Voxophone audio recorder "advertising" from 'BioShock Infinite,' via
There are some things from video games that we could never actually replicate in real life. There's the superhero stuff, of course: the flying, the immense strength, the ability to perfectly nail some parkour across a city's rooftops at the first time of asking without even scuffing a sneaker. Video games tell you that the everyman can heave themselves up a cliff face using only the very ends of their filthy but wholly indestructible nails.
And then there's the stuff that, honestly, we could do in real life, with the right motivation and opportunities. But for many of us, doing so is straight impossible, or outright stupid. These are some of those things.
These little expositional nuggets have become commonplace in a lot of video games—they're very much the equivalent of vlogging, I suppose. So certain are the makers of these documents that their everyday life warrants insatiable recording, that they eventually make so many that they just get strewn all around the place. The resulting gameplay mechanic becomes something of a stream-of-conscious scavenger hunt, a chase to the cerebral cortex of whoever the self-indulgent so-and-so in question is—or, more often, was. Everything's in a conveniently arranged order, as if planned out with the diligence of a Duke of Edinburgh's orienteering exercise.
Imagine if Zoella or Pixiwoo did this all around London. You sit on a slightly more uncomfortable than usual Underground train, reach beneath your backside to find out what's causing the hump and blam: "Top Ten Ways to Make Your Eyebrows More 90s" is instantly assimilated into your data banks.
The real meaning behind the word strafe is "to attack something using a low flying aircraft with machine guns." In gamer speak, as far as I can ascertain, it means to try to shoot something while impersonating a rampaging Dr. Zoidberg. Moving side-to-side is not something people usually do in real life, unless they're either drunk, actually impersonating said Futurama character, or were made to barn dance against their will as a child and now can't break the habit.
Oh god, barn dancing. A humiliation that's even less cool than line dancing. A pastime so awful that it inspired the title of a Pink Floyd bootleg album. Just walk in a straight line, you awful avatar, you.
In the real world, most items have singular functions: My hairbrush is for brushing hair, my pens are for writing, and my tissues are for blowing my nose. Not once, have I ever had to gaffer tape the three together to make a spiky weapon that, once constructed, fires flaming pen projectiles at people I want to kill. Well, not yet.
This technique goes back to the Ye Olde Point 'n' Clicks, where you ended up spending two hours in your inventory systematically combining any and all items together in the hope of producing a game-advancing contraption that would open a lock. (When, obviously, looking for a key would just be too easy.) The seemingly irrelevant items would somehow come together to solve the last task you thought you'd ever use these things for. Less puzzle solving, more an exercise in diligent and methodical item combination management.
"Oh, the torch goes up the clown's bottom to make a lantern, that attracts the moths away from the window, so you can see the secret passageway to the mystical caverns that have a melted toothbrush hidden away in them, which you need."
Well, it is pretty obvious when you think about it.
It is a sad state of affairs when, for many of us, our only chance of home ownership is in the fictional realms provided to us by video games. I do earn more than the minimum wage, but I know I will never, ever be able to own a home. Sure, I'll put down that 100 grand deposit when I sell all my kidneys, fingers, and hair on the black market. I might be really ill for the rest of my life and be stuck with an itch I can't scratch, BUT AT LEAST I'LL BE A HOME OWNER. My parents will finally respect me. (They won't.)
In Fable I was the shit at money management. Clearly a socialist at heart, I taxed the crap out of the snooty Bowerstone inhabitants to the point I was booed every time I went there (they were all posh anyway, so I resigned myself to the fact they'd complain no matter what I did). With their delicious money pocketed, I bought up all the property in every other town, dropped the rent to zero and let everyone live out their lives for free in my Benny Hill-like Dickensian utopia.
Now, of course, buying up everything is not really that likely in real life, even if you can afford a very particularly arranged pile of bricks to call your own—unless, of course, you're born into a family with pools of swimming money, like a Sloaney Scrooge McDuck. But I would settle for one piece of property, just a single small place I can put my feet up in and cram my games consoles into. I don't even need a window, as one of the perks of being a gamer is that daylight is not a necessity. And in this economic climate, that's definitely a plus.
How to (cheat) steal your way through 'Skyrim'
Snooping and Stealing
I have to admit that, coming from an emotionally barren family home, I did snoop quite a bit as a child. I justified it as I thought it was my right to have some kind of idea who these strangers that I was living with actually were. There was the added bonus, too, that my mother was militant about sweet distribution. She'd hide them around the house, turning any run-of-the-mill snooping session into a chocolate-laden treasure hunt.
Sadly, in video games stealing and snooping is apparently the only way to understand the real story going on here, or supplement your abysmal fetch-quest income. While I may have minesweeped booze as a poor student, nobody in their right mind would steal anything of monetary or emotional value from peoples' houses.
And even if you were an entry level kleptomaniac who couldn't be trusted to make a cup of tea at their nan's place without half-inching the kettle, once you've got the good, what a pain in the ass that eBay process is, eh? I would happily pay a monthly fee to never have to do that. Yet, in gaming, people pick up any old crap, and it can almost always be moved on, trouble free. Robbed a spoon from some Skyrim peasant's dilapidated hovel? Sold. An heirloom chair pinched while your father's running an errand? I know a guy who'll take that. Raggedy old cloth scraps found in a moldy attic drawer? Oh, thank God, we were running out of those.
Even if there were no financial gain, we'd still be stealing in games. We want to know so much about what's going on around us that doesn't seem like a betrayal to read people's diaries or look through their deeply personal possessions just for "a bit of context"—just look at how Life Is Strange quite happily lets you log onto classmates' emails while they're sitting right next to you. Course, if you want to use gaming as the excuse for why your partner's caught you elbow deep in their underwear drawer of an evening, you're on your own.
As any sane person will tell you, flirting outrageously with anything that breathes is just not that sensible. The fallout can be awful. We've all been followed around at a party by a weirdo, or even worse followed home (genuinely terrifying), or just grabbed—in pretty much any and all areas you wouldn't want someone uninvited to be anywhere close to. All for just having a fun chat with someone. It's a risky move, so most of us tend to save it for when it counts. (You know, when you just happen to be at the same bar as Ryan Gosling, or Emilia Clarke, obviously.)
In video games, as the "psycho aftereffect" element is removed—unless they pull a Sadako move and wind up coming out of the TV at you a little later—we will literally flirt with anything. We've all done it. We gender bend at will, making multiple moves on different characters to see which one we like best—or which one has the least boring fetch quest to win their affections. I mean, who cares that they're fictional! They can't be hurt by your fickle desires! There is something distinctly fascinating about vicariously living out your slutty fantasies in a place where nobody really gets hurt.
And if your other half doesn't know that there are games full of this kind of behavior—not to mention all those plot-irrelevant lap dances—maybe we should just keep this point between us, yeah?
Being a "renegade" in 'Mass Effect 2'
Generally speaking, all gamers are good kids. All that parental praising and rewarding us for good behaviour is something that is unlikely to wash off easily. When the occasional game comes along and proposes the choice of whether to be good or evil, we do tend to be good. For the first playthrough, at least.
After that first experience, though, something switches inside of us. You suddenly revert back to the malicious child you were before the systematic brainwashing. Being able to really be an asshole to someone is quite liberating. In real life I would break out in severe palm sweats and night terrors. That doesn't mean I don't want to do it, from time to time. That I don't want to really lay into someone. It's just that most of us don't have the balls.
We like to believe we've the freedom, in Western societies, to act and feel however we like. But of course that's not quite true. Life is just as limited as a BioWare conversation wheel. There are, at best, about six acceptable answers to any life situation. Which is a bit depressing, really, but totally explains why we revel in being such dicks in video games, when given the chance.
Learn While You Earn
Video games love a newbie. They're designed to help you while you're taking your first wobbly steps into their worlds, like a newborn fawn with a machine gun in their first-person-viewed palms. There is never-ending help, financial motivation and just enough do-overs that being completely unqualified for all the task ahead doesn't even seem to matter. Naturally, this is in stark contract to real life.
Getting onto the career ladder anywhere is far more a test of mental resolve than actual skill. Firstly, there aren't actually any jobs, so the first one you get they literally have your unmentionables in a vice while some maniacal twat of a boss delights in twisting it tight. Or you get an unpaid internship, which you are reminded daily that you should be grateful for. All while your very being is tested by an inexorable march of degrading tasks that a well-trained monkey could perform. Actually, thinking about it, the mechanics of an internship are much like those found in a game: it's generally a fuck-ton of fetch quests and bonus rounds of ass kissing.
There once was time when we used to make things. I mean, actually make them, from scratch, rather than gaffer tape, Blu-Tack or panel pin some odds and sods into usefulness. We used to make the things that now buy in shops. Bowls. Trousers. A bracelet, given to an unrequited love only to have it thrown back in your stupid face. I don't know about you, but I wouldn't know where to start with even the simplest of crafting assignments these days, not without an internet connection and an infinite amount of time. Even then, with YouTube being YouTube, I'd probably only get 20 minutes into "How to Build a Coffee Table" before clicking through several more attention-diverting videos and winding up at "Top 10 Reasons Why Monkeys Are Smarter Than Miley Cyrus."
Games love to make us work for the things we want. We scour the virtual countryside for just the right type of rock or gem, so we can make the sword we need to really fuck up that dragon that's killed us 13 times now. While in real life we wouldn't even go to a third shop on the high streets if the first two we visited didn't have what we were after. Fuck it, it can't be that important, this particular brand of flu relief for my allergies-struck child. Let them snot it out. They'll be fine. It's character building.
Are we ever in for a horrible shock when the impending apocalypse comes. None of us will be allowed on the spacecraft to the new world civilization on Mars on account of not being able to do anything useful—and no, finishing Dark Souls as a deprived in just a loin cloth isn't even getting you a spot in the cargo bay. I'm guessing "having good social media skills" or "being shit hot at Excel" won't be all that useful, either. If we're lucky, we'll be on the second ship, with all the bank managers, stylists and pet-shampooers. Though I expect the Earth will have been scorched bare by then, taking us with it. We probably deserve it.
Follow Julia on Twitter.