Along with any cousins who might have been hanging out for the day, my brothers and I used to often play "Smear the Queer (or "keep-away" depending on which adults were present)" wherever we could find a nice patch of grass and a ball. There wasn't really much of a tangible goal to the game--it was just to hold onto the ball for as long as possible, or to chase and impose physical discomfort upon catching the ball carrier. That was all. The beauty of such middle school bloodsport was in its carefree simplicity. But then the Wigton boys started growing bulging muscles in places where I still only had pasty skin and bone, and suddenly the perils of broken bones and dislocated faces under the innocent and justified guise of being 'smeared' quickly outweighed the simple joy of running around and falling down. Well, that and we all went off to college, but that's beside the point. Now, as a fledgling 'adult', things just don't work that way any more. You can't play just for the sake of playing. There has to be a clear winner and loser, and respective rewards or consequences for each. You can't play sports without rules, for without rules, we just have soccer hoodlums. Animalistic lawlessness, which in the eyes of an "adult," is a scary thing. An impossibility. Or something totally awesome--just depends on which side of the tear gas you are.
Anyway, it's no secret that I love video games. Especially in social settings. But they've come a damn long way from wasting afternoons trying to shoot that idiot dog at Billy's house, and staying up all night at Mark's house pounding monsters. Now, rather than having mom drive you to said friend's house to play, we play online with thousands of other assholes, with their flappy mouths and asshole rules that systematically stamp out any real enjoyment from the social gaming experience.
But the critically panned Calling All Cars is different. A recently released "by download only" game for the Playstation 3, CaC is to social video gaming, what keepaway was to the backyard olympiad. The objective is simple: pick up the criminal and drive him to jail to score points. Other players can impede your progress by giving chase and knocking the criminal from your car into theirs via rockets, a massive hammer, a magnet, or some good old-fashioned paint-swapping. That's all. Chase each other around, scoring points and trading taunts and the hot potato criminal until the timer runs out. And it's positively brilliant in its execution. Even the most mean-spirited FPS gamers (those intelligent types who pride themselves in politically incorrect usage of the word 'faggot' while squatting over your corpse after having just shot you in the face) will crack after sitting down with CaC. You can be an asshole in CaC, but the goofy, frantic, and irreverent nature of the game keeps players from concentrating on how to belittle and humiliate their opponants, and keeps the focus instead on the five-minute fracas at hand. Finally, a video game that's about playing the goddamn game, and not about the reprobate players with just enough opposable thumbs to grip a controller. And just like keepaway, CaC is that great multiplayer "just for the sake of playing" fun, that's so hard to find these days. I love it.
Have you ever played Monopoly alone? I'd imagine it sucks ass. As it should. But throw in three friends, a case of Beast Lite, and a heavy dosage of good-natured trash talking, and even a pre-WWII real estate brokerage simulator starts looking like an afternoon in a rap video. And just like Monopoly, CaC isn't even worth taking out of its "box" for the single player. In fact, my first few solo minutes with the game were spent scolding myself on the evils of falling prey to the temptations of downloadable content. And only four levels? It's barely a game! Hell, I know a better, longer, and more challenging single player game--it's called "Opening a Goddamn Bag of Japanese Potato Chips Without Using a Hand Grenade." I honestly don't know why a Incognito Games bothered to includ a 'single player' option in a game that begs to be played over a network. With beer. In fact, they should have just locked out offline play, thus keeping the player from developing any premature opinions about the quality of this excellent game. Silly reviewers.
Yesterday and Tuesday we were raped by a high fever. So I was clearly unhappy to be moving again today, and then unhappier as Zach ingested my metric weight in little bugs during the first 1.5 miles along the river. Looks like I'll be burping and dry-heaving up "gnat" in six different flavors for the rest of the night. Little bastards.