30/06/2011

contains mild peril

Now I'm hardly the first name in all that is popular, rather somewhere past the last name in all things that matter en-masse you will find me. Nevertheless with this disclaimer offered to you my gentle reader I shall now serve up a random opinion for your frontal lobe to chew on. This would be the ill-informed, vaguely asserted, poorly articulated opinion that Radiohead have a lot to answer for.

Yes Radiohead. Why you may ask? Those captivating lyrics, those haunting melodies, that astute mastery of the craft of music. Lets put those facts/opinions to one side for the moment and remember that it was absolutely scientifically proven that Thom Yorke was dead inside circa 1997. For it was from the inside that he summoned the raw pain he fashioned into simple human words. Misery merchants in the market of despair. Yes Radiohead have a lot to answer for.

I'll admit this argument is limited to a particular time and place and band. There was a time when I would listen to Radiohead and for lack of a better word, I'd enjoy the experience. After all music that unremittingly miserable doesn't seem made to be enjoyed so much as endured. It's sandpaper for the soul. It's music for the hard of feeling. Put the world's happiest person next to a radio playing it and watch them die of thirst after crying their bodily fluids out to the last drop.

Not that there isn't a time and a place for it, beautifully performed their songs were and probably still are. These days they are on the list of things I avoid right next to Keith Chegwin and weekday morning TV. However back in the late 90's and early 00's it was jarring to say the least to hear all the trendy types on the radio bigging up the Radiohead between the musical atrocities of Britney Spears and Limp Bizkit. It's like you could turn on and off the misery at the drop of a penny. Minus the radio, its still pretty odd that I can turn on my mp3 player to trigger misery at a moment's notice. 

Isn't despondency bad enough without substituting it for something altogether more temporary? Or maybe that's the point? Nevertheless it's a whole genre of music and rightfully so, for the most part just keep it away from me. Music like that is made, packaged, marketed and sold with dizzyingly effective results. Fortunes are made out of sincere Brand X misery, not that I am suggesting it's anything less than genuine. I'm sure there is something very heartfelt in that type of music. Music that speaks to the soul of those in their darkest hour as much as it can be a cynical exercise in extracting money from the wallets of those who try on feelings like new clothes. 

That's my opinion and I'm sticking to it for at least, oh I don't know, the next ten seconds at least. It's all basically envy, envy that music can evoke degrees of sadness, delivering an experience as profound as it is complicated, sophisticated, layered even. High risk of descending into self-important wankery here so I'll skip that bit and ask why the humble video game has a ways to go when it comes to delivering this kind of experience? 

Because it could, its not impossible that this could have and perhaps should have happened by now. Not many games evoke sadness and those that do don't do it well, which is to say they don't do it at all. At best video games possess all the emotional range of Doug Quaid as played by Arnold Schwarzenegger in 1990's seminal triple-breasted sci-fi classic Total Recall. At worst games have all the emotional sincerity of the average episode of Neighbours or Eastenders, the officially recognised barometer of death itself. 

Games gesture in the direction of an emotional response but never quite reach the promised land. Now of course I don't fancy bursting into tears every time a digitally rendered gun shoots a digitally rendered blur into a digitally rendered target. But think of the number of games out there based on war, divide that by the number of war games that illustrate, say, the nature of loss that such scenarios give rise to. Now divide that number by the number of games that do it well.

Mathematically impossible though it may seem you now have a number that is a subdivision of nothing. There have been attempts to do something different with war as a focal point for gaming. A game by the name of Six Days in Fallujah tried to portray the sheer horror of war in a way that transcended the logic of the twitchy shooting gallery. Undone by 'official public outrage' of the kind that can only be created and sustained in the fevered dreams of tabloid brain death, the game was in limbo last I heard. 

Whether its decisions with consequence or storytelling with nuance, video games on the whole lack a certain something all too easy conveyed via film and music. Why pick on games based on war anyway? Between the combined fatalities of every war game ever played offline and online we have probably killed the entire population of the planet many times over. Not a single one of those deaths remotely carries the weight of war like film does when it does it well.

Imagine a game based on Full Metal Jacket where the finale consists of putting yourself into the shoes of a soldier who has to decide whether a child sniper who has just killed a buddy should die or not by your own hand. Boom and we have a game where not everything is as easy as pulling a trigger, a gaming experience that ventures outside the comfortable confines of the adrenaline rush.There are glimpses aplenty of what gaming can do in what its already done. I say glimpses when I mean to say its like staring into darkness with your eyes closed. 

Outside the genre of war Red Dead Redemption may be described as Grand Theft Auto in the Wild West but there's no denying that there's some good storytelling and characterisation at work before and during that gut punch of a finale. The drenched murder mystery that is Heavy Rain attempts to explore a degree of emotional complication but comes up short with TV movie style voice acting. Less said about that massacre in Modern Warfare 2 the better, never has a game been so clinically indifferent to mass slaughter whilst simultaneously expecting its audience to give a fuck about it.

The law of a thousand monkeys typing away at a thousand typewriters means we should have at least one game that attempts a degree of emotional sophistication by 2011. Instead there is nothing, nada, zilch, zero. Not even by accident has this type of game popped it head out before having it blown off in slow motion from seventeen different angles. Maybe I've played too much of the type of game that contains mild peril, mild horror or mild action adventure. Maybe I need something more, maybe I'll take up extreme knitting.