Postcards From The Clipping Plane
Conveniently ignoring the serious side of videogame development
James ames Leach frets over the impact his is games have on young minds
If I sometimes appear cynical it’s because the world is rubbish and always lets you down. But, just occasionally, nice things happen. I was approached at a party recently by two trendy guys. They looked like they were in their 30s and also like they were in the ’30s, thanks to their hipster clothes. I was preparing to tell them I was not in a position to sell them any drugs when they mentioned that they recognised me as one of the people who worked on Lionhead (RIP)’s Black & White and Big Blue Box (Lest We Forget)’s Fable.
It’s one thing to have your name spotted. This has happened before, because I was also a member of the US House Of Representatives from 1977 to 2007. Or someone with the same name was. That part of my life is a bit of a blur. But these guys at the party knew me as the game-writer dude, and it turns out they loved the games I’ve worked on.
Yes, I know this is all self-aggrandising showing off, but the guys actually said that these games changed their lives. This stopped me in my tracks because I’ve never considered the impact of videogames to be as big as that on the people we sell them to. For me, a few ZX Spectrum games really did change my life because I knew I wanted to play them for a living, and even one day be a part of the teams that wrote them. Up until then I was predestined to be a weapons instructor for the SAS in Hereford. And, as a teen, it’s clear that games delayed my introduction to female girls of the opposite sex. In fact even more recently, after I was involved in a road traffic collision near my home, which was entirely my fault, I had the presence of mind to drive rapidly offroad and park up in an abandoned mineshaft for three minutes to successfully avoid the police cars and helicopters that were instantly after me.
If, though, we as developers are changing young lives, it’s a responsibility we need to be aware of and to take with a degree of seriousness. Black & White pioneered, I believe, the notion that if you are powerful enough, being good or evil is a choice you can make purely depending on the short-term gains you achieve from either path. You are not ultimately judged on your alignment, and thus you do not have to face sanctions from above at any time. It’s simply a decision you make to get what you want. As I chatted to the lads at the party, I learnt that one had devoted his life to volunteer work for the International Red Cross, and the other had a trident and a Transit van outside full of wailing orphans. Both seemed equally happy with their lot. It seems Black & White was ahead of its time.
It’d be interesting to know the number of people who trade on the world’s stock markets as a direct result of shipping slaves between planets in Elite. Or, in the future, whether the ranks of space agencies will be filled with bright young minds who actually understood what was going on in Kerbal Space Program. Maybe, when the inevitable breakdown of society finally plays out and zombies come for us all, we’ll be fine because most of us know exactly where to camp and what weapons to use. Although equally, perhaps we’ll die out because instead of correctly treating the wounds we receive during this difficult and challenging time we’ll simply go and eat tiny roast chickens in an attempt to restore our health. I’ve talked before about how I cannot pass a crate in real life without hitting it with a sword in order to see what armour-based bonuses lie within.
Expensive public boarding schools saw an uptake in admissions while sales of owls similarly rocketed after the Harry Potter books came out, and I suspect that nowadays sniper schools everywhere have long lines of potential recruits. If that’s the case, their first mistake is standing still in an orderly queue, especially if they’re silhouetting.
I haven’t met anyone in their mid-20s named Dhalsim or E Honda, but I like to think that they’re out there. In fact, I know they are. My neighbour is actually called Ken. He once told me that before he retired, he used to work for Unigate Dairies, just like his dad – who, I’m willing to bet, had a modded Super Famicom console in his parlour. Proof if proof were needed.
Burdened by the weight of my conscience, I have now vowed to work only on games that promote family values and peaceful discourse rather than violence. It’s blindingly obvious that the woes in the Middle East came about as a direct result of my work on Dungeon Keeper.
Oh, and the two hipsters did eventually say that they preferred Skyrim to the Fable series, so I had to kill them with a railgun.
I haven’t met anyone in their mid-20s named Dhalsim or E Honda, but I like to think that they’re out there