The moment my four-year-old fingers grabbed the controller of my parents old Pong machine, I was sold. This revolutionary wooden box sported a big wheel on top, which allowed the player to select one of the four different games. When you turned on the machine there was regular Pong, but turning the wheel to the right suddenly equipped each player with a second paddle which moved in synch with the regular one. This game, obviously, was soccer. Another twist brought us squash: both paddles on the right side of the screen, and a wall to the left. The fourth game was great for the times my older brother had something better to do. Just one paddle, and a wall to bounce against until you got bored. Turned out, I never grew bored of it.
It's been twenty-two years since I first touched that gaming console, and I've spend a considerable amount of those years gaming. The consoles and computer grew a lot more powerful, and the games got more complex. One thing didn't change much, and that was my skill level. By the time Doom came around I was still capable enough to kill a couple of demons, but after that I rarely managed to complete a game. Most RPG's were okay, because in those I could just grind my way to victory. Adventure- and puzzle games solely relying on brainpower were good too, but as soon as they got timed sequences I would be lost again. All this changed quite recently, when I finally got around to playing Fahrenheit.
Fahrenheit, or Indigo Prophecy for the Americans, is a story- and character-driven game. There's puzzles, and action sequences, but they're purely there to advance the story or explore the characters. The puzzles usually are your standard adventure fare of picking right dialog choices and using the right items. The action sequences, from playing guitar to fighting people or dodging cars, are all controlled by Simon-style
The protagonist of the game is Lucas Kane, a man with plenty of problems. His colleague think's he's a freak, he's wanted for murder and he's got visions of being chased by giant mites. However, the one problem that mattered the most to me was something completely different. I cared about him because because he'd broken up with Tiffany, his girlfriend. Early in the game, she visits his apartment to pick up the last of her stuff, and right there we get a surprisingly touching scene in an otherwise gritty game. There's a room with two people who try to act like everything's all right, but subtle hints and big awkward silences tell us there's a lot of emotion going on. As the scene progresses, they share a drink, talk about the good times they had and seem to get closer again. Then Tiffany asks Lucas to play her some guitar.
I completely, utterly and truly screwed up the quick-time events controlling the guitar sequence. Disappointed, Tiffany gets up and says goodbye, and when Lucas opens the door for her I see regret and longing in both their eyes. I don't know why this shook me as much as it did. Maybe it reminded me of a similar situation I was in quite some years ago, maybe it was just one of the best directed scenes I'd ever seen in a video game. What I do know is that I blamed myself. It was my fault they were split up, it was because of my shoddy guitar work that she left. It was up to me to set things right again. This wasn't an RPG where I could lay all blame on my characters stats. In order to fix things, I would have to improve my own skills.
After that evening, my nightly schedule consisted of loading games, performing quick-time events and loading again. I was hard on myself, only allowing myself to rest when I'd made noticeable progress. This had become more then a game, this was a matter of honor. After three weeks of practice, I decided the time had come to give it another shot. I turned off my phone, closed the curtains, adjusted my chair and put my keyboard in the optimal position. Then, I loaded the savegame just before Tiffany's visit. This was it.
This was the showdown.
Unfortunately, a Simon-type series of quick-time events doesn't quite translate to a written report. No matter how dramatic the confrontation, it's still just a guy pressing keys as prompted. Still, I take some pride in the fact I completely nailed the sequence and never missed a beat. With small drops of blood running from the blisters on my fingertips, I contently watched how Tiffany allowed Lucas to kiss her, and the evening ended with both of them in bed together, sharing the most fitting and emotionally rewarding sex scene ever to grace a computer game.
Fahrenheit has made a lasting impression on me. It's not just because of the great writing and characters that I added it to the ranks of Deus Ex, System Shock 2 or Planescape Torment. It's also because those games taught me something about myself. They taught me that, even tho I mostly just suck at games, I don't necessarily have to. read