I’m currently playing Earthbound on Wii U VC with my favorite Wii Classic Controller. It’s my first game on my new CRT that I got pre-Covid and it makes me feel so happy looking forward to future sessions with it.
I promised a friend for years I would play Mother 3 but I wanted to play EB first so til years end those will be the only two longer RPGs I plan on playing. For now I’ll just say it’s unexpectedly REALLY funny and I’m settling into it’s aesthetics nicely, especially the OST. Some real magic and strangeness in there.
This post will focus on my experiences beating Call of Duty: Black Ops and Flower on PS3 which I played in sessions an hour at a time each, back-to-back.
Games have worked their way into my backlog through a myriad of methods outside of my own personal relentless pursuit of all the classic franchises I was only able to peer into in younger years. One big moment was the joining of my wife and my collections when I got married and the subsequent searching of games together. On a trip to a local shop over five years ago she wanted to get a game that reminded her of playing with her brothers back home. And it was that way that “blops” became part of the backlog.
My relationships with FPS’s is largely tenuous and unexplored at best. I played Goldeneye and some Perfect Dark with friends in elementary school, sure, but I always liked the more story-oriented sci-fi and fantasy journeys I found in RPGs or the simple joy of jumping and collecting in platformers. But while I recognize the tendency towards those types of games in myself naturally I by extension close myself off of whole other potential worlds.
When I stopped playing games for most of high school and became heavily focused on exploring music it became ingrained in me that genre-exclusive listening was going to create aural blinders and prejudices for what sounds I could or would be able to enjoy. Those steps outside comfort always require good-faith efforts and in the world of gaming FPS’s sit in cacophony well outside that comfort.
When I turned twenty-two I became fully dedicated to building a backlog of desired games and playing through them. It has been one of the things in life I most treasure. In these eleven years I’ve amassed the following beaten FPS experiences: Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, Medal of Honor (the PS1 original), Half-Life, Half-Life 2, and BioShock. The most interesting and memorable times of those was Half-Life 2 but other than that I’ve not loved any of the games. They’ve been interesting pieces of history with some iconic or fascinating choices but largely decent filler in the context of my overall journey.
blops was something else entirely to me. A military-style shooter without the distraction of the uncanny valley effect to acknowledge the game-ification of aiming and pulling the trigger. And apart from a few goofy missions (one in Kowloon and the other in a crumbling underwater station) I could not shake myself of the discomfort and joylessness I felt mowing down waves of ‘enemies’ in the games warzone settings, playing as this character fighting to covertly uphold the rights of the developing US military complex to go and do what it wants, where it wants (the campaigns final image of aircraft carriers and military boats with a US flag preening mightily in the sea breeze might as well have been scrapped in favor of bolder than bold text, reading: JOIN THE MILITARY. BAD GUYS WILL PAY. YOU SAVE THIS WORLD.)
As a game structurally there’s little clever there: clunky tank and helicopter sections, and throw-shit-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks enemy placement. I also thought the big story moment(s) were telegraphed without curiosity from distances away.
The idea of growing up playing this at friends homes, a desire building for the next session, secretly purchasing and hiding THESE types of games from my parents instead of as I actually did with Chrono Trigger…what kinds of thoughts and feelings would I have had to navigate through?
I don’t want any misgivings about what I’m saying here. If you like this game or ones like them there’s no judgement; I just want to articulate this in reflection of who I know I was and who I am always learning that I am.
Before playing blops I was sure I would someday play most of those ‘classics’, like Modern Warfare 1 and 2. But playing is another opportunity to know yourself, to know what you like and what you are like. I had one of the worst gaming experiences I’ve had in years and felt miserable throughout. I’m grateful because I now definitively know: this is not for me.
Flower, by starkest contrast, was like the first breath of fresh air taken after a dumpster dive. I have less to say about it certainly than blops but the musical element of Flower was wafted through the levels like a pleasant dream. It never hits on any specific note sequence that will stay with me but it generally felt kind and embracing. When I got opportunities to rush low to the grass, painting it with a new color or light, I felt a lightness that I would leave myself to meander in for whole five minute sequences without progressing the game. It’s massively simple in concept but also rewarding to explore when finding secret flowers or stumbling upon a particularly breathtaking view.
The last few stages also led to some interesting discussions with friends about the underlying politics of thatgamecompany (I have not played any of their other games). Your task to clear broken telecommunication infrastructure to pave way for bright new buildings, adorned with the eponymous Flower(s) of course, led to a lot of introspection into the moral standing of the game re: urbanization. I don’t know that I have any immediate answers but it was interesting to think about and I likely will explore it further when I one day play Journey.
To pair one of my least enjoyable gaming experiences ever with one that just let my mind float unperturbed into the night was some emotional whiplash I doubt I’ll seek to engage in again. In hindsight it will likely stand as some of my more memorable 2020 gaming sessions and I’ve come away with a previously unexplored part of my brain now known to me better known than ever. For that it was worth it.