Double Dragon: Any Port In a Storm

Double Dragon is a lot of things. It’s an 80’s style beat-um-up. It’s one of the earliest examples of two-player co-op. It’s the most successful game ever released by the Taito Corporation. It’s a reason sibling-on-sibling violence increased in 1987, due to the ability to beat your own co-player (this may be a joke; maybe).

What it is not is a single title. This is not in reference to the sequels, but the original game itself. Originally an arcade title, DD has since been translated onto no less than twenty consoles and operating systems. Almost every single one of them—by the very nature of the platform’s limitations—looked and played much differently. The NES even changes the main antagonist and gets rid of the co-op. How can this possibly be considered the same game as the arcade version?

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What a Horrible Night to Have an Incorrect Quotation

As anyone who reads this knows, I’m a legacy gamer of sorts, at least insofar as my mom was playing video games before I was ever born. I was never scolded for playing too many games, even when maybe I should have been, but it was not long before I surpassed her in breadth of knowledge and skill when it came to gaming.

Before any of that, though, I didn’t know the difference between a penny and a quarter.

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Why We Write

We are the video game generation and these are our stories.

We are not the book nerds that came of age in the 1960s, who feasted on Dune and Stranger in a Strange Land, and the newly discoverd Lord of the Rings. We have read those books. We love those books. But they are not the stories that shaped us.

We are not the movie nerds that came of age in the 1980s, who packed the cinemas to see Raiders, and Blade Runner, and Back to the Future, and The Empire Strikes Back. We have seen those movies. We love those movies. But they are not the stories that shaped us.

We are the game nerds. Super Mario Bros. 3 was my Return of the Jedi. Metal Gear Solid was my Die Hard. Final Fantasy was my Lord of the Rings. I read those games. I love those games. They are the stories that shaped me.

A video game is the best story medium that there is. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, the receiver of the story is injected directly into the narrative. You are the hero of these stories. Rather than watch Frodo climb Mount Doom, YOU must scale Death Mountain. YOU must kill the Warlock Lord. YOU must be a bad enough dude to save the President.

The avatars live or die by your intervention. When you pick up a controller, unlike when you open a book or sit down in the theater, the ending has not yet been written. More likely than not, the hero of the story will meet an untimely demise, and it will be your fault. Isn’t it all the more satisfying when it is your own victory, not just the character’s? I think about the tension that flowed out of my body, my hair fell flat and blood rushed into my thigh and my white-knuckled grip on my pistol slackened, the first time I shot Wild Dog in the original TIME CRISIS. No movie gun fight has ever invested me as much as circling that rooftop fountain with Mr. Shades&Duster, trading shots.

The other reason video games are the superior story medium is the dual narrative of player experience and story experience that all video games have. Each game has its story. Save the princess. Kill the aliens. Stop the mad scientist. Each game has scripted events and/or cutscenes to advance this narrative. It may be totally linear, it may be choose-your-own-adventure, it may be sandbox, but there are a fixed number of paths the story can take. That’s story experience.

Story experience is great, but it’s not what makes games a unique artistic medium. That’s player experience. Ever pull off a crazy stunt or outrun a fleet of cop cars in a Grand Theft Auto game? Ever experience a really intense mission in Counterstrike, where you were the last living person on your team and you singlehandedly eliminated a dozen opponents? Ever overcome seemingly insurmountable odds in a real-time strategy game, either through guile or sheer determination? Ever gotten lost in World of Warcraft? That’s player experience. It’s the stories we tell our friends at school or work the next day, the crazy thing you did in the game that only you have done in the game. It’s as much a narrative as story experience, but player narratives are unique to the individual players. I am reminded of my playthrough of VVVVVV, when I spent ninety minutes on a bus from New York to Boston struggling to get the last secret token, fighting and slogging to train my muscle memory to input the correct commands to pass the gauntlet. It was exhausting, but when I had achieved victory, I had not just the story, but a cherished memory of a personal experience that straddled the virtual and the real world. These memories of play experience are certainly nostalgia fuel, but they, along with story experience, like the best films, novels, television, theater, and poetry, are worthy of literary analysis.

When I write fiction, I draw upon the great literary moments in games. I don’t think about the Red Baron, I think about Star Wolf. I don’t think about the Phantom of the Opera, I think about the octopus at the opera. I don’t think about John Carter and King Arthur and Captain Aubrey. I think about Mario and Link and Colonel Blair. I’ve never understood why people shy away from literary criticism of games. Every game tells a story. Even Pac-Man, simple though it may seem, is a metaphor about the human condition. You run frantically through a rat maze, gobbling up as much meaningless crap as you can. All the while a ghost is chasing you.

Games are poetry. That’s why I write, to appreciate the adventures they took me on when I was small. In many ways, I think what Steele and Jesse have tried to do with pixelthèque is appreciate the adventure, the player experience – that pillar of game narrative. I’m excited to share my own analysis, memories, and appreciation of this aspect of the gamer’s narrative.

Nice Shooting Captain

The most succinct description of Captain Skyhawk is probably that it was for people who thought Marble Madness would have been better if only you were flying a jet from Top Gun.

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Dragon’s Lair: A Place in History

One of the most interesting aspects of art is how it can serve as commentary “after the fact.” That is, it can speak for itself at the time and then gain additional meaning as the context of its place in history becomes fixed. Casablanca is a great film not just because it had a great script, but because it is a film about Nazis produced and released before the climax of World War II. It’s easy for us to look back and see how Rick and Ilsa will probably survive the conflict, but imagine the true anxiety that audiences must have felt on their behalf with VE Day still over two years away. The film, like so many others in so many other contexts, survives because it has resisted any possible attempt to pigeonhole it. Its meaning changes every year and for everyone who watches it.

The same can be said for Dragon’s Lair. Though Dirk the Daring’s quest to rescue Daphne from the clutches of the dragon, Singe, seems rather quaint compared to the hundred-hour epics of today, it is impossible to overstate its importance to the growth of its medium. One could write a book on all of its pros and cons, but I’ll stick with just three for now…

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Trapped in space warped by someone

I was the oldest kid in my family growing up. There was me, my brother, and my two step-brothers around frequently, along with a plethora of step-cousins that I saw far more often than any of my extended blood relations. Being the oldest of the kids that were around, I occasionally found myself annoyed when I was playing a game and one of the little cousins interfered.

This is a problem that pretty much everyone who has played video games in the presence of children has experienced. You want to sit down and get a game in, but your friend’s six-year-old brother or whatever wants to play. There is maybe some crying and complaining to parents and an order to let the kid play. You are resentful as you hand the controller over, so you go and stew on it, then you grow up to cynically complain about it on the internet.

*ahem* Pardon me, I digress.

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Munching magic pills and listening to repetitive electronic music

If you want to get strictly technical about it, video games have been a part of me since before I was even born. That sounds sort of stupid, I will grant you, but I totally mean it.

Before I was in the picture, my parents had a dog. He was a red chow chow called Sampson and he was the greatest dog that ever happened.

I mention all this because he is my earliest game connection.

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Tetris: How Little Falling Blocks Changed the World

It’s hard to overestimate the importance of Tetris. It influenced generations of puzzle games, sold millions of copies on multiple systems, crossed traditional gender boundaries (many of which still exist in gaming today), and continues to be one of the most popular titles of any generation of anywhere in the world. By almost any definition, it is THE video game of the 20th century.

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