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3:54 PM on 07.03.2010

Jack's silence.

Six months ago, I finished Mass Effect 2. It would derail this post to explore my opinion of the game as a whole - that is, to take a step too far toward review - however I would be remiss to not establish firstly that I thought the game was often brilliant and immensely satisfying. "Often," of course, is not "always," and what led me to write the following is what I consider to be the game's most gruesome lapse of its aforementioned brilliance: Jack's silence.

A slight misnomer. Jack was never truly silent to me, Desmond Shepard (space-faring, biotic-weaving, thin-mustached renegade), she simply repeated the same curt line of dialogue whenever I attempted to speak to her during the second half of my thirty-so hours with the game. Every time I ventured into the bowels of the Normandy to see her, I hoped to hear something different, and every time I was disappointed in a manner that could most accurately be called heartbroken. I was taken with Jack from the first descriptions of the wild convict; imagining, of course, a male psychopath with tremendous biotic skill who far more embodied a character I wanted to play than Shepard. When she was revealed to be a female, I was smitten beyond redemption - instantly crushing on her precisely as I hadn't with Miranda. From that point forward, Jack was in my (arbitrarily limited [there's that creeping review tendency]) party for every outing, and her loyalty mission was my topmost priority as soon as it became available.

And, having never gotten so far into the first Mass Effect to experience the much-discussed (to note: the days of video game sex scenes being controversial seem refreshingly inaccessible - perhaps another blessing of conservatives having more important adversities with which to create loud punditry) copulation of one's virtual relationships, renegadedly having Jack was an exhilaration every bit as profoundly satisfying as it was awkward to watch a smirking Shepard attempt to be sexually commanding while sporting his effeminate casual dress-wear.

An exhilaration unfortunately marred now by the haunting thoughts of whether or not I permanently soured our bond by characteristically choosing the bottom dialogue options - a choice which granted me immediate sex at perhaps the cost of a healthily consummated relationship. I worry that I selected my words incorrectly during the critically applauded but, for me, evanescent argument between Jack and Miranda. And I felt betrayed, bitter and alone as the creeping suspicion that I would go no further with the most cherished of my teammates became realized. She vanished from my party soon thereafter.

If all that, however, makes it sound like the game is an unparalleled success in sagaciously extracting emotions from the player - you haven't played it.

This was an inner turmoil all my own, internalized and wholly independent from any kind of catharsis from the game itself. Jack didn't end our relationship in a way that was human - a way that truly stirs the inescapable melancholy of lost opportunities - she ended it by video gamingly repeating the same two or three sentences to me ad infinitum. That's as much of a believable conclusion to a relationship as characters walking into one another to conserve processing power in early Final Fantasies is a believable method of common transportation. Jack's so-called silence, while it anomalously evoked genuine feelings from me, is a gaming contrivance that is a flaw from every conceivable angle besides that of a group of developers sitting around a conference table asking one another how they can be rid of a loose end that was once an admirable aspiration.

To that point: I reached this terminus with virtually every other character as well. In me, this stirred nothing but the frustration of once again witnessing the limitations of my preferred artistic medium. This is, though, a common and dulled sting - one that pales in comparison to the sting of having the rug pulled out from under me when I'm caught vulnerably wanting for more. That is to say: at least when I'm welcomed to Corneria I don't have a crush on the gatesman.

It is a sad truth that can be proven by spending ten minutes searching the Internet (or worse, the impenetrably asinine strategy guide whose PDF was sincerely not worth the ten minutes and seventy megabytes it took to pirate) for instructions on how to survive Mass Effect 2's potentially amazing suicide mission finale that the mechanics behind the game and its character relationships are, at least for now, hopelessly obscured. I admit, I am territorially resentful of, say, Jeff Gerstmann for decrying Persona 4 for its poorly explained subroutines (as he would have it) but seemingly excusing Mass Effect 2 from what I would consider being far guiltier of that same crime. I would be shocked to have someone accurately tell me why my loyal Tali took a bullet to the face and died while assigned to the same task as so many others assigned her to, only to have her survive and allow that player their stupid No One Left Behind achievement that seemed so arbitrarily robbed from me (rest peacefully, Tali; sleep proud, Grunt).

And it seems, in principle, the same as my confusion over what I did that kept me from, at the most basic level, obtaining the Paramour medal with Jack. If it was simply choosing the renegade options when presented with them, then the game is far less balanced than I have been led to believe by its recent exaltation. If it is some other factor, which eluded me in such a way that in a month from now I will look like a complete idiot for registering this complaint, know that, at least at this time, I am outraged by Jack's inexplicable and overwhelmingly manufactured silence.

As well as the fact that, for whatever reason, I was never given the option to have Legion join my team. What the fuck, people?

Oh, and having to manually feed the fish every damn time I returned to the Normandy was pretty excruciating; there, that's essentially my review. Four of five stars.   read

6:41 PM on 01.31.2010

On the traffic lights of Liberty City.

A year and eight months ago, just over one month after the release of Grand Theft Auto IV, there was an article that obtained four thousand, seven hundred and thirty-one diggs. Its original place on the Internet is seemingly gone now, but it's archived here, for reference. While its initial paragraph does an effective job of assuring I can't accuse the article's author of misogyny, I nonetheless take such apparent issue with the rest that it's been kept in my mind for twenty months. Good thing for Destructoid, isn't it?

There's a fundamental contradiction at the heart of Grand Theft Auto IV about which I am by no means the first to comment. This Penny Arcade highlights it well - the disconcerting and unrealistic juxtaposition of Niko Bellic's grounded, ancillary activities, as well as his identifiably rational demeanor, against not only his penchant toward violence but his (in this case, the player's) freedom to act upon that penchant. I recall the Game Trailers' review of the game: it spoke of the relative and anomalous decency of its main character only to punctuate the thought with footage of Niko committing vehicular manslaughter on a random NPC, then calling out "Sorry!" as he continued.

It is, I think, an important note that the game has no "Sorry!" button. It was the player that killed the pedestrian, the player that sped forward unabated, and the game, distinctly, that had its main character express some sort of remorse, albeit in a manner consciously ironic. There is no reason to believe that the player felt remorse for his actions, either on a genuine, empathetic level or out of regret for an otherwise avoidable consequence from the game itself. The former is an emotional response eradicated by Grand Theft Auto IV's predecessors, competitors, and its own tantalizingly blood-filled NPCs. The latter speaks to a legitimate theory of game design, espoused by Jonathan Blow lest I be horribly mistaken (or at the very least, horribly simplistic), that says that a player truly has no reason to care about any aspect of a game unless he is provided with a gameplay incentive to do so. Which is to say: if, after killing a pedestrian, Niko automatically locks himself in his room for a week's time in game to grieve for his actions, effectively preventing the player from progressing until he, Niko, felt psychologically and spiritually cleansed - then the player would regret the hit and run. It would be an artificial regret, not a synchronous emotional state of being between player and avatar but merely a punishment delivered by the game in order to better lock the player's experience into the moral boundaries of its story.

Note: A one star wanted level and brief pursuit by the LCPD doesn't count.

The ability to cause wanton and random chaos remains a driving force behind the popularity of Grand Theft Auto and similar titles, now to the point where many will eschew Grand Theft Auto IV's dreary (though completely impotent) perspective on its own anarchy in favor of Saints Row 2's euphoric moral emancipation. It should show in my self-righteous rhetoric that I personally consider Saints Row 2 to be a paper thin experience, and chaos for the sake of chaos holds no joy or stimulation for me.

Which is why I still think of Jeremy's wife ruining Grand Theft Auto IV for him by refusing to murder NPCs. He is representative of literally millions of gamers who not only consider fun to be the highest priority of game design, but equate fun with violence and the ability to destroy. (If it needs to be said, now would be a good time to point out that I don't consider a single one of the aforementioned millions to be sociopathic. Games do not trigger, fuel or inspire acts of real life violence that would not have been otherwise committed.) And I think of my friend Alex, who after failing a mission by a hair's breadth, soothed himself by murdering a dozen or so nearby civilians as I sat silently judging him for being so uncouth.

Now let me mention how much I enjoyed killing Dimitri Rascalov. Let me mention that I was shouting threats at my television as I played through Hostile Negotiation, and let me also mention that if I am driving through Liberty City in a nice car and another driver collides with me, I do my absolute best to catch up to him and administer a kind of lethal street justice, if you will. But I do none of these things out of an independent, uncontextualized urge to destroy; I do them for the same reason that I enjoy drinking with Packie or playing darts with Little Jacob: because of an emotional resonance between myself and Niko. Wrongs against him felt as if they were wrongs against me and, most importantly, his morals adhered well enough to my own that I was able to identify with him on deeper, empathetic level than I can with nearly any other prominent game protagonist. That sort of reflective harmony is what I believe Rockstar North was trying to accomplish in creating a character so bound by ethical chains, allowing a symbiotic relationship between player and avatar which brought the story wholly out of the usual passivity of cutscene-driven game plots and made it so much more dynamic.

I realize that what I desire - an emotional and grounded connection to the player character - and what most others, including Jeremy, desire - the freedom from reality's demands of peace and quiet - are both unique possibilities of video games as an art form. Therefore, I feel compelled to appreciate the legitimacy of the notion that fun in this form is somehow obligatory. It is, however, the incredible infrequency with which I get my wish and the monumental constancy with which this other camp gets theirs that makes me feel so begrudgingly indignant. Games are sold on their violence, on their potential for mayhem; there's never been a game in history that sought to attract an audience by telling them that they can obey traffic laws. And yet, there I am, as Niko, playing the same game as everyone else, and stopping at red lights while I'm on a date. This is the game that feels right to me, not only appealing to my desire to be immersed in the virtual world, but also in keeping with my tendency to quell the dissonance presented by that original contradiction. I have the ability to run red lights, but I only do so when I feel that Niko would do so, thus quieting (although never silencing) the inherent flaw in serving the two masters of intelligent story and primitive, visceral joy.

This is why I get offended at the implicit message that if you are not causing havoc in Grand Theft Auto IV, you aren't playing it correctly. For me, there is a richer and more fulfilling game on that disc than what Jeremy pursues, and he admonishes his wife for prodding at and flirting with that game, to a chorus of four thousand, seven hundred and thirty-one diggs.

That's four thousand, seven hundred and thirty-one Niko Bellics, racing through traffic lights in a city encumbered by its own liberty.   read

9:22 PM on 07.05.2009

How Jim Sterling with monocle is blatantly better than Jim Sterling without said monocle.

Recently, there has been an ongoing debate of staggering importance, pitting rational, intelligent people in argument against complete gits. The former side, in its seemingly unending wisdom and sexual virility, plainly states that the greatest form of Destructoid Reviews Editor Jim Sterling is that sporting his trademarked monocle, while the festering imbeciles of the world are incoherently howling something to the effect of Jim Sterling without his monocle being superior.

If you are capable of even reading this sentence without filling the indentations of your keyboard with drool as the pleasant rattling sound chimes of yet another tooth falling from your rotten mouth to your nacho crumb- covered floor, you probably don't need me to tell you that monocled Jim Sterling is better in every conceivable way. Nonetheless, I am going to, because no point is truly inarguable until it has been published antagonistically on a moderately popular video game website.

1. Jim Sterling with monocle presumably has better vision than Sterling without:

Leaving aside all other aspects of the monocle for now, let's consider what must have been its original purpose: functionality. No, not as a function to shield the wearer's eyes from the facially naked bui doi that constantly invade his vision (though, yes, that is another of its functions), but to better aid the wearer in the elegant act of seeing things. In this way, Jim Sterling monocled (or, if you like, mono-clad, as this portmanteau seems to conjure up images of Sterling as a medieval knight, clad in an impenetrable armor of monocles) would have a significant edge on his non-monocled self in all manner of competition. Darts, fist fights, reading seeing eye charts, guiding blind people across the street, monocled Jim Sterling leaves his counterpart in the dust every time.

And indeed, why would any of this world's non-monocled proletariat even need satisfactory eyesight? So that they can better view their mud huts, their ugly wives and their half-aborted children? They should be practically be grateful for their blindness.

2. Monocled Jim Sterling has contributed far more to Destructoid:

Go and look at the Destructoid home page right now. Go on. Odds are, if today happens to be any day in the world, you'll find at least four news items whose headlines sit comfortably next to the familiar avatar of Jim Sterling, complete in body and soul with his monocle. This form of Sterling has contributed approximately one million articles to the website, whereas the un-monocled Sterling has done absolutely nothing, judging solely by avatar.

Jim Sterling with monocle's work for Destructoid is so prominent, in fact, that he has been admittedly targeted by former editor Robert Summa as the face of the site, thereby being on the receiving end of biting and embittered attacks such as being called a cockface, as well as his razor-sharp, crumpet-laden satirical British accent, so accurate that it has been said to fool even Sterling's own parents. Monocled Sterling endured these barbs and more as Destructoid's most prolific writer. Non-monocled Sterling sat cozily by, eating foul Albion crumpets and giggling smugly while his better half went through torture more befitting Mel Gibson's Christ.

Readers of Destructoid, ask yourself to whom you would rather swear allegiance: a warm, inviting man that lives his life in an unending effort to update you on the Left 4 Dead 2 boycott, or a smarmy, sniveling toad-man whose daily contribution to society extends no further than his morning wank.

3. Jim Sterling without monocle appears in this photograph with Sonic the Hedgehog:

Now, you may be thinking to yourself: "This picture is lovely! Surely this must be evidence of non-monocled Jim Sterling's social prowess and influential contacts in the gaming world. Oh, pardon me, I seem to have relieved myself all over my carpet and the smell of my waste is interfering with the careful aroma of stale beer and pubic stink that I've worked so hard to cultivate in my living space." Well, clean up and change yourself into your only other pair of trousers and then hear me out.

Yes, I'll concede that Jim Sterling, with monocle and without, has fawned over this tweaking blue rodent as much as any man could; and, considering this, one should assume that for monocled Sterling to have missed this opportunity, something even more extraordinary must have drawn him away. And so, to finally put this issue to bed, I can henceforth reveal that while bare-eyed Sterling posed girlishly with Sonic, monocled Sterling was using the hedgehog's vanity against him and, with the aid of the distraction, was in a hotel room at the ScrewAttack Gaming Convention, Bat Belting the excruciatingly gorgeous reptile (no furry), Rouge the Bat. So when you look at un-monocled Sterling and Sonic, grinning like plonkers, envision the glorious monocled Sterling plowing deep into Rouge, while Tails watches and cries. Such is the enviable promiscuity of Jim Sterling sporting the monocle.

And speaking of which:

4. I have reason to believe that monocled Sterling has already fucked Nicole Wiebe:

Recently at E3 2009, Steve Wiebe attempted once more to set the world record in Donkey Kong. In the ensuing press coverage, his wife Nicole came once again under public scruitny. However, to keen observes, there was something off about her. There was a deadness in her eyes that was not present in The King of Kong. This may have gone unnoticed to most as few people can recognize true despair. Some of us, though, enlightened to the ways of the world, know that look. It is the look of a woman who has been excavated by a team of seminal miners. Whose orifices have been left so gaping that a strong gust of wind is liable to turn her inside out. Who now lives life suffering constant tremors as her bones shake in fear for their safety.

Oh yeah. He's had it off with her. Non-monocled Sterling just doesn't know it yet.

5. The monocle's alumni far out-classies those of the lack thereof:

Let me throw a couple of names out at you: Colonel Mustard, Mr. Peanut, Rich Uncle Pennybags. Have you noticed a common theme yet? That's right. Classiness. If you are as mentally nimble as me, a tingle overtook your spine as you envisioned these three, and your mind's eye was suddenly graced with infinite images of splendor and luxury. The upper crustiest of the upper crust, like a two-layered pie whose higher layer looks down on the lower layer with a derisive snort and condescending remark on its filling (e.g., "Oh, blueberry? I'm sorry, I didn't realize we were baked in order to complement a meal of raw pig's innards.")

And what is at the core of this delectable feast for the imagination? The monocle. Truly, through its historic wearers, it has come to represent the very epitome of the elite, yet attractively humble, lifestyle. Or perhaps I'm mistaken, and it is actually the monocle's grace which draws only the superior to it. This glorious chicken and the egg conundrum is unfit to ever be solved by man.

Let's not also forget the virtue of exclusion. Did you know that in modern history there has not been one single reported instance of rape in which the victim described her assailant as wearing a monocle? And while we're at it, who in history has been the most public of all non-monocled figures? The answer should be as obvious to you as it is to me. Hitler. Makes you think about the kind of company the un-monocled must keep.

Note: Conducting a brief Google Image Search, it seems that Rich Uncle Pennybags does not wear a monocle after all. In lieu of retracting the kind words I've paid him in the preceding paragraphs, I shall instead give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he has left his monocle in the interest of selling his game and colored properties therein to an otherwise poverty-stricken crowd, who would have (and rightfully so) felt prohibitively intimidated if he had kept it.

By the by, does anyone else find the resemblance between Col. Mustard and Jim Sterling himself noticeable? I may as well use this space to propose that Mustard is, in fact, Jim's father. (Of course, it just as easily could be Professor Plum. With the rope.)

6. Jim's face demands it:

A bit of trivia from the beloved CBS sitcom Hogan's Heroes has it that actor Werner Klemperer used spirit gum to hold his monocle to his face while portraying the Luftwaffe officer Colonel Klink. Jim Sterling, however, need undertake no such effort. Look at the way his face grips his monocle with so much ferocity and vigor. It sinks into his skin as if it were trying to make the journey home into his very soul.

Well then, I think I have officially concluded my case. Let it be known that if you are one of the filthy mongrels who remains supportive of non-monocled Jim, it's probably because you don't even know what a monocle is or something, you idiot.

P.S. To anyone who has bothered to look here (or to anyone that I know who has humiliatingly found this by Googling my Internet name), I apologize if it is not very entertaining. I had intended it to be a free writing exercise to warm me up for writing something actual, and it got out of hand. I extend again my deepest apologies if you think it's utter shit.   read

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