I love spam poetry. I horde it and treasure it and dream of one day releasing it as a short anthology and making my fortune, as so many poets do. I got some very fine stuff through the other week, from Haley, who thought I might need some herbal penis enlargement pills and hoped these words might sway me to buy them from her:
Expand tog fab rococo,
Bawd parley meat palpal.
Dense murray glum racer!
Suet doomed horn crunch.
Coop detour confab.
Expand cower parley.
Confab jumpy tamer.
Boon echo whorl top?
Crikey, tamer sanded yule.
Jumpy parley confab.
I didn’t order, despite her best efforts. If only she’d sent me something more like this, I might have acquiesced:
Angry mailman, great dane, mustang.
Robotic persona. I’m Spartacus!
Get away from me.
Used police car,
sports buffs, million eyes.
Maul, give, bump
nitrous oxide, testosterone.
Hollow, sluggish, maggot.
Mannish ukulele demon.
That, though, isn’t spam. It’s level 2 of Typing Of The Dead. And Typing Of The Dead, put simply, is a light-gun game where you type words rather than firing bullets. It’s absurd, of course, and your first instinct is that someone at Smilebit simply raided an English dictionary at random. To ace a ten-zombie challenge, you’ll need to nail the following: abstinence, acrophobia, air kissing, airsick bag, apostrophe, back up!, backbiting, beefy hands, bionic boy, bobbed hair. Random, right?
But soon enough, you’re not fighting with spam, you’re fighting with fleeting little haikus. Arch little combos. Is it really fluke that the game follows ‘Hate the bitch!’ with ‘Which hole?’ Or ‘mixed bathing’ with ‘neurotic mother?’ And then tiny, fragile stories start to appear. Some sad – ‘Paediatrician. Overworked. Disappear.’ Some happy – ‘Lisping. It’s love. Chill out.’ Some down-right disturbing. ‘Limp-wristed. Mr Pervert. Tell your wives. Beat to a pulp.’ A core delight of the game is never quite being sure who’s got the dirty mind – you or it.
It’s little surprise, then, that I love it so much. It’s absurd, it’s funny, it’s got words I actually had to look up in it. It has dirty jokes and knowing little winks to camera. I’d love it without any of those, though. I love it because it’s typing.
Typing games are brilliant. I was endlessly suckered into Typeracer when it launched, and still sneak back now and again to flex my 100wpm muscles. I was thrilled to bits when Preloaded wanted to fit a taunt-typing challenge into the otherwise historically accurate 1066, one of the prettier projects I’ve had a chance to help out on of late. Typing games make me happy, because they let me do something I love, something that’s currently endangered, something I think we’ve taken for granted for far too long.
They let me press buttons with my fingers.
The last few years have been a flurry of touchscreens and cameras and accelerometers. All of a sudden, I can play games by tapping tissue boxes and pulling faces. This is good. This is progress. There should be all kinds of different games, all kinds of difference input systems. But this is proliferation, not evolution. These motion based inputs aren’t better than pressing buttons. At best, they’re an addition, at worst – whisper it – they’re a poor relation.
No squeals of indignation, please! Don’t burn me at the stake. I’m just saying, quietly, that I’m not so sure that motion controlled games are really all that good. I’m not really seeing any evidence that people like playing them. They like buying them alright, no question there. But actually playing them? For every Flight Control fan there are a hundred Flower players cursing the PS3′s Sixaxis. For every Wii Sports there are a hundred almost-any-other-non-Nintendo-made-Wii-games-picked-at-random.
Pressing buttons, on the other hand, is always fun. Indeed, it’s more than fun, it’s downright narcotic. For a start, the feedback is great. I make a magnificent clatter when I play Typing Of The Dead. I feel like sparks are flying from my fingertips. Much better than flailing around in mid-air.
More importantly, perhaps, I get to use my hands, and hands are magic. As far as I know, nothing else in the human body has them beat for complexity and sensitivity. They can do ten things at once at a hundred miles and hour, and using them at their fullest capacity – whether stretched over a QWERTY or curled round a Controller S – is an object lesson in your own brilliance. Far more satisfying than using them as the big, dumb paddles most Wii or EyeToy games ask them to be.
Touching hardware matters. Having your hands on the keys matters. Smilebit knew that. It’s why they made Typing Of The Dead. It’s not a game that teaches you how to type. It’s a game that teaches you how awesome you are. And it’s why they gave the main characters their magnificent DreamCast backpacks, complete with front-mounted keyboards. The whole game is a hymn to the glory of pressing buttons. So add your voice to the choir – to the demented, disjointed choir – as it sings its songs of ‘Breath. Noodle. Postwar. Patron. Tannin. Sprain. String. Wow!’ Testify to the pleasure of clicking contacts as you tell strange tales of ‘Unwanted muscle. Nasal implant. Go to Coventry’.
It’s a game so good you can play along to a video of it on YouTube (where these examples come from) if, like me, you can’t get your old copy to run on your new laptop. But one way or another, play. I can guarantee, with much more certainty than Haley ever could, that it will you bring you Hours Of Pleasure and Bigger Thrills. Or your money back.
[Margaret Robertson is the former editor of Edge magazine and now videogame consultant. One More Go is her regular Offworld column in which she explores the attractions of the games she just can't stop going back to.]
- One More Go: Samba De Amigo, or why Sega owe me £400
- One More Go: Intelligent Qube, or Murdering Steven Spielberg …
- One More Go: Passage, or why I really should know better – Offworld
- One More Go: God Hand, or why hardcore games ring my bell – Offworld
- One More Go: Wipeout, or The Single Best Games Console You Never …
- Offworld: One More Go Archives