You’re Playing It Wrong: the danger of writers reading too much into the wrong game


From [EMAIL REDACTED] to Bob, here’s the piece you graciously commissioned me to write for Game Bro Magazine. Sorry it’s six months late and I haven’t been returning your emails; terribly busy with the book contract, speaking circuit and magazines with tonier circulations than yours. But I think you’ll agree it was worth the wait. I went a bit over the word count to plumb some deeper themes. It’s called The Ineffable Effervescence Of Is-ness.

It begins with a dark screen whose darkness is somehow the very quiddity of darkness, an uncandled Jungian darkness of mere being. Whence this strange and wondrous game, you wonder strangely, that plunges you into the Nietzschean abyss with nary a title screen to Cerberusianly guard the gate between virtual and real? Is your character meant to be sleeping, or blind? And is this blindness literal or metaphysical, in the sense that mankind stumbles through the blindness of unknowing? You press Start. Again. But the screen keeps its own dark counsel.

Very well, you think. The game was created in a foreign country you are patronisingly fond of, and you can countenance a soupçon of extra-Occidental oddidity. You begin, haltingly, to ‘play’. But after an hour of operating the controls in rapt French mimean silence, you start to intuit movements and shapes in the darkness, Lovecraftian horrors skirted, and Le Corbusierian corridors traversed. You work the controls of your invisible avatar with an ambidextrous Wiebean certainty. You feel yourself to be penetrating Mariana Trenchian philosophical depths in the unchanging darkness, finally arriving at an epiphany: you have forgotten to turn on the console.

Upon doing so, the screen blinks to life, displaying an image of a barren landscape that conjures feelings of loneliness, grandeur, high dudgeon and mild indigestion – or is that the cheap falafel you had for dinner? This ambiguity feels significant in professedly ineffable ways that you nevertheless feel compelled to eff. Now the screen divulges two Sophie’s Choicean options: 1 Player followed by 2 Players. But why not 2 Players then 1 Player? Why not Monologue and Dialectic? Or Platypus and Marmalade? Flummoxed by the question’s vagaries, you read Heidegger and Kierkegaard until certain that you are fundamentally alone in the world, and then select 1 Player.

Now the screen blooms like the Gardens of Versailles, if the Gardens of Versailles were a picture of a Hobbesian brown mud field strewn with smoking corpses. The common player might mistake this for a generic action setting, missing the clear oblique reference to the Baudrillardian desert of the real. You are not the common player. You read books not linked to media franchises, write pensées in respected magazines, grasp that ostensibly insignificant clashes of minor details serve a fathomless intellectual design that can only be winkled out with inscrutable jargon and similes, which you exoterically dispense like a southpaw taxidermist in a clawfoot bathtub.

For the second time now, this is unlike any other game you have hitherto essayed. Words and names float hither and thither across the screen, though whence and whither – who knows? Discombobulated from the images and thus instigating a rupture between language and worldidity, these mysterious ‘credits’ massage the McLuhanian sensorium with Derridean instability or, as it is said in Latin, ego sum sermo ex meus cillus. Meanwhile, the dramatis personae trample onto the mud field. You meet Gordo, a porcine, Lohanianly freckled infantryman; Stud, a Ferrignoian trench sapper with soulful hipbones; and Gilf, a randy blonde bikini model wearing a kepi.

Gordo and Stud are great strapping brutes but manoeuvre with a kind of leaping Bambian elegance, even while Stathamianly ravaging mud zombies to music played on, of all things, a cor anglais. This juxtaposition of explosions and English horn, Gordoean brutality and Gilfian eros gets to the heart of the game. You think, by way of unjustly assured conclusion, that this precisely what makes the game so imprecisely brilliant: in its very is-ness, it is what it is and what it is not, which is, in one way, everything, and in another, nothing.

From to [EMAIL REDACTED]: Thom, Bob here – have to confess I’m a bit caught off guard by this piece. We asked for a 100-word review and we’re not sure you even played past the credits. We’d still like to get your name in the mag, so we’re going to run the edit below. If you have any problems, do let me know.

Mud Dogs is another competent Gears Of War-alike that features robust singleplayer and co-op campaigns. The graphics are as good as anything we’ve seen this generation, rendering the story of the dynamite-chucking Gordo and Stud exploding all the zombies in Mud World as clearly as mud can be rendered. Bouncy tart Gilf, predicted to be playable based on early concept art, turns out to be more of a helper character, unfortunately used as mud zombie sex bait. The story is a bit sexist and shallow, and you’ve played it before, but who cares? Dynamite, bro! Mud zombies! Booooooobs!

Illustration: Marsh Davies