Funny To A Point – Ode To Blowing #%$& Up

In the past few months since I’ve launched this column, I’ve
poked fun at some
games
, the
haters of other games
, the
industry
, and mostly
myself
. Today I want to do something a little different by waxing poetic
about most one of gaming’s most time-tested and artistic expressions: blowing
sh– up.

Perhaps it’s because construction workers have spent this
week playing with the biggest, coolest toys in the lot across from our office, but
lately I’ve spent an I-swear-I’m-not-crazy amount of time thinking about all
the destructive things we do in games. Sure, video games allow us to do a lot
of good things: They task us with difficult
philosophical choices
, help us expand our horizons, and provide
new perspectives on life.
I appreciate these amazing and positive aspects of gaming, and they deserve all
the heaping praise they get. But none of that makes blasting the crap out of things
any less fun.

We often think of destruction as a bad thing (kind of like
how I just juxtaposed it with gaming’s “good” aspects) but it’s also instinctual.
Ever since my niece was old enough to not choke on the pieces like a dumb baby,
I’ve been building Lego towers with her. By “with her,” I mean I build them and
she knocks them down while laughing like a pint-sized psychopath. Most of the
time it’s a grueling test of patience for her, as I frantically build the tower
as high as possible before she Godzillas the place up. No one had to teach her
how fun it is to smash block towers to pieces (naturally I would have if she couldn’t
figure it out on her own, but she’s a smart one). And even as the
underappreciated architect, it’s fun for me too – who do you think bought her
all the damn Legos in the first place?


The view from my office window. Sadly, no explosions yet.

More than any medium, video games have seized upon our
universal appetite for destruction, serving up an endless buffet of calamitous
scenarios. And while these virtual acts may focus on destroying things, they’ve
also created a joyous common language that practically every gamer can
recognize and enjoy. So, Sound of Music-style,
here are a few of my favorite things:

A string of C4 charges
strategically set around a building, blinking and beeping a prelude to obliteration.
Ever since GoldenEye’s Facility level, I’ve had a fondness for games that let
me plant explosives around a room like a deranged demolition expert – though the
“expert” is debatable, given how often I go up in flames along with whatever I’m
trying to bomb.

A plasma grenade
tucked up behind the collar of an opponent, hissing menacingly as they run to
their inescapable doom.
Or, back in the days of Halo’s split-screen
multiplayer, square in the face so you can see their view eclipsed by a crackling
blue aura.

The sharp, crisp
shatter of a glass bottle instantaneously disintegrating
. The most common
object in any FPS shooting gallery, and yet I can’t not shoot them. The sound is so ingrained in my brain I can hear it
before I even pull the trigger.

A column of thick
black smoke emanating from your car’s engine, the ominous countdown to
detonation.
Once I was driving to my parent’s house when my engine started
smoking. My instinctual reaction was: MUST
JUMP OUT BEFORE CAR EXPLODES
. Thankfully, neither of those things ended up
happening.

A red drum barrel throbbing
with explosive potential.
So maybe they aren’t actually throbbing, but that’s
what it seems like because we’ve been trained like Pavlov’s dog to blow them up. I don’t know if
there’s a real-life company that stores flammable materials in red barrels, but
if there is, god help them – if I worked there, I’d contemplate driving a
forklift into a stack of them on a daily basis.

A meatbag opponent
exploding in red, squishy carnage.
Commonly referred to as “gibbing” your
opponent, which is short for “giblets.” I always
thought it was a nerdy term, but that’s just it – even the smartest nerds appreciate making things go
boom.*

A corpse ragdolling
through the air, preferably on fire.
Even when it’s my corpse – nothing mitigates
my frustration over dying in a game faster than watching my lifeless character
being launched to comical heights.

Frantically running
through Bomberman’s random labyrinths, being chased by the fiery explosions of
your own diarrhea bombs.
Alright, this one might not be quite as universal,
but if you’ve ever suffered from Bomberman’s dubious power-up, you never forget
it.

Video game explosions range from erupting
planets
all the way down to Hitler’s one good
nut
, and they’re all equally enjoyable. However, one game deserves special
recognition. Red Faction: Guerrilla featured what is still the most advanced
destructible physics system ever created for a game, for the express purpose of
running around Mars like a madman and razing buildings to the ground with your
trusty sledgehammer. Nothing else even comes close to it. Well, except maybe this
guy
.

And while I’m handing out special shout-outs, can we all
take a moment to recognize the robots? Whether they’re our A.I. underlings or
overlords, gaming’s mechanical murderbots dutifully carry out their feeble
programming, just waiting to shower the battlefield with their spark-spewing
circuitry. They are an important member in the holy trinity of guilt-free cannon
fodder (the other two being zombies and Nazis, naturally), and although we may
not think twice about killing them, it doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate their
noble sacrifice.

Usually finding any point of agreement with Dan Ryckert is a
terrifying proposition, but I can’t even feel bad about our equal love for
blowing things up in games. When Dan (I assume drunkenly) spent hours trying to
launch a cop car into a helicopter
in Saints Row 3
like that scene from the second-worst Die Hard movie, I didn’t
ask why – because the obvious answer is why wouldn’t you? (The fact that he was
playing as a human toilet at the time, however, is all Dan.)

Most of my gaming recently has been spent on Three Fields
Entertainment’s Dangerous Golf. Dangerous Golf is about as niche as game ideas
get: Take the sport of golf, movie it
indoors, and task players with breaking as much stuff as possible on their way
to the hole. It’s simple, it makes no sense, and I love it. The fact that its
creators also worked on Burnout is both evident and irrelevant; the premise
works whether you’re driving a souped-up sports car or an atomic golf ball. All
it takes to transform ultra-niche into universal is a few thousand explosions.

If you need any more evidence for how unanimously loved
blowing stuff up in games is, look no further than SimCity. The city-building
simulator is about as serious and technical as games get, and yet even Will
Wright couldn’t resist throwing in a random monster attack every now and then. You
can even trigger the attacks yourself, because the only thing cooler than
meticulously building up your own city is watching a gigantic creature tear it all down. I’m sure my niece would approve.


Not that SimCity 2013 needed any more disasters than its launch provided.

So why is breaking crap enjoyable even when we’re the ones
who built it in the first place? Perhaps Michael Caine was right in that one
Batman movie when he said, “Some peepol’ jus’ wanna watch ‘da woild boin.” More
importantly, is our enjoyment of virtual destruction wrong?

I’ll leave the philosophical questions to the philosophizers.**
I live my life by the words of the great Dane Cook, who once observed, “Sometimes
when you see things go BOOM, your mind goes BOOOOOM, and then the booms set off
more booms and you make a boom-boom!”***

What, that’s not good enough for you? Fine. How about a
quote from the eminent Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky instead?

If it’s good enough for Dostoevsky, it’s good enough for
me!

*Though in Carmack’s case it’s not
always intentional
.
**Side note: If someone offering you life advice actually
refers to themselves as a philosophizer, stop listening.
***You should really know by now that that’s not a real Dane
Cook quote. Also, when I wrote “great Dane Cook” in Microsoft Word, it
suggested I capitalize the word “great,” because even a computer knows how bad
he is and assumed I was talking about the dog breed instead.

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