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Living And Breathing In Garry's Mod

Last week we suggested to RPS contributor Brendan Caldwell that he investigate physics sandbox Garry's Mod, which is a bit like encouraging a kitten to investigate a saucer of gin. We shouldn't have. But with Garry's Mod and its community continuing to evolve like some heavily irradiated practical joke, we needed someone to take a look. Below, Brendan presents his miserable (yet hilarious!) report.

You there. You’ve probably heard of Garry’s Mod. You might have played it. It was released like six years ago. But see that kid? He hasn’t. Hey, kid. You there. Have you heard of Garry’s Mod? No. See. Well, obviously you can’t see each other. This is the internet. You’re all weaving about like blind puppies.

Garry’s Mod lets you bend Valve’s Source engine to your will, using the combined resources of their games. For examples, if you want Dr Kleiner from Half-Life 2 to ride a car with buzzsaws for wheels, you can do that.

It’s dirty cheap as well. And Garry has just added some new stuff to make it even more enticing. Basically, there’s no excuse for not playing. Which is just as well because I’d never played it before. Until I went in search of adventure in Garry’s latest version, that is. I didn’t find adventure. But I did find misadventure. Which is sort of the same thing. Read on!

The latest update contains exciting sentences, such as “Players now breathe”, which is always reassuring, and “Players hold their ear when using voicechat”, which is actually a rather neat idea for an animation. I would need other humans to validate these claims, but my first stop was singleplayer. Lonely, lonely singleplayer, where I stumbled around like a child taking his first Bambi steps.

“Press Q to spawn item,” the tutorial blippotron commanded. And I duly obliged, scrolling down the list of items trying to pick one I liked the look of – sticking my tongue out in concentration at the choice of objects, like some perversely focused Pokemon. Think of the possibilities! With such potential for creativity, with such raw What If staring me in the face, I did what any right-thinking man would do in my place.

That’s right. I recreated the famous scene in Mad Men, where Don Draper sits in his thirtieth floor office and drinks Bourbon from a Greek vase, admiring an expensive bust of Henry Ford balanced atop a column of human spines.

It strikes me that this isn’t a famous scene in Mad Men. Or in any popular television programme. I will have to do away with it, in a clear and direct manner. So I scroll down the list in the spawn menu until I come to the category marked “Useful and Explosive.” As in real war, objects are marked by their mutually inclusive definitions. Nothing is useful unless it is also explosive. Do you see? You do. I am glad we have this understanding.

It’s a cannon. Sadly, when I try to load the cannonball into this monstrosity using Gmod’s wonderfully useful and satisfyingly fiddly Physics Gun, the cannon misfires. By misfire I mean it turns into a giant spasmic tube of iron and hits me in my face. To say it “misfired” would imply it missed everything completely, which is inaccurate. I don’t know the correct terminology for events like this. “Physics prop toilet seated Brendy," according to the kill ticker.

I tried to get rid of Don Draper in other devious ways, degenerating from Wile E. Coyote missile fire to traditional Barrel-o-Splosion pile-up. They all ended up with my face on the wrong side of my face. Ewww. Inside-face.

Meanwhile, the office went undamaged. I finally realised I had locked everything in place, the Physics gun proving itself to be surprisingly intuitive when you want it to be. Eventually, I settled for emptying a machine gun into the scene, screaming “Who is Don Draper!? Who the fuck is Don Draper!?” Sigh. Why does it always end this way? So undignified.

I messed around some more. First, I made an art installation to soothe my tortured, evidently murderous soul.

I call it “Just Another Brick in the Ball.” I’m sort of sad I didn’t save it in the Toybox now. That’s where all the cool kids keep their stuff.

Then I chased the fantasy of becoming an eccentric British balloonist and world renowned adventurer (even though everyone knows people like that don’t exist). Think of the possibilities (again). Think what mighty mechanical wonders I could create with which to sail the skies of the globe!

It’s a work in progress.

So, with knowledge of the basics behind me I set out to confirm the recent updates more thoroughly.

I jumped into a multiplayer server and immediately ran up to the nearest player to see if they were breathing.

Oh, thank Christ. He’s breathing. Check one.

I saw someone speak over their microphone and saw them raise their hands to their ear in an eerie, robotic kind of way. Uh. Check two, I guess.

None of this seemed to matter to the citizens of the server. Half of them were busy building a neat row of shacks. The other half were busy throwing trains around. These two groups didn’t seem to get on. For a moment I couldn’t grasp why. Then I noticed the yellow gauge in the corner of my screen that read “Pee.” This was a role-playing server. These exist? Oh, neat.

The group building the housing row were playing in character. They called themselves “The Saints” and had set up their walled village of corrugated steel shacks with a code on the gate, cutting themselves off from the deranged out-of-character savages outside, who were running about stealing each other’s cardboard boxes. How uncivilised. For every person who came to join them, the Saints offered a job and a home in the row of shacks. A primeval housing welfare scheme.

Well, sucks to your Saints row. If I’m going to do this properly, Ima make my own damn house.

There. Ne’er a more finely decorated shanty existed. I assigned myself a job as a “Janitor” but quickly decided that a janitor’s salary was not sufficient to keep my stolen Henry Ford bust adequately polished. So I bought a money printing machine for $2000, which seemed like a perfectly sound investment. In hindsight, I should not have had my name scrawled on it in big letters.

A civil protection man from the Saints wandered toward me. He looked at the money printer, then at me. With a world-weary, not-angry-just-disappointed look gleaming in his steampunk death-goggles, he said that I was under arrest and tried to imprison me in a sci-fi holding cell.

Aha! I am too quick for him. No man of law can tame the nimble janitor. A quick sidestep and he ended up imprisoning himself. And I cackled and cackled and cackled until a ninja stabbed me in my head.

I began to see the benefits of housing welfare.

It turns out the ninja had been hopping around causing havoc throughout the game. Was he griefing? Or was he genuinely roleplaying a homicidal maniac? Apart from the occasional broadcast demanding that all scummy savages “Join the Saints, TODAY” there was a severe lack of communication outside the walls of the corrugated sanctuary. Nobody spoke. We were all too busy scrambling for a few extra seconds of survival before the serial murderer came back to make us all feel very silly for being dead.

On top of all this my pee gauge was nearly full. I really, really needed to go.

There was only one place I could turn.

The Saints. Well, those lousy deceitful mobsters. Their attitude to new recruits was as aggressive as their marketing strategy. As I wandered up to the gate I was promptly chased off by a terrorist with a knife. “Why is it always knives!?” I typed furiously, just before I was shot in the face. “Why is it always the face!?”

I could only imagine the inside of the shantytown. Bedrooms with velvet pillows, no doubt. Pools of milk and honey and wine, no doubt. Don Draper sitting smugly at his fucking gold-gilded desk, managing the group’s advertising, no doubt.

It’s always interesting to see how a select group of people in a lawless, creatively explosive environment will always try to form order out of madness. But to see them become the criminal tribe, lording it over the plebs – that’s the real kicker. Proof if ever it were needed that online communities, given complete freedom, will always become a microcosm of early society. You can call it griefing. You can call it out-of-character. But really it’s just humans doing what they do best: being nasty to me.

But Gmod is a sandbox. You can’t roll in and start building a castle, then get upset when everyone else starts kicking the sand in your eyes. Right?

I’d like to tell you I persisted. That I got in with the Saints. That I worked my way up from shiv-toting gangster to Creative Director of Knifings. But that’s not what happened. What happened next was… uh. Yeah.

I peed myself.

The yellow gauge had been filling up this entire time. I’d completely forgotten. By the time I saw the unsightly spray of shame jet forth from the bottom of my screen it was too late to get to the nearest corner.

This was silly. With the sullen sorry-for-myself-not-playing-anymore face of a toddler I disconnected and ran back to the lovely, reassuring arms of single player.

Like a caring single mother, Garry’s Mod cleaned me up and looked tenderly on as I spawned some more balloons and car tires. And like an only child set loose in his back garden, protected from the harsh realities of human nature, I played.

And I liked that just fine.

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