August 7, 2008 8:00 AM |
['Chewing Pixels' is a regular GameSetWatch column written by British games journalist and producer, Simon Parkin. Here's a story about games led him to and from vice city.]
One, two, three, four fingers uncurl. I don’t see them because I’m past her window by now, but I hear them in the reaction of the beery men stood around.
“400 Euros?!" “She must be kidding”, “F***ing princess”, “She’d be lucky to get 40”
Albert Camus described Amsterdam’s concentric canals as being like the circles of hell, the crimes becoming denser and darker the more you progress through them. If that’s true then this girl’s huge 1st floor window advertising space stands at the fiery epicentre. She leans in, back arched, hand on knee, lingerie-clad hind in the air, eyes masked heavy with makeup and affected lust; four fingers uncurled.
These brutes, these heavy louts, are as much her tormentors as prospective lovers. They mask their disappointment at her prohibitive cost with loud, retorting undervaluations.
Prostitution, at least, of the kind offered in Amsterdam, is a game whose stakes include, perhaps more than anything else, self-esteem. It’s legal here so sellers can refuse clients in relative safety. Prices are adjusted on the fly: raised sky-high for the repulsive, kept reasonable for the reasonable.
So when a group of boorish British men are quoted 400 Euros for twenty minutes funtime it’s as much an attack on their self-esteem as their consequent rejection of the offer is on hers.
“She will only sell herself to me for how much?”
“He wouldn't even pay that?”
Halo 3. It’s a press trip and I'm here to play Halo 3, not sex tourist. I have wife and child and my desire to keep everyone happy in those roles mercifully outweighs any baser instincts right now. But go sightseeing in Amsterdam and these are the sights you'll inevitably see.
These are certainly the sights most of the assorted lifestyle press, here to write up a game they've at most a passing interest in, are here to see. Not that there's necessarily much to see that is. The event finishes early evening and everyone is shepherded out into the arms of the city.
Girls stand in shop windows in underwear and red light. It's sleazy but they appear as little more than animated mannequins, the likes of which stand in the most respectable department store window modeling knickers and supportive bras to all. It's not such a tortured analogy: both sell sex, one to middle age women on their way home from the weekly shop, the other to middle age men running away from whatever. But, of course, there's much more if you've eyes to see.
Without drugs or alcohol to soften the mind's focus, humanity and ruin spills from every crack. They try to keep it hidden because if you, just for a second, see one of these girls as a sister or a daughter, or catch a whiff of the desperation that has nine times out of ten brought them here, you'll want to sleep alone tonight.
But look and the clues are all around: the peeling wallpaper framing her figure, the half-eaten Chinese takeaway under her chair, the light on her thighs cast from a television set nestled and hidden between her feet, distraction for when she tires of fluttering endless promises to passers by. Occasionally a man will barter with a girl, convincing her to accept a lower price. The assembled crowd, caught up in the to-ing and fro-ing, will whoop and cheer as he enters the room and the curtains draw shut. But it's the quieter dalliances that haunt.
A girl opens her door a crack as a dark figure sidles up: she hand him a clutch of something, notes probably, and he recoils back to his watch-point. A coercive boyfriend, perhaps? A loan shark or a dealer; who knows, who cares? Another girl bursts from her room to scream bloody murder at two teenage boys loitering by a nearby trashcan. They've been taking camera phone pictures, she accuses, transformed from lithe siren to hissing, fizzing banshee. Truths behind the makeup. Truths behind the makeup.
At the end of my short walk there's a church. I'm sure, I hope, that its congregation work tirelessly to help those of their neighbours who are in need. But as a piece of raw architecture this church stands dark, tall and uninviting, peering down on the red glow, lusts and regrets from which it rises. It towers, an unlit, disapproving father figure, more cold, stony judgment seat than hospital for the soul.
I trace around its borders and start back to the hotel. These nether streets, tendrils from the scarlet epicentre, are where the niche hookers work: those of uncommon ethnicity, weight or looks. Those I look at beckon me, or stare back, but mostly I look at the pavement.
Then a glance into a final room: the last window in this confused voyeuristic tour that has been one part faint titillation, five parts deep melancholy.
She's eighteen, porcelain and God knows what horror stole her and sat her down on that chair. And in her petite, cross-legged lap, rests a DS. What game she's playing I've no idea: Tetris as a way to clean up the mess? Animal Crossing for the warm home and the sofa and the weeds that you can pull up? Advance Wars for the reliable rules, constant and dependable parameters rarely found in reality. Hmm. Probably she's just playing a game she really likes and there's no poetic significance for a sentimental writer to heavy-handedly wring from her choice.
Maybe she's happy and doesn't need saving. Maybe nothing broke her and she just really likes having sex for money and that is her contribution and she's thankful she can make that contribution in a place that offers some sort of safety and protection. I don't know. But just as nobody sets out wanting to make a bad game - stuff happens, choices are made or made for you and then that's where you end up - so I don't think any little girl sets out wanting to sell herself like this.
And she looks up slow, all stretched eyelashes and smiles, into the deep focus shadows outside at another prospective client.
And he looks back at her, and sees a sister.
Categories: Column: Chewing Pixels