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4:53 PM on 03.29.2009

Five Worst Places to Live in Video Games

To say that I love playing games is an understatement in the extreme, but as often as not, I also enjoy watching other people play games - it lets me relax and enjoy the story as a passenger rather than the driver. Since I'm not the player, I don't have to focus so hard on what's being done directly, which allows my mind to wander to the environments surrounding the character, those places and people you breeze by on your way to do Serious Business. With that in mind, I've come to realize that, quite simply, it would really suck to live in a lot of these places.

Every year, slow news days are populated with stories of the best and worst places to live, and for these games, it's hard to imagine anyone ever wanting to live there at all. The rules I set for devising my list are as follows:

1. The city or town must be a reasonably modern place that runs more or less parallel to the world as we find it today. That is to say, only accepting places to which, if they weren't in a game, you could feasibly pack up and ship off tomorrow.

2. No post-apocalyptic wastelands. If civilization is destroyed, clearly, the living situation is going to be... rough. It's taken for granted that it would be awful to live in the environs of Condemned or Fallout 3, because that's the nature of the setting itself. Which leads me to...

2a. No zombie wastelands, either. A city overrun (or overshuffled) by the living dead is borderline post-apocalyptic, anyway. Too easy. Finally...

3. It must be in a place where people - citizens and civilians - actually live. That means that as your character is walking, driving, skulking, running, or punching their way around the place, they pass other people who aren't in their situation, and whose dwellings and places of work exist as the setting. In other words, it has to be a place where other people who aren't directly a part of the story are living.

Without further ado, here's my nominees for the Five Worst Places to Live in Video Games:

Paradise City
(Burnout Paradise)

Most people's morning rituals are always the same. You slap the alarm into silence and roll out of bed, slump into the shower, and shuffle off to work, half-asleep as you get into your inexpensive two-door with a coffee in one hand and a cigarette in the other. Staring blearily over the steering wheel, you take a long sip and try to remember what needs to be done at the office that you meant to finish yesterday, when you're suddenly t-boned at an intersection by a tarted-up racer running a red light. Car spinning helplessly, you're forcefully shoved into parked cars until finally smashing headfirst into a construction barrier. The front of your car crumples into your lap, wheels making their escape down the street, and the car that smashed into you speeds away, bass thumping with the sounds of DJ Atomica's CrashFM. It's just another morning in Paradise City. You hope your boss will take "I was in an accident" as an acceptable excuse for being late. Again.

As a racer in Burnout Paradise, we tear asphalt at impossible speeds, leading to unfathomable crashes from which we always regenerate. And though we don't see the drivers, someone has to be behind the wheel of all those cars. So what about those peaceful little vehicles we pass, grinding into their sides and forcing them into neck-breaking accidents? What about the people who've parked their cars in neat parallel spots on safe side streets, into which we force other racers to crash during berserker bouts of road rage? Can you imagine being the driver of a car as a stunter who's horribly miscalculated their barrel roll drops top-down on you from one of the countless unworking train lines? CAN YOU IMAGINE THE INSURANCE RATES? And as you get in your pleasant little sedan, teeth gritting and knuckles white, you know - you just know - that you're going to be challenged by revvingmotors every time you stop at a red light intersection. All you wanted was to drive to catch a game at the Wildcats Stadium. Is that so much to ask?

Pacific City

It's hard to imagine a place with as slim a chance of survival as Pacific City, and yet the roads are full of cars and the sidewalks are full of people. Sure, they're always running in a terrified frenzy from the heavily armed Agents racing by with rocket launchers and belts full of grenades, but it's a surprisingly active populace considering how many civilians are consistently either caught in cross-fire or plowed into by moving vehicles. Considering that the city is ruled by three violent gangs with a special disregard for injuring passers-by, it would be easy to blame these deaths on Los Muertos or the Shai-Gen. In fact, the gangs are downright an annoyance. I know I certainly wouldn't want to hear endless shouts of "You bastard!" from beneath my window, since it seems the gangs only speak enough of any language to memorize around five catchphrases each. And god help you if you dared to shout for them to shut up.

But the bigger problem in Pacific City, surprisingly, isn't the gangs. No, it's the Agents and the Peacekeepers who are meant to be defending the very civilians they're squashing like so many interfering insects. Peacekeepers' vehicles appear to have been built without brakes - they stop by slamming into people's cars and trucks in the middle of the street. Agents regularly drive through and over civilian walkways to get to where they're going faster, leaving a spray of bodies sliding over their hoods and back onto the street. And how can someone be expected to walk or drive around their city when grenades are regularly tossed into the middle of crowds, followed by a barrage of bullets? It's no wonder the people are in a constant state of panic!

And hey, Agents? Climbing past windows in the dead of night, launching yourself off balconies, and running around all heavy-booted on the roofs of apartment complexes... that's just rude.

Every Town and City from Katamari
(Katamari Damacy, We Love Katamari, etc.)

For such a charming and adorable series, I can't think of any place I'd want to live less than the towns and cities of the Katamariverse. Sure, it's a place populated by the adorable - plenty of friendly animals walking around (from cats to bison!), stacks of delicious food lying everywhere for the taking, and funny people doing funny things. Did you see those acrobats stacked five-people high? How very droll!

DON'T BELIEVE THE LIE. Did you ever see that episode of "The Twilight Zone" where the aliens were only providing a feast so that they could fatten the humans up for their OWN feast? That's the truth of Katamariland. Every delightful plant, animal, fence post, food item, person, building material, skyscraper, and patch of earth is put there to be used, devoured and crushed together with inhuman force into an ever-ravenous clump of once-vibrant matter. The world is nothing but raw matter to be strip-mined over and over again. Who would be so cruel, and why?

The King of All Cosmos. Why? Because he got drunk. Oh, it certainly sounds poetic, all joining together to help bring out beloved sun back to brightness, but the poetry stops there. The simple fact is that some guy with an anklet and tights got wasted and trashed some stars, and his bright idea is to CRUSH ALL LIFE TOGETHER into one twitching, eldritch horror and BURN IT ALIVE.

No amount of free snacks are worth that.

(Jet Set Radio)

From a distance, life in Tokyo-to could be worse. It's a modern, hip city with lots of hills, a bright shiny shopping district, and a great radio station (shout-out to Professor K!). There's even a whole section of the town dedicated to the nightlife. So with so much style and so much to do, what's the problem?

Tokyo-to suffers from the same pitfalls as Pacific City - rival gangs, and the police sworn to defeat them. And yet somehow, it's even more annoying than being rocket-blasted while walking to work. Grade-school kids in neon raver clothing (come on, that's reason enough to stay away) regularly leap, grind, and shove their way past regularly citizens in their efforts to take each other down with cans of paint. It's not nice being shoved into a wall by some kid on skates, but it's even worse when they're flailingly wildly with a can of spray paint as they try to "tag" the person they're chasing. Graffiti wars can be expositions in art - headphones-wearing jerks with names like Gum and Tab stealing cans from the street and flying through the middle of traffic to fight other headphones-wearing jerks is another matter entirely.

Of course, things get worse when the police force come to the "rescue." Ostensibly, the Peacekeepers in Pacific City are trying to help - civilians just get in the way. In Tokyo-to, the police send out an APB as soon as even one kid is seen even considering to possibly skate around the corner and maybe pick up a can of paint. They storm in, headed by the facistic Captain Onishima, whose key role in the police force appears to be flailing and shouting wildly as the skater he's after runs circles around him. Once the police have been outrun, however, stomping uselessly back and forth while their target simply watches, they then resolve to... call in the SWAT. And tanks. AND HELICOPTERS WITH ROCKET LAUNCHERS. Explosions shake the streets of Tokyo-to and people scream and dive for cover, all because some kid sprayed "frosted butts" on the side of a sewage drain.

Your City
(Animal Crossing)

Certainly, the other cities I've listed are terrifying and lethal, but for sheer hair-pulling, madness-inducing irritation, you couldn't find a more annoying place to live than any of the user-generated towns in Animal Crossing. It's a peaceful place, undoubtedly - you don't risk being mauled by a passing vehicle or shot or crushed. You have your own home, plenty of neighbors, and all the fruit you can eat. But that's where the illusion starts to fall apart. Fruit is all you have to eat. You'd better hope someone brings you a peach to plant from the town over.

Since there's no job you have to hold (that's a plus, right? wrong) you get to spend all day goofing off. There's plenty of water, perhaps you'll go fishing! Except that every time you try, a neighbor rushes over and asks if you can please catch him an exceedingly rare fish, and you can see in his big goat eyes that if you don't, it will forever stain your burgeoning friendship. But it's situations like these that define your relationship with your neighbors - catch them a bug or they'll be sad, or come visit them at their home, standing awkwardly in their single room house for as long as you can stand, until you try to leave and they get upset that you're already going. Next thing you know, they're trying to give you their crappy old furniture when they've upgraded to something better, so you sigh and take it, silently reminding yourself to drop it off at the recycling later. Or they want you to write them letters. Or send presents. Or they're acting like skeevy junkies, trying to give you "special prices" on "this really rare wallpaper" that they "found" because it "reminded them of you." Or maybe instead, you decide, you'll go to the museum to check out the dinosaur bones. But no sooner do you come in the door than the agitated curator wiggles nervously and you're told that the exhibits are still under construction, and he's very sorry but the museum is empty, leaving it up to you to supply the museum yourself. Even the coffee is outrageously overpriced, and you have to take it with pigeon milk. You heard me. Pigeon milk.

And at the end of the day spent dancing through tangled webs of forced social pleasantries, you slump up your creaking stairs to lay down in your tiny bed, and you realize that you still owe 150,000 bells on your mortgage to a raccoon who only pays lowest price for the fish you work so hard to bring in. You'll just have to make it work, you tell yourself, forcing your eyes closed in an attempt to find sleep. Once you pay it off this time, that'll be the end of it. Right...?

So now I want to know, in what video game cities would YOU never want to live? And which ones would you move to in a heartbeat?   read

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