I long for the day when entire 4-block street lengths become dedicated avenues to appreciate, craft, play, and buy video games, much like like Philadelphia's Fabric Row is for textiles.
I long for the day when I can turn on some shitty AM radio station and listen to jerks call in about scandals in game competitions, or exclaim how Street Fighter players nowadays are nothing compared to the likes of Daigo Umehara.
Fabric Row, Philadelphia
I long for the day when "gamer" is no longer a taboo term - whether it's being snootily stomped on within the culture because, like the Insert Credit team has established, gamers are "players of video games" much like people who enjoys books are just people, not "bookers" - or whether it's used with derogatory connotations that evoke the stereotypes of the basement dweller and the CoD bro.
I long for the day when I can type something sappy and hopeful like this out and not feel a lick of shame or fear or potential debasement from my real life peers.
And I long for the day when video games are treated with the respect they deserve - with the passion and dedication given to every other art form around from every community - from corporations, individual developers, the media, the players themselves and non-participants alike.
Judging from the growing pains the film industry went through, we might have a decade or more to go before some of these ideals could be realized. Part of the trick is to not talk outta ya butt all the time and give non-gamers concrete examples as to why they should respect video games. It's a shitty thing to need to do this at all but the form is being tarnished day-in and day-out to the general public through the messages sent by braindead Facebook games, the cruel, mind-numbing bombardment of war simulation game advertisements they are witness to nearly everywhere and by poor associations the media creates in those who are ready to embrace the first opinion of games they hear.
Tell - or, better yet, show - the non-gamer people you care about games that are beyond what they perceive of the form on the surface. If nothing else, no matter how little they care, this will plant a seed that will at the very least garner trust and complacency with the medium simply because they trust you.
For example, I showed my 60-year-old Dad the jaw-dropping historical authenticity of Assassin's Creed III because he loves and appreciates Colonial-era America. I didn't kill anybody - I just skulked around Boston and listened to him comment on the various minute details he picked up on as I went.
It's much harder to convince folks that games aren't all bad using only words though - like my coworkers in the middle of our shifts. This method is necessary when hoping to get into any sort of exchange about my primary passion but it requires much more extreme and broad examples in order to properly send the message. The most clear and obvious example to use is Flower. It's easy to describe, easy to understand, and most importantly - it surprises them. No, you don't kill anything. Really! You control the goddamn wind and you make flowers bloom. Yeah, you heard me right bub.
I am the only "video game person" most of my coworkers know. They come to me when they see me after a couple of days off and relate to me stories of things that reminded them of me - video game and computer-related stuff. I'm that guy - and as much as my identity being put into a box feels stifling, I'm just fine with that. I feel elated and lucky that I've become the example of a gamer for at least a handful of people. However subtly, I've shifted their impressions of the medium through associating it with someone they like and can trust - me!
I think you should do the same, bub. Help undo the damage done by lamebrain corporations and misinformed media outlets - not in the name of trying to impress some faceless "mainstream" but by bringing more of the people we care about into our beautiful circle. Video games are a sorely misappropriated medium, and I think we can do much to positively influence our local cultures to respect them. If we just show the uninitiated the best parts of what we've been concentrating so intently on this whole time, then maybe they will learn to join us on the couch someday soon.
I am not a suitable fit for my occupation. As a barista, I'm supposed to care about conversation more than cleanliness or even coffee. It was a struggle to adapt to this sort of work having only one job prior, and even then I was only operating a cash register for a couple of months.
It's a neighborhood environment where friendliness is mega-encouraged, and yet the spark for me to care about such a thing has yet to ever really ignite. I've only ever dealt with drunks and blue collar suburban middle aged men before this. I had zero interest in their lives but plenty in the method by which I could swiftly and politely move them away from my life. That is, give them what they wanted so they would go away. Not the best customer service attitude to carry over into a situation that promotes the opposite, but I'm just not meant for that sort of thing. I just want dat $ until I find a better skin to wear.
However, I know what I like. And I like video games. I like 'em hard. What is usually stilted, awkward conversation between myself and people I either do not care for or simply have little interest in knowing, there are the occasional and rare beacons of GAMER NERD to gleefully converse with.
Now, depending on the situation outright labels can be damaging. They can further separate a wonderful thing that everyone should be able to enjoy into something intimidating, stigmatic, or even frightening. Being a flaming f*ggot for example. D*cks are great but gosh darn I betcha there are just a couple bros in the south who almost typed in "c*ck frot" into their local p*rn search bar but in their fearful haze recalled how overt 'fairies' and 'sissies' in their environment are treated and stopped themselves. Therefore I believe the 'gamer' label, as long as it's played cool and casual, is acceptable as shit. Pride is one thing, but as long as you can show the unfortunately sheltered, cringing masses that a gamer or a gay person can be just as much of a boring-as-hell and passionless "normal" as them, they may not be so quick to dismiss, or worse, decry it. It's a shitty world, brother.
I'll even reduce the title for the sake of this missive to just "gamer" simply because gamer nerds are hard enough to come by, let alone someone who regularly enjoys and feels no shame towards their playing of any sort of game, whether it's Madden, Angry Birds, or god damn Thomas Was Alone.
So these beacons, I mean people, are few and far between but gosh darn do I look out for them vehemently. Being a gamer is a large part of my identity. I revel and cherish the medium so wholeheartedly that I am bound to search out those in my local environment who feel the same way so that I can share my love with them and take in theirs.
My primary passion, as with most in my life, is one of unfortunately stout solitude. I can count on one hand the number of gamers, gay folks, furries, and anime nerds who existed in my life for a single year. Some years there were none at all.
So I saw an opportunity to reach out. I purchased gorgeously subtle shirts from Fangamer, and from there the effortless, endless conversation flowed. Customers of all types now banter with me about how I still have at least 20 more hours to go in Skyward Sword even though I'm 30 hours in already(!), how Scarecrow's segments in Arkham Asylum were probably the coolest damn parts of that game, and, astonishingly, how The Unfinished Swan and Hotline Miami exist and yes you should play both back-to-back.
These are the moments I've embraced as an and otherwise reserved, no bullshit, ultimately crappy coffee shop employee. They nourish my constantly waning faith in gaming as an all-inclusive medium and help me feel comfortable and welcome in a place I feel I otherwise do not belong in the long run.
Today I asked to exchange Xbox gamertags with a new found gamer customer and her husband. I gave her a hot cider with caramel and cinnamon and she gave me a receipt with two names written on the back: "Brian" and "Jess".
Years into my insatiable appreciation of hyper and intensely melodic chipmusic, I return to my origins and wonder why Concrete Man's stage from Mega Man 9 was so special to me - and what it meant for gameplay. (Originally posted here)
Mega Man 9's soundtrack was my first true introduction to chiptune purely as a form of recreational listening (as revealed by my Last.fm account on Apr 16th, 2009). The most advanced and newest gaming hardware I had owned by then was a Nintendo DS, so the existence of Mega Man 9 was far beyond my reach. I knew however that the Mega Man 2 soundtrack was something special to behold and I listened to it and the Sonic 2 soundtrack on occasion alongside scads of older brother-influenced grindcore, sludge, and metal.
The track is unstoppable. It's hyper and upbeat and speaks of an adventure full of action and risk and triumph. How inappropriate then that the level Concrete Jungle is background music for (Concrete Man's stage) is nearly incongruous. Just like I feel my late introduction to chipmusic instrumentation did not fit my musical mindset or gamer status in 2009, the flow and structure of Concrete Man's level in Mega Man 9 simply does not keep up with the flow and tempo of its music. Sure there are plenty of enemies and obstacles in the first segment, but the colors are muted, the risks flat and empty, and the design eventually devolves into a rehash of traditional Mega Man tropes, making the action predictable and a little silly. Somehow dodging the careening ball of a third, identical robo-circus elephant does not match the exhilaration I feel when the arcing crescendos of Concrete Jungle are hitting their peaks.
So this is game music with what I perceive is an intended narrative, but why is my perception skewed in that direction at all? What about the tempo and melody remind me of the thrill of action, whether virtual or real? I'll leave the nature of exhilaration in tunes like this to music theorists, but as someone who loves video games I want to proclaim that there is a reason why a track like this invigorates me so. Perhaps it is an unseen, instinctual part of my brain that connects the speed of the melodies to a meaning that speaks of danger, excitement, and thrill. It is in this fashion that Mega Man 9 advertises action that maybe it can't deliver all too well with such a limited range of designs and features utilizing faux NES hardware, but I say that's okay. The narrative is charming because it displaces power it otherwise cannot provide through other formats which leaves it is up to the player to conceive of the excitement that may not be truly felt without placing full investment into the events onscreen. This is the powerful result of creation within limited fields.
I did not like Mega Man 9's soundtrack when I downloaded it in full before I bought the game. No other tracks spoke to me as much as Concrete Jungle did, and I passed it off until I got my first next gen console in Sept 2010. Mega Man 9 and 10 were the first couple games I bought through XBLA and it was then that I learned my lesson. Without a guide of visuals, story, and especially promised thrill, the music of any action game is going to sound dull and lifeless. Thus upon purchasing Mega Man 9 and receiving the full and intended effect of its tunes as coupled with the action, I was thoroughly entranced and endlessly enthralled. But Concrete Man's stage only gave me a rush when I let it - speeding through enemy patterns after endless practice made me feel like a hero and the feeling finally approached the high water mark Concrete Jungle had set with its insistent and hyper melodies because I allowed myself to fill in the blanks that this particular stage left in my imagination. Blanks that are pining to reach the influence Concrete Jungle sets but can only do so with your complete allegiance.
Thanks to Mega Man 9 and Concrete Jungle, I am now forever hoping to experience that intense narrative and feeling of giving myself over to creative power in every new chiptune mp3 I download.
If you want to acknowledge Samus Aran of the Metroid series as the original and most badass female heroine in video games, RESPECT DAT ARMOR, not dat ass.
Zero Suit Samus is the worst idea Nintendo has ever had for a character “re”design, and such a blatant excuse to pander to hetero mouth-breathing stoner geeks who need to beat off to anything with a face. Don’t even get me started on what they did to our beloved hero in Metroid: Other M. Yick.
When you take away Samus’s opaque visor, her stoic silence, and her incredible shape-shifting ancient armor, you are taking away the point of all of it to begin with (besides the need to kick ass in hostile environments and being the last princess heir to a millennial-old race of bird people or something): gender anonymity. It sends a clear statement that “anyone can brave the depths of a ferocious alien planet and BAM! (takes her helmet off when you complete the game)…ESPECIALLY A WOMAN.”
Even Metroid Prime only references Samus's gender when she is at her most brutal: the reflection of her plainly female face in her visor when you blast something with a fully charged beam.
Every lady has a butt and breasts, but only Samus Aran has a perpetually life-saving, impossibly shape-shifting, unfathomably complex Chozo-enhanced Power Suit. So let's celebrate the latter, shall we?
Note: I am aware that the 8-bit renderings of Samus in a leotard at the end of the original Metroid can also be seen as hetero male chauvinism, but I chalk this decision more up to an inability to visually represent someone as a woman in the 8-bit era as opposed to revealing her half-nakedness in the name of showing off "eye candy" (considering the scarcity of detail and realism).
I explore playing retro-themed platformers as a means of enlightenment.
I never used to get headaches. Only the rarest ones would come and go throughout my childhood and teen years, usually only due to not eating or sleeping enough during a particular day. I could stay up night after night in the summer and sit four feet away from a bright-blue Final Fantasy inventory screen or THPS park editor and never feel a thing.
Several years later I find myself sitting in my dark bedroom wearing sunglasses to shield my retinas from the multicolor sheen of Super Mario Galaxy. Yeah, some lights were switched on right about then. Nowadays I can't last past three hours of gameplay without needing to pop an Ibuprofen. The health warnings were right and that's fine. I shouldn't play games all the time anyway.
The dedication we have to gaming can harm our bodies and minds. It is the only medium that requires skill, concentration, patience, hand-eye coordination, and potentially lengthy bouts of time to effectively enjoy. I take pride in these facts because they are the most clear and evident link we have to appreciating games as a respectable means of communicating new and rare ideas. These concepts help make them more tangible and real than any other art form around. We slowly kill ourselves to learn and perfect new systems in each title and it's this language of control that is, typically in the name of survival, our common toolset used to avoid near-constant cycles of virtual death. Dying is an inevitability in most video games and perhaps it is this common feature that steers certain individuals away from the gaming experience entirely. This is why I recommend games like Flower to cautious or easily-frustrated non-gamers. They can only live, they can only breathe, and they can begin to disintegrate the disingenuous falsehoods of games that their childhoods and the mass media are telling them they are. Some of us on the other hand prefer the classic pain of survival. Not in the face of an opponent but instead in the soul of our own inherent will to feel alive.
Fez tore my brain apart. Its multiple series of interwoven and complex cryptographic puzzles surprised me continuously with their intricacy and eventually had me scrawling nonsense upon sheets and sheets of graph paper like so many others in April. Your physical deaths as Gomez matter none as he instantly respawns from his last stable stance when you slam into a platform or fall into nothingness. The sound of a small, low electronic beep signals the event but other than that, there is little fanfare for the little guy's demise. Alas, Fez is about slow cerebral torture. A game about death by psychological demolition and expectant systematic failure. True death comes when your brain ceases to function no matter how hard you pull on your hair or how intently you stare at the spinning black monolith. Your natural limitations are measured with a percentage and a decimal: I am dead at 181.5 percent.
Super Meat Boy shredded my hands. I never truly died in SMB because, just as in Fez, there is little fanfare for your repeated demise. Herein lies the pain: the stubborn nature to complete increasingly difficult levels until my hands turned to frigid claws wrapped sorely around my 360 controller and my legs stung with the sensation of instinctively hitting them too many times when my temper would flare from inevitable missteps. Super Meat Boy is entirely about muscle memory and reflexes at this point as it requires a heaping helping of practice before even attempting later or Dark World levels. The individual designs are are so succinct and the control so precise that every micro-action is entirely yours to own up to as a player. Only after arriving at 100% completion did I realize I loved Super Meat Boy for it's heady level of challenge because it offered me a new and distinct feeling unlike anything I had felt before. Unlike Fez, that 100% did not represent death. In fact, death never came in Super Meat Boy. Instead I felt something close to the twists and bends that were required of my mind in Fez.
The torturous pain in dedicating oneself to completing a difficult video game was relatively new to me at the time and only now do I wish I had got to experience this rush sooner. After a while, during maybe the 100th attempt at a particularly sinister level in Super Meat Boy, or while musing on the same silent puzzle in Fez for the third hour in a row, my psyche would enter a state of purity. It was a numbness borne of repetition in the face of constant and potential failure, something we could perhaps call looking death in the eyes. The numbness turns you laser-guided, a being whose sole purpose is to survive as long as your body and mind will allow in the face of intense "virtual" adversity. Surviving not against death but through the ever-encroaching pain of failure at the hands of whatever beast designed such a path, whether cerebral or physical, and expected you to traverse it at all.
Challenge is repetition, repetition is failure, failure is pain, pain is numbness, numbness is purpose, purpose is survival, survival is life. There is no death, only a fear of dedication.
I would call my time with Fez and Super Meat Boy my only moments I had ever reached a state of zen while gaming. I believe video games, in all of their seemingly death, murder, and killing-obsessed glory, represent a new division in entertainment, blazing a killer neon path carved by ancients a quarter century or more ago. As interactive art and as a place to let go of your physical reality and develop an ardent and transcendent new purpose through ritual suicide and becoming a martyr for your avatar's insurmountable cause not in the name of victory, but in the acceptance of failure. Those who do not fear death and who truly understand the pain of second-by-second reflexive or mental dedication can reach a much more pure and pleasurable state of bliss with their time spent with such titles.
Modern games typically lack this ability because they do not pursue challenge as such, which is why I celebrate the design decisions laid out in Fez and Super Meat Boy wholeheartedly. Their primary traits harken back to a time I imagine most gamers were struck with a similar significant feeling of enlightenment and could share it collectively, as evidenced additionally by the reception of Mega Man 9. They perhaps understood then why video games are so special and why those who have not reached such a level could never relate.
Those headaches suddenly become a clarion call for your entrance into a focused and pristine posture. Because when the lights are finally flicked on, you are sobered enough to see that there was no beast in the darkness.
I rented Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit for the Xbox 360 because I like the Burnout series and the original series. I enjoyed over 20 hours of over-the-top racing and cop pursuit action, typically never dropping a car below 100 mph and having a blast doing it. Once I decided I had had my proverbial way with the game, I figured I would try some alternative methods of play over those I was accustomed to before I send it away.
I don't play online games. I find the experience taxing and full of pressure. Can't pause? Yeah, not for me. If some collection of the words "free" and "trial" are involved however, I am usually inclined to see what all the fuss is about for a brief few moments. This is after all where the cash and attention in gaming are being injected nowadays so let's just boot up Autolog and-SHUT UP FAGG*T F*CKING B*TCH F*CK EAT YOUR MOTHERS HORSE FAGG*T *SS T*TS BLEHHHHhhh
Ahem. Sure, I expected this. I've heard about it, been apart of it during rare moments of my gaming life, seen the Youtube. Typical bored American male, undersexed over hyped, testosterone-laden no real outlet for energy blah blah blah. Is this aggression inevitable though? I began to ask myself why the ultimate instinct for most online players with microphones and a wandering sense of Quick Play loyalty is to delve into fierce, name-calling competitiveness. The game certainly calls for intense rivalry, as it pits Racers against the ever ravenous and weapon-heavy Cops and is a great example of hyper, modern, adrenaline-laced gameplay. So I considered yet another alternative; how I might play Need for Speed if I was inclined to pay for the Xbox Live subscription, an EA online pass, and a microphone-headset for my system (pfffffftttt) and what it would mean considering the time I spent with the game on my lonesome.
The most important aspect of any game is the world in which the play takes place. NFS: Hot Pursuit's world is precisely attuned to what the player seeks from the promised objective: moving fast. Seacrest County is large and colorful, yet most of it is streamlined and sectioned off, and for good obstacle-less reason. The objective is delivered expertly and with pitch perfect grace, but the trade off is a world that feels empty and forgotten, when considered under a more logical, real world light. Roads never lead out of Seacrest; there is no bridge that is perpetually "under construction" to at least give a plausible in-game reason for such a secluded world to exist. There are no pedestrians, street lights, or wildlife. How does it operate? Does it exist for the racers' purpose alone? Is it all in their heads? Acting out a cops-and-robbers fantasy until the day they are knocked from their self-induced slumber?
But there are thunderstorms, the distinct chirping of unseen birds, an ever-cycling day and night rotation, and tall pine trees that sway in an unfed breeze. NFS is a conundrum because it is practical and concise as a game world but alluring and mysterious as a simulation of the outdoors, especially while exploring in Free Drive mode as opposed to entering into one of the main events to do your misaligned meandering, where you would be timed and pushed to accomplish a stated goal. I am surprised NFS even includes this mode as it offers none of aforementioned practical gameplay mechanics, it just exists so that you and your pretty race car may be.
At the heart of the environmental details are the graphics. The crisp HDMI renderings in NFS are probably the most tangible I've interacted with in my life. I'm sure it'll be topped by another big name triple A title that I'll never play soon, but as a reference point, this is it for me. With such polished games like NFS I often wonder how hard the developers worked on the engine as opposed to secretly whispering prayers to an unforeseen pagan god for nine months until scads of code erupt on their laptops that a pristine game environment can easily emerge from. Realism in video game graphics are not very "videogamey" to me so despite the obvious labors put into Criterion's creation, it still manages to baffle me to the point of whimsical doubt.
Let's return for a moment to that "hypothetical" online gaming version of myself. Stripped of my usual single player tropes and alignments, I wander the Incipisphere for players and matches to ruminate and snuggle all up inside. So cozy! There is friendly competition sure, but this time with the sincere undertone of appreciation for the game as a simulation and a complete realm. I communicate this to my opponents and happenstance teammates and attempt to appeal to their sense of humanity and earthly community for an unlikely moment. Just to revel in some common knowledge of the world and the achievements of our fellow men to replicate it. I get called a d*ck-s*cking fagg*t and am kicked almost immediately.
Is it because these environments have served as a backdrop to their own play so long that it no longer feels like a fresh and vibrant world? Or because what I suggest is less about continuing the urge to dwell in the sensationalist racing fantasy and more about well...life on Earth? I wonder how aggression, no matter how inconsequential and intangible, can translate from such a distinct sense of worth from the play and player. Criterion gave us a gift, a tool to be utilized however we wish. There is a narrative here sure but isn't it when we break these narratives that games become more of our own? Precious and memorable and more than just some measly flash of saccharin entertainment?
Most of my observations of Seacrest County came from exploring the world during Free Drive. Here, the day-to-night cycle continues endlessly and you can traverse all across the expansive map at your leisure. I took my Bugatti Veyron from shiny rain-slick roads in the deep forest to the snow-dusted curves of the highways in the mountains. I turned the soundtrack off and surprisingly found an ignition switch by pressing the left stick and listened to the birds chirp in relative quiet along the coast while the wind whistled across the desert miles away and a full moon followed its sequence in code to a T. I slunk through the dead of night, a field of satellites for a company that was created specifically to convince the player that Seacrest is real, and you can visit it like this someday too. Unauthorized access. I found endless 5-second loops in the driveways of houses that only served as shortcuts in the main races, slowed down and parked to them like a robo-couple in the robo 50's. As you do. Listen.
In trying to understand my alternative ilk, I found peace in a game that I would never have thought would ever provide a lick of it. Slowing down my car and catching up with the blurred textures allowed me connection with Seacrest County. I wanted to step out of my mega-tuned rocket car and just walk perpendicular to the perfectly realized road. In the silence, away from the din, and forward into the reality that digital interactive art will always contain, if you happen to look for it. It is in moments like these, perhaps, that the dredge of online masses could discover some solace and communal understanding in their thumping little aortas.
Or drifting around rain-slick highway bends at 150mph while being chased by scads of cops in race cars is just way more fun. There's always that.