Post­cards From The Clip­ping Plane

Con­ve­niently ig­nor­ing the se­ri­ous side of videogame de­vel­op­ment

EDGE - - SECTIONS - James Leach is a BAFTA Award-win­ning free­lance writer whose work fea­tures in games and on tele­vi­sion and ra­dio

James Leach hitches s a ride into the heart of GTAV with withw the Dude

Ev­ery­one is out for them­selves in the world of games. It’s the sur­vival of the fittest. What­ever you have to do, who­ever you need to tram­ple on, you just hang in the un­til the next level, when things, briefly, get a lit­tle eas­ier. Then you reload and start again.

That’s what de­vel­op­ing games is like, as we all know, but it’s the same when you play them. What peo­ple now call, with­out irony, a dog­gie dog world. And it leads to some­thing peo­ple are call­ing, also with­out any irony, nar­ra­tive dis­so­nance. This is the when the char­ac­ters get cre­ated, fleshed out and re­alised to such a de­gree that they over­take any­thing you’d see in a film or TV show. In the dozens of hours you’ll de­vote to a game, the char­ac­ter pro­gres­sion never stops. It’s seen as a re­ward for stay­ing with the ti­tle.

And the dis­so­nance bit is when we end up with char­ac­ters who are sim­ply too full to ex­ist in a world where they’re re­peat­edly blown up, shot, hit by tor­pe­does and so on, and they respawn to do it all over again. The think­ing is that this doesn’t work. Any­body who sim­ply starts again where they met their vi­o­lent demise just can’t be a char­ac­ter you can be­lieve in. Touch­ing, im­por­tant scenes just seem wasted or, worse, out of place.

We want to care, though. In fact, we do care. And we are more than happy to fill in the gaps our­selves. I re­cently dived back into

GTAV, a game in which I’ve never put enough time to be very good at. I was busily run­ning around shoot­ing peo­ple in an on­line game, no head­set plugged in, when I got cor­nered by cops. Af­ter plenty of gun­fire, I was about to give up when a hugely im­pres­sive sports car pulled up. I ran to it and climbed in­side. It was be­ing driven by an­other hu­man player, some­one I’d never met be­fore. And that’s when it got in­ter­est­ing. The car raced off with me aboard. And to say it was driven with skill is a gross un­der­state­ment. All I could do was sit back and enjoy the im­mensely rapid ride.

We lost the five-oh with ease and drove to some de­serted area. Here my driver got out and I fol­lowed suit. I could have shot him, or tried to. I strongly sus­pect he would have hit me first and that would have been that. But this guy had res­cued me. Yes, guy. I know. But he was a male char­ac­ter in the game and sta­tis­ti­cally it’s likely he was male in real life. What­ever his gen­der, he was a Dude.

The Dude pro­ceeded to drop a large num­ber of weapons and ammo, which I swear he ges­tured me to pick up al­though that can’t be true. I did so and he got back in the car. And waited for me. I climbed in, of course. And over the next 20 min­utes I fol­lowed the Dude through some of the most in­tense gam­ing I can re­mem­ber. All I did was fol­low my hero, open­ing fire on who­ever he opened fire on. He saved me many times, he let me take kills he could eas­ily have car­ried out him­self, and at ev­ery stage, when it was time to go, he did a quick for­ward-and-back jig­gle which I re­alised meant ‘get into the car’. It was, to put it sim­ply, like hang­ing out with James Bond. No, bet­ter than that – at no point did he try to kiss me or get grumpy be­cause his life was one of soul­less state-sanc­tioned killing and he was miss­ing Judi Dench.

OK, ob­vi­ously hav­ing some­one enor­mously ca­pa­ble on your side is fun in any mul­ti­player game, but the thing about all this was that the Dude was clearly pro­vid­ing me with an ex­pe­ri­ence I could never have had oth­er­wise. This would un­de­ni­ably have been fun for him, and there’s some­thing lovely about be­ing so good that you can shep­herd oth­ers. I’ve done it my­self, in the mul­ti­player iPad air com­bat games Rise Of Glory and Storm Raiders.

While my thrill ride was go­ing down, I was writ­ing the story in my head. By sim­ply wait­ing for me to do things, by show­ing me where he wanted me to hide dur­ing am­bushes, and by do­ing his get-in-the-car jig­gle, the Dude be­came more real and more of a friend than I thought pos­si­ble. Of course, know­ing there was an ac­tual per­son some­where do­ing all this added a level of hu­man­ity that I wouldn’t have felt if he’d been an NPC. We both knew that we were shar­ing some­thing, and the very fact that I worked so hard to understand what he wanted and then car­ried it out showed him that I got it. Try­ing my best was my way of say­ing thank you.

I’d love to say that this bond­ing ex­er­cise, this mas­ter­class in cop-shoot­ing and hu­man re­la­tions, ended well, but we died in a fire­ball when the he­li­copter the Dude was fly­ing beau­ti­fully, with me in the back, got splat­ted by some oik in a jet. My mate van­ished, never to respawn again. Dude, if you’re read­ing this, get in touch. I’ll PayPal your mom the money for a le­mon­ade. You’ve earned it.

It was, to put it sim­ply, like hang­ing out with James Bond. No, bet­ter than that – at no point did he try to kiss me

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