Review by Tim Eller
Every person on this planet, including gamers, is in a constant search for direction. During any given minute of the day, countless choices pop into being, and demand alignment from the people they’re subject to. The problem is this: how are we all supposed to make the best moral decisions, lest we incur the dire consequences of a misstep in judgment? At the end of our lives, how do we sum up the value of the choices we’ve made in order to qualify our existences? On a cosmic scale, there’s really no way anyone can assimilate all the endless speculation on existence, yet there’s certainly nothing wrong with casting wary, sidelong glances at an over-simplification such as the ‘box of chocolates’ crap I constantly hear around the office. Seriously, life has many more similarities with the wavering reticule of a sniper rifle being held by a guy with a hundred riley gerbils in his pants.
So where do we turn, as lost souls in a debatably advancing, soul-less world of mounting confusion where our values and principles are store-bought commodities, and our next step, as always, may be our last? Where’s our source of fulfillment and progression? Where do we derive our lessons from, which evolve and enlighten us? Well, as a perfectly adjusted human being with no severe personality hang-ups, and as a fellow gamer, allow me to subject my secret to the world:
First Person Shooters
Unnatural, you might say. Ridiculous! But that’s before you’ve heard my arguments on some key foci of the FPS erudition. Let us explore the simple lessons we may learn from the sage examples of the Quake series, the colorful adduces of Unreal Tournament, or the warm comfort of Mr. Nukem’s verse.
Any lesson in absorption begins with humility, or the art of Not Knowing. Everyone starts at square one, with the tiny exception of those that start on square two and quickly aerate everything in a ten kilometer area with a German efficiency. When I began playing FPSs, I was and am now, the consummate amateur, though I imagined myself as something much better. In matches featuring the hail of accurate weaponfire, absolutely none of it mine, and death tolls that tip the scales into the realm of genocide, I learned that perfection is never achieved but by the hand of experience. If you’re lucky, you have some nice people who’ve already gleaned and live that lesson that will teach it to you, but it’s best to leave your smart-ass at the door anyway.
To Err Is Human
I’ve created an active niche for myself within the sub-culture I associate with, which involves a lot of falling flat on my face and sticking uncounted feet in my mouth. This is the essence of being human – the impulsive action, the assertion of consequence, and learning something from the experience. In the odd FPS, there’s not a person alive that hasn’t been jittery with the heat of battle, his/her hand on the balance scale of power and advantage, that hasn’t plugged a teammate to death on accident. It happens, it’s ok. I know, because I routinely send my teammates to Valhalla with an errant bazooka round to the face. It’s not intentional at all... really! Forgiveness is also wrapped into this aspect of the FPS Tao; a teammate unbidden by this humanitarian chalice will often seek retribution by returning said bazooka round. I’m sure his finger just slipped anyway – everyone makes mistakes.
...but not too often
The side-scripture to the previous observation is that Error and Forgiveness can only go so far in any given medium. Arrogance is a pasty, smelly mistress who finds us when we think we’ve hit the apex of our ability - like when we start thinking that our traitorous actions, direct or inadvertent, are somehow befitting of the individual we’ve just run over with a head-shearing Manta. Good-natured laughing and encouragement are productive ways to sew harmony in the universe. A stern-faced “You suck! Ha HA!!” is definitely bad juju.
Campers are bullsh*t
I liken “camping”, or the act of hovering over a spawn point to cut down the enemy when they pop back into existence, to the desperate inflation of one’s ego, an attempt to counteract insecurities. Sure, it’s fun to plug away at a base camp for a little while, giggling like a wood fairy as we rob opponents of any great purview of life. But after a while, it’s simply an exercise in power and low self-esteem, and inevitably sucks the enjoyment from a game that would otherwise be a pleasant tug of war for supremacy. Instead of cheapening ourselves and the play experience, find new ways to exploit our enemies’ weaknesses! Those trying to get back in the game will appreciate our diversity, and extended proximity.
Ok, ok. In this sense, life actually is a box of chocolates. Nearly every mysterious carob chunk is a whole new set of flavor sensations and revulsions, and dealing with each on a unitary basis can be an exciting journey through the limitations and enormity of your gag reflex. But there’s always that golden moment of victory when one is found that doesn’t make your eyes water and your head pitch forward in expulsion. In essence: Sometimes you have to do things you don’t wanna to get where you wanna be. The First Person Shooter is a characteristically forgiving genre, which embodies basic play designs and pervasive standards. This means familiarity is your swimming buddy, but there’s a lot of recurring sharks in the pool. For myself, taking into account skill level, mental acuity, dizzying multi-objectives, and survival instinct can mean finding so many personal inadequacies that there seems to be no point in playing. But practice makes marginally better, I always say, and the punishment is in the pudding. Get shot, spawn, get shot again, keep going. Eventually you’ll get that guy, and when you do, you’ll feel like a million bucks, right before the jeep hits you at 158 miles per hour.
Drugs can be ok
Note to complete idiots: This is not an endorsement to do drugs. Rather, it is a parable on my own dearth of physical constitutions which I can do nothing about. If you’re worried about tertiary influence, just consider this my version of Jesus and his blood/wine metaphor. I suffer from very intense and equally embarrassing motion sickness when playing these myopic FPSs. Swinging to and fro, the horizon is awash with the slanting, heaving details of a thousand items hurrying across my scenic view, which I only register as bubbles in the shape and color of the inside of my brain. After more than 30 minutes of this, my inner-ear gives up and tells my stomach to start working backwards, since that’s far less frustrating than trying to figure out why I’m playing a game that disorients me more than the Fox News channel. And so, I turn to the calming arms of Dramamine; that over-the-counter salvation for my motion malady, the same malady other people get from reading in the car. Under this heading, and without getting into too much detail, let me say that there’s a time and a place for everything. Just make sure it’s safe, controlled, filled with people whom you trust, and NOT a means for escape. That’s what killing Nazis in Battlefield 1942 is for.
You know how there’s always that one guy with the thick glasses. Or the girl with too many freckles. Or the turtle with two heads. You know? These are aberrations only in our own interpretation of what’s normal, and do not inherently deserve scorn, unless of course they’re total a**holes. Stupid jerk turtle. Anyway, the FPS brings to us the ideological semblance of diversity in function and form, sometimes in the way of weapons, other times in character design or vehicle usage. The elemental construction of the foot soldier is such that they are able participants in any FPS, but does not mean they’re any less important or (suitably) deadly than the tubby armored guy, or the stationary sniper. I had to learn, in quite humbling terms, what strengths this spectrum of types and abilities could mean in the hands of the right player.
Diplomacy Is Cheaper Than Peace
This is a goofy one, but a much simpler, overall truth. Absolutes are irrational. Everywhere one goes in daily life, there are a million different perspectives on a million different topics on a million different frames of reference, memory, or personal history. Everyone comes to the arena of the FPS for different reasons and with scattered strengths and preferences. In a forum of players embodying alter-egos, and with the fearsome range of personal and team-based objectives, getting to point B can explode into an uphill battle. Can there be no common ground? Can’t we all just get along? Through the beauty of the FPS, the nigh-perfect dual representation of our inner conflicts and extrinsic connection to fellow human beings can be seen in any deathmatch setup. Good versus evil, red versus blue... there’s always adversity and tumult, but also community. Striving for total peace may be a mythical white dove, but the balance of having common grounds in which to talk, debate, and learn is certainly more productive than bombing countries or sanctioning a starving nation. We all speak with mouths; we should be able to find a language that crosses the boundaries of difference – the same type of congruent lexicon in which the entire world community of FPS players uses to differentiate between a regular player kill and a sensational, meaty, splurting death.
These are the basics, but breaking FPSs down to their component parts is more than just an enabling exercise for the chronically anal-retentive. It’s also a looking glass into the simple pieces that make us human, part of the same mixed-up species, living on the same ball of dirt bludgeoning its way around a bright orange ball of fusion. It’s a wonder the appeal of the First Person Shooter hasn’t reached a religious pitch yet, having what I would solemnly consider philosophical truths that root firmly in our very being and the way in which we react to our universe. Ah well. If nothing else, the cohesive form of the FPS and its draw to the cathartic needs of the many, myself included, can at the very least provide us with a means to cavort with our fellow wo/man, and invariably staunch the flow of existential claptrap like this editorial.