A Gaming Education: WipEout HD

The thing about WipEout HD is that I love it wrong.

I don’t love it because of its insane speed, which is totally insane and breakneck and makes my brain melt into a gooey, twitching, satiated mess. I don’t love it because of its high-definition 1080p visuals, which are so luxurious I wish I had higher definition eyes to take in the true majesty of its high-definition with. I don’t even love it because it reminds me of the first WipEout, which, back in those halcyon days of the mid-nineties, helped make gaming cool as it had never been before.

Those would all be right and proper reasons to love WipEout HD. But sadly they’re not my reasons. I love WipEout HD, purely and honestly, because I’m certain I’ll be better at it than my best friend Alex.

What you should know about Alex — a spidery, wire-haired Liverpudlian I met at university — is that he’s not someone who wants to win; he’s someone who needs it. His lungs fill not with air, but with the agonised screams of his defeated opponents. His heart pumps not blood to the gnarled recesses of his body, but a black ooze thick with the life-force of his many victims. Alex doesn’t play you at a videogame, he crushes you, remorselessly, in order to feed his organs the nutrients they require to … carry on crushing you, remorselessly.

I used to consider myself a laid-back gamer. I didn’t play to win, but to enjoy myself, and victories and losses were all part of the experience, and every failure held a lesson, and whatnot and so forth.

Then I met Alex, and a darkness was introduced into my life — a darkness from whose gloomy interiors rose the repeated, scouse-twinged refrain of “BOOM, HEADSHOT!”

I cannot begin to impress upon you the agonies of finding yourself in first place in a heated game of Mario Kart, not ten yards from the finish line, when a blue shell arcs down from nowhere and envelops you in its explosive radius … Then as you crash back to earth you see a blurred figure swerve round you and across the line … And you turn your head and there’s Alex, sitting back on the sofa, this tiny smile pulling at the lips of his otherwise impassive face.

He’s my friend and I love him, but moments like that I want to break every tooth in his goddamned mouth.

He once killed me 75 times in a row on the awp_snowsk337 level of Counter-Strike, and I punched my keyboard so hard the space bar hasn’t worked properly since. Our friendship was nixed for a full week in third year after some idiot brought Mortal Kombat into our student house. The less said about Diddy Kong Racing, the better.

And yet, just as Superman has kryptonite, Achilles has his gammy foot, and James Murdoch has Guardian journalists spearheading a Twitter-based grassroots protest against decades-worth of mud-slinging and shit-stirring, Alex too has his one weakness: he is useless at futuristic racers.

Not normal racing games, you understand. He takes to cars, karts, jet skis and snowboards with aplomb. Hand him a racer set in the present, or the past, or a mushroom kingdom in the clouds, and he’ll hand you back the last vestiges of your dignity.

But drop him in the cockpit of an anti-gravity hover-ship circuiting neon tracks suspended above the glittering spires of an alien city in the year 2342, and the lad is flummoxed.

Idly zooming around on my friend’s dog-eared copy of Star Wars Episode I: Racer one weekend at uni, I figured Alex to be unfortunate. He was awful at it, but then again I’d played years before, and still remembered how to do the boost. Even so, the look on his face as he limped over the finish line half a lap behind me was something new, something I could get used to.

Then one day I picked up F-Zero GX from the deserted Gamecube section of some videogame shop or other. Neither Alex nor I had played it before, so we were on level footing, only our inherent talent with the form to fall back on.

I proceeded to trounce Alex in every race for the next two weeks, until he threw down his controller and shouted that the game was “shit”, and I was cheating by “just fucking knowing when to turn quicker than me”.

The same complaint was echoed the day we found a second-hand Extreme-G cartridge for the N64.

Now I don’t know the reason he’s so bad at futuristic racers, I just know he is bad, probably worse than your mum or your baby sister or some kind of disabled crab. When there’s a boost-start he fluffs it; when the track splits in two he crashes into the central partition; if there’s a giant pipe to race across the outside of he accelerates too quickly and falls off. He doesn’t even remember to fly over the glowing blue pads at the end of a lap to recharge his shields. I mean everyone knows to fly over the blue pads. Martians composed entirely of gamma particles, residing in a dimension diametrically opposed to our own, in which the mere conception of digital entertainment is an impossibility, even they would be looking at him, going, “He didn’t fly over the blue pads, the moron!”

Alex has not, to my knowledge, played WipEout HD before. But it wouldn’t matter if he had. He could practise every day for the next forty years, and he’d still be pathetic.

And that’s why I love it. Videogames serve a variety of purposes. Some of them provide worlds you can lose yourself in for months at a time. Others are works of art to find meaning within, or dreamscapes waiting to be explored.

And then there are those others — the ones you buy simply so you can present them to your best friend and say, I will destroy you at this.

And then you write a mocking, defamatory article on your blog about it, and you imagine your friend’s face as he reads it.

And then you worry if somewhere along the way you lost sight of right and wrong, if gradually you’ve become everything you once despised.

And then you remember the feeling when that blue shell hit you in Mario Kart, and you think fuck it, and you click “Publish”.

And then you lean back, and you smile.



Filed under Ramblings

34 responses to “A Gaming Education: WipEout HD

  1. Is this the beginning of every writers eventual “fall from glory”?

    Mebbe so.
    Mebbe so.

  2. Ben

    Had me hooked til the last word as usual bud. F-Zero X, Extreme G, Episode 1 Racer, gems all of em.

  3. daysocks

    Everyone has this friend. Mine sucks at snowboard racers.

    • Rob

      Thanks for the comment. My other friend (not that I only have two friends) (I do only have two friends) was about the best person in the world at 1080 Snowboarding. And Snowboard Kids. And Lylat Wars and Goldeneye and everything else on the N64. In fact thinking about it I probably hate him more than Alex. Should have done the post about him really.

  4. Had me smiling throughout the whole thing. I sense in you an appreciation for video games that goes beyond the after-work play session. Obviously, since you’re writing about them and all.

    Hope your friend doesn’t murder you after reading this piece :p

  5. Cringe at the Dr.Ineffective stand-off up there ^. Petty squabbles on this blog Mr Ineffective are not valid. Please squabble elsewhere. I shan’t have squabbling or mithering taking place on this blog. A feature on here on N64 Magazine got me out of a hole and rekindled my passion for life I’ll have you know. Give Rob his dues. Also, your romanticism of ‘being a writer’ and ‘writing’ scares me. Tone it down a peg, its just words scribbled on a page to communicate whatever’s on your mind. Its not that I’m one of these spanners with no respect for the craft, but there is a case when you can give it far too much reverence. Seems absolutely absurd and antiquated. There I said it.

    Thanks Rob, for your great thoughts and wisdom. I always like how you fuse the standard ‘going on about games’ with your own deeper involvement with them and your existence. Keep it up. There’s more than 3 of us now. This thing could snowball.

  6. Actually, I take that back Dr Ineffective. My conscience is already racked with guilt and I feel my comments were unjust and were actually aimed at some construction in my imagination of a stereotype of a pompous writer. Just don’t go putting down Rob, you hear! He’s a hell of a writer, and unconstructive feedback is completely unnecessary!

    • Rob

      It’s all good in the hood, Lee. Constructive criticism is always appreciated. Random sniping is fine, too, it’ll just put me in a bad mood and encourage me to mock your grammar and punctuation. Cos I’m a gansta like that.

      And thanks for the compliments.

      • No worries. All good then.

        I’ve just posted a blog about the cosiness of safe-houses in games like Resident Evil 4 if you’re interested. Sorry I keep posting these on your blog.


      • Rob

        Not at all, keep it up. I tried to post a comment on your article but I think your site ate it 😦

      • Mmm, its not gone into the spam inbox. I can’t help but feel as though I’ve missed out now 😦

        A lot of old timers on the Yorkshire comedy forum have begun slagging off my blogs for being ‘immature’. I got a tad frustrated by some of the comments, then I noticed that one of the guys was 60 odd from his profile, and had previously been part a huge debate in a thread about non-PC humour in which he came across as an old school racist, and completely out-of-touch with the way us young guns play the game. So my esteem’s back on track for now at least.

        Are you still looking for pigeons? Also, out of interest, did you ever get any of your letter’s published in N64 Magazine? (If you sent any that is).

      • Rob

        Working on Part Four at the mo, had real life stuff getting in the way though.

        I wouldn’t worry about people slagging your writing off. You’re writing for yourself, not them. No matter what your level, there should be some truth to that. Write what you honestly believe, what you feel needs to be written, and think only of the present moment joy of doing it. Get feedback. Distance yourself from what you’ve written, and try to decide whether criticism is warranted, and if you want to change anything in your approach. Writing is like creating a sculpture, molding this finished piece from the infinite multitude of thoughts flying through the aether. If someone else looks at your sculpture and says the nose is wonky — don’t get downheartened, just think to yourself whether they’re right (in which case straighten it), wrong (forget about it), or even whether you left it wonky on purpose (the glorious imperfections of the universe, or something).

        There’s a quote from some author or other, and I’m paraphrasing here, that says every new writer has 250 000 words of crap in them before they start getting good. What’s important is to get through those 250 000 words as painlessly as possible — and to have fun doing it!

        Of course, all that advice is easier given than taken, but the crux of my point is if you enjoy writing there’s no goddamned reason you shouldn’t write, and everyone else be fucked.

        Hope that helps.

  7. Darren

    I have a worrying inclination that I might be ‘that friend’…. 😦

  8. Collymilad

    Great post, as usual.

    I wonder if Dr came here from EG? Might be nice to keep the dickishness out of this, considering how much there is on there.

    • Rob

      Wretched hives of scum and villainy, the comment sections of most major sites. RPS is an example of how to do it well, partly by not tolerating wankers, but also in large part by promoting themselves as a welcoming forum for civilised debate. It’s just a fact of online life that, removed from immediate physical interaction, some people lose the drive for social etiquette they’d usually possess. All you can do is be chilled and lovely with them though, otherwise you’re just as bad as they are. Or something. Man, I’ve had too much wine tonight!

      • I’m trying to work out if I have a right to be annoyed I’ve had 3 or 4 posts bemoaning me when all I said was that your post wasn’t very good. Which I don’t think it was. I said it pretty nicely too. But nonetheless, apparently none but they who praise him shall be tolerated here.

      • Rob

        Can’t speak for anyone else, but personally I like compliments because they give me strength to carry on writing, I like constructive criticism because it helps me to grow as a writer, and I find general negativity to be energy-sapping and unfriendly. If you don’t enjoy your comments being criticised aimlessly, you probably shouldn’t post aimlessly critical comments.

      • Oh I don’t mind too much. I just mean the onus is on you to be entertaining, not on me to be nice.

        If we’re being technical.

      • Rob

        No, on my site the onus is very much on you being nice (or funny or otherwise contributive). The moment you click “Send Comment” you’ve purposefully put yourself out into the world, and should then be held accountable for your actions. I didn’t actually mind your first comment at all (you’ll notice I approved rather than blocked it), but if we’re getting technical then that’s my viewpoint. May differ from yours, but, again, /my/ site.

      • Dr. Ineffective

        Except you did mind, because you decided to leave a pedantic reply.
        And not your site.
        Your subdomain.
        The site is owned by WordPress. If we’re being pedantic.

      • Rob

        Oh, I thought the comment was a touch snide, but I didn’t mind it. To mind (the way you’re implying it) would be to wish it hadn’t happened, and it’s my honest belief that the world is a vast jewel of interconnections, that to alter the smallest stitch would be to unravel the entire tapestry. But, to reiterate: this is a tiny blog and I love procrastinating; act like a pillock and there’s a fair chance I’ll have the time and iclination to act like one back. Hope that clears everything up.

      • Dr. Ineffective

        I’ll just go now.

      • Dr. Ineffective


  9. Raiyan 1.0

    Hello Rob! I was linked to your blog through RPS – and I’ve been reading through your older posts for some time.

    Great post as usual, don’t let yourself be trolled. 😉

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