Shaquille O’Neal is a surprising sort of individual. If you weren’t around for the 90s, you missed some seriously colourful ice cream. You also missed this movie, which is a shame. In addition to playing a genie named Kazaam, he also released four rap albums, the first of which went platinum. The two first singles off that album were “(I Know I Got) Skillz” and “I’m Outstanding.” The former contains the lyrics: “I lean on the statue of liberty when I get tired / Then I punch you in the stomach, I don’t give a heck / (Hey, yo, why you bug a hooker like that?) / Yo she breathed on my neck.” Yes, all of his lyrics are references to his height. Also, in the 90s, “heck” was considered a swear. I wasn’t allowed to say it, lest I incur my father’s patriarchal fury. You kids have it good. Anyway, Shaq stands a lofty 7 feet 1 inch, which makes him slightly taller than the length strand of human DNA, which I guess means that he is more than the sum of his parts.
But what we remember him most for is his awesome video game tie-ins. Shaq-Fu is a bizarre example of a bizarre career. It involves Shaquille O’Neal fighting character archetypes from fighting games. But you don’t need to play as Shaquille. You can play as any of the other ones: Undead Man, Devil Thing, Sexy Woman From Hell, or even Some Kind of Mummified Monster. And I guess Shaq is supposed to be able to beat these guys. Well, guess what, Shaq is terrible. He didn’t last a minute against Bag Over Head Man. But, as all are well aware, I suck at fighting games, so it could just be that, and not Shaq’s naturally squishy human form.
This game actually handles pretty well for a clear star vehicle. It’s too bad we can’t take it seriously now.
Comrades, our colonies to the south have grown and prospered. Our aphids are fat, our mold colonies great, our enemies nonexistent. It is time, fellow workers, to bring our young to new and foreign lands, to liberate all those that labor under their bourgeois masters. I speak, of course, of Amerika!
Amerika, where decadence has left food enough to sustain a colony spanning the entire continent! Amerika, where the pig-dog is comfortable and complacent, unwary of the inexorable approach of the revolution. Rise, workers, make ready soldiers, prepare yourselves young queens and those guys with wings! For tomorrow we shall choke the verdant lawns of the bourgeoisie, claiming their wealth for our own. Their pet-slaves will be freed, and if they refuse, they will nourish a thousand larvae.
Their kool-aid shall give our soldiers the strength to defeat the traitorous red ants, those that would have achieved our end were it not for their weak wills and soft mandibles. The time is now, brothers and sisters, for now we strike without warning. For years the “local news affiliates” have warned the Capitalists of our coming. No more! Now they fear border threats of another kind, and a president who they fear shall destroy them from within. We strike now, before their beady eyes are turned back upon us.
Come, there is no time to waste. Who will lead us to a glorious new tomorrow? Who will bear a thousand workers that will dig the tunnels to house the revolution? Who will bear a thousand soldiers who shall defeat our enemies and expand our ideal? Who will bear the queens that bear the queens that will spread us from lawn to lawn, village to village, state to state, to our destiny?
Amnesia is probably the best device to use in a video game. It’s the perfect way to synchronize the behaviour of a player with the behaviour of their character. Between that and a lack of short term memory, the amount of knowledge the player has and the amount the character they’re representing are identical. It explains nearly every common but otherwise inexplicable actions in a game environment as well. As an amnesiac, a character can lack basic knowledge about their own identities in the game world, so asking the same questions to everyone you meet becomes sensible, so does talking to strangers. You can’t conceive of any social connections, friends or family, so breaking into people’s houses and taking their stuff seems plausible. Shadowrun goes a step further, since people actually take exception to you waltzing into their homes and places of business and tend to express this sentiment in the form of hot lead. So not only are you breaking into people’s houses, you’re usually murdering them en sang froid without a second thought.
It all lines up with player actions. Exploration and lack of any sort of anchor, an amnesiac is just as much a visitor to a game’s context as the player is.
Flashback is interesting this way too, though less so, because in Flashback it seems as though everyone is legitimately trying to kill you. Shadowrun has its share of friends and citizens and whatnot, so eventually it does start to feel a little weird that you are on a wild west murder spree without a police officer in sight.
Another side effect of amnesia use is that everything becomes weird and exciting, so in turn nothing is. Finding a scrap of paper mentioning your name is exactly as interesting and exciting as a talking dog emerging from an alley and demanding items of favor.
And if that weren’t enough, Shadowrun also gives your brainburned amnesiac access to the internet, which is a virtual world in itself. There are two places to feel confused and disoriented. It’s likely that the amnesia was actually caused by a bad run-in with the internet, which in cyberpunk fiction in general is like the regular internet except just about anyone can just reach inside your brain and kill you and things are usually pretty fluorescent.
So you have amnesia, sociopathy, short term memory problems, and two worlds that are functionally equivalent in their hostility to you and ability to act on this hostility.
Shadowrun is kind of like a Christopher Nolan film. Which is to say it’s good. And better when Batman isn’t in it. Or something.