“He adored Liberty City. He idolised it out of all proportion.”
Hmm, no. Make that: “He romanticised it out of all proportion.”
“To him, no matter how many years passed, this was still a town that existed in crisp resolution, pulsating to the tune of Q Lazzarus’ Goodbye Horses.”
Umm … no. Let me start over.
“He was too romantic about Liberty City, as he was about everything else.”
“He loved the urban sprawl, the verticality of the environment. The city’s rooftops, its steamy back alleys and solitary train stations, somehow epitomised everything that he played games for.”
Too grandiose. I want this to feel personal.
“He was as complex and enigmatic as the city he loved. A mysterious man roaming mysterious streets. A tough exterior masking deep vulnerability. Dark. Brooding. Sexual.”
This is dynamite.
… Although, on second thoughts, maybe doing the Manhattan thing isn’t such a good idea. I’m stressed enough about living up to early promise as it is.
Last week I decided to start a game diary documenting my journey scouring Grand Theft Auto IV for its 200 collectible pigeons. I wrote that I was apprehensive about embarking on such a prescribed endeavour, seeing as I write haphazardly, re-draft continuously, and my brain has a tendency to implode under pressure. In the end, though, I came to the conclusion that the challenge would be good for me, and even if I failed, it wouldn’t be such a big deal.
Right now I think I must have been crazy.
I can’t do this. I’m not a shoot-from-the-hip kind of guy. I’m not even a steady-shot kind of guy. I’m a put the gun in the drawer and hide under the covers and close my eyes and hope everything that has ever happened and will ever or might ever happen just goes away. Kind of guy. I mean, I don’t have a clue what I’m going to do.
So I climb up high.
I always have a compulsion to climb in videogames. More than the social aspect of online games, more than the meditative trance that games like Geometry Wars or VVVVVV can engender, I really play to explore. And climbing is the primal expression of that. Whenever I’m lost and bewildered in a new virtual landscape, my first step is always to climb something tall and get my bearings. It makes me feel like a caveman, deeply connected to my surroundings — even if those surroundings do only exist within a computer simulation.
Strange that, how we’ve mapped out and ordered and de-mystified our world, taken charge of it and plundered its resources, in order to create technology that allows us to invent simulated worlds … ready to be mapped out and ordered and de-mystified. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
Anyway. Here I am. I’ve completed a handful of GTA IV’s missions already. I’ve punched here, driven there, remapped the controls to put the handbrake back on the right mouse button. Now it’s time to start my true journey.
Where the pigeons at?
I scan the horizon. I peer up into the sky, and down at my feet. I run in a circle around the rooftop.
“Pidgeys?” I call into the breeze. No answer returns.
Well. This wasn’t supposed to be easy.
Down below me I can see a quaint family playground and basketball court.
As good a place as any to begin my search. The sun is shining, and the bleached-out blues and reds of the court looks inviting. There is a brief hiccup as I forget where the ladder back to street level is, but then I stumble upon it and I’m ready to roll. To adventure!
Oh no. This isn’t a picturesque family utopia at all, but a sleazy and squalid smack den. It’s like a scene from one of those anti-drugs adverts, where they pretend to be offering impartial and non-judgemental advice, but in reality imply that if you ever take so much as one ecstasy you’ll spend the rest of your life huddled in the corner of inner-city parks with swing frames BUT NO SWINGS, wrenching out your fingernails to distract your mind from the satanic voices emanating from the cans of special brew abandoned at your feet.
What rubbish. I mean I took two ecstasies once, and look at me now. Right as rain.
Worse than the Talk-to-Frank vibes, though, is the fact there are no pigeons here. I think the men on that bench must have eaten them all.
The basketball courts prove equally unaccommodating to my needs. This is soooo boring. I’ve looked literally everywhere in the world. Well, two places. But literally two places in the world. Surely I deserve a reward now?
On my way back out of the park I’m accosted by two baggy-trousered gentlemen.
“Yo whattup muthafucka wanna score some coke yo be cool man be cool.” I say to them.
They look puzzled.
“Is he mocking African-American patois for comedic effect?” the kid in blue asks his friend.
“That sure appears to be the case, Darnell. Let’s fuck him up.”
“Woah now lads,” I say, backing off. “It wasn’t a racist joke, it was a joke about racism.”
“In my eyes that’s an irrelevant and cowardly get-out clause used to mask the widespread and insidious prejudice of society at large,” Darnell retorts. “Wouldn’t you agree, Cee-Jay?”
The other one pauses. “Yo back up, Dee. Don’t you think that tired reversal where the black dude turns out to be eloquently spoken — within a white framework — is just as inherently racist as the street kid stereotype? I mean we for real, man. We be who we be.”
“So I can’t be educated?” Darnell says. “I can’t aspire to rise up out of this ghetto?”
“It aint like that, yo. The king stay the king. The game is rigged. But you cannot lose if you do not play.”
“Are you just quoting from The Wire?” I ask.
“Shieeeeeet!” they both say in unison, and we all laugh, and I walk on, and we’re all relatively happy how that turned out, even though it was a potential minefield, and essentially we’re just glad the conversation hasn’t been transcribed and put onto the internet or anything like that.
The next thing I do is find a good car and drive fast.
You can only go so long in a Grand Theft Auto game before succumbing to the desire to find a good car and drive fast. Here I’ve managed a record twelve and a half minutes.
I powerslide round some corners and gun the engine and crash into a few trees, and next thing I know I’m at the Coney-Island-inspired beachfront.
And look: crazy golf.
There will definitely be pigeons at crazy golf. They can’t get enough of that shit. You develop a kind of sixth sense for where hidden packages will be when you’re a seasoned explorer like me.
I always go poking around for hidden packages in games. Gold Skulltulas in Ocarina of Time, feathers in Assassin’s Creed II, diamonds in Far Cry 2. After a while you can just sort of tell where they’re likely to be. It’s a beautiful feeling, an alignment of your mind with the minds of the level designers. Some tiny subconscious curiosity switch gets lit deep in your brain by the appearance of an otherwise innocent ramp or pathway or flight of stairs, you head off to explore it, and BAM, there’s this glowing trinket at the end, saying, You did the right thing, congratulations.
Like I said, a beautiful feeling. Except I don’t find any pigeons at crazy golf. It’s a lovely little course, meticulously modelled, but still … bloody fucking hell.
Over the fence from the crazy golf course is a scrap of derelict land housing the hulking shells of a fleet of broken-down schoolbuses.
I get another tingling in my waters: this is going to be pigeon central. But again, my pidgey-sense is all off. Plenty of ugly bump mapping [that’s a joke about GTA IV’s image rendering — you know, cos I’m cool like that], but no pigeons. I think I’ve lost my explorer mojo.
I try climbing the wooden rollercoaster behind me, but I’m a little deflated by now. I fall off twice on the way up, and when I finally reach the top I find it to be sans pigeons. A gorgeous view …
… but a pigeon-less one. Dammit.
I’m at a bit of a loss. I’m starting to wonder if you have to reach a certain point in the story mode to trigger the arrival of the pigeons, or whether the pigeons even exist at all. Perhaps it’s an elaborate ruse on the part of the developers, online journalists and all my friends to get me to look a right tit on my blog. The whole population of the earth colluding against me, like The Truman Show.
No, Rob. Not everything that happens in life is evidence that you’re in The Truman Show. You have to stop thinking like this. Even if that postman and dog-walker have been looping the block for the last four hours …
To prevent myself going insane I run down the rollercoaster track, as if I’m going for a ride. It’s not very fun — and I realise doesn’t help me look any more sane. “Whee,” I say, a little halfheartedly.
Under the boardwalk (we’ll be haaaving some fuuun!) on the way to the beach I spy an orange glow, and my heart skips a beat. It’s only a Molotov cocktail though.
I resist the urge to throw it at the old lady nearby — you have no idea how strong that urge is — and continue on my way. Gotta stay focused.
Beaches are always rubbish in GTA games, aren’t they? Miles of featureless brown sludge, dotted intermittently with lurching, crudely animated gimps in oversized tramp coats. Sort of like Cleethorpes, I suppose.
And then. AND THEN…!
Beneath the pier, shit finally gets real.
Oh yes. You know what that is, don’t you? That is VICTORY. My very first pigeon, pecking away nonchalantly, pretending not to care that it’s the MOST IMPORTANT PIGEON IN ALL OF HISTORY.
This is fantastic. This is the best feeling a human-being can have. This is … this is balls. Balls. BALLS.
I don’t have a gun yet.
I try punching the pigeon in the face. Nothing happens. I stare at it, furiously, impotently …
… Then I remember. The Molotov cocktail I picked up literally two minutes ago.
Overkill, perhaps, but I might as well start proceedings with a bang.
Did I get it? Did I? Huh?
You better believe I did.
Well there we are. Almost 2000 words for one pigeon. And look at that city out there, throbbing, pulsing, waiting for me. It’s not going to take a man to conquer that city, it’s going to take a god.
But as this guy who made a couple of films once said, I … err, I gotta model myself after someone.
I hear ya, Woody.