Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Real World of Darkness (Al Unser Jr Racing and Alfred Chicken)

Let's discuss realism.

Fuck realism..

Or at least that's my usual speech on the subject. If I wanted realism, I'd interact with reality. What I want out of a video game is playability, which is generally largely distinct from realism. For instance, I cannot fly an airplane. In that regard, Airwolf was an INCREDIBLY LIFELIKE SIMULATION of what would happen if you put me in an airplane, which is that I could not take off, and if I did take off, I would promptly crash and die.

Penny Arcade pointed this out as the essential problem with the new Tony Hawk Ride game. It is an incredibly lifelike skateboarding simulator. Unfortunately, as they cannot skateboard, they cannot play the game. And those who can skateboard, you know... skateboard.

Which brings us to Al Unser Jr Racing. And here is the thing - it does not matter to me in any way that Al Unser Jr. endorses this racing game. Because Al Unser Jr does not, so far as I know or can tell, have any experience whatsoever with game design. The fact that Al Unser Jr. has created this racing game is essentially meaningless.

What's strange is that Al Unser Jr. Racing is in no way a viable... anything, really. Unser is a US racer who competed on the CART circuit. The game, however, is clearly a Formula 1 game. So Unser's contribution is very clearly to have leant his name to an already completed Formula 1 game as a marketing tool.

Since the game came out, the United State's continued perverse aversion to any sports that it could conceivably not be the best in the world at has led the ratings for the Indy 500, the main event in the circuit Usner competed in, to plummet as the Daytona 500 and NASCAR grow. Now IndyRacing's best-known racer is, frankly, better known for showing off her boobs on Superbowl ads than for racing. Woo.

Al Unser Jr is thus an obsolete mark of inappropriate endorsement. The game came out in 1988, when he had not won the Indy 500 nor the CART championship yet. His later years have been marked with a series of failed comebacks and alcoholism. Prior to loading his game for the first time, I'd never heard of him. A minor champion of a dying sport, immortalized via an obsolete video game that inaccurately depicts the basics of his sport. This is neither fame nor ignonimity, but rather the non-fame of one like Barbara Joyce Dainton, the second to last surviving passenger on the Titanic.

The game, it ought be noted, is nothing special.

Alfred Chicken walks a different road to problematic. It is often decried, in movies, that so few original properties are developed anymore. Certainly this is true - the top ten movies of each of the last five years have been about 80% adaptations, sequels, and remakes. On the other hand, those original properties include such gems as Hitch, Happy Feet, and Avatar. Likewise, with video games, sure, the big games are part of multi-million dollar franchises. On the other hand, your alternative could well be a game where you're a chicken running around a maze of robotic mice pecking balloons.

I'm just saying. Originality is not an inherent virtue.

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