Sunday, 27 June 2010

DeadPixels #1

“Dude, is he piling up bodies and then lighting them on fire?”

“...yes. Yes, he is.”

“This game is kinda cool.”

For pure, visceral violence, gaming really can't be beat at the moment. I can do things in video games that would get me imprisoned for life in my country, and probably executed in other, more civilised countries. I can travel to the American Old West, hog tie women and leave them for the unforgiving wheels of an oncoming train in Red Dead Redemption. I can load up Fallout 3, enslave a few people, then put a rather large hole in their head, just because I felt like it. Don't get me started on the kind of degrading filth I can accomplish in Mad World. Or Animal Crossing.

“Okay, get on with it, what's your point?” you cry, during your break in slaughtering innocent people in airports in Modern Warfare 2, after furiously masturbating over the wanton carnage of God of War 3.

My point, you derelict, is that I'm psychologically burnt out these days. What little pain I felt when I harvested ADAM in Bioshock, murdered a scientist in Metal Gear Solid 3, or callously pushed a tourist over a cliff in Hitman: Blood Money -- just because I could -- has subsided. I'm drained, emotionally spent. Like Mario equipped with a Starman, I feel absolutely nothing.

How did this happen? Is it the constant barrage of hyper-violent, high definition violence? Have my digital crimes – which, of course, have no real consequences – desensitised me to my polygonal victims? When did it all start to change? I can't really answer that, but I do remember the worst case of video game violence I ever mete out; the event that was mean-spirited, evil and best of all, affected another human being.

The year is 1999, the game is Mario Kart 64.

It's a school night, I have my exams to revise for, so naturally I'm spending my time eating crisps, drinking Coke and playing N64 games with a friend. I'm not blessed with Kart skills, nor am I adept at power sliding, and I can't shoot green shells to save my pointless little life, but there's one trick I've developed that I'm about to unleash on my unwitting friend. It came to me during a particularly intense race (that I lost) and I just knew I had to use it on him as soon as possible.

Wario Stadium. It's the final lap & I get a Lightning power up. Experienced Mario Kart 64 players can probably see where this is going, but for those unfamiliar with the title, let me explain: there's a rather large jump on this track which is fairly hard to screw up and mess up, but if you do you end up having to re-race a rather large portion of the track. The Lightning power up shrinks an opponent, whilst also causing him to lose control of his vehicle for a few seconds. Use the power up just before the jump and your opponent is toast. It's basically the ultimate Fuck You on this track and I feel like Jesus, Einstein & Moriarty all wrapped up in one diabolical, handsome body for coming up with this move.

I get the power up.

“Oh man, I'm never going to catch you up,” I say, the words laced with sarcasm, drool falling from the corner of my mouth.

My friend doesn't reply, he's concentrating too hard on the screen; the shit is about to hit the fan at light speed. The jump is coming up. I'm shaking with excitement, sweat pouring off me, I can barely hold the controller I'm so intensely happy. He's almost at the summit. I'm hard with anticipation. Here it comes. He's there. I hammer at weapon button of the mammoth N64 controller.

There's a flash.

There's a screech of despair from him.

There's a scream of joy from me.

“HAH!” I wail, like a child (I was a child, it's fine).

“You can't do that. That's cheating!” my bitter friend remonstrates.

I ignore his whining and breeze through the rest of the race, cheering perhaps a tad too loudly when I cross the finish line. I whoop, I cry, I even give him the loser sign; the retrospective irony is not lost on me, I assure you.

My friend stops playing, now quite visibly upset. He drops the controller, calls me a wanker, then leaves the room. We don't speak for another week. I realise I was perhaps too over-excited and probably went a bit far in my celebrations. I've hurt his feelings and I feel awful. But also kinda awesome and genius-like.

Could this feeling be an explanation for why I'm not affected by violence anymore? Do I need a human component? Video games are becoming an increasingly online multiplayer-only world now, so the opportunity to humiliate and torture another human being within punching distance is vanishing. I can virtually smash a man's head in with a pipe, harvest a corpse for energy, or cause a pile-up on a busy GTA motorway, but damnit, I don't care, I must see my fellow man suffer. I suspect I'm only desensitised to video games, because graphic film violence can still turn my stomach; senseless deaths in television shows continue to draw out a wince and a whimper. Am I a sociopath? Am I now just going to roam the streets of England, looking for a real life equivalent of the Lightning in Wario Stadium trick? Will I be placing banana skins in front of old ladies, desperate for them to fall over and slip a disc, whilst I stand above them, sarcastically goading them on, mocking them for ever attempting to best me?

Yeah, you're right.

I am a sociopath.

Mario Kart, anyone?

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