I guess I can’t really complain though, being part of the same species and all. Being human does have its merits. It’s not all gloom and war, there are some real positives to it too. Being able to cook meat before devouring it is a major bonus. Couple that with a variety of readily available man-made sauces and you’re really in humans-are-great territory. Then there’s Star Wars. I’ve yet to see another species produce anything even nearly as entertaining as Star Wars. Regardless of how many Youtube Lol Cats step up to the challenge, they’re just not pulling it off. Of course, then there’s one of my personal favourites; opposable thumbs. With these mighty man-thumbs of mine, I love indulging in a little something known as video games. What are video games, you ask? Well they are a fantastic way to avoid other humans.
When I started gaming first, I did so on a tiny Gameboy screen. There was very little in the way of multiplayer offerings on the menu back then, and those that were present not only called for a secondary player, but they also demanded a second console and cartridge in order to play them. So from an early age, I got a taste for doing things alone. I became somewhat independent with my gaming mannerisms. I couldn’t just call over my big brother to help me pass a tough stage, there was no drop-in/drop-on system where I could text a friend and ask him to instantaneously jump online and give me a hand to demolish a boss. Hell, there wasn’t even such a thing as a text message. No, there was me and the pixelated colourless Gameboy creature that was using my sprite as a form of food, without even cooking it first. That feeling though, that feeling of me verses the world has always stuck with me. It’s embedded in my psyche so deeply that it will never truly change. Through the years as systems upgraded and fantastic new games hit the shelves; I’d constantly find myself drawn to one where I could spend some time on my own.
Through my time with these games, I discovered other worlds so incredible, so vibrant, and so filled with well structured polygons, that they blew my mind. More to the point, they played their part in allowing me to indulge in over the top fantasies and amazing stories while locking the real world outside my door. From performing stunts with incredible agility as Rikimaru in Tenchu: Stealth Assassins to taking control of a humanoid fox and piloting a heavily armed Arwing to defeat an evil telekinetic monkey in Starwing/ Star Fox, it was quite simply the perfect pass time.
These worlds ignited the same passion in me that well written books or incredible movies do with others. I could spend hours inside them, often just walking around, absorbing the atmosphere and breathing in their bizarre cultures. Just look at Bioshock Infinite, for example. A game that revels in the reality of its own universe. It begins by taking its sweet time, walking the player through its streets and familiarizing them with its beautiful scenery and breath taking visuals. Slowly, I strolled along listening to conversations from passersby and getting glimpses into their lives. The whispers on the wind, the sun beating down on the aerial city from above, the hustle and bustle of the townspeople around me; it was all intoxicating. It genuinely felt like Bioshock: Infinite’s world was alive. I could almost feel the fresh breeze wafting through my underground, pizza stained man-cave. Of course, this atmospheric leisurely experience is short lived. This being a video game, things go south quite quickly, and when you’re standing on a city that floats miles above the earth, there’s a shit load of south to go!
Not all of my favourite single player experiences take place in gorgeous, sun soaked worlds lie this one though. Others bring with them some of the darkest settings imaginable. I always thought I was well adjusted to the horrors of video games. I thought that at this stage, years after my initial run ins with the likes of Doom, Resident Evil and SplatterHouse, that I’d seen it all. I was hardened to their gruesome exteriors and blood soaked gameplay to a point where I thought I was fucking bullet proof! That was, of course, until I Dante’s Inferno put me firmly back into my place.
Sometimes, escaping the hustle and bustle of day to day human life via video games leads you to inexplicably horrible places, even worse than your mother’s basement. Dante’s Inferno is one such place. I still remember my initial reactions to this game. I started by thinking it was trying too hard to be God of War, a series that I already had a deep love for. Beginning by pitting you against an army of men and sporting a carbon copy of Kratos’ control scheme, I scoffed at Dante’s Inferno’s efforts to impress me. Then, as if in retaliation to my underwhelmed expressions, it cast me into one of the most shocking and memorizing worlds I’ve ever encountered. A world so disturbing that I’m still unsure, six years later, whether or not I actually wanted to witness the things I saw therein.
Of course, that was just the backgrounds. Sliding down pillars constructed of living bodies grated to one another while listening to their screams is one thing, but shit got really messed up when I actually found myself fighting enemies. The twisted, contorted bodies of women scrambled across the floors, bent backwards on all fours and attacked me with unsightly tentacles, extruding from their vaginas. Swarms of dead babies would charge at me and have to be put down once and for all. Enormous, bloated creatures spent time devouring other enemies around them, in order to puke and shit their remains at me. It was completely appalling, yet absolutely incredible. The constant feeling of disgust was fascinating, and it didn’t let up. From the tutorial stage all the way through to the final battle with Satan’s three foot long shlong; Dante’s Inferno produced a frighteningly believable universe that was as disturbing as it was entertaining.
The thing with video games is that they’re all stories, they’re all art, and therefore the worlds held within are as varied and unique as the imaginations of those who created them. The thing that really separates them from other forms of media though, is just how you can enjoy them. I like to watch some of my favourite TV shows, for example, and wonder what it would be like to live in their realms. Regardless of whether or not there may be masses of humans already residing there. I’m intrigued about the comings and goings of their existence, their day to day lives, the things that happen off screen between each week’s episode. With video games though, I live alongside these characters. They only exist when I turn on my console, and when I do we live, breath and fight together. Sometimes I step back in awe at the sheer magnitude of the universes that I involve myself in. Just look at the scale of the Mass Effect games; countless worlds and species to encounter, and fuck all of them are human. An entire galaxy’s worth of different civilizations co-existing. I didn’t feel like a player in these games. It wasn’t as if I was constantly aware that I was controlling a walking pile of polygons around the screen. No, I wasn’t the obvious star of the show here. Instead, I was just one ruggedly handsome guy with an amazingly well chiselled jaw doing his part for the universe.
Back on Earth I got a similar feeling from Sleeping Dogs. This “I’m-Not-A-True-Crime-Game-Anymore” True Crime game, dropped me into the beating heart of downtown Hong Kong. I strolled through a busy market place, watching traders selling their goods and passersby stopping off and viewing what was on offer. There were stall owners and energy drink promoters calling out for my attention as I wandered through the area, inhaling the thick, realistic atmosphere.
Real life is just outside my door. Don’t get me wrong, I love it out there. My friends, my family, my career, they all rest just beyond these walls. I love them and I have a blast every time I see them. There’s nothing quite like indulging in some one on one in my favourite fighting games, meeting up each week to battle it out and show off new strategies in multiplayer RPGs or just firing up Left 4 Dead and enjoying a hyper violent zombie apocalypse together with some of the best humans I know. These are some of the fantastic moments that make games what they are. However, It’s great to have the option to do things alone too. As we step out of the first true age of online console gaming where everything from Sim City to Tomb Raider injected an unwanted multiplayer option into its game, I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed single player experiences quite as much as I do now. There’s something deep inside me, something that’s been there since I held that grey electronic box in my hands, that yearned to just be left alone in these universes. Whether I’m floating majestically through the bizarre world of Alice: Madness Returns, traversing the beautiful scenery of Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, or simply wandering around the vast and lonely planes of Red Dead Redemption, I love being a part of these incredible realities. The sense of involvement within them is absolutely stunning, and always makes me want to come back, just to spend more time within them once again.
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