Paper Angels

The delightfully simple Paperboy (available on Live Arcade since 14/02/07) has reminded me that there simply aren’t enough pacifist games, still less non-competitive ones. Being a conscientious objector myself, I would never handle a firearm (I’ve always turned down trips that promised this as a feature), I don’t believe in glorying in violence and I appreciate developers that bravely stay away from the easy visceral thrills provided by guts, gore and sex. Some bloody games manage to surpass their violent content, either by providing a more strategic air which moves away from the warlike nature of the game; others, like Call of Duty, claim there are historical lessons to be learned from shooting other people in the face. I take this with a large pinch of salt but at least it’s a move in the right direction.

Few games, save puzzle games, can manage what Paperboy does, to produce a game that involves slapstick humour (which, yes, can have an element of violence but always with humour and never designed to gratify by itself) and a compelling, difficult game mechanic without ever resorting to anything crude, nasty, violent. You have three tasks in Paperboy: to keep your paperboy pedalling despite the hazards of the course; to deliver your papers; and to get to the end of the street on time. There’s an optional fourth task, to maximise your score by smashing non-subscribers’ windows, dealing with burglars and stopping fights; essentially anything that can be construed as antisocial behaviour from the viewpoint of the paperboy. It’s a game about doing the right thing that disguises itself as rebelliousness and that’s why I think it’s great.

360 Hangovers

My face feels like it’s stuck to the pillow, and there’s a ringing in my ears that isn’t just the alarm. I vaguely remember dreaming about fighting a knight in a train, then eating some chokeberries. I drag my head up and the instant headache and scummy mouth is so repugnant, I assume I must have been drinking. I check my pockets and am nicely surprised; a wodge of cash is still there, there’s no outrageous taxi receipts, no ludicrously priced bills for London cocktails or ladies of the night (slightly cheaper than the cocktails, I hear). Thinking some PR must have been buying the drinks, I stumble into the living room, and the TV’s on. A familiar theme tune bangs out, with Patrick Stewart intoning over the top. Everything clears up. Playing Oblivion ’til three again? On a work night? I wish I’d been out drinking…

I shouldn’t be playing this game this much. I know off by heart the locations of every shop in every city, have run over the map for hours on end, just for kicks and yet, a couple of hundred hours in, I’ve still not completed half the quests, am nowhere near completing the main quest and have only just stopped being a vampire (thanks to the Vile Lair download pack). I’ve not only stopped doing the quests, I’ve started making up my own. Taking pictures of the flowers, seeing how high I can get my bounty, making the largest pile of naked dead people in a city square, and endlessly just exploring dungeons, just to see what’s in there. Oh and lots of running away. I speak to the members of the Thieve’s Guild more than I do my family (but, then, my family aren’t so hot at laundering goods.) I’ve wondered about checking into that clinic in Amsterdam to see if I can cure my addiction.

I recognise now that unless I complete all the quests, I’m never going to be able to let this game go. So, thanks to suggestions from friends, I’m now rebuilding my life around getting the game finished. I now do sit-ups whilst watching the screen, nap at work in my lunch-hour to recoup those precious minutes for later play, and have set up a credits system, where an hour of cooking, cleaning or eating bags me an hour fighting gobbos. I’m even aiming to take up smoking when the quests end just so I’ve got a secondary addiction to take over. The only cloud on the horizon is Bethesda; they insist on realising new, addictive downloads every fricking fortnight, and won’t promise me that they’ll stop doing it because they’re making a nice profit out of me.

The Horror Of Communication

I was being pestered by irritating music promoters from Greece on MSN because they think that, because I have a Greek name and work for the Official Xbox Magazine, that I care about their concept to link festivals the world over through Xbox Live Vision cameras. While their idea might be fine (I couldn’t care less), it’s a horrible concept that one day all msn, phone and email systems will be linked to a global fast network so that nowhere you go will there be peace, solitude and quiet but only the eternal binging, buzzing and clanking of your receivers. Thank Zeus, the Chinese will have shot down all the satellites by then with their new rockets and reduced the world to a faux-communist wasteland.