I remember being about 12 or 13 years old and swinging a radio around my head by its cord before smashing it against a driveway. There is something strangely sublime about watching tubes and transistors explode against concrete. In other words, I can appreciate the pleasures derived from vandalism. That is probably why I looked forward to the release of graffiti artist Marc Ecko's first video game, Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure.
Given the popularity of games featuring chaos-brining antiheroes, I figured it was about time that someone gave gamers some good reason to cut a swath of destruction over virtual landscapes. However, after playing Ecko's game, I am not convinced that Ecko or The Collective were the right folks for the job. Or, perhaps, the problem is simply in the fact that simulated worlds are fundamentally "framed" or organized ones.
The premise is antiauthoritarian to the core with the player taking on a "toy" (RE: novice) who's set to make his mark as an artist and rebel through his tagger identity, Trane. The game is set in a fictional urban landscape run by a fascistic police state. Given that tagging, like many urban cultural movements, is largely focused on publicizing identity, this highly individualized expression of establishing your "name" by spray painting it on others' personal property or over the "names" of other taggers seems an appropriate means of sticking it to a suggestively collective body politic represented through this police state.
This idea seems like one that fundamentally works. However, if only the gameplay could match the premise of individualized reclamation of the landscape instead of militating against it.
The manner in which this idea plays is both mundane and repetitious. The game consists of utilizing Trane's artistic intuition (think spider-sense) to locate areas that are prime spots for tagging -- be it with spray paint, magic markers, stickers, etc. Once you've viewed a landscape with this detection system (which conveniently X's over areas to be tagged), you have to figure out how to climb to these spots and tag them. (So the "getting up" in the title has a double meaning, referring to raising your rep as well as the climbing.)
Tagging is done in one of two ways: in Free Form mode one must vandalize a wall (or whatever object your intuition has suggested to you) a set number of times by scrawling "Trane" (in one of a few optional forms) on it, or you can use an outline as a guide. So basically the object of the game is to color in between the lines, which sounds more like child's play than rebellion.
Coloring in your tags consists of holding down a trigger and moving the analog stick up and down between the lines while trying not to spray any one area too much (which would cause drips, thus ruining your coloring page "masterpiece"). Indeed, the game doesn't even allow you to color outside the lines, as the paint appears only in prescriptive areas and colors. The end result is no more fun than watching paint dry... feel free to insert a rimshot here.
Occasionally you'll have to fight off cops and rival gangs; sadly, this, not the tagging, is the brightest spot of the game. The fighting system is fairly robust, what with loads of special moves and combos that are unlocked as you progress. Similarly, new tags and media implements are unlocked as your reputation as an artist improves; essentially, you upgrade from a box of eight Crayolas to 64.
Nevertheless, due to the lack of options and creativity required to vandalize the neighborhood, your "individual expression" always feels controlled and determined by the mechanisms of a bland and repetitious game design. What Getting Up suggests is that, perhaps, simulations really are limited in their ability to simulate the sort of sublime chaos inherent in disorderly behavior. All the game offers is a digital coloring book experience. Too bad one doesn't have the option to tear the pages up when through.
30 March 2006