Saturday, 8 August 2009

I'm The Fastest Man Alive: In Praise of Flow-Gaming

As my life takes on the traditional summer-holiday form of long days of gaming with little other nutrition, so do my for-the-blog scribblings become a games-only paradise*. But none of them still quite scratch the lingering itch that only Spelunky can satisfy. That is, something elegant yet mindless to do with my fingers while I chat/watch TV/listen to music.

It's why my girlfriend plays Tetris and Spider Solitaire while she catches up on Smallville**, why my flatmates play endless hours of Football Manager; it's the unique debt we owe to laptops. 5 of us in a room, following (currently) the many running-people on TV and listening to the Ramones and discussing the "is she a man" controversy and never breaking the illusion of social contact.Admittedly a lot of NG's flow involves people's limbs messily falling off.There's a sense of pure uncomplicated flow to all these games that just fills a need. And even in console games- which tend to be a just-for-me, more serious time-consuming activity, I've found myself craving that flow. I think this is exacerbated by the death of my 360 and, in lieu of shooty games, seeking that other love of mine, the jumpy game.

And it's something I've just failed to find in the amusing, interesting mechanics of Super Paper Mario, or the pretty cartoon landscapes and addictive challenges of Wario Land: Shake It. They're just not bouncy enough, frankly. It's the same reason I love the Ninja Gaiden games, infuriatingly difficult though they might be at times, over more artistically interesting (and equally infuriating) games like, say, No More Heroes***.

Now, having not touched Ninja Gaiden for maybe 6 months, if I close my eyes, I can imagine the exact moves. My fingers twitch automatically, dancing for where the buttons should be- a quick bounce of that guy's head (R + A) to flip back off wall (A), then shoot myself (Y) back at him, get in a quick couple of slices (XX) before finishing with a uppercut stab (Y).

There's a sense of these games as an extension of your body, and the repetitive motion is their draw. It's not a longing to do a particular level or move in Ninja Gaiden that causes me to inevitably crack open the case every six months- it's a desire for its familiar mechanics. It's soothing and at the same time I feel powerful.

Which might seem a bit of a paradox in a game so infamously difficult, and with Spelunky being almost as hard. Sometimes the actual flow of movement on screen gets interrupted, often by death, but as I learn, I internalise the game's mechanics. In Spelunky (and when I watch my girlfriend play Spider Solitaire I can see it happening in her head), I can look at a situation and, if I take my time, imagine the many- but finite- possible outcomes. The arc this thrown rock will take, how and when that spider will fall- into an arrow trap, which might wake the skeleton-is it an undead
or just a throwable skull?- a simple bomb
should solve it and let me safely
down to the next--

I'm sorry, I need to go and play Spelunky. I've spent too long quietly typing this and not paying attention to the running-types on TV.

*And, I realise, quite rarely committed to the blog itself. Internet's been in a mess, etc. Comment if you've really missed me enough that you feel left down.

**This isn't an activity I encourage, but am consistently morbidly curious about it.
***You can't even jump in NMH. This is a travesty.

(Confession: I'm aware this is about the most autobiography-heavy post I've ever done, for which I apologise. Handsome or no, I'm certainly less interesting than ninjas, tomb-raiders and Britney Spears.
Confession II: I'm also aware the point of this post meandered more than a little. Apologies to the many teachers and markers who I am sure will recognise this quirk from every essay I've ever written.)

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London, United Kingdom
Videogames, film, music, comics: feed them into the Alex-Spencer machine and out come neat little articles. Like the ones you're looking at here.