Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Notes on 'The Marriage'

'A Garden Party At Which The Husband Is Uncomfortable'

There’s plenty to say about Rod Humble’s The Marriage – a game I briefly mentioned in last week’s article – that would have suffered from being stuffed into it. This is a tangential analysis.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Consider the Unicorn

The late-night drunk has a new song in his repertoire. I heard it not too long ago, when I was still a student, returning home from a club at 2am. Three others, crossing the road ahead of me, began without warning to belt out Erasure’s camptastic sugar-bomb: ALWAYS! I WANT TO BE WITH YOU! MAKE BELIEVE WITH YOU! We all know who to blame. It’s that bastard unicorn.

How did a tiny two-button flash game end up on the streets of Brighton? Some time ago Rod Humble – EA’s Captain of Sims by day and spare-time indie meddler by night – wrote about the ancient Egyptian game of Senet, whose intricate boards and pieces have been excavated and studied but whose animating principles are lost forever. Yet any future archaeologists who dig up Robot Unicorn Attack will have the opposite problem: they’ll have the code, but they still won’t understand why anyone gave a shit. Although you can peel back its skin and sweep away the sparkles to focus on the underlying rules, trying to pin down its appeal to any mechanical facet seems fruitless.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

A Family Game

If I were called to remember Left 4 Dead by one defining image, I would think, oddly enough, of red doors. The front door to the Brindle household was painted red, but in L4D each red door leads to a safe place. Every red door, in fact – every identical red door – has the same reliable function. Amidst a ruined and shadowy world, these doors are bright reminders that the game’s authentically grim tone and its touches of mechanical realism are employed only and fully to the extent that they bring players together as a unit.
By the time Left 4 Dead was released, our own family was scattered across the world. Most of us had no more desire to get back in touch with each other than the British MoD does with their old pal Gaddafi – but this was also the period in which I began to re-establish contact with my brother Jimmy. Most of our catching-up took place in the haunted woods and ruined estates of L4D’s campaigns. Sometimes we invited other Brindles, and we were able to put away our quarrels for a while in subordination to the goals of the game.

Meet the Brindles

One day, not so very long ago, I was on a Team Fortress 2 server, and, by chance, I was playing under the name of ‘John Brindle’. There is bitter disagreement about who came first, but soon I was joined by other members of the Brindle family. Initially there were only a couple; then their ranks grew and grew until cp_dustbowl was a Brindletopia and the whole server resembled our family history writ large, brother versus brother, vicious struggle, and no quarter given. That day the first few of us decided that we wanted to write about the pastime that has taken so much of our time and affected our lives so much. For us, the argument as to whether or not videogames are art has already been won. Henceforth, it will never be mentioned again.
We are calling all Brindles. We know you’re out there – members of our family, with the same roots and  concerns and dysfunctions as us, and no better. We are calling you out of your pits, out of your lairs, out of the desperate places where you’ve made your homes. You know who you are.
Everything that follows is dedicated to our loving father, Thomas Brindle.