Not Quite Zany Enough

Today was one of those days where I get to experience the surreality of my working life. I’m writing this book about video games and today I needed to come up with an example of transitions between achievement oriented play and playful play. I settled on Grand Theft Auto IV and popped it in the Xbox, ready to be the platonic ideal of a player.

To do the “achievement” bit I started a mission, which turned out to be one where you drive a garbage truck around and get chased a bit and then drive around a bit more and then that’s that. Good, solid example of a mission and its step-by-step instructions. After that, it came time to do some zany, “playful” stuff in the game.

Seated in the garbage truck I could not think of one single stupid thing to do that would be of interest to the reader of a book. This need for forced zaniness was, despite the total lack of an audience, incredibly awkward feeling. I drove the garbage truck, which was excruciatingly slow, around town, looking for opportunities to just go crazy and interesting. None were forthcoming. I drove to Central Park and ran some people over, but that’s old news.

At the nadir of the experience I found myself driving the truck into the lake in the park to at least sink the thing only to find out that you can actually drive it around in there because the lake is just shallow enough. Note that this didn’t feel in the least bit zany, but like a horrible defeat. The truck moved even slower in the  water, so that I was now driving slower than the pedestrians walking around. Even more ignominious, I’d had a jazz radio station on and, while driving in the water, the cab of the truck was apparently just submerged enough for the radio to be under the water too. Muffled, watery jazz piping in to go with the slow, creeping progress of my water-driving. Perfect.

What amazes me about all this is just how hard I was trying to go crazy and freakin’ flip out, and how that yielded nothing more whacky that this tragic garbage truck swimming like a dying whale through a lake in Central Park. I’m aware that that could sound zany to someone unfamiliar with the game, but you’ll have to just believe me when I tell you it was one of the most dire and boring experiences I’ve yet had in a game, particularly thanks to the fact that I was trying so damn hard. That this was, in a way, my job.

Eventually I at least managed to get some semblance of drama by leaning on the horn while driving alongside the pedestrian walkway, yielding surprise and a single “holy shit!” from the people walking by. That’ll have to do.

24 November 2010
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