Video game nerds, not entirely unlike music or film or sports or whatever else nerds, are not without affectation. Some have more than others: the ones who unabashedly like “low” forms, like titty-filled JRPGs and generi-schlock FPSes, or are more interested in a particular title than the medium (WoW geeks, Call of Duty/GTA/Halo etc. fanatics), are often the least guilty of this, in the same sense that someone who lists The Matrix Reloaded as a favourite film is probably a lot more honest to themselves than someone who considers a typical laundry list of “important” films their favourites (keep in mind, though, that the displayed sophistication of that affectation can run the spectrum, from “I heard Citizen Kane is good so I like that because I like smart movies” to “my favourite films are those that predate and perhaps began the New Wave movements in their respective countries such as the Czechoslovakian O něčem jiném or the French Bob le flambeur). This isn’t to say that Bob le flambeur and O něčem jiném are unlikeable movies by any stretch: I’ve seen neither of them, but I know (of, Internet-wise) someone who has a very close place in his heart for the latter (side note: I don’t know if this is “a thing” but it seems that foreign language movies only have the first word capitalized in their names. Is this a normal thing? Is it only English names That Are So Important That Each Word Requires The Gravitas Of A Capital Letter?).
The thing is, some games and even genres get labeled as “important” and “relevant” and therefore a lot of people front like they like them a lot more than they actually do. Shadow of the Colossus is a great example. It’s insane how many people call this their Favourite Game Ever (the name of my new film) because it did a few things that weren’t really popular to do in games. All of the battles were boss battles! They were pretty well-made! There’s a story thing that surprises you! Here’s the thing: people blow loads about this game all over the Internet. It is one of the sacred-est cows in the Video Game World. And not in the “this is a ‘safe’ sacred cow to lambaste” kind of way, like the Final Fantasy series; it’s in a “we who know best deem this the best” kind of way. But really, there’s a lot of shit in this game that isn’t good. Riding around on the horse can be confusing, and it can be a pain in the ass to control. The story isn’t that goddamn innovative (although, yeah, I applaud the developers for, you know, doing a thing with a story, but this is akin to buying a Corvette for a four-year-old who just learned to stop using diapers). The game’s pretty at times, but at others, it’s kind of — yeah, I’m saying this — ugly.
That’s affectation for you. For all but the absolute least pretentious, Top Favourite Whatevers (script forthcoming) is a list made not to service the media that is on the list so much as it is to service the image of the maker of that list. By putting Shadow at the top of my fave video games list, I make it clear that I like art. By putting Earthbound at the top of my list, I show that I value honesty. I put Space Megaforce (although if I were to put this on a list I’d probably also be one of those folks who calls it by it’s “real” name, Super Aleste) at the top of my list, I show that I care enough about video games to really dig in and find out about things you don’t know about. I put Super Aleste not because it should be my favourite, but because I am representing myself as an obscurist. I want you to be aware that I know a lot of games and you don’t and some of the games I know and you don’t are actually pretty good and you’re missing out and my life is more full of wonder than yours because I Am A Renaissance Man (the studios refuse to pick this one up). It makes the games feel better, too, which is the purpose of games (that is, to make you feel good while playing: if it weren’t, it wouldn’t be entertainment, probably), if you don’t feel a tinge of guilt while playing them; that is to say, if you know that Shadow has some it-factor that makes it relevant you won’t feel as sheepish about playing it as you might, say, Just Cause 2. I played that recently, and I felt like I was stupid for playing it, because it had no redeeming qualities beyond being kind of fun and making me laugh a lot. Well, you know what? The time I spent playing that I think I still had a better time than the time I spent playing Shadow despite its clear “artistically irrelevant” handicap.
Don’t mistake this for some sort of Anti-Intellectual Kneejerk Reaction (Jenny McCarthy will be playing the lead role of Sarah Palin in this flick, if my agent actually gets it made like I hope) and don’t mistake it for an Extra-Pretentious I Hate What “Sheep” Love Gambit (starring Taylor Kitsch reprising his role as Gambit (fun fact: to find out that someone named Taylor Kitsch played Gambit in an X-Men movie, I had to go to a Wikipedia article called “Gambit in other media,” which was its own goddamn page)). I’m just trying to be goddamn honest, here. From one pretentious game nerd to another (that is, me, and you, the reader), I’m just trying to be honest. I’m not immune to this. I used to say my favourite genre was the shmup. I loved them, to be sure, but it was affected. I started playing every shmup in the same way that I started drinking whiskey; not appreciating them at first, and their differences, and finding them difficult to swallow (ha), but developing an appreciation over time.
That’s the real problem: we, as game nerds, are too embarrassed by our pretension to call it what it is. We don’t have two separate lists, one for the games we like the most, and one for the games we appreciate most. I like Just Cause 2, but I appreciate Shadow of the Colossus. I like Tetris 2 but I appreciate Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo. I like Hackers but I appreciate Loves of a Blonde (I know, I am kind of focused on Czech new wave here). It’s like we can’t decide if enjoyment or relevance is more important, so we sandwich the two together and directly compare them to each other, but it’s impossible. It’s like comparing apples to Jackson Pollock paintings.
I know this hasn’t been about Space Megaforce, but, I promise you, it kind of is. Among a certain type of video game nerd, this game is a certain kind of Shadow of the Colossus (although that perhaps does this game too great a favour). And, yeah, for a shooter it’s kind of cool. All sorts of candy-coloured shit is going on all over the screen and you can get some neat powerups or whatever. But (and I don’t mean to get too nihilistic or existentialistic or whatever the fuck is the right word here) what’s the point? Big upping this game is just big upping yourself. It places the self above the medium. And that’s fucked up.