It was a relationship that turned sour quickly. I’d looked at her from across the party, knew her reputation: fun but promiscuous, a quick fling. I’d heard the rumours of violence. A real femme fatale.
But dammit if I didn’t want to dress up as Batman, so I rented her.
It all turned out exactly the way I’d imagined. Okay, the initial thrills were giddier than I’d ever really considered- laughing maniacally at the complete disdain for physics, that ridiculous ‘hai-hai-hai’ noise Liu Kang makes as he flying-kicks across the screen. Carried away into the night chatting about the crazy beautiful stupidity of superheroes and fighting games.When the lows came, they were deep and dark. I found myself alone, sinking unsatisfying hours into the ‘Story’ mode, grinding towards the one unlockable character I was interested in. But even now, having denounced MK vs DC, I can’t forget the first few games together, where I got to play as Batman. I love Batman. All the gadgets and gruffness, pitched against the sci-fi-mentalist world he lives in. I love the childish escapism of it all, both for me and him. I love the Batcave, its giant penny and an unexplained T-Rex. I’ve never understood those particular parts of the Batman mythos, but damn if I don’t love them.So obviously he was the first character I took for a spin. As I discovered each new move, I giggled with delight. I peered into the background of the Batcave level, murmuring approvingly at any recognisable details. I beat up my friends’ assorted choices of fighter (seriously, who plays as a MK character when you’ve got a load of superheroes at your disposal?) and that was fun, but it wasn’t till we were left alone that the thrill of Being Batman really clicked.
Looking back, at the way the gruff interior monologue filled my head and how satisfying each avenged punch felt, I worry about myself. I consider myself a (reasonably) balanced human being, never really been the type for role-playing of any type, yet here I was pretending to be Batman. It wasn’t the game- MKvsDC‘s quite a mechanical affair, stiff, not the kind of fighter you’d ever forget you were playing a game with. It’s just the strength of fantasy (and, I suppose, the simple iconography I was given to project on).
I remember being young and naive and dreaming about being able to finally do all the impossible acrobatics and kung-fu-moves I’d seen in The Matrix. Enter the Matrix arrived and, looking back, it was a disappointed. But at the time I consumed it hungrily, playing it over and over again and it fulfilled everything I wanted to do- running from unfightable Agents, backflipping off walls and watching bullet tear that wobbly path through air-turned-to-treacle.
It was the same with The Punisher game- although I’ll still defend that game today, if only for the bit where you get to pop out of the coffin in the middle of a funeral and mow down half the mob with an M60. I was in the midst of Garth Ennis’ classic work on the Punisher comic when I bought it and with the game being based on Ennis’ Welcome Back, Frank, I was able to summon Frank’s gritty caption-box voice as I tore through enemy after enemy. I felt no pleasure as I forced thugs’ heads under saws, and threw them into woodchippers. It just needed to be done.
There are hundreds of other examples- I remember replaying the first Max Payne over and over, in the style of whatever action hero I’d seen that week- slow and steady like the Terminator, or dashing through the level without stopping or worrying about damage. Swinging around New York as Spider-man. (Which felt subtly different to swinging around as Ultimate Spider-man.) Downloading skins of my favourite characters for The Sims. They always seem to tend towards the geekier end of my interests- I’ve never felt the urge to play an Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind game, or dress up as Kilgore Trout. I suppose its that simple iconography that the geeky-media tends to provide you with. It’s easy to project on but, frankly, of course I’d want to be the man dressed as a bat, beating up clowns.
Surprise surprise, I cannot wait for the new Batman: Arkham Asylum game. I’m already piecing it together in my head, how I’ll hide in the shadows, spooking out the criminals one by one, then pulling them into the darkness. Just like the start of the Tim Burton film, or Old Batman’s comeback in Dark Knight Returns. I’ll be that Batman, and file it alongside my time as the four-coloured square-jawed crusader, punching gods and spacemen in MKvsDC, and I’ll already about fantasising about the next Batman I get to be.
(Confessions: I say I’ve quit MKvsDC forever, but the disc is still waiting to be sent back. And, inelegantly, more-or-less unwittingly, I stole the relationship metaphor from the always elegant chewingpixels.)