Believe it or not, I don’t really like talking about politics, because it’s all such a massively complicated business and I’m just a late-twenties high school dropout who works from home and doesn’t vote, so where the hell do I get off thinking I know how to fix everything. Being one of the privileged white dudes doesn’t help, either. Although being British might, a little bit. Because say what you like about us Brits, we might’ve committed a few atrocities over the years but at least we were tidy and charming, and at least we apologized about most of it.
Actually, thinking about it, that may be what I found so aggravating about Call of Duty: Black Ops 2. Because I was raised to spend my whole life walking around under a faint background hum of cultural guilt and embarrassment for having once been the biggest twats on Earth who got up to a whole lot of shady shit in other people’s countries, and then comes Coddling Ploppy Plops wanting to fucking crow about it.
Whoops, almost tricked myself into talking about politics there, didn’t I, despite my initial intentions. Let’s very determinedly draw a line under it. I don’t know about what to do about people being shit but I do know about videogames, so let’s talk about that.
Funnily enough, though, one of the things that annoys me the most about Cod: Blops 2 is its privilege. And I’m not talking about all the privilege all the middle-class white Americans have (incidentally I love how one of the things you had to do during the invasion of the city for rich assholes was rescue a blonde white woman from being captured by the greasy foreigners NO STOP TALKING ABOUT THE POLITICS YOU TWAT), but the privilege of being in a position to make a triple-A game with cutting edge technology, some of the greatest talent in the world, and under one of the highest-profile titles in the industry. A privilege which is utterly squandered.
This is what put me in mind of the analogy I used in the video of someone buying an entire roast chicken to take one tiny bite and throw the rest away. It’s the nouveau riche of videogames, wanting to show off its massive wealth but without the slightest understanding of how to do it with any kind of class. If it were a man, it would be a lottery winner who buys a fucking castle in the European mountains and proceeds to only ever use one room. And pump champagne through the fountain in the front garden until it turns into fizzy vinegar.
And when you’ve got the kind of money to have a different pair of brightly-colored silk trousers every day and a different courtesan to remove them from you every evening, you will lose the ability to appreciate either the trousers or the courtesans. You become bored and jaded through the sensory overload, and that’s precisely the problem with Black Ops, and most other games of the same spunkgargleweewee mold. It’s so privileged it can’t focus on shit. It constantly hops from location to location, making massive jumps back and forward in linear time so you’re only subjected to the exciting moments, and whenever it gets bored it throws another vehicle or gadget at you to use for the next minute or so and never again.
Novelty is by its very nature a very temporary, shallow source of appeal, and taking the time to invest in something is a much more lasting one in the long term. Compare the above example of the nouveau-riche trouser-courtesan patron to that of a man of middling income who has worked hard all year to be able to afford a splendid pair of silk trousers he saw in the window of the gentlemen’s outfitters. Finally acquiring them, he discovers a whole new lease on life as he explores the many new opportunities a truly splendid pair of trousers offers. His lovely wife is a little frosty when she learns how much they cost, but she comes around after he does the special dance he learned at the splendid trouser club he has finally been allowed to join. Then they have the most mind-blowing sex they’ve had since the honeymoon. Now doesn’t this sound like a much more interesting story than that of the man who blows his nose on silk trousers because he’s so disgustingly rich? Doesn’t the middle income trouser man come across as far less of a douchebag, no matter how many times the rich trouser man pushes his trousers into your face going “PHWOAR! LOOK AT MY TROUSERS!”
Because that rich man is Blops 2. What other sort of man/game would have, say, a wingsuit fully modelled and animated when it’s only used once to travel in a straight line to the next checkpoint? There are a lot of poorer games from lower income neighborhoods that would kill for a nice solid core gameplay mechanic like a wingsuit. I’m picturing an urban superhero sandbox game about a street kid who finds a discarded military-grade wingsuit in a crashed van, and uses it to retake his neighborhood from the gangs. Learning how to make the most of his wingsuit as he goes, you know, rigging up a system so that the fire hydrants launch him hundreds of feet into the air. That wingsuit could feed an entire game and its family for years. And here’s Blops 2 using it once before throwing it away. Just because it can. Same applies to the grappling hook and the climbing gear and the V-TOL.
But the same principle applies to every aspect of the game, not just gameplay mechanics. Locations, too. In something like Just Cause 2 you spend the whole game in one geographic location, exploring all the sights, learning the history both ancient and modern as you untangle the struggles of its people. Modern warfare shooters, meanwhile, are like a busload of football hooligans on tour around Europe, stopping for five minutes at a time at fifty different cultural hotspots or areas of outstanding natural beauty to drink a few cans of Special Brew and punch one of the locals. It never takes the time to understand the location with any kind of depth, or appreciate all the heavily-researched art assets the environment design team spent so much time on.
Like I say, no fucking class, that’s the problem. They started with a huge gourmet banquet, and then they took all the soups and main courses and cheeses and desserts and wines and mashed them all up together into a big trough for the intended audience to shove their faces into, and forgive me if I come across as a snob here, but I’m pretty sure that’s not the best way to appreciate food. It’s like a Transformers movie; a load of noisy, pointless spectacle because it doesn’t know any other way to engage. Pornography of the senses. Ooh! Hold the phone. I think I’ve got a book title there.
Yahtzee is a British-born, currently Australian-based writer and gamer with a sweet hat and a chip on his shoulder. When he isn’t talking very fast into a headset mic he also designs freeware adventure games. His personal site is www.fullyramblomatic.com.