Trig­ger Happy

Shoot first, ask ques­tions later


What is stop­ping Steven Poole from en­joy­ing new games?

So my friend and I are walk­ing down the street, punch­ing and kick­ing ev­ery­one we meet, and oc­ca­sion­ally throw­ing car tyres at them or stab­bing them with bro­ken bot­tles. This is such fun that we de­cide to do the same thing in a videogame. Hap­pily,

Dou­ble Dragon 4 has just been re­leased on PS4. As it turns out, though, we spend all of 15 min­utes on it be­fore de­cid­ing that it is ter­ri­ble and switch­ing to the highly sat­is­fy­ing Neon Chrome, a mood­ily lit sci-fi Rogue­like twin-stick shooter that uses around a bil­lion times as many pix­els and more than four frames of an­i­ma­tion.

On an­other re­cent week­end, I book tick­ets to see La La Land in the cin­ema, not be­cause I ex­pect to en­joy it but be­cause I know my com­pan­ion loves mu­si­cals, and I am a no­to­ri­ously self­less film­goer. As it turns out, we both love it to bits, and I de­cide there and then that any­one who doesn’t think it is one of the great­est movies ever made is to be pitied and slightly ridiculed.

The con­trast be­tween these two ex­pe­ri­ences il­lus­trates a pe­cu­liar­ity about videogames as a medium that I’ll call the Genre Silo Ef­fect. If you’re not a fan of mu­si­cal films – or fan­tasy nov­els, or late-19th-cen­tury Scan­di­na­vian plays – you can still go and see one, and you might en­joy it. In this way I was grat­i­fy­ingly sur­prised by La La Land, as I have been pre­vi­ously by my first scep­ti­cal for­ays into gen­res such as mil­i­tary sci­ence-fic­tion nov­els, or pup­pet theatre, or coun­try mu­sic.

On the other hand, it can be not just dif­fi­cult but im­pos­si­ble to en­joy a videogame in a genre with which you are not al­ready in­ti­mately fa­mil­iar. My friend and I tired of

Dou­ble Dragon 4 very quickly be­cause, or so it seemed to us, the fight­ing sys­tem was both bor­ingly sim­plis­tic and un­rea­son­ably dif­fi­cult. But per­haps if I’d mis­spent more of my youth play­ing Dou­ble Dragon games, rather than De­fender in ar­cades or Manic

Miner on a ZX Spec­trum, I would un­der­stand the sat­is­fy­ing depths and nu­ances of the game­play bet­ter, and so have a higher opin­ion of the lat­est game.

The same goes for a lot of videogame gen­res, which rely on a whole host of deep con­ven­tions and tra­di­tions. Hav­ing not se­ri­ously played any kind of proper mar­tialarts-style fight­ing game since Tekken and

Soul Cal­ibur on the orig­i­nal PlayS­ta­tion, I have lit­er­ally zero chance of en­joy­ing a con­tem­po­rary one un­less I spend months do­ing my home­work — and yet I can eas­ily en­joy kung-fu ac­tor Don­nie Yuen’s bril­liant turn as a staff-wield­ing blind Jedi wannabe in the most re­cent Star Wars film. You can also thrill to the space bat­tles in Rogue One even if you’ve never seen a sci-fi film be­fore, but if you’ve never played a De­fender- alike, you’ll be hard pushed to un­der­stand what the hell is go­ing on in Re­so­gun (and even if you have, House­mar­que’s game is con­fus­ing at first). Mean­while, if I wanted to, I could watch any of the Fast And Fu­ri­ous films and maybe even like them – but since I haven’t played a rac­ing game in years, I have ab­so­lutely no chance of en­joy­ing what­ever the best new rac­ing game is un­less I put in dozens of hours of train­ing (or, as I like to call it, crash­ing into road­side bar­ri­ers).

Films and nov­els rely on genre con­ven­tions and ex­pec­ta­tions too, but of course the dif­fer­ence with videogames is that they are, as the aca­demics like to say, er­godic – you have to do stuff; they are a species of work. And the par­tic­u­lar kind of skilled work you have to do in each kind of longestab­lished videogame genre can cre­ate a very high bar­rier to en­try, and so to wider aes­thetic en­joy­ment. Hence the Genre Silo Ef­fect, which ex­ists in no other art­form: gen­res can be­come, to all in­tents and pur­poses, ut­terly im­pen­e­tra­ble to out­siders.

For this rea­son think­ing about videogames as a whole, across all the dif­fer­ent genre si­los, may now be less use­ful as an an­a­lyt­i­cal cul­tural cat­e­gory than view­ing each genre as a spe­cific art­form in it­self. In this, as in other ways, games are more like sports: to think about ‘sport’ in the ab­stract is near-mean­ing­less, but to think about foot­ball or ten­nis cer­tainly isn’t. So I feel no need to apol­o­gise to Dou­ble Dragon afi­ciona­dos any more than I feel sorry about telling some­one I don’t en­joy watch­ing base­ball, or ad­mit­ting that the game I’m most look­ing for­ward to this year is Ace

Com­bat 7. Why Bandai Namco’s game in par­tic­u­lar? Be­cause I’ve played all the oth­ers in the se­ries, so I’m ab­so­lutely sure I’ll un­der­stand this one.

Steven Poole’s Trig­ger Happy 2.o is now avail­able from Ama­zon. Visit him on­line at www.steven­

It can be not just dif­fi­cult but im­pos­si­ble to en­joy a game in a genre with which you are not al­ready in­ti­mately fa­mil­iar

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