12
Oct 09

The Most Important Game Ever Made #13: Shake Hands With Nobody

FT/3 comments • 264 views

Hello Beatles! It’s been a while.

So what happened there? Work happened, to put it bluntly – in the midst of a brutal cold that beat my immune system like a gong, I had to write some pretty serious comics (part of which involved creating an alien language from scratch). In the end, I took the week off the Beatles, and from now on I’ll be doing a more realistic production schedule of Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays (or at least two out of three) as per Tom’s excellent and timely advice last week on keeping a long-running series going when the enthusiasm starts to run dry.

And what could dry up a man’s enthusiasm faster than the sonic wallpaper that is ‘Eight Days A Week’, our unlucky 13th entry?

I mean, what can possibly be said about ‘Eight Days A Week’? It’s a(nother) nifty Ringo catchphrase – or possibly tossed off by a chauffeur this time, according to wikipedia (DON’T JUDGE ME) – but one that means nothing beyond itself, really. It’s hard to tell whether John’s using ‘eight days a week’ to express how much love he’s packing into his time or using the vague, foggy love story to show off the awesome phrase ‘eight days a week’. And as songs-from-witty-Ringoisms go, we’ve already had a much better one. It’s just… there, a lump of filler that feels dragged in from some inventory somewhere. Another hit from the hit factory that brought up ‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand’ (which, now I come to think about it, is another vastly superior song) but glaringly out of place after two experimental-sounding pieces.

In other words, it sucks, and I resent the game for making me play it and my past self for putting me under the obligation of writing about it. It’s possible that the resentment at having to write came first, as I lay dying of Man-Flu with a half-written script screaming at me, but I’m pretty sure I can categorically state that – compared with pretty much every song in the game before it – ‘Eight Days A Week’ is no damn good.

At least my rubbish theory about this group of levels being about the Beatles experimenting has been categorically disproved. Here’s the level in question:

Even the Beatlebots are uninspired. Nothing for them to really do but jig merrily along, revealed as the coathangers they are when there’s no emotion to hang on them. How much of what I’ve been writing about is the game, and how much is me? It’s a foolish question – games only function because of the human investment. If you allow the scales to fall from your eyes, Solid Snake’s enemies become a few simple routines, Nico Bellic’s decision to spare a man or put a bullet in him – the decision you agonised over for long minutes before pulling the trigger and instantly regretting it – becomes IF A$=YES THEN GOSUB 1100. If you spared the Russian mobster, and have the motorcycle, turn to page 400. If you did not spare the Russian mobster, or do not have the motorcycle, roll 2D6 for luck and turn to page 37.

Games are what we make of them. It’s something my generation learned playing the blocky sprites of yore – we could either layer a complex level of significance and meaning onto those flashing pixels, or not, and that was the difference between the game being fun – or not. Even the simple man vs. high score table archetype of, say, Space Invaders was vastly improved by the simple and often subconscious device of thinking of the invading army as a them rather than an it – and it was an it, a collection of subroutines with one tactic, one mode of behaviour and one strategy – to wear you down. From Pac-Man on, anthropomorphism was the order of the day – we fancied we heard sadness in Pac-Man’s dying bleeps, or triumph in each ching of Jet Set Willy collecting a flashing piece of bling, but it’s just us, always just us, looking in a mirror and thinking we’re talking to the person there. Kids today have it very slightly easier – games are, for the most part, CGI movies or cartoons now (where YOU control the adventure!) and everything looks really really real, so this game of let’s-pretend-the-TV-is-alive is simpler and more automatic than ever before – but it’s no different from how it was. We make our deal with the machine – entertain us, and we’ll pretend you know or care what you’re doing. We’ll do the caring for both of us.

That’s what I’ve been doing. The Beatlebots have been friendly rorshach blots, their behaviour bringing up connections and ideas about the music I might not otherwise have drawn, but at the end of the day I’ve been talking to myself about the Beatles – though not so much about gaming, which is the other half of this. I still need to work out how music and gaming come together, but ‘Eight Days A Week’ isn’t going to help me with that – there’s probably a direct correlation between the boredom of the level and the boredom of the song, but that’s about it. ‘Eight Days A Week’ doesn’t help me talk about the Beatles, either, unless I’m using it as a possible reason why I’ve had a knee-jerk reaction to them in the past.

At the end of the day, ‘Eight Days A Week’ just sucks all the illusion and interest out of the whole enterprise, leaving me alone with a lump of moulded plastic, a few chattering relays, and a desperate desire for all my imaginary friends to finish their tea break and come back into the room.

NEXT: ‘If I Needed Someone’! That’s more like it.


Comments

  1. 1
    Vic Fluro on 12 Oct 2009 #

    A lot of these musings on games and the past triggered by this rather excellent docudrama currently available on iTunes, featuring Alexander Armstrong as Clive Sinclair and Martin Freeman as Chris Curry. Well worth a look.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00n5b92/Micro_Men/

  2. 2
    CarsmileSteve on 13 Oct 2009 #

    i’m sorry for even typing this, but jet set willy was cleaning up glasses from the previous night’s party, not bling.

    i’m sorry (and i haven’t even watched micro men yet!!!)

  3. 3
    Al Ewing on 13 Oct 2009 #

    Micro Men gets it wrong worse – it refers to JSW having ‘levels’. Ugh! The one jarring moment in an excellent bit of dramedy.

    Anyway, whatever Willy was cleaning up, it was certainly flashing in a way that discarded glasses generally don’t and bling generally does, so I’ve got an excuse for my failing memory.

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