I’m Oran, a fifteen year-old gamer and Scottish native. I’ve been gaming for as long as I can remember and my love for the pastime has grown exponentially (HELL YEAH) since early childhood, back when I was allowed to crap in my pants and I wasn‘t mocked for my love of the Pokémon games. The golden days.
I’m a thoroughly ‘modern’ gamer, and I’m a little ashamed of that. I am most comfortable with games from this generation and the previous, but I’ve played games from past generations, such as Super Mario 64, Mario Kart 64 and a few of the Castlevania games.
I discovered Destructoid after purchasing Deadly Premonition, the cover of which boasts a 10/10 rating from Jim Sterling. I visited the website to check out the review, and accidentally stumbled upon the Community Blogs. Previously, I had been experimenting with GameSpot’s blogging feature but I quickly tired of that and, thusly, the Community Blogs presented a perfect alternative.
I’m hoping to break into gaemz jarnalizm. I feel I have a serviceable command of the English language and I realise that I have plenty of time to hone my mad skillz, blud. I follow the gaming industry with avid interest and I have the ability to formulate convincing arguments; arguments which I take care to support with fact. I’m going to stop whoring myself out now, but if you know of anywhere a budding writer can test his skills -- other than Destructoid itself, of course -- then please let me know. I will love you eternally.
Obligatory list of favourite games (in no particular order):
Virtually every Pokémon game
PC (thanks, bbain!)
Chzo Mythos L'Abbaye Des Morts Digital -- A Love Story
Black Burnout Burnout 2 Downhill Domination Resident Evil 4 Resident Evil -- Code Veronica X
Destroy All Humans! Destroy All Humans! 2 Deus Ex: Invisible War Evil Dead: Regeneration Fable Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas Gun Hitman: Blood Money Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction The Suffering Thief: Deadly Shadows TimeSplitters 2 Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell
Alan Wake Armored Core 4 Assassin's Creed BioShock Blue Dragon Condemned: Criminal Origins Crackdown Dead Rising Dead Space Deadly Premonition Eternal Sonata Fable II Fallout 3 Fallout: New Vegas Gears of War Gears of War 2 Grand Theft Auto IV Half-Life 2 Just Cause 2 Left 4 Dead Lost Planet Mirror’s Edge Portal Prey Project Sylpheed Prototype Saints Row 2 The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
Recent comments made by Howard Stern, an American radio host and prominent ‘shock jock‘, provoked anger in me. I realise how idiotic that sounds -- ’shock jocks’, after all, are apparently dedicated to provoking anger and resentment. However, the self-appointed ‘King of all Media’ irritated me by plumbing the depths of comedy by targeting a minority for the pleasure of the listening majority or, at least, for his own personal amusement.
The piece features the Stern show’s correspondent, ‘Wolfie’, visiting the TooManyGames festival to interview attendees. Now, guys, here’s the funny part: while Wolfie is interviewing these gamers -- presumably to provide Stern with enough ammunition to later shoot these gamers in the face on-air -- Howard and his sidekick, Robin (yup) are relaxing at the studio deriding these gamers for daring to have a hobby. Hilarity ensues, if that set-up hasn’t tickled your funny bone.
It is fairly obvious that Stern is of the opinion that, if you aren’t working and you aren’t earning money, you are a mere waste of space; a non-entity masquerading as a functioning member of society. From what I picked up, Mr. Stern genuinely believes that a man who isn’t working fervently on his career is half a man.
It can’t be denied that some of the gamers present at this festival need to switch off their monitors and venture outdoors for a while. The gamer interviewed admitted that he had no hobbies other than playing games and sleeping; he freely admitted -- on-air, to a man he had just met -- that he had masturbated to Mortal Kombat’s Mileena: the one with the messed-up face. However, Stern was in no rush to admit that not every gamer present at this festival was prone to a little imagined fun between the sheets with Crazy Tooth-Face Woman.
Attracted to Mileena? Seek help, daylight
As I have said, it seems that Stern is a man who believes that those who are not actively pursuing a career are instead simply wasting precious oxygen. I feel that he is one of those terrifying people who talk of ‘careers‘ in hushed, reverent tones; the sort of person who spends his life chasing after a career; the sort of man who climbs the last rung of the ladder, hauls himself up the top and wonders what he‘s going to do next. The sort of man who, inevitably, turns to golf in order to fill those numerous waking hours before the blessed relief of unconsciousness arrives. But do you know what, kids? Here’s where it gets controversial, and here’s where I need your attention to answer one killer question:
Does it all matter in the end?
Allow me to clarify. I have been of the opinion now, for a number of years, that -- in the end -- nothing really matters. Our lives are short; our time is running out. Soon, Stern, your number will be called and the career which you value so highly will mean nothing. This rule is, sadly, universal. In the end, it won’t mean squat; not really. Nothing does. Nothing will. Our time here is limited, and it seems that many -- including Stern -- are merely on the quest for personal success no matter what the cost. Happiness, at most, appears to be a secondary objective for these people.
I believe that happiness is reflected in the twinkling eye of the beholder, and I believe that happiness should be actively pursued. Happiness, in my opinion, should be a life goal. If, say, collecting teaspoons makes you happy, then venture forth and collect teaspoons. If gaming makes you happy, go forth, my wayward son, and play games. If the pursuit of a career makes you happy, then head out into the job market and join the fray. Different things -- different pursuits, activities, goals, achievements -- make different people happy. It cannot be argued that there is only one true route to happiness. We humans are an odd bunch, and it is certainly true that a varied assortment of odd things make us happy. For some, it’s puppies. For others, kittens. For Occams, dammit, it’s friggin’ religious art.
I suppose that I should perhaps attempt to relate this blog back to gaming again. I enjoy ruminating, pondering and wallowing in deep pools of thoughts but, as you may be able to tell, I’m often swept out of my depth and drowned. I can ponder any aspect of modern life, but I inevitably end up confused and chasing my own tail when it comes to philosophical matters.
I digress. I suppose I can put my thoughts into one neat little question: why is spending one’s life blissfully immersed in the worlds developers have been paid to craft for us less acceptable than climbing the corporate ladder in this dirty, grey, unjust, corrupt, often imperfect world we live in? It seems that money is the motivation. Money is the blood of life; perhaps it is more important than the blood which runs through our veins. Money, it seems, equals happiness.
Meh. The longer I continue this argument, the less convincing it is -- to me, anyway. I began with a famous American ‘shock jock’, progressed on to a man attracted to Mileena, and ended with a philosophical rant which almost fell over the edge into a one-sided debate on existentialism.
As you may be able to tell, my little mind is swelling with philosophical quandaries which threaten to penetrate the pink-ish outer layer of my brain and shoot out through my skull. I’m too young for all of this; too confused; too conflicted to be addressing such questions.
I may be repeating myself, but all I know from my experience on this earth is that there is no single route to happiness. There are a variety of different trails, each a wonderful journey in its own right if people would only stop and enjoy the variety of distractions dotted along the way.
Happiness is personal; happiness is what you make of it.
Gordon Freeman is the working man’s theoretical physicist. Despite spending more time caving in the skulls of aliens/military forces/Combine than bending the laws of physics, Freeman is evidently a genius despite appearing to be almost entirely mute.
Freeman has cemented himself in the minds of many gamers as one of the most memorable protagonists of all time. He has starred in two games and two follow-on episodic releases, featured in two spin-off games and his name is inextricably linked with one of the best developers currently active in the field, Valve. His name and image has cropped up in memes, fan fiction, fan art and Freeman is revered by gamers worldwide.
Fan art. It exists
Despite being an internationally-recognised, well-rounded protagonist, I believe that Valve could go further with their development and perhaps lend Freeman a voice. His silent demeanour is often disconcerting and his apparent refusal/disability to speak to his comrades in the Half-Life games seems a rather odd quirk of personality.
Gordon Freeman IRL
As I am currently ‘sitting on the fence’ concerning the subject, I have compiled a list of reasons why Gordon Freeman should finally be given a voice, and a list of reasons why Gordon Freeman should stay silent.
Throughout the course of the Half-Life games, Gordon Freeman constantly faces great danger in the form of his numerous adversaries and has to struggle to survive in life-threatening situations. Aliens from the planet Xen; the Hazardous Environment Combat Unit; the Combine -- Gordon Freeman is a man with a lot of enemies. Despite the dangerous situations our favourite theoretical physicist often finds himself in the middle of, he never even pauses to acknowledge a particularly nasty bullet wound or bemoan the presence of yet another wave of Combine forces. It seems odd that this should be so.
Gordon Freeman’s flirtatious relationship with Alyx Vance is a constant theme in Half-Life 2 and its episodic releases. Despite the fact that Freeman has never uttered a word to her, Alyx nonetheless seems to be attracted to Gordon. It seems odd that Gordon appears to constantly snub Alyx, yet she continues to pursue him. Valve could expand on Freeman’s relationship with Alyx by lending Freeman a voice.
Gordon Freeman is constantly harangued by the enigmatic G-Man, a mysterious figure who seems to be neither friend or foe. It seems odd that Freeman never engages in discussion with G-Man or questions his existence. Part of G-Man’s enigmatic demeanour is supported by his maddening tendency to drop vague hints and issue statements which seem to encourage questioning. Gordon Freeman never seems to probe G-Man for answers or attempt to make sense of his odd turns of phrase.
A large part of Gordon Freeman’s allure lies within his reluctance to employ his vocal cords. As a result, his character does not impose upon the player and does not interrupt the action. The player is free to imprint his/her own personality on to Gordon Freeman’s template.
Many protagonists are guilty of issuing idiotic statements and drawing the ire of the player. Gordon Freeman has never irritated me in such a way. If Valve were to lend Freeman a voice, the studio would truly run on a knife edge and perhaps provoke unrest amongst Half-Life fans.
And, as we all know, irate Valve fans are not to be messed with
Gordon Freeman has remained silent throughout the course of two games, two episodic releases and a further two spin-off games in which he is featured, albeit briefly. If he were to suddenly begin speaking in the next inevitable Half-Life instalment, his newly-found conversation abilities would undoubtedly raise questions amongst Half-Life fans and Valve would also be obligated to explain his new, talkative nature, which would require the full attention of the studio’s best writers.
In conclusion, I hope I have outlined fairly three arguments as to why Gordon Freeman should be given a voice and three arguments as to why he should not. My FOR arguments pertained to Gordon Freeman’s inexplicable reluctance to communicate and express himself in situations of great danger whilst my AGAINST arguments pertained to the logistical problems which Valve would face. It is up to you, dear reader, to pick a side. Choose wisely.
This was once an awesome Gabe Newell GIF. It is no longer
For five days of the week, I go to school. There, I study with quiet dedication, stopping occasionally to participate in some light-hearted banter. After school, I go home. I haunt the internet and I play games. At some point, I realise that it is getting late. I switch off my laptop and my 360 and I go to bed. For five days a week, this is everyday life. It is my existence.
On the weekend, I invariably venture into the outside world with my girlfriend. A fun day is had by both of us. We wander slowly around the small town in which I live, and perhaps lie down by the river for a few hours when the sun is shining. Occasionally, on the following day or the day preceding my weekly excursion, I visit my closest friends. We talk about games, gaming and the gaming industry in general. We venture down to the local park and stuff ourselves on cheap food. This is my week.
Seriously... this is the best store ever
I love my life. I really do. I am a very happy teenager. However, I have always -- since early childhood -- felt that my life is a little too mundane for my liking. It was, perhaps, inevitable that I should become a ‘gamer’. I was often driven indoors by bad weather. I was somewhat socially isolated as a younger child. It was only a matter of time before I joined the fray.
Gaming is my form of escapism, a double life which leads me away from the often stressful events of daily life. When I pick up my controller, I am no longer a fifteen year-old boy worried about looming deadlines and approaching exams, I am Gordon Freeman. I don’t have time to worry about that English essay or array of tricky History questions, I’m too busy slaughtering Combine and playing it cool with Alyx Vance!
It’s not cool. It is, perhaps, a little pathetic. However, it helps me get through the week. My obstacles in life are mundane and, in the scheme of things (God, how that phrase haunts me), small. Perhaps it is the futility of my life which frustrates me -- the fact that my hardships are not epic foes worthy of an able opponent, but problems which I will laugh at in ten years time. Problems which, in my twilight years, I will be unlikely to even remember.
Instead of embracing my own issues, I embrace the issues of fictional characters. These characters -- and the issues which plague them -- become real in my mind. I deal with their problems and save them from sticky situations and, in return, these characters -- their problems and their plotlines -- fuel my imagination. My imagination, in turn, fuels my writing. Without gaming, I would not be able to imagine; I would not be able to write. My mind would turn fully to the petty little obstacles of life. My mind, in short, would begin to limit itself. It would begin to… shut down, to neglect my wild imagination and become lost in the little things. I would have to deal with reality.
Also... YES! (giggity)
As I’ve said, I begin to visualise these fictional characters as real people. Their lives are inextricably linked with my own. I can tap into their existence at any time. When I’m sitting in an overheated classroom, pretending to listen to a dusty old maiden rant on about an impossibly mind-numbing subject, I’m thinking about tackling those infernal Taken who insist on plaguing Alan Wake. I’m weighing up the pros and cons of detonating Megaton’s dormant bomb. I’m daydreaming. My imagination isn‘t bouncing around the classroom, it‘s exploring fictional worlds expertly crafted by the magicians we mere mortals refer to as developers.
I feel that my point is a little vague. I feel that I’m slowly descending into a bout of incessant whining. I began by explaining how happy I am and ended by detailing the relentless boredom I frequently face. I hope that I’m not whining. I hope that I’ve explained why I’m such an avid gamer. I hope that I have provided you with an insight as to what it’s like living the life of a perpetually bored teenager. I hope that this post will resonate with somebody out there, and I hope that that someone will recognise the crushing boredom of a middle-class childhood; the constant need for escape from mind-numbing reality.
Before you stretches infinity, your view of the horizon only interrupted by the jagged black skeletons of ruined skyscrapers in the distance, and the swirling dust blown about by the rattling wind which roams the Capital Wasteland. You are free; your liberty restricted only by your lack of experience and ingrained fear of the unknown.
Welcome to the first day of the rest of your life
The above is a brief, albeit flowery, description of my impressions after emerging into Fallout 3’s Capital Wasteland from the metal tomb of Vault 101. I felt isolated, alone, but I also felt liberated. Before me stretched, effectively, infinity -- the steel confines of the Vault were to become nothing but a memory of the distant past.
However, this article does not concern Bethesda’s Fallout 3 -- I’m merely employing the Lone Wanderer’s escape from Vault 101 as an example to illustrate my point. My point is simple, and it is this: the beginning of a game is, arguably, its highest point.
Developers realise that they only have a short window of time in which to hook the player’s attention. A lot of stock is set on the beginning of a game -- in a timespan stretching perhaps, at most, half an hour, developers must set a scene, introduce the player to the protagonist(s) and antagonist(s) of their game and, above all, immerse the player.
I don’t agree that players should set stock on the quality of a game’s introductory sequences. However, in my experience, a brilliant beginning signifies a brilliant game. Oblivion overwhelmed the player with freedom after a daring escape from the sewers of the Imperial dungeons. BioShock showcased the fantastically lavish city of Rapture in fittingly cinematic style. Oblivion and BioShock, I should mention, are regarded as two of the best games of this generation.
The exhilarative effect experienced by the player at the beginning of the game is amplified tenfold when the game in question is open-world. The unknown lies before the player, populated by the who-knows-what and the what-knows-what. There is simply nothing more exhilarating than the promise of a vast, unexplored landscape. The impression that, out there, lies the unknown is intoxicating; the aura of mystery is, sadly, an obscuring fog which fades as plot lines are followed, locations are discovered and enemies are encountered and fought.
However, that’s not to say that linear games don’t have their shining moments of true brilliance in their opening scenes. Prey is a game which stands out for me in this regard -- I still have vivid memories of being inexorably abducted by a sickly green light, surveying my surroundings as I ascended slowly towards the mothership as the hypnotising strains of Blue Oyster Cult’s ’Don’t Fear The Reaper’ played softly in the background.
In conclusion, there is a certain appeal to playing the ‘new guy’. The urge to explore is nothing less than a compulsion and the need to level up is a fully-fledged addiction. Once I’m presented with an uncharted open world, I have to explore it; I have to observe every nuance of this unexplored universe and I have to make endless mental notes as the game progresses. I have to seek help.
['Immersion' is a series which I am hoping to kick-start with my post on Portal. However, as I'm in the middle of a hectic diet of examinations 'Immersion' may simply wither away. Oh noes!]
Portal’s Aperture Science Enrichment Center -- Valve's masterpiece of sparse, minimalist design -- is a deeply desolate place. A deeply inhuman place. Despite consisting of cavernous rooms virtually indistinguishable from each other, the Enrichment Center's neutral white walls belied a compelling, chilling story: its clinical white décor told a tale of desolation, suffocating claustrophobia and mind-warping loneliness; its omnipresent deathly silence a similar, but just as affecting, legend of loneliness. The Aperture Science Enrichment Center is, in short, a disquieting place.
As the game progressed, I felt myself being dragged -- physically and mentally -- into the Enrichment Center. I felt institutionalised, somehow -- I felt as if I was trapped in a nightmare while playing the game. Truly, the fact that a neutral, clinical laboratory had and still has the capability to send shivers down my spine is a testament to the talent of Valve's developers. This immersion can probably be attributed to the fact that the Enrichment Center, oddly, reminded me of my vision of my imagined mind as a child -- a sparse series of vast caverns decorated in a clinical white, lorded over by a slightly unhinged intelligence capable of, uh, flooding an occupied laboratory with lethal neurotoxins.
The inside of a nine year old's mind
The Companion Cube, in my opinion, was an example of the institutionalism I referred to earlier. It was, in plain terms, nothing but a large, dense cube. However, the Companion Cube became pointedly more than that to many gamers as the game progressed -- this… object, a solid thing incapable of experiencing conventional human emotions and feelings such as pain, love, and hate. The Companion Cube wasn’t even dead -- it wasn’t capable of death, since it had no concept of death. It was, for all intents and purposes, void of any recognisable life. It was, essentially, nothing more than a utility: an insignificant means to a significant end.
Yeah... people dig the Companion Cube. In a big way.
Nonetheless, its eventual demise affected me deeply. I felt disgusted with myself after tossing the Companion Cube into the incinerator, to be licked by the flames. I did, in a small, logical, emotionally dead area of my brain realised that my betrayal of my best buddy was for the greater good; this cold logic core realised that, in order to progress, I had to incinerate my Number One Best Pal of All Time despite the wishes of my sappy, emotionally overwrought personality. I also realised afterwards that, as a fifteen year-old male, spending almost an hour debating internally over whether or not to toss an inanimate object into a digital fire is simply unacceptable.
The character of Chell also contributed towards the irresistible immersion which I experienced while playing Portal. Her presence was largely unexplained; her personality barely expressed. In fact, most people I know who played Portal referred to Chell simply as ‘the chick in the orange boiler suit’. However, her presence didn’t really need to be expressed: we didn’t really need to know who Chell was. All we, as the players, knew was that Chell was a woman simply attempting to overcome GLaDOS’ fiendish physics-based puzzles and escape the eerily silent Enrichment Center. Chell is the perfect example of a protagonist who doesn't need a backstory; a protagonist who doesn't need any ulterior motive.
Kelly Bailey’s sublime ‘Self Esteem Fund’ expressed the lingering loneliness of the Enrichment Center without a single word. The track was dark and brooding without being overly emotionally overwrought; it held a certain cold, aloof quality which instantly reminded me of Portal’s white walls and the approaching claustrophobia which bore down upon me as I progressed through Portal’s 19 chambers.
I don't believe that Valve intended Portal to be a chilling experience, but I cannot deny that it was. I don't know why Portal possessed such dark undertones. I truly empathised with Chell, Portal's protagonist. She displayed a show of bravery which I feel I would be incapable of demonstrating in such an oppressive setting: I feel that I would simply be driven mad and end up dead, lying in the middle of a test chamber under the glaring, unblinking eyes of GLaDOS, Portal's unhinged robotic antagonist.
David Cage is, undoubtedly, a very talented man. A very talented man with a clear vision -- a vision which he pursues with each game he releases. However, David Cage’s visions jar with the ideas of those who kickstarted the gaming industry so long ago. David Cage wants to concentrate more focus on storytelling and narrative. He wants technical oddities removed from games altogether and he wants, above all, for the player to be engrossed in his stories -- even if such immersion comes at the cost of player choice and player freedom.
The villain of our story
As I’ve said, David Cage is a very talented man. Both Fahrenheit (Indigo Prophecy) and Heavy Rain have been praised to the heavens for their mature subject matter and emphasis on storytelling. However, I was always struck by the impression that David Cage is a man destined for Hollywood -- it seemed as if the QTEs the game relied so heavily on were nothing more than an afterthought, the one feature which kept both Fahrenheit and Heavy Rain anchored to the gaming industry. I felt -- I feel -- that David Cage would be much happier in the film business -- his games, in my opinion, are nothing more than digital movies which require virtually meaningless interaction from the player.
"Damn -- there's no QTE in this one. We can't allow the truth to be revealed!"
"There we go -- crisis averted."
This wouldn’t be so bad if, well, David Cage wasn’t so damned vocal about his grand vision for the reform of the gaming industry. He genuinely seems to believe that the only way forward for the industry is for us all to be under his leadership and follow him unquestioningly. Cage looks upon the gaming industry as an outsider: he sees nothing but developers creating shallow experiences which centre around burly marines saving the good old USA from hostile foreign forces with the aid of some highly-sophisticated weaponry. He thinks that the gaming industry needs to grow up.
Seriously... how can you have a problem with this?
Evidently, David Cage believes he can break the mould with his compelling creations. He believes that, by studying the world of film, he can create deep gaming experiences which draw inspiration from the cinema. I have a problem with this, however -- I don’t believe that David Cage truly can change the world of gaming.
Fahrenheit was an enjoyable game. It was engrossing and adopted a fresh approach. It was also hilarious -- but for all the wrong reasons. There were so many stupidly surreal experiences packed into Fahrenheit, a game which eminently prided itself on the ‘life as art’ theory. A small child left to wander around a military base unsupervised? A group of children playing hide and seek in a military hangar as a fire smoulders in the background? Really? Admittedly, it is a little cruel to pick on David Cage’s first entry into this genre which he apparently created -- but I don’t believe that Cage is the gift to gaming he evidently thinks he is.
So, yeah... this is Fahrenheit/Indigo Prophecy...
I haven’t actually played Heavy Rain. However, I have read various mocking critiques of the game focusing on its odd plot devices and technical oversights. GamesRadar, in particular, made light fun of these discrepancies -- in addition to the prestigious awards bestowed upon Heavy Rain, the game also won the gong for ’Stupidest plot twist’ in GR’s 2010 ’Anti-Awards’ and made GamesRadar’s ’Gaming’s most horrific sex scenes’ and ‘The Top 7... Disastrous game romances’, not to mention its place in ‘The Top 7... Awful fake accents’, ‘9 most annoying kids in games’, ‘9 games that had sex needlessly shoehorned into them’ and a host of miscellaneous features and videos which picked at the exposed threads in Heavy Rain’s generally seamless presentation. My point is that, if the gaming industry is to venture out into the direction in which David Cage wishes it to, perhaps David Cage is not the man to lead the industry into pastures new and exciting -- perhaps, subsequently, the gaming industry should stay in the niche it has inhabited for decades.
I have no idea what relevance this small rodent has in relation to Heavy Rain. However, I will leave it here for your enjoyment.
Here are the features I referred to while writing this blog: