small, concealed, and inventive; a little known fact is that if you leave a Ginster's pasty long enough it will grow a handlebar mustache, impregnate all your female family members, and you won't mind a bit.
- The films of Peter Greenaway. Seriously, have you seen this bloke?
Well, he's just a bloke. But he made this and this, and we should be very thankful indeed.
And now, the bad.
There it is.
- Steak and Cheese.com. To call it a voyeuristic wank-fest of melting, insane sensibilities that presents an open palm to those curious teenagers who think that muscle tissue is a fun evening would be kind. I was one of those teenagers. I am better now.
- The Times Bestseller list. The lunatics have not just taken over the asylum, they have paralysed the guards with nerve gas, made them wear their accumulated feculance as a hat, and have convinced their wives to enter into a totally untenable and unreasonable joint pension scheme.
- Everyone loving Japan. This is really just jealousy on my part, as I wanted to go there first, but John Smith and those bloody Jesuits just had to be born at the correct time.
So, yes. I could go on. But I won't, because that is dull and attention-seeking. If I was graphically minded I would have had "videogames" straddling the two columns like a rather less impressive metaphor than the Colossus of Rhodes.
But I am not. And, on the whole, I love videogames. I always have. They are as much of a waste of time as books and music and films and love and making forts out of mashed potato when you are a child; that is to say, they are not a waste of time at all. They are vibrant, different, exclusive, inclusive, brash, subtle, literary, brainless, and gorgeous. Truly really shitting gorgeous.
I am taking a leaf from Kauz's blog and posting this picture because it illustrates the point. Also, the only pictures I could find of Crysis involved poultry.
But videogames are at an important stage. We are established. We are a culture all our own, spanning age groups, genres and the sheer prejudice that has weighed us down for years. We make all our pocket money back and then some, as an industry. We are accepted, and even clueless wonders are listening to what we have to say. We are Gutenberg with his first, gluey prints, we are the invention of the synthesiser, we are Hitchcock making an actress fat for the fun of it. We have arrived.
And haven't we done well?
That is what we think. We look back at all the achievements (and they are achievements), and we make the biggest mistake we ever could, exacerbated by the very modern phenomenon of total, endless media coverage, and total, endless, debate.
We are resting on our fucking laurels.
They are gorgeous laurels. So waxy, so full and green. You need only read my previous, rather excessive post on Zelda to see that I absolutely love tradition, and laurels, and proven style, and heritage, and all that marlarkey. I have tremendous respect for the systems that are in place that we all know and love. Though these may be superficial examples, here are a few of what I am writing about:
- the checkpoint and save system
- the health bar
- weaponry and death, in general, in videogames
A very small slice of the gamut pie.
The first thing I want to get out of the way is that videogames are art. There is no way around this. It is not an opinion. They have been created by humans, and there they are. Provoking us like the little sods they are. And the way that even the most insignificant game can stimulate the most hilarious poignancy is both ludicrous and quite wonderful. Games are art. We may not always like the art, but as long as some kid dreams about leading a team into a field to take turns stepping forward and twatting a rotary dryer with teeth, there will be a little, immortal piece of art, right there in his dull little noggin.
And so here we have it, our own little artform. A very new one, but one that has changed more in its lifetime than many other forms of art. The closest in terms of evolution, I would say, would be film; the common factor in these two examples is technology. The reliance that videogames has on technology means that the rate of growth in the two sectors are identical. The reason this laurel-resting has occurred is:
- the growth of technology is such that truly invasive investigations into the nature of gaming are impossible.
- the cost of development, as used to be the case with films, is so high that the art is segregated by cost, vision and reality, as well as market
- the birth of the internet and "gaming culture" as an organism means that every superficial facet of the industry is endlessly debated, rumours spread, and balance sheets read.
This is not to ignore those who have decided to shimmy us along the ledge. People like intelligent gaming commentators, N'gai Croal and his ilk; people like you, who every day post thousands of excellent, literate articles on the nature of our obsession. Indie developers, who squeeze every last drop of innovation from the tools they have to create excellent games (though that is not to say that all indie developers are evangelists; there is a huge corporate agenda in many cases, and to ignore it is rather immature).
The conventions I have mentioned, and hundreds more that one can see in 90% of titles released today, are not our friends. We must not feel obliged to continue them. We, the public, could make such an idea happen. We could demand new ideas, innovation, NEW SCIENCE! Not sequels. Not intellectual properties. Such a thing is horrid; if it produces good games this is not by virtue of itself. Making intellect into a commodity, while perhaps necessary in a business, is an ugly thing.
So, why change the convention? Why would one throw away the whole concept of acting, or lighting, or the camera altogether? Why does the health bar not do an adequate job of portraying vitality, or quick-time events an adequate job of skipping immensely exciting portions of playable game-time? Why would one want to throw away all the excellent, excellent titles being released every month?
Because they are single ideas. No society, or industry, or movement, or whatever you wish to call videogames, can subsist on a single idea. HUDs are beginning to make me weep. The genres are beginning to blur in the aisles.
What must we do to make people think? Where are those who will say "this isn't important anymore, it has been said too much, too often. You are too smug. You must keep building so that it never falls down."
The meaning of the title is two-fold. Gaming needs to die and be reborn. The innovators need to step in from the cold and throw their mittens (ace word) to the table and ask what the fuck motion control actually does; much like I am asking what 3D films actually do. What action do they take? Though you may argue such developments are developments, are they really? Are they really what we deserve? Is there not the money and the trillions of man hours available to really do something, to really say something, to really start something? Fuck, I might give my two cents in my next piece.
On the other hand, my title is a plea for us all to kill ourselves. Well, not quite, but I am having trouble with my running theme. I mentioned the bestseller lists; they exist. They are enjoyed. I do not enjoy them. I may be seen as a snob, or a bore, or just like every other pseud who thinks he expels fragant gusts of peachy air instead of stonking vegetable matter and dog vomit. But it is not a matter of quality of person. It is a matter of quality of product. The ability to push boundaries. The ability to really change things. Changing a control system is not an innovation. It is a method of experience. It is like saying that a new sofa makes Peter Greenaway a better filmmaker. It doesn't. It makes you comfy, and this is a damn fine thing in itself.
Obviously I do not wish for videogames to disappear and then rise phoenix-like; I enjoy these conventions, and they have their part to play. But we cannot allow them to be the entire industry. Without invention, we are nothing. We are smug children with a sense of entitlement larger than a sense of curiosity. And I know there are enough of us to care. I know that evolution is important to more than just a few of us.
When One Must Kill Himself, One Must Destroy What He Loves First. I love videogames, but I would interested to let them be destroyed, just to see what happens.