Archive for January, 2012

Big Budget Hallucinogens and the illuminated shooting optics of Iraq

Forgive me my few faithful readers… (apparently I do actually have readers now! Wow… an improvement), but my life as of late has been a battle with the old colonial master nicotine and the PC. Two addictions equally compelling, these mass hallucinogens are administered via Steam an equally virtual market place that occasionally dips into the absurdity of the marketplace by pricing good by popularity and less by production costs. Rage, a once mighty 59.99 USD game could be had over the holidays for a meager 6.99 as could L.A. Noire. I am having trouble writing because I haven’t smoked in two weeks and a sudden rush of nicotine today has taken my breath and attention away. It’s funny to realize how much the nicotine cloud takes away from your daily self. The other day I read about a tribe in India previously uncontacted, now they’re being sold tobacco for dances.

Anyway some thoughts on the blockbuster drugs on hard drive:

Skyrim is the latest open world game to conform to our expectations of a video game. It’s narrative is deep, I counted at least 4 fantasy novels contained with in and ones actions determine what’s leveled up in the game, hence if you punch a lot like Robbaz you end up an unarmed badass, If you go to the mage’s college like me you end up with high level destruction spells and invisibility. Skyrim’s major flaw, in my eyes, might be it’s realism. My husband for instance runs everyday from my home in Whiterun to his work south of Windhelm a distance several days in the making in game time, hence he is rarely home. The game is full of wholes that make the fiction less convincing, and writing that can be at times pathetic, but what it excels at around level 20 is a sense of genuine empowerment. Your dragonborn becomes a kinda god, able to take out dragons in a few bounds, cast spells in some cases infinitely and other acts of remarkable… questing. This is what Skyrim really is, an ego trip. The mechanics aren’t really that fun, Fable and the up coming Kingdoms of Amalur appear to be working towards a more satisfying sense of combat. The Assassin’s Creed games have made traversing a city into a virtual parkour.Yet, the game eventually takes you in, and you buy it. You obey allegiances to military fronts, make deals with devils and werewolves, and the variety of spells and means of taking people down are varied, in one city I have an eternal bounty on my head due to a glitch, so I simply leveled up frenzy and make the guards fight themselves instead of me and then I go about town. What the game excels at is the idea of shaping yourself, you becomes a fully centric being full of capability, but from most of the videos I’ve seen the the daedric armour and heavy weapons seem to be the norm. At one point I googled about domesticating animals and found a forum of women playing through the game, but my little khajit mage and her argonian husband appear to be abnormalities in the geography of Skyrim’s possibilities (the game does try to power down mages apparently). Anyway, it’s a full trip and I’m grinding a few more levels before I don a wedding dress and wreath, enchant them up to their full potential and ride the back of a dragon to the final battle. All of which sounds exciting, but by this point it seems inane.

Saint’s Row the Third is another open world game which I actually snagged here in Thailand and then registered on steam. The above video about gets the possibility of the game. Saint’s Row the third isn’t about becoming the way Skyrim is, rather it’s about lugging bullets in a comic world. I think it’s funny at times, but over all kinda bland in terms of gameplay. Again Robbaz proves his worth as a gamer Big Barbara rules.

Prom Week
Prom Week is a small little flash game made by folks at a university in California. It is a dating sim… kinda. You click on one character to make them the active conversationalist and then you click on another character to make them the recipient. Now, the above two games were made with multi-million dollar budgets, took years and huge staffs to make, but Prom Week nailed in one sitting what all those games lack: manipulation. In Prom Week you have a set goal, such as getting someone to go out with you. In the tutorial this is quite easy, but in the free form mode it’s quite hard. In the first game you simply click on the favoured boy and flirt with him, he flirts back and mission accomplished. You have a set amount of time to wonder through dialogue bubbles and find the right words of the job, it actually bears a similarity with Skyrim in this regard, in one mission in Skyrim for instance I had to convince a monk to come back to a cave with me so my guests could eat him. I failed to persuade him so in the end I had to bribe him. Prom Week takes this basic idea to a higher level. You see you can click on anyone and get them to talk to anyone else. Hence if you make friends with person A then person A might be able to help patch things up with person B. You could never have healed such a social wound on your own. But hey that’s not what makes Prom Week great, it’s this: it makes simple social interaction into a slightly tense and engaging war. Getting folks to do what you want is hard, but where Skyrim and Saint’s Row the Third rarely make an emotional impact, I really wanted to make peace with my estranged friend and save my boyfriend some drama on prom night. The game in other words realizes that simple decisions and petty rivalries are perfectly suitable plot devices. Not once in Skyrim did the orb threatening the mage’s college make me rush to do anything, in fact the absence of a timer for missions in Skyrim can lead to absurd situations such as completing a totally different quest line while another quest’s apocalypse looms. Prom Week (granted I’ve only played one story and a free form game) is a much more open game with situations you actually might care about. If it can be used a model for future open world games, we might see some progress.

This one actually kinda took me by surprise, the introduction to Rage is awful. The voice acting, even the graphics, seem sub par. John Goodman is quite nice as the local sheriff, but the story begins implausibly. Here’s the thing though, the game is actually ok after awhile. It hasn’t grown on me the way Skyrim has, but for a teenage apocalyptic fantasy full of beer and auto parts it has some charms.

I hate to say this, but I don’t have anything deep to say about these games, and that might be the lesson about these games. The spectacle of gaming is our society’s sistine chapel. We are slowly building towards a realism in computer graphics that will startle the mind with its possibilities, but if I can draw anything from these games its that perspective isn’t important for these folks (prom week is an exception to this). These aren’t game of consideration, but rather of action. No Hamlets all Fortenbras. At that’s what makes this last game all the more disturbing.

Battlefield 3 is the winner of this year’s movement forward in graphics. The game constructs a body directly out of Cronenburg. Our protagonist has eyes full of lens flare and dirt clogs. His vision is news footage eyes, youtube queries, Iranian protest videos compacted into phones and tweeted, these are the eyes of warfare, at least how we depict it today: subvert and a delivered behind the backs of Government regulations. He has illicit camera eyes as if the video drome replaced his eyes with the cam corders of war correspondents. Horror films are made from such troupes, yet we never see this abonimation, instead his remarkably beautiful eyes are the windows into a game which keeps the enemy at sniper scope, you almost never come upon the enemy hand on hand, you never hear about the children in the Iranian school you storm neither does the game provide much information about their lives. These are Iraqis in Storm Trooper gear, we never even get to see their smiles. Field after field of middle eastern soldiers flood your vision and you gun them down in unrivaled fashion while the spectacle of having filmic vision seduces the eye. Imagine for a second if you had a machine that made arguments into flesh, now imagine the politics of Bush era America dipped in chrome and slightly photo shopped, that’s what Battlefield 3 is. The game makes a compelling case for war fare in the middle east through some clever optics and a means of making soldiers into storm troopers. Going to war is fucking cool in this game, and even though it tries to subvert the authorities behind this madness through some terrorist subplots and dick investigators it still compels in the idea of violence as a right of a man.

War was in the 1960s an old instrument with honorable intentions. We fought the Nazis, ya know a good old fashioned war. Battlefield 3 is the future of military progoganda, not because it justifies war, but because it justifies the culture of the military and dips the war machine in nanomites and other hardware. Conflict is a natural extension of technology in this game. It lingers on the peripheries, we realize that conflict is a deep seated fantasy, one that we actively seek, but the problem with this game is the way it links it to the contemporary. It is such a fine veil between Iraq and Iran in this game that the game ends up making a case for Iraq as war dream as a fantasy necessary and unavoidable.

One of the developers for Harmonix has recently commented on the absence of political messages in video games. Hollywood is full of agendas, gay marriage, racial inclusion, environmental concerns, but games are for the most part the last respite for politics that would not pass elsewhere. Would Collette, the flustered and aggravated mage of restoration make it in a hollywood film? No, her role is riveted with sexisms and bigotries. Would Bulletstorm’s excessive potty mouthed juvenilisms touch down on a global scale? No, the company knows its audience and that is primarily males ranging from 16 to 40. These games are in many ways gendered, and in that exclusion they allow for republican throw downs, misogynist readings, and other matters not suitable for prime time. Even the extremity of their violence is a hallmark of the lack of regulation on them.

Tobacco is one of the world’s most addictive drugs. It didn’t start out that way. Tobacco 200 years ago didn’t contain enough nicotine to make it dependent (over 4mg is required in a small number of doses). But the drug was never regulated, it has uses. It’s easy to store, easy to transport, and once introduced into a native population it acts as a kinda crowd control. We don’t experience nicotine as a drug, it’s not thought of in the same terms as cocaine or morphine, even though the later substances are less addictive. The major problem is that it is an outlet that (and I am a major addict) find it hard to imagine the world with out. Nicotine is a necessary manifestation of the death drive, it allows us to kill ourselves slowly and with self-loathing to boot. Video Games obviously contain moral messages that go beyond the norm of what is acceptable in any other medium even pornography. But when introduced to the public, they allow for a private expression of politics and emotions that are rarely let out. While some of this might be healthy (I do believe we need an outlet for rage… just not maybe the game rage…) this little sewer in which we’re allowed to piss all the unspeakables of politics is becoming a tad to wide, and video game publishers could do with a little liberalism in there games. After all Dubois is as close as we’ve gotten to a transgender character although Cicero in Skyrim is another example too:

but what I see in video games is a primarily an expression of either Japanese or American patriarchal conservative values. Contrary to what that developer from Harmonix might say, games have plenty of politics in them, it’s just that they preach the same biases that make up the everyday, it’s perhaps due to the immersion the form provides that we don’t demand of games the same cleverness and depth of investigation found in other art forms. Games are a sewer of the right wing, and like nicotine they provide certain authorities with power, the same ones that refuse to regulate them.

p.s. loved Deep Far back in the day, especially the mutant cow… and Dubois. BTW Dubois is actually a better effeminate “male” than Cicero is.

January 16, 2012 at 2:22 pm Leave a comment


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