Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Review: Gears of War 2

Epic Games

Xbox 360

Ultra-gruff ultra men growling gutter insults at the comically inept girl-man rookie? Cutscenes designed from the ground-up to make pubescent gun-loving USA-chanting retards feel warm and fuzzy inside? Killing, killing, killing in a world of beige and cat-vomit gray?
- Michael Jensen

The above comments from my compatriot offer the kind of illumination only a weary gamer can shed upon Gears of War 2. Overly tinged with what we think is existentialism, our response to the game is a little too like a Peggy Lee song for comfort: is that all there is? Is that all there is? If that’s all there is, my friends, then let’s keep dancing. Or, you know, complaining about the fact that we’ve grown up and games – obviously – haven’t. Damnit.

Gears of War 2 is all too much – too many guns, too many explosions, too many subterranean monsters hell-bent on crippling the human race. There’s a vestigial story hidden somewhere in the melange of ultra-violence and gore, but for the escapist market CliffyB and Epic have been aiming at, it’s really outlived its purpose. After all, even Unreal started with a story, before devolving into various states of tournament FPS gibbing and ultra-gruff muscles with heads facing off against scantily clad minxes whose steel bikinis provided damage resistance equivalent to full-body armour. Even odds that Gears will do the same, before yet another hastily assembled grunts-versus-aliens plotline is hashed together to do justice to yet another interminably shiny graphics engine.

This is what happens, presumably, when you hire the writers last. And with the gameplay so relentlessly pure, fast-paced and, dammit, fun, you might well ask, who needs writers? Racing games like the Burnout and GT series don’t need them – they’re all about the cars and the crashes. Puzzle games arguably don’t need them – how much of a story can a match-three-blocks game require? (Puzzle Quest notwithstanding, I hasten to add.) Singstar has never needed a protagonist. But there’s an acceptance implicit in playing those titles – that blurredly fast cars, matching more than three blocks in a row or massacring ‘Take On Me’ in front of your tipsy flatmates are all that’s important to you: that’s what you like; that’s the thesis statement for the game. If you’re happy playing a game that is about killing, about the glories of Epic’s new pixel shader, about a consistent adrenaline rush being more important than a narrative arc, then Gears 2 may well be the game for you.

It’s not rocket science. Gears of War 2, for all its narrative flaws, is one of the most complete third-person shooters on the market. The game is everything a shooter has become, and at a potentially backwater stage in the Xbox 360’s lifecycle, it’s all you have any right to expect. And now that it’s over, can the adults in the room look forward to a new genre, perhaps with some kind of story attached? (We won’t even call them “games,” we promise – they can be “second-person protagonist explorations,” “interactive novels,” “industrial meta-fictions” or some shit.)

[This review first appeared in Critic magazine.]

Distributed gaming

The Games Development Conference has been raging for the past week, and amongst the exaggeration, misrepresentations and flat-out lies of the PR blitz, one company is offering something that could (gasp) change the industry as we know it – after seven years in ‘stealth mode’, OnLive is promising gamers with amazing broadband connections the chance to play console and PC titles, all without the need for an expensive disc-based console. Yeah, they get all the luck.
With high-end computers running at the server-side, and video feed being pumped through the ether to your television or computer screen, it’s the equivalent of cloud computing. The bandwidth issue might hold back the service from these shores for a while, though – a 1.5Mbps connection is required for standard-definition content, while a whopping 5Mbps connection is necessary for HD-quality footage. There are two main hardware options as well – running the service through a PC or intel-based Mac will be cheapest as OnLive can be run through any browser window, but if you’re playing on a television, you can buy a cheap “microconsole” (pictured, with the ugly controller) to relay the signals from the cloud to your television. Controller issues have also been addressed, and OnLive is promising 1-millisecond ping times and a magically minimal signal latency. Demos at the show looked promising, but there’s no proof that the problems of streaming high-res video and managing controller feedback have been solved.
The company is also promising a raft of community features, including spectator support for all users, brag clips from any game you’ve played and friends lists with video-based avatars. OnLive’s promises may sound suspiciously like those of the Phantom console (R.I.P.), but the new service already has the support of nine publishers, including Atari, Codemasters, Eidos, EA, Epic, Take Two, THQ, Ubisoft and Warners. With little chance of software piracy, there’s no reason why they wouldn’t sign up and try to tap that mythical untapped market of gamers with spare money but no consoles.

Best of all for the new company, OnLive doesn’t really have any competitors. If it takes off, this distributed gaming thing could be huge. That said, pricing tiers for games haven’t yet been rolled out, and subscription fees to the service could be prohibitive – and without competition, there’d be little incentive to decrease their prices or offer non-restrictive terms and conditions to consumers. And we’re not even beginning to address the question of ownership of non-corporeal digital games. Still; it’s exciting times, the future is now, but where’s my flying car, et cetera.

Edit: Eurogamer smashes the OnLive dream here.

[This article first appeared in Critic magazine.]

Friday, March 27, 2009


I should probably write about Das Roq Opera, just because Aaron's pretending to be modest, but conveniently overlooking the fact that he's plugging it every morning on air. Not without reason, though – it's the best thing I've seen at the Dunedin Fringe so far. So here's a collection of my unformed impressions.

It's a 'what-if' conversation spun out of control, a rock (sorry, roq) opera fusing digital art, song, dance, techno melodrama and Greek myth, with hip-hop narration of grandiose proportions, all compressed into just over an hour. Oh, and there's a guy in amazing skin-tight gold pants made up in an odd mix of silent film eyeliner and vaguely Bowie-like Egyptian kohl. So, you know, bonus.

Hitting the Dunedin Fringe square in the face with an open palm, Das Roq Opera opened last night to a sell-out crowd at the Globe Theatre. It starts off, as all the great rock operas do, with a silent film-style montage, which results in a girl being locked in a cellar by her over-protective and Teutonic-tempered father. (Unable to resist a dig at the ODT, I'll just note that the Fritzl parallel had their staff frantically googling DRO to see which real newspapers in real cities had mentioned it.) Riffing on the Medusa myth, there's a voyage, several set-piece scenes with flawless (flawless!) digital sets and a live band accompanying the whole thing. Electro-funk creeps in on the action whenever it can; there's a 'Nights in White Satin' solo for no apparent reason; and there's not a hint of seriousness about the whole thing – as Hannah Gould's dance number at the end would suggest. It's just good, slightly unclean, all-singing, all-dancing operatica. And based on just a scant paragraph in the Fringe line-up, there was a full audience. Granted, we're talking about the Globe, but still.

There were people sitting on the floor in front of me (I would have offered my seat to one of them, but I'd got there early for a reason), I saw a small crowd turned away at the door after the house was full, and everyone loved the show. Kudos to the band, kudos to the dancers (especially Leigh, who danced up a fucking storm), and kudos to all the singers. Likewise to Pip Walls, the director / producer and of course, the writer – Henry Feltham.

There's a recorded interview (courtesy of RDU) with Feltham here, if you're wondering who would script such a preposterous idea. Mac users should force-stop the unresponsive scripts on the page, and anyone should ignore almost every question/comment from the interviewer, who keeps coming back to the Fritzl angle. (All that's over in the first ten minutes of the show, anyway.)

But damn, it was cool. It's showing tonight and tomorrow (Fri and Sat) at 9.30pm – doors opening at 9.00pm if you want to beat the others to a seat – and there's even a double-header on Saturday night - a Late Night Half Drunk Rock Opera Bonus Level, with doors opening at 10.30pm (show starts at 11pm). And in my humble estimation, it'd be arguably more entertaining with a bottle of wine in hand, ready for covert swigging every ten minutes.

Check out the ticket info at www.dunedinfringe.org.nz, or just laugh at it here. Regular tickets are $10 – cool. Concession tickets are $10 – oh...kay. And if you're in a group of six or more? Well, no-one really cares. It's still $10 each. That's just how they roll. And, presumably, roq.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Is Resident Evil 5 racist? It’s hard to say. Is it great fodder for a po-co FIME dissertation? Hell yes.

With the recent release of Resident Evil 5, we head back to Africa, the cradle of life, to find out more about the origins of the series’ mysterious (and oddly recurrent) T-virus. This necessitates, with transparent videogame logic, the requisite zombie horde to be black. Except, when you’re playing as a white man in army fatigues, with a light-skinned African woman at your side, it feels more than a little uncomfortable to go around targeting the dangerous black zombies.

Former Newsweek writer and gaming pundit N’Gai Croal – gaming journalism’s great hope, now pursuing a career in private consulting for developers – took issue with the game’s first trailer, noting his first reaction (“Wow, clearly no one black worked on this game”) and pointing out that the images “dovetailed” with classic racist imagery.

Not that black zombies are necessarily the problem, according to Croal – rather, the game seems to “tap into … racist iconography,” as even the pre-zombified villagers are depicted as somehow sub-human, and lacking in any empathy compared to the white main character. There aren’t even, as he points out, any African characters you can save – men, women and children are all depicted as dangerous, and they all have to be destroyed.

Early review copies of certain $140 (!) games, it seems, aren’t forthcoming for student magazines, but based on a rushed play-through over the last week, not to mention the torrent of videos showcasing scenarios in the game, RE5 certainly hits squarely in a grey area, skipping any overt discussions of black and white. Which is all too face-palmingly convenient, really.

Shade of anti- and post-colonialism will linger here, I think. Zombie films traditionally eschew racial boundaries while propagating the idea of a completely different sub-human state, and Resident Evil games always pit a few brave souls against soulless multi-nationals and their attendant zombies; RE5 blends the thorny issues of race relations and meddling white Americans with the “Othered” zombie. The shock and horror of these zombies isn’t their juxtaposition with unaffected humans – there’s none of that Land of the Dead zombies-in-overalls-pretending-to-pump-gas schtick going on. RE5’s zombies have red eyes and dress in rags, playing up the mythemes of darkest Africa; the savage and the Other.

But the game’s supposed to be scary, you might well argue; and how better to get that across in this setting than tap into those very mythemes? It’s all too bluntly obvious, to be honest. That Africa is being victimised by pharmaceutical companies is a less readily apparent (but much more meaningful) theme; the idea that Africans are the victims of the colonial powers’ grand plans and that anti-colonial feelings exist, are both present and accounted for. And who can blame these zombies for wanting to fight back against cultural imperialism?

The game’s certainly been a latent firestorm in a forum tea-cup, though, and a potential PR nightmare for the developers at Capcom, should the racism arguments either prove to have merit or spill out into the mainstream press. (Capcom, for its part remaining oblivious to the vaguest possibility of scandal, has been promoting the game’s release by leaving a trail of body parts throughout London – the person who collected the most valuable body parts won a trip to Africa. Arms and legs were worth two points each, torsos were worth three, and a head was worth five points. Some body parts, peppered with chicken liver for added realistic gore, went “missing” during the competition, which didn’t faze the organisers in the slightest.)

Resident Evil 5 was released just over a week ago for PS3 and Xbox 360, so the commentariat will be able to make up their own minds and then construct rational arguments about race, colonialism and gaming. Or they can start new flame-wars. Even odds, I’d say.

[This article first appeared in Critic magazine.]

Review: Flower


PSN, $15.50

Developer Jenova Chen doesn’t play games any more, doesn’t see the attraction of first-person shooters, and doesn’t like wasting his time on games that don't create an emotional connection. Good, then, that he and thatgamecompany have spent their last couple of years of development time tending Flower, a “visual tone poem” of a game that is a natural successor to thatgamecompany’s PSN hit flOw.

Using the PS3’s motion controls, you direct a gust of wind towards flowers in a series of increasing gloomy meadows, aiming to make the world a brighter place and, perhaps, beautify a city overgrown with spiky power pylons. Maybe. The themes all get a little muddled, which is, I suppose, the wont of poetry.

It’s easier to assume that there’s no direct moral to the game – there are traces of commentary about the benefits of renewable energy and the ugliness of traditional pylons as compared to wind turbines, all mediated through the dream of a flower on a windowsill. Certainly it isn’t really made clear until the last couple of levels, where somehow flowers and the wind can eliminate “bad” electricity and replace it with bright colours and the good stuff. Poets, right?

The motion controls work well, if only because there’s no time limit on completing levels. This means mistakes or a missed flower in a sequence aren’t punished, and the only thing you’ll miss is hearing the accompanying note (or later, chord) in the right sequence. Again, no great loss, and it’s a testament to the visual characteristics of the game that it’s often more interesting to “wander” around the levels before making all of the flowers bloom, simply because, well, it’s so damn pretty.

All up, Flower will last for a couple of hours, which is probably about as long as I’d want to spend rotating a PS3 controller before my wrists give up on me. That it ends before the pastoral conceit gets old is a nice touch, although the relatively small levels mean that there’s no real free play mode – I’d happily flick to the game on a whim if I could tool around a level for as long as I wanted without encountering a menu. flOw managed this admirably – although given its origins as a Master’s thesis in game design on the “flow” state of play, that’s hardly surprising. Flower doesn’t allow quite this level of interplay between different levels, but nor does it have any gradation of difficulty – great for validating its purchase to non-gaming flatmates, perhaps, but there’s little reason to go back to the game after it’s been completed.

The levels through which you progress, controlling a gust of wind, are slightly less open than you might expect – it seems that even a powerful breeze can’t get past certain wooden fences. But the budding flowers are spread out over hill and dale, which lends a degree of veritas to the motion as you puff your way along rows of flowers and bring foliage to barren fields (after a couple of hours play, the lyrical aspects of the game begin to overwhelm and influence, as you may well notice).

Flower confuses electricity generation with perennial propagation, but the con-fusion is revealing. Flowers on windowsills dreaming of brightening a dark city, pollen controlling a breath of wind, or a heuristic “she-loves-me-she-loves-me-not” petal-picking solution to global warming – when a game (or poem) is paced so well, the presence or absence of grand themes don’t really matter. All that’s necessary is an enjoyed moment in time – the promise of an objective correlative for the experience – and Flower supplies those moments in spades; even the overuse of colour saturation and rampant bloom (see what I did there?) can be part of the game’s conceit. All it’s really lacking is a rhyming couplet to round things off with a flourish.

[This review first appeared in Critic magazine.]

Monday, March 23, 2009

All the best fields lie fallow for months, I'm sure.

A couple of months into the thesis, and I'm already seeing Borges everywhere. I worry, briefly, that it's like the Discordian rule of five - that certain themes becomes more apparent the more I look for them. (Then I just shrug my shoulders.)

But having seen a couple of solid films in what passes for our friendly neighbourhood baroque theatre (just without the friendliness from anyone on staff, and as an added bonus if you're sitting downstairs, with a pinch of drunken screams from the nearby alley), I'm starting to think that certain filmmakers are cribbing from the same playbook.

First of all - Francis Ford Coppola's Youth Without Youth. Without more than a cursory viewing, one can see each of Borges' four kernels of fiction: the double, the travel through time, the story within a story, the contamination of reality by a dream. Having read Labyrinths et al altogether too many times, the references to Zhuangzi and the butterfly at the end of the film felt tacked on, an unnecessary throw towards explaining the conceit, but I'll take it. (In an ideal world Matt Damon wouldn't fuck it up with a bit part, but I'll still take it.)

More glorious, however, was Charlie Kaufman's Synecdoche, New York. (Wired covered the hell out of this movie last November, publishing a meta-article on Kaufman, and letting publishing geeks the world over see the sausage factory at work. The creative director detailed his part in the process here.) But the film? A play within a play, mirrors upon mirrors and progressive regression until the withdrawal from reality and subsequent death of the creator – check. Most strongly resonating with me, though, was the Borges quote that wasn't even mentioned in the film, but applies almost beyond words: "Through the years, a man peoples a space with images of provinces, kingdoms, mountains, bays, ships, islands, fishes, rooms, tools, stars, horses and people. Shortly before his death, he discovers that the patient labyrinth of lines traces the image of his own face."

So much so, that I drove home repeating the final phrase in my head over and over - "the patient labyrinth of lines traces the image of his own face". The part stands for the whole, the general stands for the specific. I'm so enamoured of this that a couple more weeks on Petrarchan sonnets wouldn't go amiss at this stage.

That nothing bothered me more than the dissonant references to Schenectady, NY, probably says more about me than the film. Although if I'd known of the city beforehand, it would have been smoother sailing. Balance, the demand for a more and more structured mimesis, and the abrupt ending (fade to white FTW!) made for the high points, and only the fact that the inward focus meant the ideal repetitive world didn't subsume the rest of New York keep the film from eating into more of my thesis mind-space.

Speaking of re-using the big four ideas and constructing fresh narratives from them, I'm turning over in my head the idea of a circular show about people working for some under-funded or mis-managed association. Key to this is the notion of having no sympathetic characters, the ready co-existence of the banal and the atrocious and a pervasive and depressing subtext that branches into the dialogue. I can do con-fusion, apparent idealism, and a pervasive lack of coherence like nothing else. Surely there's a market for this outside of comparative literature....


This week I wrote something stupid about Resident Evil 5, and something slightly more glowing about thatgamecompany's beautiful Flower. Next week I'm skipping the review basics entirely and instead writing about narrative in my 'review' of Gears of War 2, and hopefully after that I'll be free enough to start some source material comparisons with Beowulf and Conan, and their most recent hack-slash incarnations. Leading up to, of course, the inevitable travesty of Dante's Inferno (tagline: "Go to Hell". I'm not kidding.) Dear Lord. Dante's all up in the demons' faces in the trailer, below, stabbing ghouls with a crucifix. No word on whether the ultimate goal of the game would be, but I presume it's not saving Beatrice from Lucifer. Otherwise we'd be retreading Ghosts 'n' Goblins territory.

Granted, the nine circles of hell would lend themselves to game levels rather nicely (the dark wood as a tutorial level, perhaps?), and there's a built-in trilogy option if it takes off, but goddamn if it doesn't look like a poor man's God of War, with extra crucifix.

Anyway, work, work, and more work. But if you're up for what passes as banter around these parts, you could listen to 91FM (Dunedin) at 8am and 9am weekdays. (If there's no banter on a certain day, sorry. We're not particularly chatty at the best of times, and certain brands of topical humour began and ended with Murphy Brown.) Alternatively, you'll hear the day's top news stories read out loud, then slightly undermined or roundly castigated, which is probably the best way to do it.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Review: Noby Noby Boy

Namco Bandai

PSN ($7.90)

Made by Keita Takahashi, designer of the popular Katamari Damacy, Noby Noby Boy makes a little less sense than I had any right to expect. The game, available for a nominal sum on the Playstation Network, makes the most of a rather simple conceit – as the snake-like Boy, you can eat anything you can see on a level, allowing you to stretch yourself out, whip yourself around, and fling objects into the air. Quite what the ludic purpose of this is, I’m not sure – beyond being able to tie yourself in knots with the precision handling of two analogue sticks – but it all adds to the colour and general fun of each level, and besides, watching cartoonish people trip over your elongated rainbow midsection never gets old. Especially if you decide to devour them after the fact.

If you’ve got your PS3 console online, you can collaborate with other players all over the world – once you’ve eaten and stretched the Boy enough, reached certain worldwide total lengths (which are stored online in the form of a space-dwelling, ever-expanding character named Girl), bonus levels will be unlocked for all players. In a real way, then, you’re helping other gamers by contributing to Girl’s length, and as long as enough people keep playing, there’ll be new levels popping up in the game every few weeks.

In terms of immediate value for money, you might not be terribly impressed. $7.90 for a glorified version of that Snake game your flatmate has on his oh-so-generic Nokia phone? Not so cool, Keita Takahashi. But some people cough up this much money for a single drink. (Or more, if you want your drink to match Boy’s rainbow colours.) The game is, however, perfect for pick-up-and-play relaxation and is as logical a next step as you can imagine from Katamari Damacy. Which is to say, it shares nothing with its predecessor other than a colourful art direction and a pervasive lack of context.

Noby Noby Boy is more about the experience than the destination. There are no enemies, time limits, or real hints about just what a player should be doing. The stages are randomly generated, and you can switch between them at will, regardless of your progress. While the game does support Trophies, they seem to pop up randomly, and there’s no real objective, beyond advancing Girl outside of the solar system and forcing the developers to make more levels. Ultimately, Noby Noby Boy is simply good clean fun; a brightly coloured, confusing and slightly rewarding way to fill in time.

[This review first appeared in Critic magazine.]

Review: Dead Space

EA (Redwood Shores)

PS3, Xbox 360, PC

EA’s surprising turn last year towards the relatively uncharted waters of – gasp! – new IP paid off for the company and gamers alike. Mirror’s Edge caught the spirit of parkour in its first-person urban dystopia (and caused motion sickness in countless couch potatoes); and Dead Space hits the space horror nail firmly on each of its Giger-inspired heads.

Survival horror games can be a mixed bag at the best of times, as Resident Evil’s many imitators will attest – there’s a fine line between selling the story and pitching it too far for your average willing suspender of disbelief to accept. But the space horror genre – characters avoiding monster x while flanked on all sides by an unforgiving vacuum, the innate terrors of deep space threatening insanity to all and sundry – can be a little more forgiving.

There’s no doubt Dead Space borrows liberally from the sci-fi classics, both of literature and film. Shades of Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke are readily apparent, and aspects of the Alien quadrilogy, Hellraiser: Bloodline, even Event Horizon are familiar strains throughout the game; but in the best tradition of adaptations, the old material has been made thoroughly new. Apart from the main character’s name, which is a bit of a clanger.

Controlling Isaac Clarke (wince) from an over-the-shoulder third-person perspective, your job is to unravel the mystery of the USG Ishimura, a “planet cracker” ship that has lost contact with the powerful Concordance Extraction Corporation (think Aliens’ Weyland-Yutani).

After receiving a confusing (delusional?) message from someone Isaac knows, then being separated from your team in the traditional convolutions of the genre, you soon find out that the former crew of the Ishimura has been turned into monsters, and you’re left to fight your way through them. But here’s the thing: it’s not a military ship, you’re just an engineer, and there are precious few weapons on board, so you’re forced to make do with the tools of your trade, which include plasma cutters, saw blades and mining explosives.

As a nice touch, there’s no on-screen heads-up display in the game – inventory management is projected holographically from your suit, which also ticks off your health indicator along its spine. It adds up to a compelling and immersive (and difficult as hell) experience, a far cry from the usual inventory-as-pause screen scenario.

Also slightly different from your average survival horror scenario, the monsters – called “Necromorphs” in the game designer’s least appealing nomenclature decision – can’t be killed by the traditional headshot or “three in the chest.” The only way to kill them is to employ “strategic dismemberment,” which basically means cutting off their limbs one by one, aiming carefully and switching between your weapons’ horizontal and vertical axes to do so. At first it seems like a cynical switcheroo, making you shoot the arm or legs rather than the heads – what difference would it really make? – but the net effect is that the difficulty (and subsequent freaky atmosphere) is amped up. It’s difficult to stop, aim precisely and shoot when there’s a big fuck-off ex-corpse with stabbing vestigial limbs rushing at you, after all.

In terms of sound design, Dead Space is a winner. There’s discordant music swelling dramatically as you’re backed into a corner, the corridor-amplified caterwauls of monsters or insane crewmates-who-are-about-to-become-monsters, odd scritching sounds coming from the corners of the room that make you wonder from which side you’re about to be attacked – in short, this is one of few games it’s advisable to wear a good set of headphones while playing.
Likewise, turn off the lights – it’s easier to be scared in the dark. The game’s palette is almost irritatingly bleak, but when played in a darkened room, it’s freaky as hell. Buy, beg, borrow or steal a copy of this game to play this Friday 13th, and you won’t regret it.

[This review first appeared in Critic magazine.]

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Fear and Loathing in the D.C. Wasteland

A curious duplicity comes into focus with the release of Fallout 3; the game’s timing was imprecise but close enough to real events. As the world's eyes were turned towards the concept of a new America freed from the ills of the Bush era, so were those of gamers fixated on Bethesda's microcosmic version of the same. Well-known subway stations, memorials to long-dead presidents – all are present and accounted for in both iterations of D.C., all shelter the mistakes of the past, and offer the vague hope of a society free from oppression.

For reasons both too numerous and too readily apparent to mention here, I wasn't able to attend the inauguration of the new U.S. President, Barack Obama. Instead, I attended an altogether different ceremony, in a landscape of a lower resolution – albeit a more idealised one – and thus better suited to recall.* Touring the D.C. Wasteland of Fallout 3, one can avoid the pitfalls of reality, the discomfort of crowds, while still cashing in on the ‘I-was-there-when’ veritas of the magical moment.

In the real world, crowds of adoring democrats, republicrats and assorted hangers-on cried and proclaimed their love for fictive political constructs, tiny paper flags and standing outside in the cold; in the wasteland, crowds of ghouls, Glowing Ones and the inevitable supermutants appeared rather annoyed that I had disrupted their unending search for human flesh, and promptly triggered an instanced attack. Despite the skirmishes and constant search for stimpacks, I decided I had the better deal than those who made the journey to the real Washington – warmth, maps, and haptic feedback being infinitely preferable to biting winds, jingoism and standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Shepard Fairey, a man whose idea of creativity is to watch three scenes from John Carpenter’s They Live. (The PS3’s loading times being what they are, however, the idea of a four-year wait to reset a bad situation may not be inconceivable.)

Exiting at Foggy Bottom station in my ideal version of D.C., there was a wasteland wanderer begging for purified water or bottlecaps (the local equivalent of money). The U.S. News’ Robert Schlesinger would later write of running into a homeless man outside Foggy Bottom on inauguration day, a man with the audacity to ask for change. “Even the homeless have talking points,” Schlesinger quips, before fighting against the tide of humanity to watch the inauguration from the safety (and warmth) of his office.

Parallel structures abounded that day. Was the version of the inauguration I ‘attended’ any less real than that version Schlesinger avoided? Certainly we both saw the same television coverage, but the version of Washington D.C. I've spent so much time in is simply more real than the other place. I know the tripwires around Arlington Cemetery, the difficulties in navigating the trenches in front of the Capitol building, the inadequacies of defending the Lincoln Memorial. Why, then, would I really need to go to Washington, if not to destroy my memories of the city as I know it?

* When John Key stepped up to become our own nation’s new Prime Minister last year, however, I didn’t feel the need to find some next-gen version of the ceremony I could pretend to attend. A bootleg copy of Dig Dug and a damp towel perfectly emulated both the self-congratulatory Parnell house-party and Key’s speaking ability, respectively.