Sundays are for doing a quick spot of gardening, if the weather permits, or building prisons in Prison Architect if it doesn’t. Sun or hail though, you can always count on a round-up of the week’s best (mostly) games writing.
Yet ‘Butt Comin’ at Ye’ was new to me, even in my mid-twenties. I pondered why it had passed me by. I didn’t smoke, that was one reason. But it also straddled the line between a game and a custom, a unpredictable and fundamentally violent childish ritual. Like holding your hand beneath your waist and making a circle with your fingers, and if your friend looks at it, you get to punch them once “for free”. These were the proto-games. Expressions of an aggressive energy too mundane or instinctive to redirect into anything productive. In the testosterone-infused hallways of my all-boys school these half-games were proliferated to extreme levels and they mutated, like cyberweapons, as they passed from class to class.
To “consume” a game, it is no longer necessary to play it. Rather, the most important thing about a game is that it exists, because that means you can think about it. (Or maybe, games don’t even have to exist? Consider the endless press previews and unreleased games that engross so many people. These are purely hypothetical games that are often better than playing the actual finished product.)
Understanding architecture, in other words, is a crucial for understanding prisons. Leon Battista Alberti, the Renaissance’s most celebrated art theorist, wrote a treatise on prison design, while the engraver Giovanni Battista Piranesi is best remembered for his carceri d’Invenzione, a series of Kafkaesque penal vaults. Prison Architect might belong in this long tradition of real and imaginary prison design were it not for the puzzling fact that architecture is nearly absent from the game. Yes, much of the player’s time is spent planning and erecting new cell blocks, facilities, and fences. But Prison Architect never asks its players to think outside of two dimensions, minus subterranean escape tunnels. If this seems like a capricious line of criticism, consider this: in the 1970s and 1980s, as the focus of incarceration shifted from rehabilitation to retribution, prison architecture was altered in stride. The monumental (vertical and horizontal) size of new prisons served not only to house a rapidly growing population, but to annihilate any sense of human scale. Case in point: ADX Florence, the pinnacle of late 20th century American prison design, uses architecture to disorient, isolate, and overpower its inmates. Its window slits—four inches by four feet—prevent inmates from orienting themselves in space; the exercise pit (walled on all sides, again, to prevent orientation) is sized to restrict natural movement. It is, in a former warden’s words, “a cleaner version of hell.”
…what the actual f**k? Acclaim’s WWF games – Attitude and Warzone – had many, many issues. Stiff, crappy gameplay, bizarre commentary (that well-known announcing dream team of Shane McMahon and Jerry Lawler), lack of modes. But, oh my, the faces. Those goddamn faces. Look at this picture of The Rock. No, really, that’s The Rock. I know, I know. It actually looks like they took the face of Pedro from Napoleon Dynamite and pasted it onto a papier mache head, then glued it onto Snoop Dogg’s body. But it’s actually The Rock. Acclaim said so.
It took me a while to make it out of Soma’s first room. Not because of monsters or scary noises—Soma starts in an ordinary apartment—but because your first task encourages you to rummage through the place using Frictional’s delightful click-and-drag interactions. Instead of pressing the open button on a cupboard, you ‘grab’ it with left click, and drag it open. Let go of the mouse and the cupboard door drifts a little under its own momentum.
But if you still don’t know why people love the Bake Off, let me try to sum it up: it’s nice people under mad pressure doing something that involves a lot of skill, and who want to share that skill but who also want to win a contest, but manage to feel that way without wanting others to fail. As they do so they reveal something of themselves, often to themselves, and this is beautiful.
Music this week is Distant Past by Everything Everything. I am slightly worried I have linked this before though, so here’s also a newish song by someone previously featured, Cream on Chrome by Ratatat.