Sega Retrospective

Sega Retrospective
Thanks For all the Fish

Brendan Main | 25 Jan 2011 13:55
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But strangely, within the whole grotesquerie cycle of these creatures' horrid lives, there's an interesting idea at work. Each seaman, newly burst from some dripping sac, seems to share a conscious mind. They all have the same facts and figures memorized, they all seem to have the same habit of spouting inane trivia at the slightest provocation. Even throughout their quickened evolution from tadpole to fish to human-headed frog, they exhibit the same constancy and like-mindedness. There might be a very real reason that seamen have no time for love and relationships, or for musing on life and death - they might all be the same creature, only spread out, infinitely, across generations and gestational forms. Maybe it's a Jungian preconsciousness that links them all together - or maybe it's some version of cloning that passes everything, even knowledge, down from one generation to the next. If that's the case, it explains a lot of the creatures' general disenchantment with everything - if you were an antediluvian ur-creature whose consciousness spanned from the first warm pools of life on this planet, you'd probably run out of nice things to say at some point, too.

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Because beyond the strange, caustic humor of Seaman, there is another difference that sets it apart from other pet simulation games. It becomes a question of perspective, and of scope. In the dutiful pursuit to raise, care for and love a single animal, we are taught that life is sacred and that one of our finest pursuits is to nurture and protect it at every cost. Pets serve as extensions of family - we feed them and shelter them, and are meant to learn something of ourselves - the things we need, and demand, from those around us since we were small. But Seaman posits a different sort of life - one that is indifferent rather than precious, one that soldiers on, tomorrow and tomorrow, far beyond the individual flickers of life that we've become so attached to. From this way of thinking, we are not sacred. We are fish food. This is a fascinating mindset, but not one usually suited to the safe spaces accorded to us in our games: a reason, for example, why there is no Nintendogs "Old Yeller" edition. Separating these ideas is the fractious boundary between 'life' and 'Life.' The lessons we receive from a new puppy and an ant farm are different, incompatible things.

Seaman was not a huge success in the U.S., and it's not hard to see why - almost every element of the game seems to be perversely designed to alienate a player. Instead of a doe-eyed Pokémon, you're saddled with dead-eyed baby-mans who ask probing questions when they aren't ripping out each other's throats. Instead of cute and cuddly, you get chimeric, cannibalistic, and caustic. Maybe a game this odd only benefits from being a relic, a coelacanth on some outdated piece of machinery. In our current gaming era of triple-A sequels and IPs mined to death, is there really any room for a game that full of ambivalence, even hostility, towards the person holding the controller?

At the very least, it's in this obsessive devotion to awkward conversational unease that Seaman succeeds beautifully as a simulation. Because a dog is a friend for life, and a cat will at least care enough to ignore you.

But fish? Fish just don't give a shit.

Brendan Main actually had occasion to meet that lass from St. Stephen. And while it's true that she did "set up with a seaman named Freeman," the rest is a filthy lie.

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