I, Fanboy.

There are some games I like a lot. When you consider that I feel most games are bad, you may start to realise why this is a big deal. Yes, there are some games I enjoy but most I tolerate. I am inspired and awed by the potential of games but so few approach that, or even attempt to, that it’s difficult not to be cynical. So when a game really gets to me it’s a matter of personal significance.

Sadly very few games have ever affected me in this manner, those that do often achieve this in spite of their design rarely because of it. These games I profess to adore are not without their faults, I like to think I’m unbiased enough to be able identify these flaws; but this recognition does little to detract from my respect for these games. All that is necessary is a single moment, one small spark of imagination or intelligent that shows me a glimpse of that potential . What is any amount of design flaws or technical bugs compared to that?

Over the last few years I’ve been fortunate enough to play several such games. I’ve talked at length about some of them but still it’s difficult to describe the reason I hold these games in such esteem. I’ve described the fate of Frank Bilders but I fear in my attempt to personalise that account I may have sacrificed clarity. This was an event that actually caused me a moment of pause. I sat thinking, dwelling, on what had just happened. Through my actions I’d allowed another to die, somebody who had risked their life (albeit a virtual one) to save me on prior occasions. I felt something. I’m not trying to say I understand the pain of losing a friend (something I hope never to experience first hand), I imagine what I felt to be barely a shadow of that, a fleeting glimpse of a shadow of a concept of that. But it was enough. In that moment I saw the potential of what games could achieve. I’d been emotional affected by the game, something only a few works in other media have ever truly managed. It was different this time, stronger somehow for all it’s fleetingness; I’d witnessed the power and futility of my own agency.

Surely If I could get everybody else to play that game and experience a similar moment then that would put an end to the entire discussion of whether games could be art, whether they were interesting or worthy of study.  If I could convince everybody else that for that briefest moment I had truly felt a pang of guilt for the consequences of my actions then I believe they would understand the power of games. I understand that such things are subjective and maybe Far Cry 2 isn’t the game for everybody, but I can only speak from my personal experience so I had to try and get people to play this game, and appreciate it as I do.

If a moment like that could be attained in a era when games are still so focused on the juvenile concepts of violence and direct action what could be accomplished in the years to come?

It might seems ridiculous, asinine, that I could make such claims about a game like Far Cry 2. But no matter how much I wanted to be engaged I was utterly unmoved by the death of Aeris, unable to understand the appeal of the Zelda or Metal Gear series and left feeling stupid and frustrated by Braid. Something about Far Cry 2 drew me, held me, engaged me like so few other games have ever do. So that it was able in that one moment of holistic purity to me cause me to stop and really reflect on my actions; to offer me a look some of potential of games. How could I not want to talk about it, not want everybody else to share that experience?

And then, it only went and did it again.

I want to scream it from the rooftops because I believe in the power of this medium and honestly think that if I can get others to have the same experience I had with this game then they’ll understand it too. I cannot always accurately describe what it is about a particular game that has such an affect on me, and the excitement I feel at having witnessed that moment of potentiality can make such critical thought even harder. I can explain the circumstances of the event and what I felt but even that is not always enough. I get frustrated and angry at my inability to make other people understand, I get emotional, irrational. I rant, I snap, I resort to childish insults. You don’t understand and I can’t make you, and that’s painful.

So with a fledgling critical language and incomplete vocabulary I strive to explain a moment that was at once precisely as simple as I’ve described yet orders of magnitude more complex. Out of context it is easy to explain but without the foundation of the rest of the game, the build up and the pay off can seem facile, meaningless; my reaction to it pretentious at best and comic at worst.

If I can seem overly intent in my praise or damning in my condemnations it’s born of frustration at my inability to get across how much of an impact something has had on me, or how close I feel it came to giving me one of those rare moments of clarity. I am a fanboy and I have something to really be a fan of. It’s is my privilege, it is also my curse.

5 thoughts on “I, Fanboy.

  1. “Surely If I could get everybody else to play that game and experience a similar moment then that would put an end to the entire discussion of whether games could be art, whether they were interesting or worthy of study.”

    For many of us, I believe, this very sentiment was the original stimulus that provoked us to write about games. It comes from a very personal place; an urge to share something, prove something, make people see something that’s so plainly clear to us.

    You write with an evangelical fervor that neither you nor we should ever be ashamed of. We must, of course, be careful not to let this fervor cloud our judgment or defensively dismiss those who disagree with us (easier said than done for me), but this deep drive to respond and put words to our experience is precisely what fuels our efforts as writers who genuinely care about this art.

    Thanks for stoking the fire. :-)

  2. I know what you mean about wanting others to share the experience. I’ve been trying to convince a friend currently absorbed in Fallout 3 to give Far Cry 2 a shot. I was surprised and amazed at how involving Far Cry 2 is. Even though all the buddies are interchangeable, they all save me and one isn’t really better than another, I became really attached to my first best buddy Paul Ferenc.

    Then he died. I climbed out of a hole just in time to see him get shot and go down. After killing everyone nearby I ran over and healed him as fast as I could. He kept asking for more syringes, I thought “OK, I’ve got plenty.” I was shocked when he then died. When I got to him he was still alive, doesn’t that mean I got there in time? I even had more syringes I could have given him. Then I stood up and the game continued as usual, as if telling me to go on. Just go accept another mission, go blow up a guard post, go look for diamonds, go forget about Paul. One of the most emotional things about his death was how little the world seemed to care. After a bit of an internal struggle I loaded a saved game, it may break the emergent narrative of the game, but dammit, I liked Paul. After that it became harder and harder to keep him alive, and over the next few missions I slowly came to terms with that fact that I couldn’t keep reloading saves to save him. I never felt so guilty overwriting a saved game.

    So the experience is, in fact, being shared. I think anyone who plays the game will come away with some personal story of a buddy’s death.

  3. Far Cry 2 can be so amazingly different to your standard FPS that I actually forgive the NPC:s for forgetting to point their gun in the same way they are shooting :-). I killed Frank Bilders when he was downed after a mission, because I wanted to see how the buddy system worked. After I had done it I immediately realised that what I had done was actually “wrong”, which in retrospect felt weird since he only was a NPC, and one I had no deeper connection to anyway. So I restored the game to an earlier point and gave him a syringe instead. Except it didn’t work, so I gave him another, and another, but just like for ndinicola, my buddy died despite my efforts. I didn’t want to leave him there, but somehow I felt I had to push on. At the next guard post, I exchanged gunfire with some soldiers. I managed to kill a few of them, and critically wound another one. As I went for cover, planning my next move, I could suddenly hear the soldier I had hit crying in pain to his friends. He yelled “I just want to go home!”. Right then I could not move, all the violence and havoc I had caused suddenly came back to me and I. Just a few hours prior, I had killed unarmed men without even blinking, but now I just wanted to turn off the game, and “go home”.

  4. Hi CrashT,

    It’s nice to run into you again after the ISA forums closed, particularly just as you publish a post I strongly agree with. DX:IW held a similar moment for me.

    One day game designers will understand game dynamics enough to regularly and meaningfully reflect on our actions. Untill that time, it’s good to see people blogging about those handfull of moments where a game lights a match and holds up a mirror to the player’s soul.

    Keep up the good work. :)

  5. I really wish a lot of fanboys brought this much maturity and insight as to why they protect whatever it is they love so much. And I’m sure some people say you’re reading too much into these games, but I think it’s important to have games that possess qualities deep enough to ponder. However flawed, like you said, in their execution, sometimes it’s the thought that counts. Great read; this is a subject I like talking about with whoever wants to listen.

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