Tuesday, August 30, 2011

What a Piss Off

This is going to be very, very interesting.
The other night I was over at Ryebone's house and after watching some movie trailers and discussing the politcal landscape in Libya over some finely aged scotch we ended up doing some classic gaming.  I suppose "classic" is a matter of perspective, but for our purposes here it means booting up some old Gamecube games.  And by games I mean SSX 3, a favourite of ours from back in the day that we'd spent countless hours playing after playing even more countless hours playing its predecessor SSX Tricky in university.  If memory serves, SSX Tricky is the first game that we ran for more than 24 consecutive hours on the Gamecube in our residence apartment, though Rogue Squadron II almost snagged that (potentially dubious) honour first.  The point is revisiting that shit was a fucking blast.

My gaming life of late has been dominated by an obsession with Xbox achievement points. (The metagame; the game within (or without) a game.)  I'm not knocking the achivement system on the 360, and in fact it offered motivation to keep going on those long, lonely nights of soul searching when in times of desperation I almost turned to actual human interaction.  Thankfully, though, I was able to pull back to the brink.  The achievement points system on the 360 is far superior to the trophy reward system on the PS3 and the entire lack of any reward system on the Wii.  But somewhere along the way the line got blurred between playing games for the (seemingly) intrinsic satisfaction I recieved from progressing through each one and progressing for the sake of progressing, which I suppose in and of itself offered a certain level of satisfaction.  This may seem like a fine line to comprehend let alone to tread (or simply rhetorical bullshit to some) but it is an important philosophical distinction I have recently found myself in the position to make.

When most people talk about video games they generally talk about the game play and the graphics; they generally don't talk about the philisophical ramifcations of gaming.  While some might have chalked it up to boredom, or even a slight bout of depression, to me it was the closest I might ever get to a crisis of faith.  I was playing video games almost exclusively on the XBox 360 (whenever I could sneak away from the wife and kids for five goddamn minutes, that is) with the sole intention of getting more achievement points and increasing my gamer score (which currently weighs in around a healthy 10,000 or so).  I was obsessed to the point that I almost completely neglected gaming on my Wii and PS3.  And I hadn't realized it until that night at Ryebone's pimping bachelor pad, but my gaming had become tedious and monotonous.  The games I was playing had simply become a means to an end instead of an end unto themselves.  Video games had become a conduit; a chore to perform in order to increase a virtual number by completing tasks in the games that I normally would never have considered and really weren't that fun or meaningful to me.  This was undoubtedly one of my lowest points as a gamer, a weekend philosopher and a functioning alcoholic.

Booting up SSX 3 on Ryebone's 52 inch plasma TV I felt something stir deep inside me.  At first I thought it was some strange mutant creature like Quatto from TOTAL RECALL coming to the surface.  Then I realized that it was the shackles of societal pressure being lifted from my back, shriveled soul.  Or at least percieved societal pressure, which amounts to the same thing.  I was fucking enjoying my virtual snowboarding adventure down (the aptly named) Peaks 1, 2, and 3 maxing out my uber tricks whilst grooving to some phat, juicy beats.  I had rediscovered my love of gaming (and also my obsessively competitive nature when I spent an hour trying to beat one of Ryebone's scores after he jokingly challenged me.  There is no such thing as a casual challenge, bitch).

Now the way we always played the SSX games was to completely ignore the racing in favour of the trick challenges because that's where the fun shit was at.  Getting ridiculously high scores, gloating to friends and family, then beating you friend's scores and gloating to him and dipping your balls in his coffee to celebrate your victory.  Some of you more astute readers may be saying to themselves "Wait a minute: you just said youd didn't feel spiritually fulfilled trying to achieve some virtual score for some sense of self-validation."  Well not exactly.  The difference between getting a score for performing tricks in SSX 3 and collecting a bunch of bobble heads in Fallout 3 to get the 30 or so acheivement points are philosocally very different things.  One corresponds directly to my gaming abilities and subsequent achievments and the other exists outside of the game itself and is related to a virtual profile with little to no relevence to the game itself or my relative gaming abilities.  The 360 achievement points -while still slightly meaningful- are another step removed from the game itself and from the player.

Anyway, after experiencing this Reawakening I went home and the next day I booted up my Wii and popped in SSX 3 ad SSX Tricky and dugout my old Gamecube controllers and memory cards and soon discovered... that nothing lasts forever and one of my memory cards had lost all its data.  Of course, it was the memory card with the bulk of my Gamecube save files including all my high scores from my virtual snowboarding exploits.  My first reaction was dumbfounded disbelief, followed by anger, then finally acceptance.  There was nothing I could do.  The card was working fine and took new saves.  Apparently over time without a steady power supply most electronic memory devices have a tendency to lose data. 

Despite this electronic inevitabiliy it was still a huge fucking piss off, though. 

What I had lost wasn't just gold medals for blowing up the Death Star or points from performing impossible tricks on virtual snowboards: it was validation.  The time I had spent perfecting my skills was not in and of itself enough.  Not totally anyway.  With a codified system of writing it is possible to pass on those records for posterity.  There is a way not only to objectively qualify your skills in relation to other people who may or may not give two shits, but simply as a way of leaving any kind of mark at all and saying "I was there.  I did that shit, and here is my score to prove how well I did it."  It lent a certain credibility to all the time I had spent playing those games, performing those glorious deeds.  Just like Achilles' desire to have stories told about him for thousands of years it was my own small slice of immortality that had been lost.  And now I have to start climbing that ladder back to immortality.  What a fucking pain in the ass.    


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