LAST WEEK I was steadily shooting my way through Ghost Recon: Future Soldier when a big freelance job came my way and ate up a number of days. This isn’t unusual.
As much as I love games, they have to take a backseat to life. So the Ghost Recon icon on my desktop went unclicked for a week. But now the idea of going back is filling me with a kind of unease. The fact is, I think I’ve forgotten the controls.
Every game has its own control scheme that it gently tutors you in its first couple levels, but if you don’t use it, you lose it. Now, granted, I could probably pick it up again quite quickly. Game developers usually try, as much as possible, to design their controls to be as intuitive as possible, so their schemes commonly resemble the ones that have come before.
But just the idea of that, having to re-learn and adjust, coupled with the fact that I can’t remember at all where I am in the narrative, makes me just want to start the game new.
Ghost Recon, Future Soldier Trailer
This has happened to me before. Not with a game. But with a Russian novel. I think it might have been a Dostoyevsky one. Or maybe it was Anna Karenina. It doesn’t matter. Anyway, the thing about Russian novels is that sometimes there’s a buttload of characters to keep track of, and not only does everyone have a regular name that is super convoluted, but they have a pet name, too. A casual one, that they use among friends. What I found myself doing while reading was keeping a list of everyone in the book, with their official and casual names, just so I could keep track. It helped a lot. But don’t ever put a Russian novel down for a couple of days, because it’s a slog returning to it.
You might as well just start over.
But actually, I didn’t go back to Ghost Recon. I went back even further to Half-Life 2. I first played HL2 like, five years ago, long after its debut, and thoroughly enjoyed it. It was a breathtaking saga, and I wantedto play it again. I finally had some time a year ago, and I got maybe two hours in before something came up in my life and I had to put it down.
In many ways, how I feel about HL2, well, it’s like a great relationship I once had, and I’ve been trying to reconnect with her ever since, but the timing hasn’t been right. And part of me wants to fall in love all over again. Because you really can with her. I knew I needed to set aside enough time that I could enjoy HL2, and its attendant episodes. That’s probably a full 20 hours, spread over multiple play sessions of a couple hours a night, barring any real-life social responsibilities. That’s a good two weeks. It’s a commitment.
The great thing about HL2 is how much it holds up, even after eight years. I know that there was a texture update in the interim, but just the thoughtfulness and inventiveness of the situations it puts you in keeps it a contender. There is nothing generic about the game’s ambitions.
When HL2 came out in 2004, there nothing else like it. About two months before its release I remember watching a gameplay trailer for it and couldn’t believe that you were actually playing the sequence, that it wasn’t just a pre-rendered cinematic. No other game beat how good it looked at the time. It’s hard to remember that sometimes.
I once talked to this guy about JD Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. He was pretty old. He was a teenager when it came out, and that was the thing he remembered the most about it — there was no other book like it. It hit the world like a revelation because it was.
Half-Life 2 Trailer
But Half-Life 2 was a revelation only to a limited PC-gaming audience. It took a year for an XBOX port (with poor framerate) to come out, and three years for it to come to the 360 and PS3 in the Orange Box. Thus, even today, many self-proclaimed “hard-core” gamers will not have played it. But I can’t see anyone speaking intelligently about shooters if they haven’t played HL2. That would be like if someone were writing a dissertation on the Beats without having read On the Road.
As games increasingly shoulder their way into the pantheon of artistic mediums, their similarities and differences to those sibling artforms will be interesting to watch. Right now, the closest thing to a gaming “book club” are the various videogame podcasts available. My greatest hope and fear is that one day Oprah will have a Oprah’s Game Club sticker that is emblazoned proudly on the very best.
Sherwin Sullivan Tjia is the author of five books: Gentle Fictions, Pedigree Girls (Insomniac Press), The World is a Heartbreaker (Coach House Books), The Hipless Boy (Conundrum Press). His latest is a choose-your-own-adventure story told from the perspective of a cat. It’s called You Are a Cat! (Conundrum Press). His most recent invention, the E-Z-Purr, is a CD with over an hour of cats purring! and is available for purchase from CD Baby.