best before 30.10.2016

by Hartigan Malchop

Violents are red

Although you wouldn’t suspect it from the deep rumbling voice you use in your head when you read this, your pal Harty doesn’t cut an intimidating figure. If you walked quickly past me in a dark alley, you wouldn’t be much threatened by the look of me. In fact, I’ve been chased out of dark alleys by some pretty stern-looking kittens. But once upon a time, I dreamed of being physically impressive, of being the sort of fellow who strode tall and powerful with panther-like grace. In my towering fantasy version of myself, I’d be a lithe colossus who wouldn’t necessarily knock you head over heels with a casual flip of a wrist, but who sure looked like I could if the mood came over me. Young Harty dreamed of becoming some kind of a kung-fu master who would never meet a concrete wall he couldn’t chop down with the edge of his hand.


With many years of practice, you too can learn the ancient art of kicking a guy’s head off.

In pursuit of training myself into a peak of muscular mightiness, I even went to a few martial-arts lessons as a youngster, although it ended up being judo rather than kung-fu, because that’s what the local recreation hall offered on Thursday evenings. Fortunately for the safety of the world, I didn’t even last long enough at judo lessons to buy a proper outfit. After one lesson and a half, I had decided that it was all too much effort to learn how to bash the world up, and I gave up on the whole affair. Besides that barely begun attempt to become a martial-arts master, the only extraordinary feat of strength I’ve ever displayed was when I once absent-mindedly tore off the door from a kitchen cabinet by leaning on it funny. Such are the Homeric feats of strength of Hartigan of the line of Malchop.

But video games allow all of us who have failed to train ourselves to perfection to forget that we get winded if we have to run for the train and that we are gripped by a terrible fear of ever having to lift anything heavy over our heads. In games we can do things that are physically inadvisable for the shabby old tangible world. You can fly through space, you can do awesome skateboard tricks, and you can punch a dragon man repeatedly in the face until he falls over. You can be as unrestrained and violent as the game world allows you, and there’s an understandable delight to that fantasy violence. It plugs right into that animal part of our brain that lights up at the same sorts things that got my cave-dwelling Malchop ancestors excited.

Just as the seasons come and go, there are reoccurring media panics over how violent games mess up our heads. There’s nothing new to that kind of thing. Heck, there have been historical panics on the terrible lobe-rotting effects of television, radio, and reading. Your pal Harty hasn’t got the brains or the degrees to give a mighty verdict on whether or not violent games warp the minds and playtimes of our bright-cheeked children. All I can say is that these sort of destructive games have delighted me for my little life, and, like lots of other forms of human entertainment, they’ve given me a safe temporary release from the sensible restrictions of civlisation. Your pal Harty has the occasional fine quality, but even he needs to let off a peep of steam now and then. While I couldn’t tell you whether or not shooty smashy games have twisted up my brain bits, so far they haven’t driven me to pursue a career of stabbing people. Also, I reckon we should give the young more credit, as I’m reasonably certain that our bright-cheeked children are perfectly capable of hitting each other in their real-life games without the influence of playing shooters or beat-em-ups.

The first violent video game I played was Wolfenstein 3D. My branch of the Malchop clan was still stuck with a computer that appeared to be made by druids out of stone slabs, so we didn’t have the processing power for such fancy things as colour, or indeed, graphics. But Uncle Uther Malchop who lived up north was another story. Uncle Uther was a nerd, you see, so his computer was expensive and carelessly littered with what seemed like exciting treasures to young Harty. When I went up north to stay with Uncle Uther, his house always smelled strongly of incense and Uncle Uther played the clarinet perhaps more than was strictly necessary. Uncle Uther also had a very hands-off approach to hosting young Harty. He was perfectly content to leave me to my own devices, as I ran around shooting pixelated Nazis in Wolfenstein until I felt sea-sick from spinning about the levels too much.


They’re really keen to keep the non-paying public out of Castle Wolfenstein.

The next major bit of uncivilised simulated violence in young Harty’s life was also the first game he ever paid for with his own pocket-money. It was the spiritual successor to Wolfenstein, and perhaps one the premier examples of shooters in the history of video games, where you played a grunting space marine who crept about atmospherically unsettling levels, fighting demons that terrified and thrilled little Harty. When you played this shooter, you got lost in the power fantasy of being a big tough fellow with guns, right up until you were¬†killed by a cacodemon – an angry cyclopean rotten tomato you hadn’t noticed floating off to one side. The game was called Doom and it was glorious.


Despite what this cover implies, in reality the life of a space marine is mostly polishing boots and marching up and down.

When Grown Up Harty triumphantly returned to playing computer games, my first celebration of videogame violence, and an only slightly out-of-date game as far as I go, was the cartoonish mayhem of Borderlands 2. I’ve never played Borderlands 1, because it isn’t available on Linux, and, in the best traditions of Malchop technology, the stubborn and contrary wheezing Frankenstein machine I have only runs Ubuntu Linux. The game, set on the wild science-fiction craphole planet of Pandora, takes the fun of shooting everything that was core to the lawless joy of such games of Young Harty’s youth, and adds some story elements to it, which is a nice bit of an advancement beyond “Kill Nazis” and “Murderise Demons”. And there are lots of guns in Borderlands 2. Squillions of guns. There are so many guns that you spend a lot of the game comparing weapons to decide which you want to keep, in the same thoughtfully way you’d examine fruit and veg in a green grocer’s. The self-proclaimed Role Playing Game/Shooter of Borderlands 2 also nicely combines my two main interests in games – the stimulation of a good story, and the gleefully dumb misbehaviour of running around like a little kid and making pew pew noises.

I started off playing as Zer0, the annoyingly cooler-than-thou ninja assassin character. This was mainly because you can play Zer0 as a sniper and even in the fantasy conflict of the video game, your pal Hartly is a coward. I’m a retiring fellow who has never particularly rated his prowess in gaming, so when Borderlands delighted in throwing waves of psycho lunatics at you, my initial preferred strategy was to run and hide behind a rock, taking sneaky little shots from far, far, away. This sort of caution is deeply entrenched in the Malchop family, and many of my ancestors have run away from some of history’s most significant brawls. My lack of swaggering confidence when it comes to games is also why I have never played Borderlands online, as the thought of being humiliated and demeaned by an expert thirteen year old makes me panicky.

Zer0's stealth backside.

Zer0’s stealth backside.

Borderlands 2 is a fun game. It’s got a distinctive colourful visual style, it mixes humour and violence well, and most importantly it has one of the best-acted voice casts I’ve ever encountered. Crucially for a games incompetent like myself, it’s not too easy, but it also doesn’t take sadistic delight in making it weepingly easy for you to die. Every time you kark it in Borderlands, you get regenerated at the last save point, a computerised female voice says something mocking about you, and you run back into it. Unlike a lot of other games, by and large Borderlands doesn’t try to kill you in sneaky ways and then makes you repeat and grind over long tracts of stuff you’ve done before just to get back to your dying point. The game wants you to feel free, to run and play. It doesn’t slow you down if you’ve been dashing for a while (I hate it when a game doesn’t let you move quickly) and brilliantly, you can drop from any height to the ground and not suffer any damage. The game actively encourages you at one point to flout the laws of physics by leaping from the very top of a tower. Yes, that’s unrealistic, but it’s also brilliant, because it encourages you not to be worried and cautious. You can be worried and cautious all you like in everyday life.

This is a game that is often as immature and bloody as any of the other great shooters, but it is also funny and embraces the freedom of cartoonishness. Borderlands 2 wants you to play with an absurd abandon to match the over-the-top chaos of the game. I played it a lot. Now, your pal Harty hates repeating stuff. I almost never re-read a book, I don’t like watching movies I’ve already seen, and I hardly ever play through games again once I’ve finished them. I played Borderlands 2 through five or six times. The game is big enough that running and shooting your way through the missions again was still engaging enough. I finished the game twice as Zer0, twice as the magicy psychic Siren Maya, but it was when I played as Krieg that I really started to enjoy the sheer mechanics of playing.


Krieg was driven to furious insanity when he realised that the only universal law in the world was ‘no shirt, no service’.

Krieg is a melee add-on character, which is to say he’s pretty much pants at using the bajillions of guns the game auto-generates. Instead, Krieg is good at hitting things until they explode. If you level him up in just the right way (in my ignorance, I had to look up how to do this on Youtube), you can have Krieg hulk out and smush his opponents into stains with his axe. It’s a close-contact way of fighting that is the complete opposite of my normal cowardly style of playing. Krieg is like a giant, lunatic, grotesque expression of the very idea of the thrill of violence from deep in your id. Like some of the best games, Krieg in Borderlands 2 made me play not only in a way I couldn’t and wouldn’t in real life, it even made me play in a way I’m not usually comfortable to embrace even in the fantasy worlds of games.

Of course, away from the screen, I revert to my natural, non-axe swinging self and still struggle to chase away pigeons trying to steal my sandwichs, but maybe, if you catch me in just the right light, there’s a little glint in my eye when I still dream of being bigger and stronger.

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