The Lion’s Toes #13: Slaves to the Grind


Slaves to the Grind

Most people don?t exercise for fun. There?s little entertainment value to be had in going for a jog or doing sit-ups. The fat and the overly health-conscious might wile away their days upon exercise bikes or treadmills, but it (usually) isn?t because they?ve nothing else to do.  They want to be fit, slim? perhaps even healthy. So they work hard towards this goal. The truly motivated among them will get there eventually.

Now let us apply this to the world of video games. Pseudo-RPGs (such as Diablo II, or any MMORPG you?d care to name) are oft in possession of what has come to be known as the ?experience treadmill? or ?level treadmill?, whereby players perform the same arduous, repetitive task over and over in order to achieve perceived greatness. Some reach their peak; others fall by the wayside.

The treadmill isn?t exclusive to the above genres, either. Even racing and fighting games ? typically the toys of those with the shortest of attention spans ? have incorporated such schematics. Gran Turismo and Soul Calibur II are the obvious examples.

So what’s the lure?

The short answer is entertainment, rooted firmly in the grounds of achievement. An enjoyable (if somewhat monotonous) activity can sustain a person for hours, maybe days ? especially if they?re working towards some desirable goal. And the addictions that inevitably arise are considerably cheaper than any drug habit. No problem there.

The long answer is a little more controversial: perhaps the players really don?t have anything better to do. Is killing an improbably-named zombie truly that much fun after the 400th time? Some will say yes. I suppose I?ve no right to tell them otherwise.

There?s no denying the popularity of these games. Blizzard?s branch into the MMORPG market could be construed as proof enough (though it should be noted that a form of treadmill has been a part of every one of Blizzard?s recent releases ? look at Diablo II, or Warcraft III?s experience-based ladder system). People are willing to put it in if it means being the best; and as it happens, it?s easier to click a mouse and tap a keyboard than it is to run laps and lift weights. Furthermore, the rewards are more readily apparent, the settings are more grandiose and intriguing, and the characters one interacts with are generally more attractive. A monthly fee and a weak, feeble body are small prices to pay.

By now you?re probably wondering whether this is going to amount to anything more than Chris Marks Lite. So I?ll move on to the meat and bones.

What intrigues me is the possibility of incorporating the treadmill in a more literal sense. Our so-called ?Western? society has grown exceedingly fat and lazy in recent years, and people who play video games are ? let?s face it ? the fattest and laziest of all. Not long ago some bright spark came up with the idea of Dance Dance Revolution, a noble-enough attempt at coercing us from our lounge rooms. Unfortunately the appeal of such entertainment is limited to ?people who are Japanese? and ?people who think they are Japanese?.

What we really need are some products that appeal more to the mainstream.  Games that combine fitness with fun without making us feel like an eight-year-old schoolgirl. And if they come paired with an embarrassingly-expensive peripheral, all the better. Let me share a few of my own ideas:

Title: The Running Man
Peripheral: Treadmill (duh)
Gameplay: Relive one of Arnold Schwarzenegger?s finest moments as you flee from a fat opera singer who shoots lightning for some reason. As with all movie-to-game translations, the latter ends up having precious little to do with the former. A more accurate summation would be ?Summer Olympics meets that one scene from Forrest Gump that everyone remembers that isn?t the one about life being like a box of chocolates?. Or, more succinctly, ?a retard running for no reason?.
Fun Fact: The player character (Ben Richards, played by Arnie in the film) is voiced by Steven Seagal, who is untalented.

Title: Paperboy 2004
Peripheral: XR-size bike (modified exercise bike, souped up to generation-Y standards. Complete with spoiler and a six-pack of Mountain Dew)
Gameplay: Pedal hard, pedal fast, and learn to really exercise that paper-throwing arm. This game is guaranteed to appeal to anyone who has allowed nostalgia to take the place of boredom in their lives.
Fun Fact: As an ironic commentary on your chosen activity, the Grim Reaper in this game is represented by an exploding left ventricle.

Title: Ultimate Punch Out
Peripheral: Nanotechnicalifragilistic Boxing Gloves
Gameplay: Work those forearms! Stretch those shoulder muscles to the limit! Float like a butterfly! Exercise the ultimate stereotypical nerd fantasy of making those nasty bullies pay for all the mean things they said, without being in the least bit realistic or proactive! Plus you get to hit things!
Fun Fact: Every time I use an exclamation mark the Society of Bad Writing gives me a penny.

Title: Pac Man Returns
Peripheral: Refrigerator
Gameplay: For when you just don?t care any more. The premise is simple: pictures of food show up on the screen. You find something that resembles said item of food, and you eat it. Repeat until dead.
Fun Fact: Pac Man hates you.

Of course the truth of the above is that it?s little more than a cynical union of two of today?s more popular marketing strategies: the Nintendo market strategy of re-releasing old games; and the currently-universal market strategy of creating stupid accessories (such as the Eye Toy, the Power Glove, that ridiculous Steel Battalion controller, and so forth).  The exercise bit (much like bullet-time) is merely a gimmick.

But that doesn?t matter. Whatever the case, and whether physical or metaphorical, the treadmill looks like it?s here to stay. So if you haven?t already, you?d better learn to love it.

Disclaimer: The Lion’s Toes was written by Leon (Robert McGrath-Kerr) and hosted by Diabloii.net. The opinions expressed in these columns are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Diii.net.

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