Saturday, June 18, 2005


Haruki Murakami is an author I have only recently discovered, but his thoughts are sticking in my head like crystal clear memories from my childhood. There's no reason why they should, they just do.

I can't remember what page it was on, but it was in Hard Boiled Wonderland and The End of the World, which I have just finished reading. The main character, a thirty something male that isn't named, is waiting for his consciousness to end and for his mind to be transported into his subconscious. In effect, he is waiting to die.

So, in the forty or so hours he has left, he takes a trip around Tokyo, and goes into a video arcade. He plays a game where he defends a base from invading tanks with a turret. He is beating the game at first, but as more and more tanks invade, he struggles to cope and eventually dies. The game says:


So he does, and has another go. Same result. The character comments that it is an impossible game to win, because if he was good enough to cope with as many tanks as the game throws at him, it would never end. They would just keep coming and coming and coming, and he would be stood there forever destroying tanks.

What Murakami is commenting on is the endlessness of the mind, but enough of all that philosophical rubbish. It made me think about games for about five minutes while on the bus this week.

It's true - games are a never ending form of entertainent. Theoretically, you could play them for eternity. To extend longevity, they simply get harder - more enemies, better skilled AI, faster action. It's improbable that the human brain could cope, but if you were as good as, say, D.A.R.Y.L, you could stand there in the arcade until the Sun burns out.

Sure, modern games are a little more complicated, and story based titles have an 'ending' as such, but they all operate around the same premise. Take Metal Gear Solid 2 for example. That had one hell of a convoluted storyline, and once the gamer had reached the end and sat there through the twenty minute ending movie, you have finished the game.

Not so.

Play it on the harder difficulty, get all the dog tags, expose all the easter eggs, it just goes on and on.

Think of World of Warcraft. Once achieving lvl 60, the game doesn't crash. You can continue to kill beasts, fight other players and explore the environment until the servers give up. But just because you don't gain any more exp, it doesn't mean the game crashes.

And so, games are designed to be eternal. They never finish. Imagine if a game designer programmed into the code that his game would stop working once the ending FMV had been unlocked. Gamers would be in uproar. By the very nature of the medium, they have to have replayable value. For £40 it's essential.

So next time you boot up the latest Miyamoto masterpiece, remember Murakami's tragic hero as he awaits his own death, stuck in an endless videogame. If you had enough beer and pizza, you too could be playing for a long time.

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