God does not exist. I know this because if he did, he’d never have invented such a thing as a hangover.
I get that the universe has to balance, that for every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction — But I’ve already emptied my bank account, lost the jacket I was borrowing off a friend (sorry, Mike) and danced like no one was watching, except they were watching, they were totally watching all of it, even the bit with the hand gestures and the air guitar. Shouldn’t that, you know, be punishment enough?
But the universe must have its full pound of flesh. And while being drunk is always the same (misplaced confidence — self loathing — kebab), each hangover is unique in its hideousness.
The bastard I’m struggling with today crashed down like a tsunami, before washing back out and leaving me bedraggled and wretched, splayed among the detritus of my ravaged mind.
I can barely focus on existing, let alone writing. Complex thoughts require a gargantuan effort to piece together, dredging the fragments up from still-waterlogged recesses and assembling into finished statements such as: “Need coffee”, and “Ow.”
But let’s not dwell on such troubles. Let’s forget the pain and drift away into another world, one in which I’m not Rob Parker: Despair Incarnate, but Nikko Bellic: Pigeon Hunter.
Where did we get to, anyhow?
Aha. I’m a few streets on from where I left off last time, down by the docks of the industrial borough of Broker. My approach up to this point has been — to say the least — haphazard, and I want to be a little more methodical in my duties.
The docks feel like prime hunting grounds. Among the stacked cargo crates, dilapidated warehouses and towering cranes there are bound to be pigeons galore.
Ooh, and speaking of cranes …
This one is going to have a pigeon at the top. And if it doesn’t have a pigeon it’ll have a sniper rifle. That’s just common sense.
No pigeon. No sniper rifle. What the hell is the point in a crane without a pigeon or a sniper rifle at the top? I mean, okay, there was never going to be both, but there should be one or the other. That question of which of the two it’ll be is like a videogame crane’s only raison d’etre. A crane without either — man, that’s a crane with some serious existential issues.
I descend back to ground level and move on to the next crane along. I climb to the top.
No sniper rifle.
Jeez. I’m losing faith in Rockstar’s basic design skills. If they can’t even get the fundamentals right …
Well, whatever. As night falls I clamber aboard the cargo ship docked nearby.
Is this the same ship Nikko arrived on in the game’s opening? Why so it is.
That sort of detail is non-trivial in my eyes, and something GTA games usually get right. The persistence of the game world — the idea that the freighter Nikko sails into Liberty City on is an actual place that you can visit and explore at any point on your travels — it creates this sense of continuity, a feeling of the game having a functioning existence outside of and above your own actions.
I remember feeling that really strongly playing GTA III for the first time, how you didn’t choose missions from a menu screen but actually went to find characters in the world, who operated out of cafés or offices or mafia houses at the end of twisting driveways. And then when you weren’t on a mission you could poke around that mafia house, and there was a grand piano and leather sofas and fine rugs.
Tying the environment to the narrative, I suppose I’m talking about. Roman’s apartment with its dirty washing up, the internet cafés with working computers, Faustin’s suburban home with the sports car outside — all are made more significant because of their links to the game’s story and characters. We believe in these places, they really exist.
So the cargo ship adds a narrative depth to my search, but doesn’t, sadly, yield any pigeons.
I continue along the docks.
Progress is slow, halting. The docks are a maze of machinery and concrete, imposing to the aspiring explorer. The minutes roll by, run into each other, coalesce into chunks of empty, dead time. I’m very aware of time, of its dimensional existence. It feels thick around me, syrupy, somehow revolting. The hangover is still there, my body is trapped in a weightless lethargy.
There are no pigeons anywhere. The crawling, torpid pace is frustrating, and the lack of rewards make it seem pointless, as if I’m torturing myself for nothing.
I walk into an office cabin for dock workers. It’s barren inside. I walk into a warehouse later used for a shoot-out. Desolate.
I want to scream. My mind is alert, wired, yet my body is wrecked. Even holding the mouse feels like too much effort. I need to get away.
Fuck these docks. Fuck efficiency. Fuck the fucking systematic approach. I climb into the sports car I stole on the way here. I’m not a robot, not a sequential search algorithm running through its subroutines mechanically.
I’m a man. A man who right now must drive very, very fast. I gun my engine.
— And I pause. Something catches my eye. I get out of my sports car, walk across the road.
If I’m doing this shit, I might as well do it in style.
Now this is a car!
The engine splutters, there’s a bang as a cloud of black smog is expelled out of the exhaust, and I’m away. I screech onto the road, skid past a stunned police officer, and suddenly I’m free.
The listlessness falls away. I powerslide round corners, zip between traffic, barrel over the sidewalk (which is an erroneous name for a pavement). It feels great, and I can tell the honeys are going wild for my dope ride.
Though maybe I should do something about sprucing it up. Hmm. Finding a clapped out old banger and restoring it to its former glory. This is like the most manly I’ve ever been.
The cars in GTA IV accumulate dirt, which can be removed at the functioning carwash. The level of incidental detail in the game is staggering. I head to the carwash.
… And come out looking like this:
Umm, yeah. Why did I think soap and water was going to improve the condition of a car that is 95% rust? If anything it’s going to exacerbate the problem. I am not, it turns out, very manly.
Oh well. To the Pay ‘n’ Spray!
Nee-naw, nee-naw, coming through! Important man-business to attend to, outta my way!
I arrive at the Pay ‘n’ Spray. The garage door closes. A few in-game hours pass. The door opens. I come out looking like this:
Goddammit! Why won’t this game let me be a proper man? All I want is to be a proper man.
I sit by the side of the road, a little despondent. I’ve wound up next to a park, so I edge my car through the gate and onto the grass.
I like parks in GTA games. There’s something calming about them, with their little pathways and bridges, and the sounds of the traffic fading out, and grass and trees everywhere.
This is exactly what I needed. I feel myself relax. A quiet moment away from the hussle-bussle, out of the endless grind. I might start a petition for more parks in gaming.
And I realise my car doesn’t need fixing. It has character, it’s perfect just as it is.
Oh-ho, and what’s this?!
Chilling on the rail of the park’s central bandstand, it’s Pigeon Number Four. I bloody knew coming to this park was going to be a good idea.
Kapow!, and 196 to go.
I get back in my car and zoom away from the attention of a nearby policeman. Without planning it I find myself pulling up outside my apartment, and suddenly I can’t go on a moment longer. I fall out of my car, fall up the stairs, fall into bed, and darkness descends about me.
The pigeon hunt will continue soon. But now is the time for sleep — the empty, contented sleep of a man who, in an epic battle against his hangover, has emerged victorious.
No, on second thoughts, the hangover has totally won. I feel awful. Good night.