Two cloaked figures sliding down a glittering dune, singing to each other. A hunter in Victorian garb, facing down a gigantic hairy creature on a dilapidated bridge. A grizzled middle-aged man and a young woman making their way through a ruined, overgrown city. Grinning figures, half-human, half-squid, swimming salmon-like through splotches of paint. Hundreds of extraterrestrial worlds, the skies above them in hundreds of different hues. An eagle, half visible through the trees, half concealed by the empty gaps between them.
I’ve written about it before: as much as I love virtual reality and its sense of immersion, we haven’t quite arrived at the holodeck yet. You can’t really touch things, though with the right kind of controllers implemented well it’s amazing how well you can fool your brain into believing that you’re actually holding that floppy disk, handgun or lightsaber in VR. However, what is much more difficult, at least in the comfort of your home, is walking. Sure, you can walk a few steps depending on how much space you have, but after more than a metre or two you’re likely to bang into a wall. And since few people live in empty warehouses or vast, echoing halls, not to mention the cable by which you’re generally attached to the PC, developers generally have to find workarounds.
Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!
I’ve been playing computer games for… well, it’s been a while. My parents got a C-64 when I was about nine years old, back in the Cold War-and-neon days of 1983. Many of my fondest gaming memories go back to the time when pixels were the size of your fist and anything more than 16 colours on the same screen was not just luxurious but simply not possible. Later, when I was a teenager, I upgraded to the next Commodore model, the Amiga, but it never felt as iconic as the good old ‘breadbox’ did. When I think of the games that I grew up with, I think of the likes of International Soccer, Paradroid, Wizball and World Games, all of them on the C-64. Sure, I had some fun times playing Amiga games, but they didn’t have that ineffable thing that the technically more primitive games on the older, slower, less capable machine did.
There are a handful of exceptions, though. And the one that comes to mind in an instant is best described by the sound of a squeaky voice going “Oh no!”
In past years I always forgot about doing a look back at the year that was until my friend and co-blogger Mege did his own retrospective – and by that time it was too late. This year I come prepared and bearing not just one or two but eight awards. Enjoy!
In the November episode of the podcast, Mege and Matt are returning to the island of Utøya to take a look at Paul Greengrass’ filmic take on the massacre. How does Greengrass’ film compare to Erik Poppe’s interpretation (which we discussed last month)? What does it bring to the table? And can it do justice to the events that happened on Utøya on 22 July 2011? We also hear of a near-mythical face-to-face encounter in the Virtual Reality version of Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice and of the German documentary The Cleaners, which tells of the content moderators scouring social media for inappropriate content and the price their work exacts.
If you have any interest in video gaming whatsoever, you can’t have missed the release of Rockstar Games’ oater epic Red Dead Redemption 2. From the game’s almost Deakinsian visuals via its insane level of detail (yes, your horse’s testicles contract in cold weather!) to, sadly, the reports of the studio’s insane crunch culture that’s deleterious to mental and physical health as well as relationships, RDR2 (which, I admit, sounds too much like a Star Wars robot to be a very helpful abbreviation) has been everywhere – including my PS4’s hard disk. I’ve not yet had much time to explore the dying Old West alongside the Van der Linde gang, but it’s already clear that this is an exceptional game. Exceptional in scope and ambition, surely – but what is most surprising to me is that this is also an exceptionally wilful game. If it wants me to like it, it’s going about it in a very strange way.
I remember the sun piercing the clouds, the sound of waves lapping my boat. I remember the feel of Dillion’s skull hanging from my belt. I remember the staked and flayed bodies and the shapes, half-monstrous, half-familiar, lurking in the fog.
Most of all I remember the voices.
What is new, though, is that the world isn’t contained by a rectangle of light in front of me. No, Helheim surrounds me, it envelops me. Hell is wherever I turn.
In this month’s episode Mege and Matt discuss Erik Poppe’s U – July 22, a cineastic attempt to come to terms with the massacre of 69 young people on the island of Utøya, Norway, by a right-wing terrorist. Does the film do justice to its subject? What are the responsibilities of filmmakers depicting recent real-life atrocities? Also, Mege talks about the new Netflix series Maniac, starring Jonah Hill, Emma Stone and Justin Theroux, and Matt speaks of the joys of web-swinging through New York in the recently released game Spider-Man.
I have walked 500 miles and much, much more, through virtual New Yorks, irradiated zones, Wehrmacht fortresses and zombie-infested streets. I’ve parkoured and teleported, I’ve driven, hovered and flown. Traversing spaces that only exist as zeroes and ones on digital media is one of the things that I love about video games, and it’s one of the things that modern gaming does so much better than the 8-bit pixelscapes I grew up with. It’s not even graphical fidelity, although that’s part of it; more than that, it’s that modern hardware allows for vastly more ambitious, three-dimensional environments, whether that’s the Hollywood realism of GTA V‘s parody of Los Angeles or the stylised aesthetics of Journey‘s deserts and snowy wastes.
It’s September, and the world is coming to an end on this month’s episode. Join Mege and Matt as they talk about the post-apocalypse in pop culture, from Obsidian’s epic role-playing game Fallout: New Vegas via Mad Max: Fury Road to – bear with us on this one – the HBO series The Leftovers. We also discuss Spike Lee’s latest joint, BlacKkKlansman, and talk about Sarah Vowell’s book Assassination Vacation.