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23 They’re Just Videogames, Right?

or, “Memoirs of an old man trapped in a thirty year old body with the muscles of a fifteen year old girl”

This blog began one year ago. All because I love videogames – but, they’re just games.


I’ve always chased dreams. While in my teenage years I watched as friends chased girls, fast cars or rock bands that could be the spokespeople of their alientation, I was chasing fantasies promised in cartridges, CDs, instruction manuals. I could live with that, even with the reputation of being “that guy that won’t shut up about games”. One day I managed to talk about Bushido Blade for ten straight minutes with friends of mine just to draw a comparison between the sound one of them made while he choked on some coffee and the wet rattle a character in LightWeight’s title did whenever they were fatally pierced with a sword. The silence that came after the monologue was terrifying, even more so when one of them asked “all that just so you could compare the sound?!”. They endured a lot of my obsessions, but that didn’t stop them from being my friends. Or as friendly as they could be, at least.

Eleven years later and I’m rediscovering some of them on social networks. One of them, who looks like Alan Moore but paints more like Keith Haring, confessed to having played and enjoyed Return to Castle Wolfenstein. One other friend, a woman-child for whom I was terribly infatuated with for six long years, seems to be quite addicted to The Sims and social games. Rediscovering another, who went on to make wanderlust a way of life, left me heartbroken. Time had managed to steal half his heart and half his leg: in the first case, figuratively; in the second, not as much. He was one of the rare few people with whom I shared my passion for videogames and someone who, I discovered later, would go on to play EVE Online for years, ingraining himself into that virtual space, manipulating markets, making and unmaking corporations, commanding fleets and the respect of other players.

He, like the others, didn’t always took kindly to my videogame rants. But he, like the others, also didn’t resist their allure. Did I influence anything? Was it simple curiosity, an impulse, an obsession? Did they see videogames as more than headshots, more than suburban laboratories, more than persistent competitions?

Did they see nothing more than that?

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Comments Off In the cold womb of the ocean

Many would rather patrol genre borders than to explore their undefinied wastelands. This is why, perhaps, the reason Bioshock stirred such enthusiasm and weirdness in equal measure. A curious phenomenon, then, to see a game provoking philosophical discussion about free will but realizing that when it came to playing it, was about slapping around mutants wearing rabbit face masks who ran up the walls. All because Ken Levine took it upon himself much of the burden of claiming Bioshock was “simply” a first-person shooter while everyone elese talked about how it was “more” than that. Nothing new in ludic territory, then: once again we had a design of emergent pedigree (Thief, System Shock, Deus Ex) hiding bigger issues behind the simplicity of its play mechanics and once again we had a 19XX design becoming popular again in 20XX. To a certain elite of PC gamers, it was worthy of scorn; to the console gamer masses, it was a diamong shining brighter than the drab shooters they were used to.

Which was certainly a stroke of genius: above all, it was a way of saying that System Shock, over a decade later and wearing different clothes, was still a game capable of captivating us. If in this fast food world the greats of yesterday are the worst of tomorrow, and if certain games or genres’ lineage lose some of its power due to the continuous burial of our memory as if history were a disease, the game was enough proof that things don’t always have to be like that: it was (is) still possible to reconcile the past and the present. Far from perfection but very close to restrained ambition, Bioshock was more than enough evidence that design can be timeless while there’s a spark of savoir faire, and as such, was also more than enough evidence of Levine and Irrational’s talent.

A talent which seems absent of Bioshock 2.

Put it another way: Bioshock 2 is a better first-person shooter than its predecessor. It’s simply not a better game.

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