I’ve done a silly thing. I’ve bought Grand Theft Auto IV for the PC, despite having a backlog of fifty other games I don’t have time to play, despite being so poor I can’t afford new socks, despite the PS3 version of GTA IV already sitting by the TV in the living room one flight of stairs down from my PC.
I … there was a sale on, okay? It wasn’t expensive. I wanted to check the differences in the versions, investigate whether Rockstar have become any more adept at not cocking up their PC ports, see how mouse and keyboard controls hold up … in … with regards to …
Basically, I’m entirely decadent. A Roman emperor lounging back on silk sheets, engorging himself on fine wine and venison as his kingdom crumbles around him. Except in place of the silk sheets is a swivel chair from Staples with the padding leaking out of the side, and my epicurean delights are really a simulated tale of corruption and car-jacking through the seedy underbelly of the archetypal American city. Still though: Decadence.
But this classical tale has an avenue for redemption, in the form of that loosest and most raggedy of modern games journalism modes: the online game diary.
I’ve been wanting to write a game diary for a while now. In many ways they feel like the perfect expression of what Kieron Gillen actually meant with his NGJ quotation-marks-in-the-air “Manifesto” — not overwrought, self mythologising drivel about your cat (or a girl you used to fancy), but simply a way to convey to readers the experience of playing a game from the inside, a personal adventure that eschews the supposed objectivity of “buyer’s guide” reviews in favour of documenting a single, subjective journey.
Games are models to be interacted with. Pretend for a moment you’d never seen a playground in real life, and didn’t know what one was. A “review” of the playground — how many rides there were, the dimensions of the sandpit, the angle of the slide — would only explain so much. An alternative approach, a first-hand account telling the story of one writer’s afternoon in the playground and the trials and tribulations therein, could say more. Not as a replacement for the drier review style, but as a compliment, providing that warmer, richer side of the coin that reviews, with their need to compare and encapsulate, tend to miss out on.
But we’re getting too deep into justification here. I always feel this overwhelming urge to justify myself. The point is: I like the idea of game diaries. I’ve not tried one before, partly because there hasn’t been an open-ended game on my schedule that would be suitable for the approach, and partly because I’m scared.
I write slowly, you see. I plan and take notes and draft and re-draft and go away and cry and come back and bang my head on the keyboard and cry more and then start from scratch and cry all the way through that rewrite and finally end up at a point where although I’m not remotely finished I am somehow Done, and I post the piece and bite my nails and wonder what the hell I was thinking starting one of these blogs in the first place.
So the idea of a game diary — by definition a rough-and-ready write-up of events as they occur in-game — fills me with dread. What if nothing of interest happens? What if I get bored one post in and can’t motivate myself? What if, worst of all, the off-the-cuff approach gives away the secret to you THREE READERS that I can’t actually write at all, that I just work harder at faking it than other people?
Well you know what? There has to come a time when you just stop giving so much of a shit. It doesn’t really matter. In a world of very real problems — death, the inevitable collapse of the universe, Steam sales always beginning the day after I’ve been paid — the potential failure of one little game diary feels pretty insignificant.
So I’m going ahead with this. It is happening. Yes indeed.
Why am I still typing here then? Because I need to outline the Rules, obviously. Every game-diary must have its Rules — the parameters for its specific journey, setting it apart from all other journeys, defining its quality and colour.
My diary, as the “Kicking Pigeons” title implies, will be a document of my attempts to collect the secret pigeons dotted around GTA IV’s Liberty City. Every GTA game has had “hidden packages”, little baubles and knick-knacks to discover, rewards for venturing off the beaten track. In GTA IV’s case these collectibles take the form of 200 “flying rats” concealed about the city, which you can find and shoot.
Usually, gamers seeking out the pigeons will use internet guides and Youtube videos to help them, looking up a location and then driving to it and collecting the reward. I don’t want to do that. If you’re all about the destination then take a fucking flight, as Frank Turner so eloquently puts it — so I’m going old skool. No guides, no vids, no external help whatsoever. Just me, hitting the streets, “going nowhere slowly but seeing all the sights.”
I won’t use any cheats. I won’t reload old saves. Whatever happens on the journey stays happened.
I don’t know how many of the birds I’ll find. Maybe none. But I think the attempt will be fun. Playing games to write about them can be dull — I spend my time analysing and evaluating, picking apart threads, distilling into base components. In fact “playing” probably isn’t an apt term — more often what I do is more akin to “studying”.
I’ve touched before on the idea of games being waking dreams. Imagined landscapes to jump-drive-soar through, worlds unbound by social convention and physical restriction, waiting to be explored.
That’s what I want to do here. I want to get lost, to not know where to go next, to run around and have adventures and just see what happens. It might be a silly thing — but sometimes silly things can be pretty cool. Why not stick around and see how I get on?