Thanks to myriad disorders, illnesses and traumas that I have never talked about publicly, at least not in detail, I have been struggling very hard recently to get anything written at all. My two year long course of therapy, which I have now been visiting for six months, has unearthed literally decades of repressed emotion. Thoughts, feelings and past experiences are spilling through my mind like raw alcohol, at once cleansing and corroding. I am walking through Hell. But the doctors (I now have several) assure me this is the road toward calm. Oh please, let it be true.
Perfect Dark was an impulse buy – out of character, I have been following a lot of impulses lately – and of course it’s done nothing to help my current condition. I have nothing to say about Perfect Dark as a reminder of a better time, something to help my mind relax or a metaphor for mental health. I bought it and played it at the same time as feeling psychotic. That’s all.
I mention my emotions only because, after so long repressing them, I am finding it impossible to do so any longer. I hate to talk about myself; I was raised to perceive sadness and need as weaknesses. So alternating between discussing Perfect Dark and myself is a way to, if you like, smuggle myself through customs. As long as I feel like I’m entertaining you by talking about a game I can write also about myself, perhaps with a modicum less guilt.
Game-makers will often tell you it is best to create the first level last, so that by the time you work on your opener, you have mastered all the disciplines and ideas around which the rest of your game is based – you can more efficiently lay out your stall. Play Syphon Filter, on PS1. The first level of that game, evidently, was made first. Baggy, directionless, confusing, it’s everything the later levels are not. Conversely , Perfect Dark’s first mission, wherein you storm the headquarters of a technology corporation named dataDyne, crystallises its entire project. The soundtrack thumps. The visuals gleam. Objectives are quickly completed. Enemies die en masse. There is blood, everywhere. The CMP150, available throughout level one, is the Perfect Dark weapon nonpareil. Rapid fire, with a squeaky, nails-on-chalkboard report, it eats through flesh like acid. Limbs flail, heads snap back, corpses crash to the ground. Guns are more powerful in the future. Human bodies are not. This is a violent game.
If my switching back and forth between discussion of a shooter game and – perhaps more than is appropriate – late night introspection is giving you whiplash, all I can say is, welcome to my world. Four or five times a day I cycle through personalities. I love people and then, an hour later, I never want to talk to them again. I am determined to stay on track. And then I am wailing, screaming, rolling on the floor, utterly adrift. I never lose my temper. Anger is reserved only for myself. But I push and pull people, telling them no then begging them yes. There is, as of right now, no-one in here. No-one. The voices, hallucinations and awful dreams often feel more real than real life. They are certainly more persistent than my idea of self.
Doom. Kane and Lynch. Wolfenstein. Binary Domain. Half-Life. FEAR. Metro – shooter games are better when they’re set indoors. Listen to gunshots bouncing off the walls in Battlefield. Experience the claustrophobia, the chaos, of Max Payne 3. Big spaces are anti-tension. You want to jam the player, his enemies, his cover, his guns into a bottle and shake it up. Have him clambering over furniture and smashing through windows. Make every new corridor feel like potential death. There’s a mission in Grand Theft Auto IV, A Long Way to Fall, wherein you’ve to fight from the ground to the 20th floor of a New York housing project. It lasts about an hour, and feels like a game in of itself. Close encounters are tenser. At its best, Perfect Dark gets that. Those opening four levels – three inside dataDyne, one at your boss’s villa – are bloody, cluttered, nasty vignettes, a battle from one side to the other, like Bulldog with guns. Some of the later levels are good, too. The stealthy crawl through Chicago’s G5 building climaxes with a gory wave defense straight out of Where Eagles Dare. Storming the deep sea vessel Pelagic-II puts you at point blank range with dozens of goons, all of them covered with individual hit boxes, ready to pop like heavy, undulating squibs. But the Air Force One crash site mission, the interior of the alien ship and the alien home world itself are loose, open areas. There is no thrust. Enemies are far away, and you get zero satisfaction from watching their mere silhouettes flop over. Perfect Dark is an exploitation game; it’s smart, but cashing in, totally, on peoples’ blood lust. When it cuts to these sweeping locales, and leaves us with time to start thinking of other things, it begins to feel empty. And of course, the visuals are more boring. A flat, snowy field simply doesn’t excite the eyes like a neon-lit skyscraper. If first levels are statements of intent, Perfect Dark wants you to kill, over and over, in vibrant surrounds. Increasingly toward its end, the game drifts away from its central premise, one that, when followed to the letter, is both rock solid and immune to nebbish moralising.
I am tired.
My plan was to cut ties wherever I could until the majority of people in my life didn’t know me any more, and then quietly die. But it’s impractical, of course. There will always be people, and the last thing you want is for them to be in pain. Am I even depressed? Or just delusional? Do I want to kill me or only a part of me? Man? Boy? Neither? Both? Crawling on broken glass. The door is locked. The phone is dead.
What begins as a tight, fun short story about spies in Perfect Dark eventually turns into awful videogame trash. It becomes interested in lore, and lore is a disease. The way iTunes and Apple Music, and all those services associated with hardware, are intended to introduce people to a company’s “ecosystem,” i.e. lock them into buying the next iteration of a product year on year, lore is what keeps people hooked to movie and game franchises. Meaningless, made up worlds are annually updated. Once people dedicate X money and Y time to the first chapter, they become obliged to the second, the third and the reboot. Perfect Dark got a sequel. If it had been more of a success, maybe we’d have a litany of books and comics and web series by now, all about the alien war and its fictional planets, just like Halo or Gears of War or Assassin’s Creed, and the rest of the catnip for the lonely.
I am at the end of this now, and frankly, rather than enable me to share, writing about the game has distracted my mind for an hour or so. I haven’t processed anything or really told you much. Whatever truth I thought I needed to get out, right now, tonight, has been subsumed. For some it is easier to be open and ask for help. I would rather repress and do this alone, even if it’s agony and will one day kill me.