['Bell, Game, and Candle' is a regular GameSetWatch-exclusive column by writer Alex Litel, discussing stuff that happens - or doesn't happen - in the game business. This time, he tells a horror tale of what happens when games become a socially accepted as an artistic medium.]

As you may have read, I recently traveled a few months to the future, but I did not really venture beyond the couch where I typically type my illustrious prose and MacBook Pro (which has the Time Travel widget I use for temporal exploits) I typically utilize to type my illustrious prose.

Going to a couch three months in the future is hardly time travel; it is more like hibernation for the lazy, asocial sorts.

And since this is a Mac, the widget was sadly only limited to two options— “Williamsburg” and “Silver Lake”—because people assume only hipsters use Macs (not true, shallow people verisimilar to hipsters like me and Bay Area residents use Macs too).

By the way, I chose “2019” because I was curious to see how accurate those predictions from the Superstruct are. And as a semi-Angeleno, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t interested in the accuracy of Blade Runner.

The process of time-travel is relatively simple: set the options, click “ok” on the widget and wait a few minutes (and don’t shut or disconnect or interrupt the computer, otherwise you might mess up your keyboard and get permanently stuck in the famed white room where Mark Mothersbaugh is on loop).

Yes, in the future you have to carry around the computer if you care to get back, but one does not have to keep the laptop open.

***

After a few minutes of ambulation, it is salient that the Silver Lake of 2019 is the same as that of a decade prior—no visible gentrification, same lampoonable facial hair, and same MacBook usage.

Okay, one exception to that “no visible gentrification” thing—this minuscule exemplar of bastard postmodernism that looked from the outside in like one of those sparse shops on Melrose that only has eight articles of clothing. And maybe one of those eight articles will be an awesome hat.

Upon closer inspection, I noticed an array of screens and some twentysomething hipster sitting on a Mr. Nilsson sofa appearing to play some portable gaming device. If that hunch proved true, I had the next “Bell, Game, and Candle” column by just talking to a guy about games.

“Pata-pata-pata-pontificate,” roared his sleek portable device that bore the lettering “two” on its backside. “We’re not indoctrinating; we’re just improving nations. No such thing as moral relativism; your appalling, archaic way of life is our much-needed cataclysm.”

He threw the device to the other side of the couch and leapt up. “Helloha there, I am Alex,” he said with a dash of excitement. “Your name happens to be?”

“Oh, my name is Alex Litel and I’m an extraordinary extraordinaire,” I muttered to dissociate myself from established hipster enthusiasm.

“That ironic,” he intoned visibly mindblown. “Alex Litel is that is my name, too.”

Christ fucking Jesus, it should have been obvious with his gymnastics and incongruous yet expensive style that that was me in the future, and likely fate trying to teach me some sort of lesson.

“I think you are me, “ I skittishly suggested. “In other words, we are the same person.”

Confused, future me inquired exactly how such a thing could be possible. So much for temporal technological improvement.

Although cognizant of how ridiculous it might sound, I did describe my situation.

Future me seemed concerned. “Wouldn’t that mess up time? Like the butterfly effect?”

“Do I see that movie in the future?” I asked with a tone that implied it was the most important question I could possibly conceive.

Future me denied such and explained some acquired dislike of Ashton Kutcher.

“What is this place?”

“An art gallery.”

“Oh, what happened with the whole writing thing?”

“I did not want to be amongst a litany of aeolists penning adoxography.”

“What about my Great American Novel?”

“Well, I realized it was too commercial and mannered; it was not myself.”

“Not even a peculiar screenplay?”

“Again, too commercial and mannered.”

“You settled for working at an art gallery?”

“No, this my art gallery.”

“You became an artist?”

“Yeah, I just did a painting one days—‘Steven Seagal in Cosby Sweater’—and it ended up selling for $2.4 million. I was inspired by The Neo-Pen & Pixel Aesthetic employed by Ubisoft in promotional materials for their Imagine series”

“What does that even mean? Who would pay for it? And that much?”

“Explaining yourself is for teenagers get home past curfew; proselytized coherence is nothing short of artistic extirpation. Some rich hipster.”

I wanted to be Thomas Pynchon or Donald Kaufman, but became Julian Schnabel; I turned from elaborate dilettante to deliberate elitist.

“There seems to be a lack of paintings or sculptures or traditional art stuff.”

“Yeah, I am in my game simulation phase—game simulations that can be played on devices like those you see throughout the gallery. Would you like a tour?”

“Sure.”

Tandem stations, one with a microphone and the other with headphones.

“Public Radio Station Pledge Drive Simulation” the caption read.

“You know public radio pledge drives, right?”

“Yeah.”

“You know how they incredibly irritating?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, I was driving around one day and my Morning Becomes Eclectic was being interrupted by this pledge drive—and the idea struck me to simulate the feeling that pledge drive incites in the average listener.

One player performs as the pledge driver and the other as the listener, but given the necessity of these for public radio funding, it is possible to do this and win depending on the player or if you are convincing enough.”

“What are the screens for?”

“One player reads the text off screen, you couldn’t really expect players to improvise this stuff, right? The text is culled from actual transcripts of public radio drives and the selected text is procedurally generated. For the second player, it is used as an input of whether the listener wants to contribute or switch the station.”

“What’s next—a crenellation simulation?”

“No and yes, I don’t have on display here, but Crenellate Me, Cornelius a collaboration between Keita Takahashi and Nintendo for WiiWare Next-Gen. I have it on the Wii in the back if you want to see.”

A fairly large flat-screen television and a few Pastil Chairs.

“Watching Hope Floats Simulation: Can You Believe Forest Whitaker Directed This?” the caption read.

“How is this a game or a simulation?”

“It is a both in their most absolute form—a competition for the willing—and you are really experiencing it.”

“So, you just sticking people in front of a TV and having them watch a movie? That’s not a game or a simulation.”

“That’s shoddy pedantry, this is absolutely a game simulation.”

“Well, have you completed it?”

“No, it is a very difficult challenge.

And I did not get a chance to explain my inspiration. I was looking through Forest Whitaker’s IMDb page and noticed that it claimed he directed this film, and the Litelbulb went off.”

“Litelbulb, really? Are you, like, encouraging people to mispronounce the last name? They have a hard enough time as it is.”

“No, you are injecting mutually exclusivity where the is none.”

Some sort of electronic glasses hooked up to a computer and a Wiimote.

“Andy Rooney Simulation,” the caption read.

“The guy at the end of 60 Minutes?”

“What other Andy Rooney is there?”

“So, I have always been impressed by his keen musings and I wondered what he would observe in various environments, so I collaborated with Ray Kurzweil to create an authentic digital recreation that shares his vocality and mental process.

You are inserted to an environment procedurally generated culled from Google Maps data, and you put on the glasses and things flash that Andy finds interesting and you point your Wiimote over them and collect them. At the end you get a Rooney commentary generated from your collecting.”

“I don’t think that is a game or simulation eith—nevermind, nevermind, but it is sad to hear he died.”

“Oh, he’s still alive, but he wouldn’t contribute to the game simulation.”

My experience of Andy Rooney at the Summer X-Games was fairly accurate, until he started going wonky and ranted on about LSD use in the 1970s.

A dimly-lit room with a stool and an electric acoustic guitar.

“Hope Sandoval Simulation,” the caption read.

“This one is based of the source code of Harmonix’s Soft Rock Band that they released into the public domain a few months ago.

It’s from the first-person perspective and you are playing your songs at the Hotel Cafe.”

“Sounds interesting.”

I played, and I noticed something unusual.

“Why can’t I win at this game?”

“That’s intentional, you cannot win because you—Hope Sandoval—make terrible music.”

“It’s music criticism under the guise of a music game mod?”

“I guess.”

As we walked out of the dimly-lit room, I noticed someone else walking into the gallery.

“Woah, Brendan Canning of Broken Social Scene.”

“That’s not him.”

“Oh, Chuck Klosterman.”

“What would Governor Klosterman be doing here?”

“Governor?”

“Yeah, of North Dakota.”

***

Future me greeted the man, “Yoloha, Mike Moose.”

“Well, who is that?” I demanded with all of the indignation of a commenter on a gaming blog.

Future me gave a reply that took a few minutes to parse, “Michael ‘Moot Moose’ McWhertor.”

“I’m Alex Litel from 2009,” I told Michael.

Michael greeted me and seemed not at all off-put to the ridiculous truth, as if a career of writing about games accustomed one to expect fantast in reality.

“So, are you still at Kotaku?” I inquired, despite an unimpeachable hunch that no one would stay on staff at a blog for ten years.

“No, I did not want to be amongst a litany of aeolists penning adoxography,” he said. “I am fashion designer full-time.”

“What is the last thing you played?” I asked in a reckless attempt to make small talk.

“The last thing I played was this seriously depressing game from Quantic Dream called Hurray, I am on the precipice of something lavish that is about this cube who travels ten years into the future and meets himself and discovers he becomes a sphere—the exact opposite of who he is,” Michael answered as if he were giving an embarrassed confession.

“That doesn’t sound like much of a game, or at least something that could sustain itself for very long,” I countered with listless cunning.

“But I only played the first twenty minutes,” Michael admitted.

The ending I intended

I got it.

“Have you ever thought of a ‘Huell Howser Simulation’?” I asked my future incarnation.

“I think that would be pretty awesome and a great idea,” I continued. “He would, like, be constantly amazed and constantly ask if he could get a shot of something.”

The ending of futility
Fuck, I should have just written some more fake press releases or some shit that is less time-intensive.

Like, super-duper-duper meta and canonical press releases.

The ending with an elephant

An elephant appeared out of nowhere and collapsed.

“I have to perform CPR on that elephant!” Michael urged, as if bureaucracy’s challenge was obscuring him.

He gallantly leaped to the fallen animal while somehow slowing down time in a manner that even Mitch Buchannon would envy.

The ending with pies

“What exactly is Michael doing here anyways?” I asked future me.

“We are conceiving the twenty-fifth issue of Pie Quarterly Review and preparing for the Eleventh Annual Pie Writing Symposium,” future me explained.

“Pie Quarterly Review?” I inquired in salient bewilderment.

“Yeah, a quarterly that critically dissects pies, the culture around them, the pastry press and whatnot; Michael serves as publisher and I am editor-in-chief,” future me clarified.

“Present Alex, any ideas for the issue?” asked Michael.

“Pie writing shouldn’t be about pies!” future me trumpeted.

I felt betrayed, and complained, “I thought you said that you didn’t doing writing anymore.”

“I never said that, you just inferred it,” future me admonished.

The ending of simultaneity

A large, gridded touchscreen.

“Tic-Tac-Toe Simulation,” the caption read.

“Isn’t that redundant?”

“No.

Once I was playing Tic-Tac-Toe against myself and I lost.”

“How do you lose against yourself at Tic-Tac-Toe?”

“It was a rather heated game.”

“Wouldn’t you have won the game too?”

“Yeah, this simulation is intended for one person, and to show them the experience of winning and losing at the same time.”

The ending of inevitability

This is the most pretentious thing I have ever read; it makes no sense. This hack defames GameSetWatch name and standard of quality with his self-indulgent garbage.

Posted by: George | January 9, 2009 2:58 PM

Absolutely awful, atrocious even.

Posted by: Steven | January 9, 2009 4:31 PM

[Alex Litel has posted a semi-deconstruction on his personal blog. He can be reached at alexlitel@gmail.com and occasionally found at alexlitel.blogspot.com. Also, the portrayal of Michael McWhertor in this column is in no way a reflection of the author's feelings toward Michael McWhertor.]