Accra, Ghana, 1995 – MORTAL KOMBAT TRILOGY
I am five years old. I’m a tiny brown girl with an awe for gore & braids for days. I’m in my cousin Ayo’s house and we are playing Mortal Kombat. I’m mashing the console so fast I’m pureeing my fingers, because I know that in the blur of buttons a secret magic is hidden – once I hit the sweet spot I’ll morph into Motaro.
It’s not looking good – Ayo is older, he owns the console and he’s a boy. He’s playing as some ninja prick, probably Sub-Zero. Sub-Zero minces around the screen, executing all sort of fancy moves that my five year-old brain can’t commit to memory. All I can do is mash. All I can do is mash, and die.
Until – at the last moment – it happens. I change into a rat horse demon with ram’s horns. I am 3x bigger than any other playable character. I backhoof the fucker in the face twice and it’s an instant K.O.
Do I know how I did it?
Do I fuck.
London, England, 1996 – MYST
I am six and I have moved back to London. I am in my mother’s office. I am playing Myst. It is beautiful and eerie. I explore. I point, and click. I walk into caves. I point, and click. I press buttons. I point, and click. Nothing happens, I see no-one. Once, I make a rocket take off.
Do I know how I did it?
Not a clue.
I’m twenty-five years old and I’m at new bae’s flat for Xbox & chill.
As an independent woman™ I slightly resent that I am being ‘shown’ the game by a boy, but nowadays when it comes to playing games I have very few other options. I am the little Lara Croft who lost her way and now only goes rock-climbing at the weekends. I still have braids for days but I’m too busy to read books any more, and I haven’t owned my own console since my Nintendo broke.
My bread and butter were nineties/noughties kiddie staples like Crash Bandicoot, Spyro and Rayman. I had dalliances with PC delights like Desperados and Worms World Party. I showed up for The Sims, for Tomb Raider and Grand Theft Auto. But somewhere along the road I got sidetracked by puberty and General Certificates of Secondary Education. I strayed from the screen when games grew up, got sinister and sophisticated and subtle. I’m half-formed, a feral gamer with good instincts but no formal training. In terms of gaming fluency, I have a thirteen year-old vocabulary at best.
Dark Souls is ‘seriously scary’, bae tells me. And it’s hard. And it has fighting and role-play and magic. I expect it to be exactly my cup of chai, my RPG Tips. I don’t expect to have that much difficulty getting down & dirty with it.
And I don’t. Largely because I have someone who’s played it before sitting next to me. Bae is a backseat driver, and while it’s not a straightforward sat-nav situation I do get constantly drip-fed advice it would have taken me hours to uncover if I was just button mashing. I don’t have the lows of not being able to figure out how to clear the frustratingly easy intro level (a sort of Undead Asylum) with inert, mangy corpses more listless than Zooey Deschanel, but nor do I soar to the heights of figuring something out solely through my own perseverance and ingenuity. Plus, all the opponents I encounter have something else in common with Zooey – they’re pretty basic. After some initial confusion with the camera controls I concentrate, kill my way through about five checkpoints, and castrate my first boss without breaking too much of a sweat.
I have to stop playing after about four hours because I’m a busy business lady with business to get busy with… and have not played since, because The Bae owns the console and lives the better part of an hour’s commute away. If you were paying for this review, you might understandably feel short-changed at my failure to put in the requisite hours for a comprehensive review. But comment is free, as is this article, so here’s my two cents:
DARK SOULS BETTER BE A GROWER, COZ A SHOWER IT AIN’T.
The introductory apocryphal sequence was some third-rate Tolkien babble about dragons, darkness and light, warring tribes and witches. I didn’t mind it, but it was neither original nor super creative. A particular LOL came from being told that Lordran was the name of the land of the Lords. Just like most male monarchs hail from Kingston, and Turkey is the country of festive flightless birds.
Customising my avatar was probably the most rewarding part of the whole session. I was reassured by the game the sex of my player would make absolutely no difference to their inherent ability. I made it a ‘her’, because there aren’t enough roles for undead lady protagonists in the creative industries as a whole, and skimmed through a range of options for her caste before settling on ‘Wanderer’ – not as obvious as ‘Warrior’ or evidently magical as ‘Pyromancer’, but nicely enigmatic and not hideous, clothing-wise. I gave her the features of an Eerie Great Swamp Dweller because I wanted her to know what it was like to face down bigotry, though thus far the random and unexplained attacks on my player don’t seem particularly racially motivated – the baddies just want to make most things that move bleed. I made her top-heavy because I thought it’d make her attacks stronger (it doesn’t), and whacked the edgiest purple braided hairstyle on her because I’m a hipster from East London, and if I’m going to be slaying, I’d better be slaying, ya get me?
Certain games I’ve played in the past (Heavy Rain, Rugrats in Paris) are inescapably high-octane, and have high-stakes with huge payoffs straight away. Dark Souls, conversely, left me feeling cold. I’d heard reports of gruesome graphics, trippy portals into alternate realms and vampires with crows’ heads. I got none of that in my first session – just dank dungeons, the undead and no dragons (they got wiped out in the opening sequence, remember?). Though slightly disappointed not to be getting spine-tingles from the story I felt that I was just scratching the surface of a gargantuan world, but being so time-poor meant my pay-off, excitement wise, was proportional to the measly amount of time I was able to spend getting acquainted with the game.
I want to play Dark Souls again, without having a helper to hold my hand should I need it. It’s dark, with a wonderful drear atmosphere and a real sense of isolation. But without guidance, I’m worried I’ll drift off into the ghoulish malaise inhabited by all the interactive characters, rather than get truly fired up by it. Like in Myst, there’s no map, there’s no master plan. Like an errant Quasimodo, my first task as the chosen one is a drearily domestic chore. I’m charged with ringing a bell, an act from which I fully expect no good to come. Anything referred to as a ‘Bell of Awakening’, might as well be referred to as ‘The Ding Dong of Bad Shit To Come’. I have no history, no fealty to the fuckers I left behind in the Asylum, and no real reason to care about the capitalist enterprise of accumulating souls beyond the fact that it’ll stop me reverting into a state where I literally look like death nearly quite so often.
In sum, Dark Souls on day dot felt like toughing it out through tedious training. My inner child wanted instant gratification – instead, I was expected to graft. Like The Clash in ’81, I’m treading water between two treacherous tides – do I stick with it and stay, or just walk away?
I must be a sucker for punishment, or a fool for love, because I’ve ended up titling this ‘Part One’. Bae better buckle up for a whole lot of long nights in. My late night booty calls won’t be to cuddle but to kindle at one of those beastly bonfires. Let’s hope the relationship lasts long enough for the little girl who loved gore to see some properly scary adult shit.