Friday, January 12, 2007

New Year’s Eve in the barroom of the Auditorium Hotel in Nanton, stuffed with double-helpings of all-the-trimmings roast-beef dinner washed down with bottles of Pilsner, rocking out to a jukebox plugged full of Willie Nelson, AC/DC and Creedence while waiting for the country band to cover our way into ’07… kickin’ it small-town style. The oddly-stuffed wildcat above the bar snarls down at the gathered regulars through the smoke-haze (remember bar smoke, city folk?) while its domesticated cousin crouches under the couch in the lobby, waiting for the human traffic to clear so it can claim its cozy spot on (or maybe in; there are rumours) the popcorn machine. Mood-lighting is provided by an illuminated case of rifles and shotguns. In this nearly countriest of country settings – missing: stagefront chickenwire and a mechanical bull – it seems a bit perverse to be thinking about videogames.

Yeah, I’ll cop to a bit of withdrawal, a little joystick jones; after a month of nearly nonstop Wiiving, seven days in the sticks with nothing to entertain me but love, liquor and landscape have left me itching for a bit of the ol’ bleep-blorp. Not only for personal pleasure, but for professional purposes: with no new electronic diversion in hand, I’m looking at phoning in the ol’ year-end Top Ten, the lazy coluumnist’s annual holiday. This place doesn’t even have an old Ms. Pac-Man cocktail cabinet for me to rhapsodize on.

Do VLTs count as videogames? I’d throw a few loonies to the row of armless bandits lined up over there by the majestic mounted buffalo head, but they’ve all got stools tipped onto them, marking each as some dream-chaser’s personal preserve. So, like a kid in the car on the way home from the games store, I read the manual instead; Please Game Responsibly somehow fails to grip my imagination.

I should look on this gameless time as a sort of year-end cleanse, an organic system-flush after four seasons of industrial intensity. Though I’m pretty far off the salivating cycle of fanboy anticipation (with occasional savage and mind-consuming exceptions) this generational turnover year got under even my jaded skin, put the itch under my calloused thumbs. Dawning with the XBox 360’s momentum and preoccupied with speculation, rumor, revelation and smack-talk over Sony and Nintendo’s new machines, 2006 was an agony of waiting, a ten-month Prelude to November. A scenario like this leads to some moments of existential nausea, especially if you’re given to paranoid introspection in the first place: "Am I really standing here, AT A PARTY, debating Sony’s processor fabrication capacity… while the world falls to shit?!” But that's showbizness, right?

By Solsticetide, dark time of magic, wonder, rebirth and giftshop mysticism, the first act of this ultimately pointless (aren’t they all?) drama had drawn to its cliffhanger close: Sony’s PlayStation 3 stood as the tragic King – powerful beyond belief, but by the price of that power bound – while the Wii (nee Revolution; that name-change stands as one of the masterstroke moments of corporate theatre) cavorted about, trickster, buffoon, accessible crowd favorite. There’s much yet to be played – including a probable recession between now and 2010’s curtain call – but the groundlings are already chanting Wii’s name and quoting his routines to each other: I don’t overhear fiftysomething office ladies in snowman sweaters gushing to their elevator-trapped friends about how much “oh my God super FUN!” they had with the PlayStation over holidays.

But for me, personally, 2006 will always (well, someways; we all know how brains work) be remembered as the year of Oblivion, that fantastic (and fantastically flawed) wonder of solo fantasy gaming. I went from those dark winter days of underemployed screenbound self-hypnosis – I think it's pretty much all I wrote about for three months – to watching a friend fall even deeper into the same pit this past season. Into a borrowed 360 (mine, but I’d fear for my safety if I tried to take it back at this point) this guy poured and continues to pour his wintertime hours. An obsessive collector and organizer in meatlife, he’s spent his gametime painstakingly assembling a virtual cabinet of Cyrodillic curiosities, collections of books, shields, gems, swords, bottles, helmets, people, all carefully organized and displayed in his frosty electronic castle.

And, Goddamnit, part of me itches to be there right now, laughing at the wonders he’s gathered, marveling at the staircase of paintbrushes and skulls he’s created over Azura knows how many dozens of hours. But it’s a small part, getting smaller as the band cranks up, shots are downed and boots begin to scoot. Videogames are for the City… tonight belongs to rare beef, domestic bottles, paper hats, Eaglesmith covers and a girl in a swirling polka-dot skirt – anitelectronic detox, country-style…

No comments: