My Noirest Hour

Having been away for the last bit I’ve also been mostly away from video games. Rilla and I played some of Monkey Island 3 on and off, and I managed to “beat” some of Kaizo Mario, but apart from that: nothing. Instead I ended up reading a lot more and rekindling my romantic relationship with that form of entertainment.

Now I’m back and I have immediately bought L. A. Noire in order to try it out. But even before I fired it up a problematic question has been circling in my head:

What if I hate video games?

Strong words, but a genuine concern. I really find myself flinching away from the endless cliches and the limited palette that games basically offer. Usually that has been limited to a distaste for first-person shooter refabs, but lately it’s extended to games much more generally. There’s only so much running, jumping, shooting, dialogue-choosing a guy can do before it starts to feel like he’s secretly been playing more or less the same game for the last decade or so.

So far, L. A. Noire has been a mixed bag on that front. I’ve very much relished the slowness of certain aspects of the game. A long walk around a dark alley with a flashlight, looking for clues, really spoke to me as a wonderful use of video game interaction and the primacy of space in video game expressiveness. Then, later, a side mission in which I responded to a distress call only to have to blow away about ten gang members in an insane shootout left me feeling incredibly depressed about it all.

Without any desire to be some kind of stupid-ass cultural elitist, sometimes really do test the limits of what I can stretch myself to find a worthwhile and interesting use of time. The iconic moments that cement their worth in my mind can be all too rare. Yes the opening sweep of the wasteland in Fallout 3 is breathtaking. Yes, the landscapes of Red Dead Redemption were incredibly moving. Yes, Minecraft has stunned me with its beauty. But I do find myself returning to the same examples with far too much frequency. I shouldn’t have to hang out for several months between revelatory moments, should I?

Not that books or TV or whathaveyou necessarily provide those moments, but it does seem as though so many games are almost relentlessly interested in a narrow focus which excludes them almost on purpose. On the other hand, I think there’s a strong case to be made that I’m not much of a gamer in the sense of someone interested in playing games. My interest has always been strongly directed at worlds and experiences (sometimes peripheral) within them. That’s not quite what a game is for. The systems, balancing of weapons, “battle geometries”, achievements, and so on tend to elude me unless I make them a focus of some form of investigation.

So maybe I don’t hate video games, maybe it’s just that, in some sense, I don’t play them?

16 June 2011
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