March 04, 2006

Grand Gross-out

The boyfriend picked up a copy of Grand Theft Auto: Vice City for cheap somewhere a week or so ago. Now I spend all my free time sending a cartoon character voiced by Ray Liotta on random chainsaw massacres. For some reason this relaxes me.

I am aware that this does not say good things about my character.

Grand Theft Auto is one of those games I was always meaning to check out but never did. See, there's this game, Mafia, that's supposedly a kind of homage to GTA, and we've had Mafia for forever and have even, I'm a little embarrassed to say, replayed it on occasion. This should be like watching a horse race on video after you already know which horse won it, and yet it isn't. It's a fun little game. The Czech fellows who did it up did a terrific job.

In Mafia, you're a little taxicab driver in the Prohibition era who gets inadvertently caught up in mob business, eventually joining the family and rising in power and influence within it until, oh no, you're stabbed in the back by another associate, and have to cooperate with the law to save your ass.

Before that, though, you steal cars a lot, and anyone who says these games don't influence behavior in the slightest is lying, because after a few hours of playing it's impossible to walk through a shopping mall parking lot without thinking, "Ooh--that one! That car would be a good one to steal." Then you catch yourself and you go, "Wait, I don't really steal cars. That's just a game," and you feel like an idiot, and then you thank God or who- or whatever that you were born with the part of your brain that maintains a relationship with reality being in good health, fully functional, because what if you hadn't been? What if you'd been the sort whose brain just skips right over that "just a game" business? You'd probably be down at the mall stealing cars, is what would happen. And wouldn't you be surprised to learn, then, that when your getaway vehicle blows up while running from the cops in real life, you don't get an option to reload and start over.

I don't like people who get all "slap a ratings system on it" about games, movies, music, etc. But I like even less the ones who protest that it's totally ridiculous even to think a game or a movie or a song could have any influence, because that position is both more ignorant and less honest. Listen, you can have your ultraviolent games and movies, but don't kid yourself that everyone processes them the way you do, you with your incredible maturity and intellect and reality-based existence. Some people, I don't know if you've noticed, aren't always with the rest of the group here on planet Earth, you know?

But enough; I didn't mean to get into all that. What I wanted to say is that while a game becomes absorbing to me for many reasons, a big one is the extent to which it's able to take me on a little vacation from reality. I'm a huge escapist and a terrible day-dreamer. I'd much rather think about fictional worlds than this one, so it's the construction of these fictional worlds that interests me about gaming--and it's why I don't play a lot of shoot-this-monster, then-this-monster, then-this-OTHER-monster, dungeon-type games--because I don't want to go to those worlds. I mean, ewww, they're all dark and full of monsters; I call that my subconscious, and I don't need a joystick to go there. Yeah, I'm a little girly or whatever you want to call it about the dungeons.

I sure do love stealing cars, though.

So the weird thing about this Vice City game is that I think on some level I hate it. It's a convincing little world of its own, sure, but it's a convincing little world in which everyone is a total asshole. The character you play is an asshole. The characters he interacts with are all assholes. No one is remotely sympathetic or likeable. Maybe that's as it should be; it's a game about crime, after all. Maybe it's better crime not be glamorized. I'm sure it's more accurate, anyway. But it leaves me with a faintly creeped-out and depressed feeling after a couple hours of playing it. I keep getting better at driving fast cars and shooting machine guns and, oh yeah, chainsawing people, but it's hard to feel happy about this. There is no one to root for in this game and I loathe it for that.

As for the misogyny in the game, that could be a whole 'nother post. Did you know if your character picks up a hooker and lets her entertain him, it boosts his health rating 25 points? But it also costs him money. So you know what you can do? Kill her and steal her money, of course, the rancid little slut. Needless to say I don't use this gambit, and in fairness to the game, you're not required to. You could play the whole thing and never pick up a hooker. Still, it bothers me.

Oh, and to all those "more education will fix this problem" twits out there, a brief complaint: We have had decades now of STD-prevention education in this country, but unless you address the underlying belief some men retain that more sex = more virility = better health, you're just going to keep having problems, because the problem isn't that people don't know unsafe sex with multiple partners is risky behavior, it's that they deep-down don't believe unsafe sex with multiple partners is risky behavior. And that, my little army of Education Is Key soldiers, is where the religious moralists you so despise have the jump on you, believe it or not, because at least they know enough to define this as a belief/values problem, not a "Seriously, you really didn't know that chancre might indicate the presence of syphilis?" problem.

Bleah. Anyway, that's what I've been doing with my spare time: Wasting it, in clear defiance of my stated goal of becoming a better person. Though, I have read a couple books also . . . novels, even. I'm trying to work up to being able to claim literacy in the English language without feeling like a liar and a fraud. More about those later if I get a chance, but tonight I'm taking a break from the computer and going out for a nice dinner. I bet you I count at least three cars I want to steal on the way.

Posted by Ilyka at March 4, 2006 06:26 PM in i don't know you tell me

I was more of a bang bang shoot-em-up gamer when I was a gamer. Loved Doom I & II. You need a $3000 computer to play those $50 games now and I don't really have the time for them any more. Well, I do, but I choose to squander that time on other activities. I have fantasized about using the plasma rifle or the BFG 9000 but not with people I've actually met. Well, maybe a few.

Posted by: Rob at March 5, 2006 11:50 AM

Rob...have you checked out quake 3 arena? It's old enough now(1999) that it will run on a modest P4, but it still sports some good graphics, plus it has built in internet play(unlike doom) and it has the BFG 10k, which makes the BFG 9000 look like a pathetic wuss ;)


Posted by: Hal at March 5, 2006 12:01 PM

Never liked Quake, Hal.

Posted by: Rob at March 5, 2006 01:39 PM

I'll just sit here with my Spider Solitaire...

I did make it all the way through Myst, though, but I had to download a cheat. I have Riven and Myst: Exile, but I haven't gotten through them yet (I have a cheat for Riven, but it's still a way more intricate game than Myst and I need an entire day set aside, and Exile has this swoopy 3-D effect that's kind of hard to get used to.)

Posted by: Andrea Harris at March 6, 2006 05:20 AM

Mark Twain, re. your penultimate paragraph:

"We were now far up toward the sky, and knew all the time that we must presently encounter lofty summits clad in the "eternal snow" which was so common place a matter of mention in books, and yet when I did see it glittering in the sun on stately domes in the distance and knew the month was August and that my coat was hanging up because it was too warm to wear it, I was full as much amazed as if I never had heard of snow in August before. Truly, "seeing is believing"—and many a man lives a long life through, thinking he believes certain universally received and well established things, and yet never suspects that if he were confronted by those things once, he would discover that he did not really believe them before, but only thought he believed them."

-Roughing It

Posted by: John at March 6, 2006 11:19 AM

Oh, what a perfect quote! (And what beautifully correct use of "penultimate!")

Snow in August. Yes. Exactly.

Posted by: ilyka at March 6, 2006 02:06 PM