Console Killer

I’m playing through Metro 2033 again after my permadeath run ended in my permadeath. Not so permanent as to stop playing the game altogether – that would be too obtuse even for me! – but permanent such that I’ve restarted the entire game and played back through all the stuff I already did before dying the first time.

I’m playing it on the Xbox 360, which means that I’m using the standard Xbox 360 controller to control it. Now, console controller plus first person shooter is not a combination that works heavily in my favour. I can navigate the environment fairly successful – though maybe more like a stumbling bear than a panther – but my ability to aim and shoot guns is kind of limited.

The typical experience when I need to shoot something is that I swing toward it, overshoot it, move back the other way, by which time the shootable thing has moved, requiring another adjustment. It isn’t efficient or pretty. This is then paired with the possibility that I’m spraying bullets from an automatic weapon because the shootable thing scared the shit out of my by appearing seemingly out of nowhere.

I wouldn’t be offended if you thought I sounded a bit incompetent with console shooters. I think that’s accurate.

There’s one element of this that I kind of enjoy, and which shores me up against the depressing nature of getting beat down by enemies because I can’t properly aim at and shoot them in the face. There’s a kind of realism involved in being shit at handling a gun in a serious situation. I suspect that if I were really in the avatar’s post-apocalyptic boots, I would be comparable awful and moving around, locating bad things, and shooting the bad things before they ripped my face off. It’s not necessarily a pleasant realism, but in some ways I relish the idea that this is what the situation would really be like – even though the situation implicitly calls for high levels of competence and manly victories, since it’s a video game and thus largely set up for me to succeed.

One way that I perversely enjoy my suckiness is that I spend a lot of time crouching in dark corners where nobody can see me. That way, I don’t have to shoot them, and they don’t have to shoot me. We can kind of co-exist. I watch the bandit guards walking around, say, watch their headlamps swinging through the dark, and I take due notice that they’re there, but I feel uncompelled to leap out of the darkness and unload my pistol – because I’d probably just miss and everyone would feel embarrassed (once I was dead).

Instead, I just crouch in the darkness. Sometimes I pretend I’m biding my time, mapping out their movements or something. That’s a pleasant little illusion to have. Ultimately, though, I’m just worried and unwilling to engage with the bad things that have to happen. I kind of don’t want the shooting to begin, even though it ultimately has to if the game’s to continue. Eventually I do creep out and start shooting, but at that point the game loses focus for me, stops being the weird reality and becomes more of a “soaking up bullets” experience. I get through, but I wouldn’t really have survived, you know.

A lot of this would be alleviated by playing on a PC, because I’m a lot better at FPS with a mouse and keyboard (not great, but a lot better). But there’s a strange honesty that the console controller brings. I appreciate my incompetence. A mouse allows me, more or less, to just point at things and go “bang, you’re dead”, and that removes a huge amount of my connection to the act of shooting someone. Sometimes our interactions have to be slightly poor and annoying for us to notice them.

So, bless you Xbox 360 controller, for transporting the “real” me into the horrible subterranean passages of Metro 2033, shakily holding my gun, hiding in the corner, not wanting to fight.

9 February 2011
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