Our Senior Scottish Correspondent makes a welcome guest appearance to talk about an important PC game that wasn't in our just-concluded advent calendar, but perhaps should have been. This is also an ode to the mysteries and the magic of the device we choose to play our videogames on.
DOTA 2 is my game of the year. Go and play it with nine people you like, and, in the midst of your inevitable confusion, yell MERRY CHRISTMAS very loudly over voicechat and gift them all your stuff.
DOTA 2 takes a while to get into. It takes a while to learn. It takes a while to love.
DOTA 2 is 1% complete
DOTA 2 is downloading slowly on a laptop that isn’t mine. Outside snowflakes press themselves glittering onto the window panes, the head of someone else’s cat nuzzles my ankle, my life’s equivalent of Wallace Wells hangs baubles on a tree. I think of my PC back home, and how I am cheating on it out of lust for closeness. I am far from home, from both where my games are and where my heart is. Christmas will be lonely.
But there’s that memory of what it’s like. There are the voices for one. The cries of delight. The stern voices of anger. And then, there’s the grin in the dark. The ripples in the water. The cry of the wolf as night drops. People made that machine. People live in that machine. They are there now, with hands outstretched towards you.
DOTA 2 is 20% complete
My monstrous PC back home, with the crappy white monitor and the weird shaped mouse and the terrible, oversized, dusty keyboard. I think of the beautiful women my artist flatmate has painted on the wood of the desk my tower sits under, their faces distorted by my bills and uninstalled review copies of games years old and the time I spilt Shiraz on that pretty drawing’s legs.
I remember unscrewing the PC’s case and looking inside, afraid. It looked too complex, to a newbie’s eye. Explorers more audacious than I told me about it, how I’d learn, how I’d come to know the strands of that jungle and where they led, learn to trail my finger over the tangled cables to the source, wrench them out and plug them back in, how I’d get invested, lost, how my knowledge would increase with each turn of the screw, how my HDD would no longer be this abstract idea but tangible, tangible, an actual vault of items where all my thoughts and savegames are, a stacked panic room full of The Cure mp3s I no longer listen to and the most precious builds of indie games that are feelings and memories and thoughts and hours of button-click heart-wrench. Fuck, I didn’t know I loved you like this.
DOTA 2 is 40% complete
I remember from far away, it looked complex and terrifying. But one cannot go in alone. You must rub shoulders with the best ones you know to find the secret. The first of these was the Merlyn who dropped off a tower with a graphics card better than mine as if it were a broken-down car with no love in it left. “It isn’t Excalibur,” he said. “It has no magic in it.” This seemed matter-of-fact when uttered, but when taking it apart, gently hoovering its insides, squinting at the enraged fan on the PSU and earthing my fingers for static by stroking the copper pipe of a radiator, it was like an ancient ritual. I had journeyed over a threshold and I could see a glimmer of love. I was earning the right to occupy that space. Look at all these parts, I despaired. Screws and cables and metal boxes were a banquet across the floor. But I was thirsty.
DOTA 2 is 50% complete
You need ‘wingmen’, and like a winged creature she alighted on my doorstep, a soigné grin on her face, chipped nail polish and punk hair. “Teach me,” I said. She nodded and asked only for tea, no milk. Later, we would go on a quest to find a Phillips screwdriver. We trekked metres from my flat to the local Costcutter. “What do I get again?” I said, uncertain. “Where would it be?” I stood looking at a rack labelled “Household Items” for what seemed like an hour whilst people either rudely shoved past me or told me to move. Each object seemed occult in its way - there was a sewing kit with a rainbow of different threads, a hairbrush like a wand, is that Guinsoo’s Scythe? I lift it dreamily, and underneath, there is the Phillips, for 1 gold 89. Player 2 and I squeal in delight; the rest of the shop grumbles and carries on down the aisles of the shop as if automated.
DOTA 2 is 60% complete
By the light of the wolf-waking moon, I wrapped myself in a blanket and stretched my fingers whilst my instructor talked me through RAM and where it goes and which mythic places Merlyn had probably picked up his collection from. It felt like we were looking through his record collection as we laid it out in dust motes. We were archaeologists at work, blowing powder from hieroglyphs and coughing. At one point I produced a paintbrush to clean out the case. We smiled at each other whilst we worked in the city of dust. I think at one point I said, “I’m so excited,” though now that seems odd because the feelings are only remembered. It’s just a thing. It’s just a thing of many parts, and in many ways I still don’t know how it works. It is more doing than understanding. And yet my hands can feel what connection is right and what is not now. They understand, if anything. They just know. Fuck, I love you.
DOTA 2 is 70% complete
A computer is made of so many parts. The component parts are computers in themselves. There are many selections to be made, and many ways to put them together. Their complexity is staggering, and to previous generations, that can seem daunting, terrifying, prohibitive sometimes. But that complexity, ever increasing at every iteration, allows for the most beautiful things to be made or shown to us, be it music, visual art, scientific research. The unique flair on show can be breathtaking. The combination of this with the sprawling grace of the internet makes the personal computer the most powerful tool for communication we have ever made. Within a PC is an incredible orchestra of sounds, graphics, words, numbers and interactions that can have someone across the world connect headlong with you. To be able to reach across the heaving mass of the world and make someone who is alone smile, laugh, or feel their own value is something that has become of the utmost importance to me. It is in a small box under my desk.
DOTA 2 is 80% complete
The most important thing about DOTA 2 is the complexity of it. You could spend hours and hours devouring the literature and still never understand. It is so complex that even the greatest, most learned players still feel that there is more to the game that they could know. From afar, it is the tangled gut of a PC. But there is room for you to learn, and a slice of life will be hidden from you if you don’t. Many people have been here before. Those people will become important to you. Keep them close.
No, the most important thing is the history DOTA 2 is built on. Like computers, it has been engineered and tweaked through hundreds of fixes and balances and features, years of agonising and people complaining and testing. DOTA 2 is a strong and ancient behemoth: built on medieval foundations and rebuilt and fortified into a handsome castle so all encompassing and fancy you can see it for miles away.
It is constantly changing, fortifications are added, it is updated with the latest military equipment, always changing. It is tended by both professional and amateur staff, who know its odd quirks and winding corridors and ornaments and trap doors and workarounds and who talk of ‘jungling’ and ‘ganking’ and ‘denying’ as if everyone knew their secret language. They know the flair and showmanship that is available. They know about the new heroes approaching. They have seen everyone at their most vulnerable 1 health and that is why they are there. They know.
No, more important still is the capacity for ten players. It is a place for listening and for advice, particularly amongst players you know. It is a place to get the news. It is an important place to strengthen friendships and learn about yourself. Once you are in the machine, you are within the bosom of others who understand you and what your task is.
The task is hard, but it doesn’t negate the everyday. It is a game that becomes second nature through practice, but you can add your own hum and your own sentimentality to theirs. You add your own meaning to the tower you have just demolished. You can pretend it was that last problem you were solving at work that tomorrow you will have to tackle, and others will help you do it.
DOTA 2 is 90% complete
No. No no. The most important thing about DOTA 2 is the complexity of it, the ability to create moments and invest in them and talk about it with other people. When I opened up that PC, I did not care for it. I didn’t know what was in there, and I didn’t understand what it would enable me to do. But pull it apart, converse over it, talk about its foibles and how your first PSU can’t swap out the second broken one because of this dumb reason, go on a journey, participate in great raging triumphs - invest in its parts and how they fit together, the new iterations and the updates and downloads and ever changing surge of improvements to the topology. You can fall in love with your conduit to the world outside. Technology presents all of these possibilities for new shared moments. There never stops being something you can discover through others. Now I cannot stop thinking about how I will improve how my PC runs, about the next innovation. I think about improving myself. I think about improving my knowledge, my ties to the outside world. About knowing by doing.
DOTA 2 extends the PC’s reach. Only a PC could host a machine as complex and interesting and wonderful as DOTA 2. DOTA 2 is why the PC is great. It is the PC.
DOTA 2 is 100% complete
Seduced by possibility, I put my headset on and straighten my spine. I touch the unfamiliar keys: laptop keys - what are these flattened cubes? Who are you, I wonder, frowning at the dark, handsome, flimsy stranger. You feel strange to the touch. You are different. You are an electric current to nine other people’s hands, and four other people’s voices. Let’s go again. Let’s go. I’ll do it again.
Steam kicks me into a game, Skype yells ecstatic in my ears, and I smile because I am not alone. Neither are you.
Merry Christmas, RPS.