Advertisement

KILLINGS, daily columns and blog —

Events

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

by Paul Callaghan , September 23, 20115 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.




5 thoughts on “Novelty, escape, boredom, hope: A life in videogames and four acts

  1. 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!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

9864007066_4a196b364d_z

Tim Robertson

Fear, loathing, and the erosion of civil liberties

The hysteria currently being concocted by Australia’s political leaders is a smokescreen for the more serious threat facing everyone – an attack of the very freedoms and values our nation has been built on. Read more »

308982705_be9f94455b_b

Marika Sosnowski

Back inside: Life on the Syrian-Turkish border

In Turkey, less than 50 kilometres from the border, Syrians have chosen their favourite cafes, have opened Aleppine sweet shops and set up stores in the old city. Read more »

Frances Abbott

David Donaldson

Why #whitehousegate matters

A few days after the release of the budget, in which the Coalition government announced it was spreading the burden by increasing university fees, cutting school funding, and cutting welfare for young people comes a story that confirms what many already suspect to be the nature of opportunity: it’s much easier to come by if you’re born into privilege. Read more »

9781863956932

Carody Culver

Charmless lives: Helen Garner’s This House of Grief and Erik Jensen’s Acute Misfortune

How do narrative non-fiction writers who dare to dissect the darker aspects of humanity keep their readers engaged, rather than simply horrified? Read more »

KrissyKneen_credit_DarrenJames

Carody Culver

‘As if the top of my head were taken off’: The digital possibilities of poetry

‘When Emily Dickinson says, “If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry,” I can’t help but think she would be stupefied by the possibilities of digital literature.’ Read more »

tumblr_n9hftkebsr1tfwx0xo1_1280

S.A. Jones

‘Fool the Axis, Use Prophylaxis’: World War II’s anti-venereal disease posters

Protect Yourself: Venereal Disease Posters of World War II gives a fascinating insight into one of the ways the United States ‘managed’ servicemen’s sexuality: through poster art. Read more »

15115828030_526f79c515_z

Julia Tulloh

The celebrity spokesperson phenomenon

What should we expect celebrity advocates to deliver? Emma Watson is not a full-time activist, but if she inspires young people to take an interest in gender equality, is that not a good thing? Read more »

Clara and Doctor

Julia Tulloh

Doctor Who’s gender dynamics: a mid-season evaluation

In some ways, Peter Capaldi was a problematic choice for the newest regeneration of Doctor Who. How on earth were the producers going to pull off a successful friendship between a middle-aged man and a twenty-something woman, without it seeming at best patriarchal and at worst creepy? Read more »

blue-ombr-speckle-liner

Julia Tulloh

From the outside in: the beauty vlogger phenomenon

A current cohort of beauty bloggers are helping to break down distinctions between internal and external expressions of self in ways that allow them to generate new ideas of beauty on their own terms, rather than according to society’s expectations of what women (or men) should look like. Read more »

Whiplash-Damien-Chazelle

Rochelle Siemienowicz

Whiplash: bloody fingers and broken drumsticks

Whiplash is one of the year’s most exciting and electrically charged films. Admittedly, that’s a large claim to make for a little movie about a New York music student, his abrasive teacher, and a whole lot of banging and yelling in band practice. Read more »

Gone-Girl-Ben-Affleck-Rosamund-Pike-Entertainment-Weekly-cover

Rochelle Siemienowicz

Marital Crises: Gone Girl and Force Majeure

You can share your body, your bed, your bank account, and even your toothbrush, with another human being. But each mind contains a private world that can never be fully understood or examined, let alone shared with another. Read more »

theskeletontwins1

Rochelle Siemienowicz

Suicide, Laughter and The Skeleton Twins

Even the best parents can inflict some form of lifelong damage upon their children. But when parents are outright mad, bad or dangerous – or in the case of the funny, bittersweet comic drama The Skeleton Twins, so depressed they commit suicide – the damage can feel impossible to bear, even decades down the track. Read more »

ST_Ello_600

Connor Tomas O'Brien

The Rise of the High-Minded Startup

Ello’s manifesto is the key to understanding its relative success, and how it has managed to sign up hundreds of thousands of users despite offering a wafer-thin feature set. Read more »

6289302147_38e8035680_z

Connor Tomas O'Brien

Jacqui Lambie and the limits of Remix Culture

The combination of Google Image Search, Photoshop, and Facebook is a powerful one, providing web users with the ability to seek out swaths of copyrighted visual material, rip and manipulate these pictures so the original source is obscured, then share the freshly “remixed” images to a broad audience with no real fear of legal action. Read more »

Streisand_Estate

Connor Tomas O'Brien

Don’t Look: The emergence of Streisand criticism

In the wake of the recent nude celebrity photo leak, I noticed something strange about the ways different publications skewed their coverage. Tabloid-style publications tended to be honest about their motives. The behaviour of left-leaning broadsheet-style outlets, however, was more complex. Read more »

9780062211194

Danielle Binks

Nepotism, bullying and stalking: When online reviews go bad

The tangible power author Kathleen Hale wields, evinced by her numerous connections and Guardian platform, enabled her continued harassment of her book’s 1-star reviewer. The vocal support and defence put forward by Hale’s influential friends and family appears to be a case of privilege feeding narcissism. Read more »

nonaandme

Danielle Binks

Race, growing up and Nona and Me

Nona & Me beautifully explores female friendship amid cultural and political upheaval. It’s a tender portrayal of two girls who have so much in common, but are worlds apart. Read more »

7183815590_de3f64bca6_z

Danielle Binks

‘YA-bashing’: sexism meets elitism

Another month, another critic who doesn’t read YA literature but still feels superior enough to dictate to those who do. And with this latest instalment of ‘YA bashing’ comes critique of the critics – as many start pointing to a patriarchal undercurrent that runs beneath such articles that claim young adult and children’s fiction is unworthy. Read more »

PEREZ_3©yann_morrison-546x364

Chad Parkhill

The not-so-universal language of mankind

Music is, demonstrably, not the universal language of mankind: if that were the case I could make myself understood in Paris’s cafés and boulangeries by carrying around an iPod full of songs titled ‘A Coffee, Please’ or ‘A Baguette With Duck Rillettes To Go, Thanks’. Read more »

homepage_large.9419e472

Chad Parkhill

The music of exhaustion

The War on Drugs new album Lost in the Dream is the startling sound of exhaustion – both a personal exhaustion and a broader cultural exhaustion – transformed into art that is thrillingly and paradoxically vital. Read more »

free-u2-album-on-itunes

Chad Parkhill

The Perpetual Undeath of Rock

 ‘Hey hey, my my, rock and roll can never die.’ Depending on your own tastes and cognitive biases, Neil Young’s famous lyric will now seem more prophetic than ever before – or profoundly misguided. Last week saw the release of U2’s Songs of Innocence in what Apple … Read more »

bojack-horseman-exclusive-trailer-debut_bghe

Stephanie Van Schilt

Jerks, antiheroes and failed adulthood in You’re The Worst and BoJack Horseman

In addition to both being really funny, two new US comedies – You’re The Worst and BoJack Horseman – speak to a widely-held fear about what, exactly, constitutes ‘adulthood’. Read more »

images

Stephanie Van Schilt

How To Talk Australians and the rise of web series

How To Talk Australians has deservedly garnered widespread praise both locally and internationally. With close to two million views worldwide, it could be deemed our first truly successful locally-produced web series. Read more »

please-like-me

Stephanie Van Schilt

Mental illness and Josh Thomas’ Please Like Me

While the jury is still out on the success of Please Like Me’s efforts to address ideas around mental health, the discussions both its seasons have provoked and continue to encourage are incredibly important. That, I definitely like. Read more »