They’re All Automatons and I’m a Real Dude

Kind of following on from yesterday’s post about struggling between being efficient and being “realistic”, I felt like I was in the middle of another kind of narrative-related contradiction in playing GTA IV. In this case I’d decided to play a session of just roaming the map rather than doing quests. So I drove, and then walked through bits of the world, including a rather scenic graveyard and some swimming pools near the shore.

The effect was rather lovely, with the day in the game being quite idyllic and sunny (matching the real weather in Copenhagen, actually), and I felt just as if I were strolling around in a real environment. People walking, people sitting on benches (admittedly calling me a “retard” when I went too close to them), people generally appearing to enjoy the day.

But then I felt a curiously sad and lonely. For all that I am aware that, yes, I’m a real person with a complex inner life and so on, the other AI-controlled characters in the game seemed to be more real than I was as Nico Bellic. Thanks to the fiction of the world, which, after all, is where they live, they had homes to go to, shopping to do, ice-creams to buy. I, on the other hand, was sort-of-Nico-sort-of-not. I had missions to do, games to save, cars to drive, and faces to punch. Less rich and enriching. I tried to tell myself, “come on, man, they’re all automatons and you’re a real dude!” but it was too late, and too sad. I hopped in my virtual car, drove back to my virtual apartment, and crawled into virtual bed.

Sometimes “virtual” means something like “almost, but not quite, not really…” and it’s tinged with sadness.

19 May 2010
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