KILLINGS, daily columns and blog —

Events

Novelty, escape, boredom, hope: A life in videogames and four acts

by Paul Callaghan , September 23, 20114 Comments

 

Besides, if the latest surveys about the average gamer being a 32-year-old single male who sits at home and plays games all day are correct, then what I am proposing is not going to have much impact at all.

South Attorney General, John Rau, on his proposal to replace the MA15+ rating for video games exclusively with an R18+ rating

No-one buys a ticket to the theatre or concert hall to witness something ordinary, something that can be done by any reasonably intelligent person with a modicum of application and training – like making a computer game or designing an ear-ring.

Richard Mills, Artistic Director of the West Australian Opera Company in his piece on Artistic Vibrancy for the Australia Council

Comments like these are unsurprising to anyone who has grown up with videogames. Clichés like these persist, despite the fact that surveys describe gamers as a diverse bunch of people who just happen to play games – by themselves, with their partners, with their families – and are also looking for experiences which are far from ordinary, weaving themselves into the fabric of their lives in the same way as the theatre or a concert.

At the recent Freeplay festival, we asked a bunch of people to dig out their recollections of games that they’ve played from the extraordinary, the influential, the shaping, the personal, and then – inspired by a similar Emerging Writers Festival event – present them in a Pecha Kucha night of tiny little talks where each slide lasts for twenty seconds. Despite the narcissism inherent in such a presentation – or perhaps because of it – I decided to do one of my own, and in doing so, I discovered an arc that I wasn’t expecting – my own life filtered through the games that I’d played carried me from novelty to escape to boredom and finally to hope, mirroring some of my personal experiences, and – like all art – shining a light on why I am the way I am.

This is what it looked like.

These are the first games I can remember playing – Pong, Airwolf, Icicle Works, Head over Heels, Uridium, Paradroid, Sabateour, Treasure Island. I would have been about 7 or 8 when I first saw Pong for the first time, and was interested, but not hugely impressed. The first game that hugely impressed me was Punchy where I played a strange policeman jumping over Quasimodo, avoiding arrows, and trying go rescue a princess. It came on a tape with an old machine called a Commodore +4. And there was a chunky drawing program – like Photoshop but with much larger pixels –  branded with Rolf Harris’ name on the other side.

Once I had my first computer – which I shared with my brother – I played indiscriminately. The novelty was the thing. I flew helicopters, jet planes, was Batman or a ninja, a droid or Santa Claus. I plundered treasure and I shot aliens. I rolled around as a marble and I fought crime.

But it was only when I played a game called Elite that I began to think maybe here was something I could do with my life.

Elite cast you as whatever you wanted, in a universe that only half-cared what you decided to do. From your home space station, you could head out and trade – legally or on the fringes – become a pirate, a bounty hunter, an explorer, or any combination of the above. I played as a trader just on the right side of the law, occasionally getting caught and pursued by police, but never enough to threaten my nomadic existence or pursuit of credits and finding out what was at the edge of the galaxy.

It was, for me, the perfect escape.

My family used to go on holidays to seaside resort towns. I wasn’t really a seaside-resort type of kid, but these places always had some sort of arcade where I could take my daily allowance of about two or three pounds, get it converted to twenty- and fifty-pence coins and try to escape the grey cloudy British summers for a little while. This sort of behaviour obviously wasn’t encouraged, but it was my way of dealing with it all, my way of taking a little bit of control over the situation, and finding pleasure in the midst of the boredom.

But then something happened when I finally got my dream job making games. I found myself doing the same thing over and over again. I started out as a programmer and gravitated, partly through choice, partly through necessity, to writing visual effects code. Sounds kind of exciting, but there’s only so many times you can solve that same problem on different consoles – PC, PS2, PS3, Xbox360 – before it becomes uninteresting, to me at least.

And I found myself having the same responses to games. I was bored. Bored of the same fantasy tropes, the same space marines, the same endless stream of sequels.

But then, I had a rare moment of epiphany when playing Dragon Age. What if, for some of these games, creating boredom was the intent? What if there was a richer and broader range of expression available to us than aiming simply for ‘fun’?

Dragon Age wasn’t doing it deliberately, but Bioshock 2 & Limbo, I think, are. Bioshock 2, in particular, very deliberately uses repetition, drudgery, tedium and boredom in its opening stages to significant emotional impact when it twists in its second half into something wholly unexpected – and something that carries such great emotional impact because as a player you’ve pushed through that boring beginning into something new.

I think we’re in the beginning of a golden age of videogames where technology is no-longer the limiting factor, where we’re moving away from What can we make this new console ‘do’? to What can we say using the structures, rhythms and shapes of games? New designers are appearing, who have grown up in a world where videogames are a fact of life. Artists from visual arts, film, literature, music, or sculpture are becoming interested in the form and they’re creating things that may only peripherally resemble the games of my childhood, but which create emotional experiences unlike anything that’s come before.

And that gives me hope.

Paul Callaghan is a freelance writer, developer, educator, and the director of the Freeplay Independent Games Festival.




  • http://tinyurl.com/felolions28765 http://tinyurl.com/felolions28765

    Thanks for applying time to create “Novelty, escape, boredom, hope: A life in videogames and four acts |
    Kill Your Darlings”. Thanks again -Ginger

  • http://tinyurl.com/primmason02156 http://tinyurl.com/primmason02156

    Thank you so much for taking some time to write “Novelty, escape, boredom, hope:
    A life in videogames and four acts | Kill Your Darlings”.

    Thanks a ton yet again ,Gidget

  • http://kleinkleinpeuterke.be/gb/database/orsxoo.asp kleinkleinpeuterke.be

    Hello, just wanted to mention, I loved this blog post. It was practical. Keep on posting!

  • http://discount202.com/category/screenflow-discount/ screenflow coupon

    Whats up this is kinda of off topic but I was wanting to know if blogs use WYSIWYG editors or if you
    have to manually code with HTML. I’m starting a blog soon but have no coding skills so I wanted to get advice from someone with experience. Any help would be enormously appreciated!

anchorpoint_cover-hi-res-2

James Tierney

Unblinkingly Into Harsh Terrain: Alice Robinson’s Anchor Point

The Australian landscape is much traversed in our national imagination, yet rarely entirely comfortably. For the 85 per cent of Australians living within 50 kilometres of the coast, the continent that lies at our backs that is emptier, hotter, and remains haunted by the circumstance of its possession. Read more »

loitering-cover-cmyk-570

Sam van Zweden

The Writer at the Centre of the Essay: Charles D’Ambrosio’s Loitering

Loitering is Charles D’Ambrosio’s quietly brave collection of experimental essays. It doesn’t announce itself noisily, but associations slide sideways through the essays in unexpected ways. This collection is lyric in both senses – freely associative and loose, it borrows from the world, trying meaning on for size, producing metaphors and connections wherever it sees fit. Read more »

discworld

Elizabeth Flux

Footnote to a life: How Terry Pratchett kept me from going postal

If imitation truly is the sincerest form of flattery, then teenage me would have been the steamroller to Terry Pratchett’s somewhat plagiarised tarmac. In the ten years since I first picked up The Fifth Elephant, my work has been littered with Pratchettisms to varying degrees. Read more »

Rebecca Shaw

TERF War: Transphobia in the LGBTQI community

I started to realise that I was ‘not like other girls’ about the time I hit puberty. From that point on I underwent an extensive and daunting process to emerge from my closeted cocoon into the beautiful lesbian butterfly I am today. An important part of that development was realising – mostly via the Internet (or very occasionally through people I met in real life) – that there were people like me all over the world. Read more »

9807778273_afe6ec792d_z

Rebecca Shaw

Breaking the Celluloid Ceiling

We are still at a point where far less than half the movies we see have a clear female protagonist, even though women are half of the population. If women as an ENTITY are not properly represented, their stories not told, what chance then do women of colour have? Read more »

article-2301242-18FA52E4000005DC-314_470x763

Rebecca Shaw

An Inconvenient Truth: Social stigma and menstruation

If you have heard of menstruation, you would know that it is an essential process in a little tiny thing called the EXISTENCE AND CONTINUATION OF HUMAN LIFE, and it is something that most (not all) women experience for about five days every month for a large part of their lives. It is a topic (besides shopping, lol) that women think about frequently. Read more »

flock_roof

Anwen Crawford

Don’t be Sheepish: Why Ewe Should See Shaun the Sheep Movie

Shaun the Sheep Movie is the latest feature-length production from Aardman Animations (the folk who brought us Chicken Run), and it is a delight. Borrow a young relative for cover if you must, but believe me, you are not too cool for a kid’s movie when it’s this much fun. Read more »

9331818982_322b389ff2_z

Annabel Brady-Brown

The blue pill or the red pill? In defence of highbrow film

Cinema is a powerful medium. Going to the movies, be it a Lav Diaz epic or a Michael Bay blockbuster, is an act of submission. You hand over $15 and the whole mash of your brain/senses/heart/dreams for ninety minutes. Read more »

girlwalkshomealoneatnight

Anwen Crawford

Bad Cities

A Most Violent Year has an atmosphere of all-pervading dread, like a film noir, as if the polluted air of New York itself was causing people to act against their better intentions. Even more haunting and more noir is A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, a memorably audacious debut feature from American-Iranian director Ana Lily Amirpour. Read more »

empire-tv-review-fox

Anwen Crawford

Rise of an Empire

Watching Empire, I wondered why there haven’t been more television shows about record labels, the music industry being the cesspit of venality that it is. Forget TV dramas about police departments and hospital wards – a show about a record label comes with all that conflict, plus outfits, plus songs. Read more »

video-undefined-22D54AFA00000578-784_636x358

Matilda Dixon-Smith

Insufferable assholes and grown up Girls

Yes, our girls are growing, learning, discovering. But all they’re really discovering is how toxic and unheroic they are, and how to use that to their advantage. They’re not going to grow out of their asshole tendencies, because they are actually assholes. Read more »

agent-carter-7683

Danielle Binks

Agent Carter and the future of the female superhero

Agent Carter has been described ‘a Triumph for Women, Marvel and TV,’ and heralded as an important new chapter in comics culture. If this supposedly groundbreaking new show fails, does it spell doom for the future of female-led superhero franchises? Read more »

jakobson0052

Katie Williams

Storytelling vs. interactivity: What makes a highbrow game?

What makes a game ‘highbrow’? We don’t have solid criteria for deciding conclusively which games are masterpieces, and which are just dumb, explosive fun. Read more »

ss_f6a450fbf737eb04c58b973f72e8817bb2b50285.600x338

Katie Williams

Brain Candy: Are game jams diluting the potential of video games?

In a world where YouTube gameplay videos narrated by hollering amateurs hold as much clout – if not more – than professional game critics, I worry that developers may be swayed to choose an easier, unimaginative, and more vacuous path to success. Read more »

cher_horowitz_closet-010_2

Katie Williams

Fashion Forward: How hidden algorithms are dressing up technology

Though we increasingly rely on technology to simplify our lives, we still want to believe that behind the scenes is a happy, human face, rather than an impassive machine that does the dirty work for us. Read more »

16475519129_bb489cf4ce_o

Jane Howard

Creative Space: The secret power of community theatres

Theatre is inextricably tied to space, and the best theatre spaces become more than buildings. They become communities of like-minded people: of artists and of audience members, intermingling their ideas and their lives. Read more »

Tessa Waters stars in Womanz

Jane Howard

Fringe Feminism: Women, comedy and performance art

Taken together, the work of these female comics and performers loudly proclaims that their ideas about gender, femininity, performance and comedy are not diametrically opposed. It is because of their performance backgrounds that their shows are hilarious, not in spite of them. Read more »

Before Us_3

Jane Howard

Stuart Bowden’s Unfamiliar, Universal Worlds

It’s hard to classify the work of Stuart Bowden. His one-person storytelling theatre works are at once hilarious and melancholy. They exist in a particular space of fringe theatre: intricately crafted stories built for small rooms & small audiences, they lift and rise that audience, gathering us all up in the magic of stories & the closeness they can breed. Read more »