December 21, 2008 8:00 AM |
['Chewing Pixels' is a regular GameSetWatch-exclusive column written by British games journalist and producer, Simon Parkin.]
“Wow. This is excellent wine.”
She is exactly right. This is excellent wine.
In fact, that’s not the half of it. This is an excellent restaurant. The excellent food we are about to order will have been cooked from excellent ingredients by an excellent chef and we’ll eat it to the soundtrack of an excellent jazz trio (whose standards we’ll pretend to know by name).
The waiters, perfectly poised between attentiveness and professional detachment will provide us with excellent service. The loud bits of conversation that float over from our neighbours’ tables will be spoken by an excellent clientele, one that brims with that cozy warmth that comes from relaxing in excellent surroundings.
Outside it is cold and slush, a city returning home from a day’s Christmas shopping, shivering and spent in service to capitalism. But inside, here at this table, in this glass, all is peace and excellence.
I am the unknown quantity, the dark spot on the otherwise blemishless potential of the evening. Still, my hope is that, even if my performance is only satisfactory, the excellence of everything else will make this an excellent date nonetheless. This will be an excellent first date, I tell myself again. This will be an excellent first date.
“Yes. It is rather good, isn’t it?”
“So, where did you hear about this place?”
“Oh, er. A friend recommended it to me. Said they do an excellent tuna steak. Um, I mean, I don’t know if you eat fish but…”
“Yes! Fish. Lovely”.
She smiles for a beat, then her gaze retreats into the menu, lips parting as her head bows. Oof. She’s done this before.
We’ve both done this before. This is excellent wine.
“So, I think this is going pretty well...” I remark. We both laugh a bit.
“Yeah. You’re doing good. So, tell me a bit about yourself. Your advert said you like music and films and that you’re friendly, et cetera. All the usual stuff. Not much to go on though. I mean, who doesn’t like films and music? Also, nobody’s going to advertise themselves as a grumpy serial killer with a terrible sense of humour, right?”
“I guess not and you’re right: I don’t know why I wrote that. Blanket tastes are so dull. Like, when you ask someone what music they’re into and they say: ‘Oh, you know, a little of everything!’. I hate that. Saying that you like a little of everything is the same as saying you love nothing at all. I think you have to hate something if you’re to love something else. When it comes to music and films, at least. Possibly ex-girlfriends, too."
Her eyes twinkle with an agreement that goes beyond mere politeness. She is beautiful. Also: phew. Risk reward and all that.
Then she asks: “So other than dismissing people who don’t polarize their tastes, what‘s your hobby? What do you do to relax?”
Oh God. The question.
I can’t tell her. I won’t blow it all again for the sake of Pacman. Sure, playing games for a living and a pastime makes you a hero to every twelve-year-old boy, but the flipside is harrowing, all encompassing disdain from society at large.
The confused looks at dinner parties, the conversations cut short, the parting shot glances of pity. Not here, not now.
Sure it won’t be like this forever, but at this moment in history, saying you review games is like saying you critique Enid Blyton for a living. You are the boy who never grew up, the man-child who plays with himself (or worse still, with strangers, over the Internet) and for a woman that picture’s never going to be anything but a deeply, deeply unattractive one.
Her mind will race to the future, to when we’re married and she sits neglected, night after night, knitting on the sofa while her husband hunches cross-legged on the floor, barking orders into a headmic. Oh God. There’s me in a headmic. I am wearing a headmic and I am talking to teenagers over the Internet.
Then, the horror of the image fully digested, her mind will race back to the present and she will run far, far away and never look back.
But wait. What if I took the offensive here and, instead of mumbling apologetically into my soup about Mario and Master Chief, stood ground, raised my game and went for a conversion? Games are more than endorphins for tiny victories, right? There’s more to gaming than endless faithful model replicas of AK-47s and racing cars, surely. Where’s my ambition?
OK, let’s see. I need an argument, a pitch, a sell. Survival horror teaches us about how to cope with a scarcity of resources. Yes. That’s good. The Resident Evil series is basically an allegory for our inevitable dystopian future. Mhmm. The zombies represent nuclear meltdown and the intermittent SMG rounds and health packs are our food and clothing.
Hmm. Too much ambition, perhaps. What about MMOs? These giant social experiments teach us on a microcosmic level about our macro characteristics and challenges; they reveal the transient nature of society and the power of community via the medium of strangers coming together to beat on a swamp rat…
Er, what about Desktop Tower Defense, a game that teaches us how to simultaneously juggle the demands of the present and the future? Or Braid, whose four-dimensional puzzles are something that could only have been constructed and presented in a videogame. Surely there’s some merit in uniqueness.
Oh gosh. I am a terrible gaming evangelist. Every time I think I’m onto something my mind’s invaded by Marcus Fenix and his sweaty, homoerotic pecs, by Cloud and his implausible sword and cod-philosophy and, most poignantly, by me, in my pajamas aged nine playing Tetris on the toilet and by me, in my pajamas aged twenty-nine, playing Tetris on the toilet.
Who are we kidding? There's not one Schindler's List amongst our eight thousand Pearl Harbours. We’ve nothing of worth. Even if we do have something to say to the world, I’m not sure we’ve come close to articulating yet.
The band strikes up a melancholy carol.
She’s looking up expectantly.
Now I don't know what to say.
All is calm.
“Um. I like to play video games”.
“No way! Me too.”
All is bright.
Categories: Column: Chewing Pixels