On Queuing

As I’ve continued to do battle with the code for my “queuing simulation” I’ve found myself trying to convince myself that queues are somehow important things. Well, obviously they serve a key purpose in organising society (into nice orderly lines!), but perhaps even in video games they’re of some relevance? Because if so, then I would be working within a tradition, or something, and thus I would be less wasting my time, and more training like a diligent karate kid.

I suppose that one central relationship we have to queues in video games is… we don’t wait in them. Even where queues exist – most obviously in the traffic simulations of urban games – we tend to avoid them. It’s novel to play GTA or L.A. Noire for a while by obeying the traffic rules, but it’s very hard to maintain. There’s no real penalty for skipping the queues, so why would you? Police Quest, that favourite touchstone of mine, is one of the few games I can recall where you pretty much had to queue in traffic or die. Queue or die.

Even if we don’t queue ourselves, though, queues take shape in games. Again, this is mostly visible when we’re driving in a virtual city and watch as cars form a queue at the lights. Or, of course, if we stop our car in the middle of the street and create a queue behind us. And this queuing can be well or poorly executed. I was surprised at how minimalist the queue code was in L. A. Noire for instance. If you stand in the street, the cars will just quietly wait in a long queue forever – there’s no sense of people becoming impatient and driving around (or over) you. Just epic, very computery waiting.

Queuing is, then, almost a form of Turing test. Only a computer would be content to wait indefinitely without taking action. Those placid cars in L. A. Noire were far more jarring than the creepy-as-hell facial contortions of the characters, in terms of betraying the digital nature of the world. Queuing is both very human and, extended just a little too long, inhuman.

One aspect of the game I’m making is queuing. I like to think of it as “making queuing unfun again!”

25 August 2011
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