London, England, 2016 – SHOGUN
As I type these words the man previously known as ‘backseat driver bae’ is sitting in bed next to me, also on his laptop. Riding shotgun. Playing Shogun.
Bae plays Shogun a lot. Pre-coffee Shogun. Post-coital Shogun. As far as I can tell, Shogun is Risk set in sixteenth century Japan, and like regular Risk, the game is excruciatingly unending. Every time I hear a battlecry of hopefully-actual-Japanese and look over at his screen to see the tiny avatar army glide across the terrain, I feel a slight twang of envy. I don’t get it, this new infatuation. I mean, I get that it’s a highly strategic game, for which every action – so I’m told – has super sophisticated diplomatic and economic implications. To my untrained eyes, it looks like a pixelated ant farm. Baffling seen from a distance and so subtly sinister it makes my skin crawl.
“What are you doing?” I venture.
“Defending a stronghold,” he replies, not moving. There are mixed yells of hopefully-actual-Japanese. “It’s challenging.”
Huh. I’ve played strategy and tactics simulations before.
I know challenging.
Imagined Africa, 1999 – SIMSAFARI
It’s a bad day. While doing a routine sweep of the park grounds, I find the pillaged carcass of a white rhinoceros. My information sheet tells me that the white rhinoceros has absolutely no natural predators (APART FROM MAN) so I click through to see the Village Elder.
I don’t know how old & grumpy one has to be to make Elder in this village, but I do know that this guy’s forehead has more lines than a zebra crossing. If he cracked a smile, the force might Humpty Dumpty his whole face.
He stretches his hand out to shake mine in greeting.
I do the same thing I do every time. I grab Village Elder’s hand tight, pull him close and growl hoarsely into his ear: “I – killed – MUFASA!”
He doesn’t laugh. Instead he does his best Shar Pei impression and babbles something about the poor African villagers starving to death unless I give them jobs. I mean, really. I can’t give them jobs unless tourists visit the park, and tourists don’t visit the park to see impala and duiker. They come to see the Big Five. The Big Five are the key crowd-pullers – buffalo, leopards, lions, elephants, and, of course, the great white rhino. Which oh so very recently became the late white rhino.
“Whatever, mate. If I hire a few more park guides could you people tone it down a bit with the killing of endangered wildlife? More protecty protecty, less poachy poachy.”
Village Elder gives me a thumbs up. This is progress. Safari so goodie.
As I leave the village, I make a mental note to buy another lion to add more ‘wow’ factor to the park. There’s one in particular I’ve got my eye on who I think will really draw the punters in.
I’m going to call him Cecil.
Undead Burg, 2016 – DARK SOULS
I live in the Undead Burg.
The Undead Burg lives in me.
I turn the sound low and hum ‘On The Street Where You Live’ from My Fair Lady as I dodge firebombs and stab corpses.
The Undead Burg is my home.
The Undead Burg is not where my heart is. I want out of the Undead Burg.
Unfortunately, the only way out is past a Taurus Demon, a hefty fucker with the force of Thor in his hammer and of Serena Williams in his thighs.
This it how it goes:
I kill everyone in all the areas I can access, twice. I take a hearty gulp from my Estus flask. Then I traverse the white light. Oh, look, I only have to walk this short fifteen-metre walkway and I can traverse the next portal? Good-o.
I step forward. Two tonnes of furry distemper fly through the air and crash into my path.
I die eventually. And by ‘eventually’ I mean ‘invariably’. I die every single time.
“I don’t want to play any more,” I announce to bae, who is making dinner at the time.
“Did the boss kill you again?”
“No,” I say. “I killed everyone in the Undead Burg. Then I accidentally ran off a platform and lost all my souls and died.”
I have often walked down this street before
But the pavement always stayed beneath my feet before
“You should level up,” suggests bae.
I had forgotten I could do that. I’m often forgetting basic tenets of game grammar, so quickly did I speed through my first few forays into the game. Time flies when you’re having fun. And when you have someone who’s done it before doing it for you.
Leveling up doesn’t work. The bullish gatekeeper from Beelzebub’s zodiac strikes me down and I still die dead.
It’s not fair. This is basic shit, I know. But I have limited time with the console, because it lives chez bae and my flat has better transport links. I can’t procrastinate picking off souls or roll out of bed in the early hours to idle away some time on the Xbox. There is an allotted hour of Dark Souls play at most every time I sleepover chez bae, because the other time must be spent on necessities like intimacy and food preparation.
As a result, every session is slowed by my attempts to relearn and remember how to fight. Instead of whizzing through the lower levels at the speed of light like I anticipated, my undead warrior waif is wasting away in the Undead Burg.
I know I wanted to defeat Dark Souls on my own. That was the challenge. Tips, tricks and walkthroughs seem too much like cheating. But I’m not a purist. I pair organic sausages with Heinz ketchup. My quinoa swims in MSG. I can still have an authentic gaming experience with the help of certain additives.
There is simply no way the Taurus demon should be this hard to beat.
I ask bae if there’s another way through. He says no.
I ask bae if the bull has a blind spot. He says no.
Once I traverse the white light, I always run forward. Headlong into battle. I never look back. Bae tells me to remember how I beat the last bad guy.
“There’s a ladder behind me, isn’t there,” I say. Bae says nothing.
“There’s a fucking ladder.”
Bae nods. But it’s too late. My hour is up. It’s cuddle time.
All at once am I
Several storeys high
On the street
Where you live