Elite Beat Agents
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I've been away from the DS for a few months so I've had very little to say about videogames and, to be honest, very little desire to go back to them. But I've been coaxed out of my shell by the most trivial of games, Rhythm Paradise, that has got me re-assessing my take on the meaning of life. The ability of humanity to transform the mundane into something of beauty. And if you think that's just hyperbole, you'd be wrong.
Rhythm Paradise does not aim particularly high. It does not take itself at all seriously and does not ask any questions of the player. It just has you tapping and flicking the screen in time to pecking birds, teen-pop starlets, ping-pong players and meatball-chugging monks. So basically it's pointless.
But in reality it's just the sort of game I'm likely to go for. It's got music, it's fast and it's easy to understand. I played it quite a lot to begin with but then came the nagging doubt. The hint of guilt. The regret of wasted time. So I put it down for a month or two and got on with my preferred recreational pursuits.
There are some great books out there, aren't there? I've really enjoyed Cormack McCarthy's Border Trilogy though my lack of Spanish was a slight inconvenience. But it's got weight to it. There's meaning aplenty there. And a distinct lack of meatball-eating monks (though quite a lot of bean-eating cowboys).
I've also made significant strides with my piano playing. When I was young my teachers never taught me how to play the music I liked, so now I'm teaching myself. I still find it tricky to find some of those chords, but with plenty of practice I'm sure I'll get there.
A self-gratifying and isolating pursuit that leaves you feeling intellectually stimulated.
With all these things, gaming or otherwise, I find myself asking "Why bother? What's the point?" When I can play Let It Be with real aplomb will my life be any more complete? I'm guessing not. I'll probably just move on to the next tune. The similarities with the rhythm action games (Elite Beat Agents is still a special place) that I've enjoyed are easy to see. Maybe it's the way I play music, or the way I play videogames. In both there's a lot of repetition, co-ordination and finger memory. It's just a series of challenges to be mastered. And the skills needed to master either are not very obviously transferable to any other aspect of life.
And what about reading? Where does that get you in all honesty? Sure you might find yourself challenged or informed, but how many people actually go and do anything significant as a result. It's often just a self-gratifying and isolating pursuit that leaves you feeling intellectually stimulated but otherwise unchanged. And the world needs more than intellectual stimulation doesn't it?
This moment of clarity has left me feeling uneasy. I feel like I've just kicked the greater part of my life into the oblivion of meaninglessness. Is this what it feels like to have a mid-life crisis? And is it all because I've started playing pointless games on the DS?
So I returned to Rhythm Paradise, paradoxically spurred on by my realisation that it was probably no less worthwhile than anything else I was doing with my time. And it's been quite good fun really. The main game consists of 50 different rhythm challenges, all variations on a theme yet all sufficiently different to stop the game from becoming dull. There are a few extra games to unlock and underwhelming prizes for attaining perfection on the different levels. It's actually not all that hard with a bit of practice but enough of a challenge to keep me interested. And it's quite possible to pick it up for five minutes to play a game or two at the end of the evening.
Genuine human connection has the capacity to transform the mundane into something of beauty.
My eight year old Jon has played it a bit, with varied success. He's discovered how to skip levels you can't do (in his case, most of them) and then yesterday morning came the moment that has sealed the game as something for me to treasure. I was showing off to Jon that the previous night I had won a prize of being able to listen to some teen-pop song without playing the game. No big deal but for the fact that he joined in, word perfect, with a silly grin on his face doing a little dance around the kitchen. And it put a smile on my face.
For me it was a timely reminder that genuine human connection has the capacity to transform the mundane into something of beauty. The best moments we've had on the DS are the conversations, the compared notes and the shared laughs. And now the singing and dancing. Maybe there is hope for videogames in my home. And maybe if Jon would learn Let It Be he could transform my piano playing as well.
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