What do Hitler, Snoop Dogg, George Washington, and Shakespeare have in common? If you said they all appear in Rik Mayall's autobiography Bigger Than Hitler, Better Than Christ*, you're wrong. Washington and Snoop aren't mentioned in that. The correct answer is that each has been digitised and reformed--Weird Science style--into your games as DLC.
There's a lot of DLC out there, ranging from the mundane to the insane, and I think I know why. Games are increasingly serious business, with huge budgets and a cast amount of public scrutiny. DLC--well some of it--feels like the passion projects that don't fit into the canon. An outlet for the stuff that gets cleared from the whiteboard for being too off message, or too niche. DLC is cathartic. I've been on a strange journey, readers. I've been looking through games catalogues and hunting down the sort of DLC that could be described as 'boutique'. I've been on a boutique call, ahahahahahahaha!
When I first pitched this feature, it was because I'd visited the Star Citizen shop. I'd tried out my pre-order ship in the Arena Commander alpha, and was less than impressed with its awkward over-steering and a cockpit that showed more window frame than space. I was aware that the game allowed people to buy other ships and upgrade, so perhaps there was an upgrade that let me control and see the game I'd paid for? I wandered into the store, feeling like a vagrant at a muscle car shop. My, what a place. For real, folding money, you can buy better ships that cost more than the combined costs of the desk I'm writing at and the seat I'm sitting on.
But further into the shop, at the back, behind 'upgrades' to entirely virtual purchases, there is another store that takes United Earth Credits--credits that backers have but can also be purchased with real world money. It's the decoration section, and I found myself clicking on 'Fishtank', because if you're making a game about space and carefully designed, systemic ships, then the top priority for the community is a place to keep their fish.
Yes, you can buy fish. And the fish have backstories.
"Vindel: Generally found in shallow water, this species of fish feeds on waste and algae that collects at the bottom of rivers. The tentacles on the head allow the fish to dig through the loose rock and soil. Not generally edible. They taste pretty terrible."
I wonder how many design meetings were needed to decide on the flavour of the fish? Star Citizen won't be the first game to feature incongruous, odd items for sale, and it won't be the last, but it is the reason I chose to poke around. Fish in a game about space ships. What else is there?
You probably remember that some of this stuff existed, but you probably forgot it was odd. I did. Strange things become normal over time. Valve released a jar of piss for TF2, and the years in-between have somehow normalised the notion of an assassin soaking a target in urine. It started life as an April Fools gag and somehow crossed the barrier of joke and into the realms of man. A similar thing has just happened with Arma 3, which just turned the Arma 3: Go Karts gag into actual, paid-for content. I get the feeling that they accidentally made it, with the team laughing it up at an April Fools' meeting, giggling and pointing at the artist's monitor, guffawing at the web-page, high-fiving at the trailer, and then their boss asked what they've been doing for the past week and panic sets in.
"Er, we made DLC?"
And because of that, I can now skree through the streets of Kavala with a wheezy, over-steering go-kart in a game about Maximum Warface.
Actually, Bohemia is doing an interesting thing with their DLC, attempting to avoid community splits by giving premium content away for free, and advertising it to players who haven't yet paid for it. It's really intriguing, but it's also far too sensible for the rest of this post, so let's just nod appreciatively and move on to the game I found about disassembling weaponry.
I discovered World Of Guns: Gun Disassembly because there was a game called World Of Guns: Gun Disassembly. Sometimes you don't even need word of mouth, just words. World of Guns. World. Of. Guns. Anyway, World Of Guns: Gun Disassembly is a free-to-play game about how fast the players can pull apart and put together weaponry, which at least has some semblance of connection to a real-world activity. Soldiers are taught to strip weapons quickly in order to fix them in the field swiftly. So naturally it has Skeleton DLC, because if you're speedily putting together the guns that begin a process of turning living things into dead things, then the natural follow-up is to include the component parts of the dead things for you to pull apart and then put together as speedily as you can. It's almost philosophical. I am thinking.
What am I thinking about? Well it goes like this: Guns > Skeletons > Hitler. Let's take some time to remember how odd the Sniper Elite v2 DLC is, in which you are put in a mission called Kill Hitler. I like the game. Honestly. The one gimmick it has is somehow still entertaining after the surprising number of hours I've put into it. The faceless Nazi proles you dispatch in bone-crunching vignettes are incredibly satisfying. But Hitler? I'm not saying seeing his internal organs split by tumbling, hot metal isn't somewhat cathartic. It is. Immediately. But a few days later it started to nag at me, that perhaps using Hitler in something so base and grim and silly isn't what I should be doing. That reducing him to a punchline, where the correct shot will give you a slow motion shot of his testicles exploding, isn't something I was comfortable with. I can't say I wielded the gun with anything other than salacious intent at the time, but a few days later I wasn't proud of my participation.
Rebellion disagrees, and Hitler will return in Sniper Elite 3's Target Hitler DLC, but I can't face playing it this time.
Let's lighten things up a little, but keep history in view. Assassin's Creed 3 was a boring game that managed to spawn some powerfully strange DLC: The Tyranny of King Washington. Given that the Assassin's Creed history is an alternate history, and that this is an alternate version of that alternate history, it's a couple of steps removed from reality, setting up a world where George Washington has gone mad with power and forgone the presidency to install himself as a full-on king of America. To make it more oddball, you don't even play an Assassin, but instead a version of Conner who remained a Patriot, keeping his native name of Ratonhnhaké:ton and attacking with the power of a bear spirit. A polygonal bear. There's even a pyramid in the middle of New York. The ending has a man wearing a puppy using his animal powers to fight a King who is controlled by an apple.
See? DLC is weird, even in the triple AAA sphere you'll get a founding father going toe-to-toe with a mystic fighter. To cement the point, let's shift to Call Of Duty, a series as AAA as they come. The growth of the Call Of Duty series has been something to behold. I don't get it, but I do get that something that large and recogniseable has fuzzy boundaries, a budget, and probably developers bored of taking the Michael Bayish leanings of the series seriously. You probably think I'm going to mention the inclusion of Nazi Zombies into the series, but the truth is that's not as odd as some of the DLC voice packs that have been released for multiplayer. Specifically, there's a Snoop Dogg Voice Pack that gives you vocal gymnastics for every banal moment in multiplayer. "You just laid dem Bustas down, but there's another round!"
When I remember that adults made that, I get a little giddy. It's certainly what I'd do if given a budget and a contact list of celebrities. Well, that and pay people to fight to the death for my entertainment. I'm very Roman in certain aspects, which is a lovely and easy way to talk about Total War: Rome 2's: Blood & Gore DLC. It's an add-on that puts the viscera into victories; a work of arterial artistry. It's actually a sneaky way of gaining a Pegi 16 rating for the main game, but allowing age 18 content for those that want it. And for those that can pay, which is a bone of contention poking through the skin for those that see gore as a necessity in the game. I can see the point, but can also sort of understand Sega's position. Releasing age-rating altering content post Hot Coffee is a move that has the potential to explode in their face, but you'll have to pay £2 to see the results.
(Also: the images used to advertise the DLC are so grim that Google has threatened to delist sites from search if they posted them, so I've had to ensure the following collection is suitably ungored)
In some eyes, those screenshots are art, and therefore the end of the question about if games can be art. I am willing to frame and sign a few if you're really impressed.
Anyway, I consider that question answered a long time ago with Typing of the Dead: Overkill's DLC. The type-or-die game doesn't seem the place to find true, world-recognised art, but they've been mixing up zombies, WPM, and all sorts of inappropriate content. The least inappropriate of that is Shakespeare DLC, where you'll hastily type couplets from the Bard's tales to keep the undead at bay. But I was talking about art, and no-one here is saying that Shakespeare is art. No, I'm talking about the Filth DLC.
The Thick Of it and Viz's Profanisaurus prove that swearing is an artform, which means this DLC is art, and therefore games are art. Admittedly, the ability to type horrendous filth into a wee box is something that gamers are particularly good at, but there's creative turns of phrase that makes it a bit more of a challenge than teenagers just being teenagers and winning the game. Not one will have used the phrase "Adolescent sex fiasco" I'll bet.
Can you imagine being a Sega employee and being asked to swear for a living? Remember when I said that DLC was cathartic? This has to be the ultimate example of that, and the best place to end this ramble. There's probably piles more out there that I didn't uncover. I'm sure Dota 2 has some amazing work. What have I missed?
*So long, Rik.