A recent letter to eye (Letters, June 12) implied that this column was in league with SARS. “The locals going out and spending their dollars is all we have to cling to right now. And I want to open your paper and be encouraged to go out and spend, spend, spend. Not to sit at home, flame up a doobie and play Corpse Killer.”
As funny as I found this letter, I was most interested in the characterization of the game player as a weed-smoking wastrel. The pothead gamer. It’s quite prevalent, often appearing in comedy sketches and the like, and yet it’s hard to pinpoint where the characterization solidified into a cultural icon. It’s just one of those “it’s so true!” things that just appears from thin air.
Or did it? Isn’t it kind of similar to the dude in the ’60s who retreated to his bedroom, flamed up a doobie and listened to Hendrix while staring at his black light posters? And was his way paved by the denizen of the opium den, passing the time with solitaire? Is there a continuum in the wastrel figure throughout history?
And more importantly, what have I been missing? Playing games stoned must be fucking great! Research was obviously called for.
I’m inexperienced when it comes to weed, so I called in Marty. Marty showed up with his long hair and his bong, and I knew I was in good hands. When Marty moved recently, he wrote “kitchen stuff” and “bong” on one of the boxes — kind of as a joke, thought his cousin would find it funny. “But then, y’know, we ended up going to the cottage before I unpacked and that came in real handy!” Plus, he’s serious enough about videogames that he wrote a letter to Electronic Arts support suggesting improvements to their NHL franchise that ended: “Wouldn’t that be wicked?!”
After a quick refresher course, we got high and I started the tape rolling to record our invaluable insights. Hooking up the Xbox, as simple as game consoles are, took me much longer than usual. A disc in the wrong box completely bamboozled me. I found when I finally got it started I was palpably relieved by the background noise and music.
When I’m high I can’t remember what happened a few seconds before, like every second is isolated from the next. Between the TV going off and the game going on, the silence had seemed interminable. The moment-to-moment action of games certainly offered a soothing focus, but I can’t say it made my gameplay either more enjoyable or skillful.
It did make it easier to make stupid jokes. As I sit through the tape recording, I hear myself shouting at the game, “Whattaya mean I died? Why, cuz I killed so many people?!” (In my defence, much laughter ensued. It’s all in the delivery.)
The game I was playing at the time was called Evil Dead: A Fistful of Boomstick (THQ, 2003), but it might as well have been called Corpse Killer. It’s based on Sam Raimi’s horror flicks of the same name, and while we played a few different games that night it was this one that allowed us to hit all the requisite pothead gamer highlights.
Memory Loss: as we wandered through the deadite-afflicted town armed with a shotgun and a chainsaw, we repeatedly lost our way and lost track of our assigned goals. Maybe we should have played the less brain-intensive arcade mode. Luckily, the character had a to-do list, as all well-organized heroes do.
Sophomoric Humour: “The cops look totally gay!” And they did: with their tight trousers and their little caps, we had to check that the character design wasn’t by Tom of Finland. Bathed in pink light, they sternly refuse you entry to the strip club. We decided that it went beyond subtext, beyond hijinks in the graphic arts division, that it must have been a weird (but intriguing) design choice. Certainly the Evil Dead movies are campy horror, but kind of a macho camp, if there is such a thing. “They must have had meetings about this,” I said at the time. And if that seemed like a conspiracy theory…
Paranoia: Marty, irritated by a cop not letting us through, blasted him at point-blank range, after which the cop simply stood up again. As we discussed how this jarring lack of realism was just laziness on the game designer’s part, Marty ran around shooting zombies and cops alike. Then he said, “Do you think that, like, if there was a hard drive, it could record how many cops you kill? What if it could be connected to the internet and create a database of all the cop-killers?”
I explained that it does have an internal drive, that one of the selling points of the Xbox is that you can save your games without extra memory cards, and that the Xbox Live feature allows you to play online via a highspeed internet connection. It also automatically downloads patches and… other stuff.
Marty stopped shooting cops.
After the pot wore off it seemed a little far-fetched. Tracking your potential cop-killing tendencies through a video game… well, that’d be like profiling potential terrorists through what books they’ve checked out at the library! And it’s not like the makers of Xbox — Microsoft — need anything to negotiate with the feds with… I’m sure they’ll continue to beat those anti-trust charges fair and square.
Or maybe staying at home and playing video games is more dangerous than SARS, after all.