Wednesday, 23 October 2013

I Aimed for Love at GameCity 8

Credit to Lorenzo Pilia (@lorenzopilia) for the picture.

"A first-person shooter about love." That's all I knew about Martin Hollis's new game, Aim for Love. Before travelling to GameCity, Nottingham's annual videogame festival, I'd seen a few previews and write-ups floating around. But I'd ignored them, on purpose. I wanted to go into this blind.

I've been doing that more and more recently. Since I left my job at IBTimes, and exonerated myself from ever having to write a preview again, I've been shunning pre-release hype. If someone writes an excited tweet or posts on Facebook about how X unreleased game is Y, then I'm bound to catch it. But if I see a link with the word "preview" in, then no. I want to be surprised.

It worked with Beyond, it worked with GTA V and boy did it work with Aim for Love.

Looking around Nottingham's Old Market Square, where the game was set to be exhibited, I couldn't see a game console, or a first-person shooter or a Martin Hollis anywhere. Then I looked up, at the two big flat screens plonked smack in the city centre. And there I was - paunch, stubble, hang-dog look - staring back at myself in...I want to say disbelief, but it was more like dumb confusion.

The set-up for Aim for Love, I later found out, goes like this. Two people, selected at random, sit in a tent behind the two big screens, presiding over a keyboard. They each use a set of arrow keys - up, down, right, left - to control two cameras aimed at the Old Market Square.

On their screen is a reticule in the shape of a love heart. The idea is that they talk and work together to pick out two people in the crowd who look like they might hit it off.

Once they've made their choices, they line their targets up in the love hearts and signal to Hollis, who blows a whistle and gets the GameCity volunteers to go grab the chosen twosome out from the crowd to come and replace the two that were controlling the cameras. And then the new couple starts talking to each other. And they pick out another pair of strangers. And the whole thing rolls on.

So that's how I found myself shuttered in a tent, coordinating with some bloke I'd never met over which two strangers on the CCTV looked like they might want to snog each other.

He, my partner, picked out someone almost immediately, a young woman who, in the spirit of things, waved and cheered at the camera and waited for someone to come get her. I didn't have the same luck. Most of the people I aimed at either walked off, pretended they were talking to friends and ignored me, or simply "weren't playing." There was a guy right at the back wearing a North Face jumper and carrying five shopping bags, and he looked like he could do with a cuddle. But as soon as I aimed at him he just sort of sneered and went off. I tried to track him but it got a bit creepy. I felt like Keifer Sutherland in Phonebooth.

Is that the point? Is this how nutters with guns see the world? Is Aim for Love an experiment in subjective narrator storytelling? (a-thankyou)

It reminded me of the "Meet the Pyro" trailer for Team Fortress 2, where instead of a flamethrower shooting fire, he imagines he's carrying a magical tuba that shoots rainbows. Is this how it is? When snipers pull the trigger on someone, are they actually thinking "this will make them love me!"?

Maybe. Or Maybe Aim for Love is just kind of...nice. I sincerely tried to pick out someone who looked like they'd get on with the young woman. And when I finally had him zeroed in, and he came to take my spot at the controls, I was quietly hoping that he and his new partner would talk and get on and go for a drink and then get married. Maybe they did. Maybe I just helped match up the happiest couple the world will ever know.

Or maybe they did what I did, which was slink off, sheepishly, to look at the picture my friend had taken on his iPhone of my face on the big screen. We joked for a while about the surveillance state: Maybe people would be more welcoming of the NSA's spying if every CCTV camera had a big pink love heart strapped onto it. "Big Brother Wuvs You!" the posters would say. Instead of re-education, you'd be sequestered to the Ministry of Yay for snuggles and kissies.

I think that's what Hollis is going for. I think that, as well as a fun bit of pubic spectacle, Aim for Love can, if you want it, become an amusing commentary on the nanny state, game violence and of course, romance. How much easier would dating be if a big camera just picked your partner for you? I'd give that a go. It'd be better than

Aim for Love is available to play all this week in the Old Market Square. If you want to play a first-person shooter where, instead of killing people, you potentially set them up with the love of their life, then go try it. You might just meet someone.

Oh, and to the guy I played with: I'm sorry, guy. You were very handsome and you seemed polite, and I'm sure we could have hooked up, fallen in love and eventually tied the knot. I'm imagining the summers we would have spent in our cottage in the Cotswolds; the skiing holidays; the late nights in Paris. It could have been something.

I'm just not sure my girlfriend would have approved.

1 comment:

  1. Your story really struck me. My son and I are both writers. We have pulled our talent together to create our first novel. Network Solutions He was 10 at the time we wrote the book.