The Drifter is a psychogeographer of videogames. Usually he’d spend an hour coming up with a witty non-sequitur to go in here, but today he’s practising the life-changing power of not giving a fuck.
As you might have guessed from the name chosen for their digital magazine, the editorial staff of Existential Gamer are an anxious, neurotic bunch of sour grapes, unable or unwilling to seek legitimate employment, even at videogame periodicals that existed before one of their number decided that Nietzsche, Merleau-Ponty, and Beauvoir would have loved pwning each other on Blood Gulch and needed a brand new conceptual space to discuss the merits of the Needler versus the Plasma Rifle. What would Heidegger have made of the depiction of Being in Wolfenstein: The New Order? Why isn’t there a BioShock sequel based on Sartre’s Nausea? These are the questions that keep the editors awake at night.
No, sir–it isn’t easy being a fanboy or fangirl with serious philosophical chops. The staff Slack I occasionally troll reveals that my fellow contributors are literally drowning in angst (and by ‘literally’ I mean ‘figuratively’). They are not happy bunnies. They are confused, wounded, and embittered little bunnies, who never recovered from watching their own kind mutilated and abused in Watership Down when they were much, much too young. To mix up the metaphor: reality has pissed in the swimming pool of their lives and now they need a lifeguard to save them. I am that lifeguard. This is that saving. I’ve put aside articles on the new William Shakespeare-Assassin’s Creed mashup, as well as Big Boss’s Guide to authentic leadership (why interview and nurture employees when you could kidnap them from their current workplace and slap them about whenever you’re in the office?) to intervene in the emotional health of my fellow contributors. Let’s hope they heed this shit, or there won’t be much of a magazine left to read in two weeks, and with no one left to keep me in sunglasses I’ll have to go back to sponging off my parental units.
Names of all correspondence have been changed to protect their identities. Remember: if you can find him, maybe you can hire THE DRIFTER. (p.s. It’s not that difficult. I’m ‘Ask at existentialgamer dot com’. Also on Twitter).
I’ve achieved precious little with my life and rely on role-playing games to simulate the sense of mastery I would otherwise find in meaningful work and relationships. My favorites are The Witcher trilogy, because women shed their clothes for Geralt at the first hint of his whisky-soaked voice and just-doing-my-job-lady-stay-out-my-way-if-you-don’t-want-to-get-hurt attitude, and it’s not like they were wearing much to begin with. This is a guy who literally knows how to commodify the opposite sex like playing cards, and by ‘literally’ I don’t mean ‘figuratively’. And does anyone object to his objectification? No. Because this was an age when men were truly free to be themselves. I would tolerate all manner of medieval horror –constant violence, appalling life expectancy, shitting out a window – just to live without any SJWs getting all up in my face: who wouldn’t?
Lately, though, I’ve had to move onto party-based games in which I’m expected to ‘share’ my heroics with NPC companions, and even control them in battle. WTF. As you can tell I’m a lone wolf, and I own a $290 replica of the leather jacket Hugh Jackman wore in The Wolverine to prove it. So my question is: am I selfish gamer? How can I get over this and enjoy a ‘party’ more?
There’s no ‘I’ in Dungeons & Dragons, bro. No ‘I’ in the Forgotten Realms either. Or in Baldur’s Gate 2: Shadows of Amn. After that the examples dry up–it’s the 6th most common letter in the English language–but you take my point: if you want to quash evil and save the kingdom, you’re going to need a little bit of what I like to call Teamwork.
I’m guessing, Edward, that you were picked last for the Gridiron Football team. Even if you were the best player on the field, a Grand Master of Gridiron, who would have known? Because those guys–your peers, the ones who should have had your back most of all–never gave you a break. You did good, Ed, to confine your hate and rage to just the monsters of The Witcher trilogy and all of womankind. If I hadn’t been hot-housed at home by loving parents who wanted to manufacture a prodigious harpsicord player, turning me into a little rose blossom of loving kindness, I doubt I would have had your strength or restraint. If one of those jock assholes ever pushed me in the shower or gave me a swirly I would consider it my moral duty to bring a semi-automatic into school the very next day, stalking the corridors dressed in fetish leather and Raybans like Neo, sorting the jocks from the nerds with quick-fire questions: How many clones of Naked Snake exist in the Metal Gear franchise, including the original NES cartridges? Wrong answer. BANG. What is the name of the Pokémon that Magikarp evolves into at Level 20? Wrong answer. BANG. In which dungeon do you find the Power Glove in The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening?
TOO SLOW, ASSHOLE. THERE IS NO POWER GLOVE IN LINK’S AWAKENING. BET YOU WISH YOU SPENT MORE TIME PLAYING GAMEBOY AND LESS RUNNING TRACK AND TOUCHING DOWN AND WHATEVER ELSE YOU PEOPLE DO, DON’T YOU ASSHOLE? BANG.
[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]”Give everyone in the party a degrading nickname so you can feel better about who you are.”[/pullquote]
Those lone ranger days are over now, Ed. Our ruthless corporate overlords require us to be fully socialized and capable of co-op with our fellow humans. So let me give you a few hints about how I handle a party In The Real and maybe you can put those into practice in both your gaming and your professional life.
Picture a traditional ‘house party’: a menagerie of wastrels sip their chilled beers and touch each other in icky ways, while you lean against the wall closest to the punch and try to exude gentlemanly authority to encourage girls to talk to you. Here’s one thing you can do in real life that also works in RPGs: give everyone in the party a degrading nickname so you can feel better about who you are. Forget MASQ CIN’VERO, barbarian-king of the roaming clans. Now that guy is KLAUSS VON WINKLEBALLS. Doesn’t that feel better? Now sit back and relax as everyone else at the party embarrasses themselves and ends up wrecked on the floor with cake on their face while you’re still stone cold sober. This is the real life equivalent of sending your party in to strike down the ice witch while you play defence, i.e. hide behind some rock formation and hope her ice goblins don’t notice. Finally, when everyone has passed out from poison, sweep in and take their loot to trade at the local smithy. Just to be clear: I mean steal their wallets and sell their iPhones on eBay. That’s the least they deserve. Suckers.
I’m a Psychology grad and wrote my dissertation on the medicalisation of videogame fandom – a topic that’s close to my heart because it affects me personally. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not some Korean dude who lives on Mountain Dew and amphetamines so he can play StarCraft II for three weeks on end without so much as a toilet break, then keels over without the café owner even noticing until his corpse goes into rigor mortis and he starts to smell even worse than usual (I’ve met those guys and usually they just need to get laid.) But I feel that my problem is just as serious and legitimate and worthy of attention. It’s called Chronic Steam Backlog Syndrome. It causes me intense social embarrassment, manifesting as blushing, hot flushes, and running out of the living room at a party to go cry in the toilet, except there’s always someone puking up in there so I end up weeping outside on the stairwell listening to my best friends humping in the bedroom and some other dude barfing and it’s enough that I just want to kill myself, or at least go home and play Animal Crossing. The problem is this: I only ever seem to play games that are already three years old, and I’m perpetually out of the loop on new releases. How can I bluff my way through conversations about the new Doom and Overwatch to convince people I’m up to date?
Chronic Steam Backlog Syndrome was one of the more controversial entries into the last edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which for those of you not in-the-know is where psychiatrists explain all the new diseases they’ve made up in the last ten years. You know how in these Drifter columns I sometimes make up videogames? Same thing, but this time lives are at stake.
[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]”Big Fucking Gun? Really? Do I have to spell it out for you?”[/pullquote]
Karen, you have come to the right place for help. As an internationally acclaimed videogame blogger I have very little time to play the latest titles. I’m too busy making moolah and bedding hunnies. Seriously you should visit my apartment, it’s like a Sisqó video over here. (I mean the rapper, not the commander of Deep Space 9; that wormhole is blatantly a metaphor for his sexual frustration. If I was Jake Sisco, my number one priority would be helping my dad to get laid. But I digress). It’s not that I’m so successful IN SPITE of the fact that I don’t have time to play videogames. I’m so successful BECAUSE I don’t have time to play videogames.
Here’s a direct answer to your question.
DOOM: What’s fascinating about the new reboot is how Id relish in the element of the psyche from which they derive their name: as though we, a lone marine alone on a Martian base invaded by hellspawn, metaphorically play the part of our own Ego, exterminating our secret demons and fears in the abyss of our unconscious minds. That green keycard isn’t just a chip to unlock the next door: it’s permission to venture deeper into the ineffable mysteries of the self, like the therapist gives her patient through the comfort and safety of her practice. I won’t listen to the haters and trolls who say that this is just pretentious nonsense and that I, as an educated woman, am bringing baggage to what was only ever intended as a dumb shooter. Big Fucking Gun? Really? Do I have to spell it out for you? Okay, then I will: it’s a penis.
OVERWATCH: You know the thing I admire the most about Blizzard’s new FPS? It’s not the elegant balancing of abilities or the smooth interplay of shooting skills, tactics, and meta-game strategies. It’s diversity. For two decades FPSs were all about the butch military hero storming some Nazi castle, military base, science lab, occupied city. But Overwatch? Overwatch couldn’t give a damn about your cis-white male privilege or phallocratic desire to torch everything down faster than your overclocked processor can render it. Overwatch is about talking armored gorillas, ninjas, and Egyptian chicks with massive rockets. Overwatch is Blizzard making room for the rest of us. Do you know how happy that makes me, to know that shooters have finally caught up with identity politics? My only regret is that the casual reactionary violence bestowed by twentysomething gamer asshats upon anyone born or made differently means Blizzard have to hide their liberal agenda behind science fictional metaphor. One day, I hope, things will be different. Until then: yay! Overwatch.
Pretty convincing, huh? I’m on the lookout for a new apprentice, so if chaos magic, she-goats, and antique controllers from the mid-to-late eighties sound like a good Friday night in, give me a call.
I ❤ Nintendo so much that I have chronic back pain from wearing a SNES on a gold necklace at cool hipster parties, and a permanent black eye from my fellow pedestrians taking issue with the banana skins I throw in their faces when they won’t get out of my gorram way. I’m so brand-loyal I even shaved my brother’s head in the middle of the night because he was spiking his hair up like Sonic. I’m sorry to say, though, this hasn’t been rewarded with close personal friendships with key figures in the company, like the ones you enjoy as an internationally acclaimed videogame blogger. So what I want to know is: what do you think Nintendo will exhibit at this year’s E3?
John, Tower Hamlets
[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]”Zelda 30 is just you, your memories, and your mortgage.”[/pullquote]
John, listen, if you bothered to read my previous columns you would know all about Nintendo Pan, a new peripheral for injecting a chemical cocktail into children so they never grew up. Miyamoto-san told me all about it just last month. If you don’t believe me, how else can you explain Nintendo’s plan to change their articles of incorporation to expand “the purpose of the company” to include “the development and manufacture of medical and health devices”?
But maybe you mean games.
The Legend of Zelda turned thirty this year and so do I, so I know how Link feels. I expect in the new Wii U/NX reboot, he’s going to spend an awful lot of time as a fully grown man with a farm and maybe a kid on the way, reminiscing quietly about the halcyon days when Hyrule was a place worth saving and he believed, truly, that it was his destiny to do it. Instead of a mirror plane or dark world, Zelda 30 is just you, your memories, and your mortgage: a dungeon of your own making, from which you will never, ever escape. How many of those long-dreamt-of quest items did I successfully find, in my three decades of life in this world? How many princesses did I save? ‘Maybe,’ Link will reminisce as those around him sleep, ‘just maybe I wasted my best years.’ I guess we’ll never know.
I have a problem. Every week there’s a new AAA game out, and some of these titles come with figurines, booklets, walkthroughs, artwork. I know I don’t NEED a life-sized Adam Jensen with retracting blade arm and beard made from the hair of actual real life poor people, but I can’t help myself. I’ve posed him in a meet-cute with a 6ft cardboard American McGee’s Alice, complete with raven-black locks and bloodied kitchen knife. She’s serving him a cup of English breakfast tea, which he grips daintily in his cyborg fingers, saucer held underneath in case those post-traumatic shakes cause him to spill a drop onto his shiny metal chest. This pair are going to have SUCH dark and brooding little babies; I bet their first-born will write the bestselling misery memoir to end all bestselling misery memoirs. But enough about my little fantasies. These luxury boxed sets are burning a hole in my wallet bigger than the one in the ozone layer. What do I do? Is there a medicine for people who just buy every new game that comes out, regardless of whether they want it?
Robin Williams said cocaine is God’s way of telling you that you have too much money. I don’t believe in an interventionist God–come on, dude, a bearded guy on a cloud who loves you for reasons that have nothing to do with genetics?–but if I did I would say buying every new game that comes out is His way of telling you to get out more. Not that I’m one to talk. Publishers just send me their latest AAA for free. So I guess I can’t help you there.
As a racist TV rabbit used to say: that’s all folks. Existential Gamer is saved, the emotional health of its editorial staff restored to its usual (admittedly wobbly) equilibrium. If this was a superhero movie this bit right here would be the cum-shot where I fly around the world or sweep across the New York skyline victoriously, winking to the camera and promising to see you in another two years. But remember: that’s only going to happen if you send me your gaming dilemmas and serious emotional problems. Ask at existentialgamer dot com. Don’t be afraid. I don’t bite. Or at least, not unless I really, really, really like you.
Did you know that the word ‘angst’ was coined by the existentialist philosopher Soren Kierkegaard? You do now, philistine. See? Reading my column is an education.