By RPS on December 8th, 2010 at 1:22 pm.
Our eighth game of Christmas only wants to be loved. Did you know, more games are returned at Christmas than at any other time of the year? And do you know what happens to returned games? That’s right. They burn them. Have a heart and adopt a game this Christmas. Ideally, adopt this one. It’s…
…Digital: A Love Story!
Quinns: It was only watching Digital’s end credits that my eyes got a coating of tears. Just a thin one- a kind of glossy sheen, rather than any kind of heavy dampness or terminal overflow.
All I could think of at the time was “This shouldn’t be happening. The game wasn’t that good.” Today, I find it funny to picture myself. I remember taking off my glasses and putting a hand to my eyes, the very picture of grief, and raging in confusion. It wasn’t that good. Which is a stupid thing to think for a couple of reasons.
First of all, there are a dozen cheap ways to make your story a tearjerker, but all of them still rely on you caring about the characters who a jerking the tears in the first place. If you’re crying at a story, it must have done something right on the way to that point.
The second reason it’s a stupid thing to think is because Digital: A Love Story is that good. It’s great, in fact. The game’s setting of “an Amiga desktop in the 80s” is genius. The puzzles are satisfying. The character interaction, whereby you talk to other people by sending emails to them that you, the player, can never actually read, is cute, and adds a subgame whereby you have to deduce what your character says to people by reading their response. Digital: A Love Story is a powerful example of somebody having an idea and just barreling forward with it like a two ton rugby player. And more significantly, it’s… well, it’s a love story.
Love’s had a rough time at the hands of videogames. Love? I’ll tell you what love’s used for in games. It’s a motivator, a tool. Love of a girl is why your character willingly goes jumping and screaming over eighteen straight miles of spikes. The hinted love of a woman is why your gruff gunman wants to live and fight another day. In the hands of a videogame designer, love is an old can of WD40 that’ll keep their awkward vehicles running smoothly, and when they’re done with it they put it back on the shelf next to a far bigger tank of industrial engine grease labelled “L.U.S.T.”.
It’s funny, because it’s not like gamers are short on love. We all have games we love, we have locations and levels we love, mechanics we love and- yes! – characters we love. We’ve got lust, too. We’ve got whole pockets full of lust. We (not me, not you, okay) will buy dating games and porn games. We’ll fantasise. If an online game lets us design our own content, we’ll have a thousand fuckpads built before the night is through. We are, in short, powered by the same libidos that get all the other humans on the planet out of bed in the morning.
But we don’t get love stories. Or rather, this year we got one. We got Digital.
Come to think of it, this is a sad example of a love story to have to hoist up on our shoulders. I mean, it’s about two people falling for one another via an internet messageboard. Making you care about a relationship that’s spawned out of a few pieces of internet correspondence is definitely one of Digital’s achievements, but still. I suppose Digital makes up for everything with its ending. And those end credits. Those bloody end credits. If all games could have an ending as good as this, I’d never leave the house again.
I wanted to give this one last try. I know this must be getting tiresome and I know your natural contrariness makes you incredibly unlikely to give anyone else’s recommendations a fair shake – let’s not bring up The Wire/The Thick Of It/Whatever, there will only be fisticuffs – but I wanted to take one last chance to throw myself before you, grab hold of your calf and beg you. For God’s sake! Play Digital! If you don’t, I’m going to lose all faith in you as a lover of games, and even thinking that makes me want to scrawl a :( on the moon.
You’re Mr Games Make Me Cry (well, Mr Pretty Much Everything Makes Me Cry). You’re Mr Story>Mechanics. You’re DreamfallLongestJourneyBrokenSwordLucasartwhatever. But while you’ve seemed to have played every single driving game released for the PC in this twelve months you haven’t put aside the couple of hours (tops!) needed to play this.
Who’s been left to hail it? Me. Me.
I’m The Pervert, John. I’m the monster. I’m the guy who Jim shines a Batman-esque signal into the sky displaying a tumescent phallus every time a sex-game is released for the PC – though I was totally proud that you stepped into the breach (missus!) and did Sexy Adventures On Porn Island. Isn’t it just weird how every time I wrote about a sex game, we always get some readers who appear to think were changing our standards when we’ve written about pretty much every thing with the faintest hint of the fuck since 2007? Are they just not paying attention or something? And… I’m digressing again.
Anyway, that guy, the guy who wrote under the pseudonym “Minister Drill-cock!” for a few years… he’s the guy who’s been left as the sole voice on RPS hailing some of the year’s narrative highpoints. Yeah, we’ve all got our back behind Mass Effect 2 and Amnesia and rightly so. I mean, Beautiful Escape: Dungeoneer is perhaps a little more inside my bloody boathouse, but Digital could only be more your sort of thing if it was soundtracked by some bearded men with guitars being sad about the funny feeling in their tummy-wummy.
Christine Love – in her first game – made this romance uplifted by its equal romance of the period its set – the BBS birth of the populist Internet. You weren’t there that early, as far as I know, but you were on mailing lists in the early nineties too. All these feelings of discovery, of others, of possibility, of 0s and 1s turning into something considerably more analogue inside your head… this will resonate. I mean, I do know that there’s some areas which do play to my interests in the form – as in, its formalist stuff, the clever ways it tells its narrative rather than just the content of its narrative itself… but the only reason anyone cares about this isn’t its cleverness. It’s its heart. I mean, look at the above. It made Quinns cry! Quinns! He’s in his early twenties. The only thing that should make him cry is a bar closing before he managed to get his last order in. He’s too young for genuine emotion, and he still got a little sniffly.
What could it do to you? It’s made to be referenced in your articles about games narratives, filed in your heart next to April and Zoe and whoever else you’ve got crammed in there. It’s a gaping hole in your knowledge and it’ll leave a gaping hole in your heart. For God’s sake, man. This one may as well be written for you. It’s an unanswered e-mail you didn’t even star on gmail and left to fall further into the depths inbox. This is a love letter man. Please, read it.
Lots of Love,
p.s. If you need a reminder of what it’s actually like, here’s my old Wot I Think from back when I was on the site. And you can get it from here.