After work duties on Tuesday morning the afternoon and evening gave themselves over to a bit of PS3 twiddling, this time with the civilising company of Lawrence and bookshop Toby. That’s my homies. That’s how we roll.  Actually there isn’t really much of an inner city, urban, gangsta subculture to be found in Inverness, but Toby and I did once drive round Skye in my titchy Nissan Micra listening to NWA albums. Straight Outta Contin.

Anyway, PS3. I know I have parped on about this before but Batman Arkham Asylum really is a beautiful piece of entertainment and adds another substantial bit of weight to the argument that computer games should be regarded more seriously as an expressive medium. A lot of games are shoddy admittedly (a lot of books, films and pieces of music are shoddy too), but this isn’t one of them. At their best, as here, games are long term prospects, immersive, fun and rewarding to those with lengthy attention spans.

(And, in parentheses, another hobbyhorse here: How come in English, as demonstrated in the paragraph above, we have the two words “long” and “lengthy”? Is there a subtle distinction between them? Are they the same? Why don’t we have the word “strengthy”? Over to you, internet brain sacks.)

Set in a wonderfully rendered version of Gotham City’s home for the criminally insane this game, as well as having a vocabulary-defyingly high level of technical virtuosity about it, provides a very carefully calibrated balance of puzzle solving which you are involved in, and story-telling which you are not.

Pretty much all games, even the staggeringly open ones like Grand Theft Auto IV, have a progression to them that you have to follow. There is stuff you are not able to do as a character until you have finished other bits of the game. I think this is necessary to keep you engaged and to stop it being a bewildering overload from the start. How successful a game is depends at least partially on how constrained you feel while you’re on this pre-plotted parabola.

Some games leave you feeling lost, bewildered and alone in a colossal environment that you have to make sense out of (for example Fallout 3 – which is still somehow a great game). Some give you so few options and so little scope to go wrong that you might as well be on a railway track, or being kettled by the Metropolitan police force (for example Bioshock – which is also somehow still a great game).

We took turns steering Batman through his fighting, stealthing and puzzle solving and I can’t speak for the others but I think the game is just right in terms of balance. The degree of attention to visual detail is a joy to behold too. I don’t know whose job it was to make the light shine blurry reflections off the tiles in the morgue but I thank them for it. Job’s a good un.

We can all meet back here in ten years if you like. I bet by then it’ll look like Pacman.

Apart from Arkham Asylum we played some PES 2010. Pro Evolution Soccer is a rewarding, technically deep football simulation. It doesn’t have the licenses that its rival franchise FIFA does, so there are some faintly amusing team names. Yorkshire Orange for Hull City for example, which I think makes the team sound like organic marmalade. Now, I have been to Hull and a less marmaladey place you can’t imagine.

I’ve played various incarnations of Pro Evo before but this was the first time I’d played it as a multi-person co-operative game and that added an unexpected element of hilarity. The three of us played on the same side in various hopelessly one-sided matches (Brazil 6 – 1 Hearts) and one surprisingly close tussle between Scotland and Lilliput.

Well not Lilliput obviously, but someone not far off. Was it Kuwait? Lapland? I’ll go for Kuwait.

We employed different metiers in our gameplay. My tiny football man mostly ran round in tight little circles in the middle of the field, possibly weeping at his own inefficacy. Lawrence’s player was recognisable instantly from his irresponsible, reckless, career-threatening lunges from behind. It’s an odd thing that Lawrence, who is pretty much the most cultured and urbane person I know apart from you, turns into a sociopath when you stick a joy pad in his hands. All afternoon he was throwing Batarangs in peoples’ faces and indulging in tackles that would make Vinnie Jones, Julian Dicks and Jack the Ripper all turn away muttering, “That’s a bit too much for my taste.”

Toby alone seemed to have an intuitive, or possibly carefully learned, appreciation of the nuances and minuscule inflections of the game, with his jinking runs, lofted passes and exquisite goals, only occasionally scored with the aid of his face.

I watch a lot of football, but in the same way that I watch 24, that is to say inattentively and with more of an eye on the general outcome than the details of the journey. Every once in a while I see something that I recognise as being part of “the beautiful game”, but for the most part the strategic long game aspects of the sport elude me and that is my loss.

At Toby’s behest I once read an excellent book called Brilliant Orange by David Winner which was all about the apparently neurotic nature of the Dutch national side over the years in the context of the country’s history, art and culture. One of Winner’s arguments, I seem to remember, was that because of the difficulty of reclaiming dry land from the sea Holland has historically put a premium on acreage and there is a tendency to build up and out from a restricted base. This, he extrapolated, gives Dutch people, and particularly Dutch football players, a slightly different sense of spatial awareness from those of us with less limited land resources. Well it was loopy enough for me to buy into.

I feel the same about football as I do about ballet dancing. I know ballet is an elevated art form that requires of its practitioners a lifetime dedicated to its physical pursuit, and I feel like a clodhopping idiot confessing it, but it just looks like a lot of jumping about to me.

A well-meaning girlfriend once took me to see Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet performed by a renowned Scottish ballet ensemble. She wanted me to like it. I wanted me to like it. But I sat unmoved by the whole spectacle. The music was lush but I’d have enjoyed it more without the dancers. I will say this for them: they didn’t bump into each other at all.

I know. I am a boor. I am wrong about this and everyone else is right.

2 comments on “02/02/10

  1. I can’t watch football on the telly, I don’t follow a team and I have scant regard for fixtures and league tables. But I am a big fan of playing football games on consoles. I do think Fifa 10 is superior to Pro Ev 2010 though. Up until this year I was a Pro Ev man but it’s all gone wrong and EA stole just enough to take the lead. Pro Ev’s master league mode is still the business though.

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