Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Signature moments

This is interesting. The Internet lords over at ign.com have seen fit to unveil a new list of the top 100 video game moments. It's ... interesting, especially the first 40 percent of the list, which includes some relatively obscure titles—Deadly Premonition, OutRun 2, Wild ARMs, 3D Monster Maze. Not quite what I was expecting. Which is fine.

Personally, I love lists. Can't get enough of them. They can be a great instigator for conversations and voicing disagreements. I learned long ago that you can't take these things very seriously. Except when you do, and it's great. In 1998, right before I turned 16, I watched a special CBS presentation of the American Film Institute's 100 Years 100 Films. I then spent the next 10 years tracking down and watching copies of each film on the list I'd never seen. By the time time I finished, of course, I was older and better able to appreciate that the esteemed connoisuers of celluloid over at the AFI offices were neither the be-all nor the end-all of critical opinion. Even a list 100 titles long can have some crucial missing components. Still, it creates a way to celebrate whatever it is we love about whatever it is we're listing.

So the idea of talking about video game moments seems like a fitting idea. Isn't that what all these different games look to provide—memorable moments? I would like to think so. But then I actually browse through the list, and suddenly I'm not so sure.

Some of the items on the list commemorate particular game levels or locations—or seeing a particular game world for the first time and getting that wow factor. Other items mark the first time the player performs a particular game mechanic, like drifting in Ridge Racer or rocket jumping in Quake. And then there are the plot spoilers, such as ... Aerith dies. So sad.

I think part of the problem is the list makers felt compelled to represent certain seminal games, and in doing so either boiled their overall greatness into one big vague moment or simply plucked out one of many interconnected game elements—usually the wrong one.

Anyway, I don't intend to dig too deeply into the final list, only to contend one particular choice.

I'm talking about greatest moment #76, "Billie Jean" from Grand Theft Auto: Vice City.
"Grand Theft Auto has always been the cool video game, the one that reached out and appealed to a mass audience. But GTA has never been cooler than when you first cruised the streets of Vice City at night, tuned into Flash FM, and heard the opening bars of Michael Jackson's Billie Jean. It pulled you back in time to the eighties, when Jackson was still the King of Pop and neon-pastels were still fashionable. It underscored your first experiences of the environment: the garishly-lit beach-front hotels and discos, the insistent dealers and prostitutes, and the squalor hidden down backstreets. This was Vice City, and it was yours for the taking."
"Billie Jean," is that really your musical selection? Nice attempt, ign, but no. That song is still on the damn radio. You might just as well be driving down the streets of present-day Spokane, Washington, listening to Michael Jackson. That song is so ubiquitous it doesn't transport anyone to anywhere. No, the greatest moment of that classic GTA game is cruising the streets of Vice City in a stolen Ferrari imitation car, on a clear sunny day, and ramming your vehicle at full speed into an oncoming motorcyclist. Watch the rider go flying (it's so wrong and yet it feels so right) as the in-game car stereo blasts into the chorus of this song.

The title says it all. If there's any standout track from the Vice City soundtrack that crystalizes the wild 80s, it's this signature single from mascaraed hair band Autograph. You will feel the need for speed and you will bang your head all the way to your drug-deal destination on the other side of the Starfish Island bridge. Or you'll listen to those lyrics, "For every minute I have to work, I need a minute of play," and you'll suddenly ask yourself—why the rush? This cocaine empire can wait while I go throw some hand grenades into a random busy intersection. Turn it up!

(Final Fun Fact: I admit I might be a little biased in my opinion. Go ahead and watch that video again. While you're enjoying the music, make note of the band's bass player, Randy Rand. That's my mom's cousin.)

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