The Breaking Point

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  • I believe in videogames. I believe in Harvey Dent. I believe in lots of things that will one day abandon me, and I’ve made some form of peace with that.

    This year, once all the joy and adventure had died down from E3, I met with Unwinnable’s senior editor Steve Haske in a dark Eagle Rock bar where a prostitute attempted to infiltrate our inner sanctum by knocking over all of our drinks. Then, drinkless, Steve and I spoke as men about the limits of our artistic patience within an art form that seemed to be testing us.

    “I gave up on videogames thanks to Bioshock Infinite,” Steve said.

    “Oh, lemme guess,” I said and began guessing at the dozen memorable moments I remembered the game’s narrative daring me to be too outraged to venture forward. Much to my surprise, Steve kept shaking his head no, even when I brought up the consensual violence against a mixed-race couple.

    “Even earlier,” Steve suggested, knowingly.

    “I… I don’t know what else there is,” I replied. “Do you hate lighthouses? Or Parks & Rec style hyper-racist murals? Or is this a clear attack on the American tradition of baptism?”

    Steve laughed and proceeded to explain the hyper-specific moment of his disconnect. Once your protagonist arrives in the cloud city of Columbia, there is a moment where the game visibly updates your objectives by telling you to “explore” and then pointing an arrow in the general direction of exploration.

    This moment, which I could clearly remember, had passed me by completely as just a by-product of the concessions required of mainstream gaming. For Steve, the nanny-state of videogames had played its final hand-holding card. And he cashed out.

    Our discussion made me reflect on the moments that made me abandon gaming. In my personal history two moments stuck out, because the aftermath involved me threatening to stay away forever.

    In 2008, right after moving to LA from Chicago, I found myself crossing the entirety of the city each morning and night, as I commuted from Koreatown to Santa Monica. Just before Halloween, Rockstar Games released an Xbox 360 game called Midnight Club: Los Angeles that led to me acquiring an Xbox 360 and also setting aside a complete weekend to dive into its world.

    UW 57-smallI’d been out of the gamer loop for a couple years, but the opportunity to Fast & Furious my way through a promised “photo-realistic” version of my new city proved too enticing. I blasted through the security gates of the film studios that had rejected my resume; I jettisoned my body above the curves of hills that separated my chill criminal alter-ego from the Dreaded Valley where temperatures ran high while rent ran low. And while my Koreatown neighborhood was deleted to make way for that unexpected patch of action ramps that separates Hollywood from Downtown, the game did go far beyond its means to replicate the minutiae of Los Angeles.

    The back of the box promised that Midnight Club accurately simulated freeway traffic for the varying times of day – a factor I once considered a selling point before I took a step back.

    Indeed, I was spending two hours of my day traversing the City of Angels, only to return to my one bedroom apartment to while away the night in the escapism of driving a car through an elaborate simulation of the exact same traffic that prevented me from cultivating a true social life.

    I proceeded enjoying, and investing, in this gamic world for nearly two weeks before I realized what I’d done.

    You’ve been reading an excerpt from Unwinnable Monthly Issue 57.

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    Excerpt, Games, Unwinnable Monthly