Games

Creatures of Appetite: The Virtues of Covetousness in Video Games

Sping Breakers (A24 Films, 2013)

In games like Diablo, Infinity Blade, or Rogue Legacy, winning is merely a vehicle to more effective acquisition. And that makes me a little leery about myself as a gamer.

Look at all my shit!

-- Alien, Spring Breakers (A24 Films, 2013)

I often say that I prefer dogs to cats. Cats are self indulgent, self absorbed creatures. They remind me too much of people. They remind me too much of myself.

The dog, on the other hand, is a noble creature. Seemingly selfless, ever loyal, ever faithful, and capable of unconditional love.

My basset hound puppy, of course, escaped again, bolting outside (as she loves to do) to run roughshod over the neighborhood. I took a small piece of boneless chicken and a leash as my implements of entrapment. She made me chase her two blocks, but as always, she was trapped by her stomach, a creature of appetite, a creature of impulse. Once again, I was reminded of people and once again too much (unfortunately) of myself.

This summer it seems like all I have played are games like League of Legends, Infinity Blade II, and Rogue Legacy. These are games -- I think -- like Diablo, games of appetite and impulse.

The pleasure of games is often in winning. It's why we play chess with other human beings (to beat them). It's why we say about single player video games on completion, "I beat that game." The allure of Diablo, though, is something else. It is acquisition. Completing it is beside the point.

Diablo and Infinity Blade, these are games that are repetitious in the extreme. You do the same thing over and over. You run the same dungeons over and over. You "beat" these games over and over (I am paralleling "beating" with completing the main plot here). But you always want more.

As I said, it is acquisition that drives the need to play these kinds of games. You loot, you level up, you make something more of yourself through loot, through levels. It's the desire to acquire that these games count on in human beings, what the Ten Commandments refer to as "covetousness" (a term, I have to admit that as a kid I didn't really get the "sinfulness" of, as an adult, I'm afraid, that I do all too well).

Somehow getting that next cool sword or that next important stat number seems like it will make my play in the game completely complete, maybe make me completely complete. And, after all, I'm just having fun doing it. People played Diablo II for years, having killed Diablo countless times only to jack up the difficulty level and go just another round. After all, the loot will be better on a higher difficulty setting.

Now, I play League of Legends against opponents to beat them, but to be really honest about it (and as I have reported before -- see "Gotta Catch 'Em ALL: Being Programmed to Collect"), I really think that I play League of Legends not so much to win, but to collect. I collect LP (League Points) in ranked games so that I can feel good about myself (it tells me how skillful I am at such a game overall). I collect champions to collect champions. There's 113ish champions available in the game now. I have 80 or so. Just need to grind out a few more IP (Influence Points) to catch 'em all.

Why do I want them? I dunno. I just want.

League of Legends in particular is a game that I feel rather high and mighty about my own collection. See the thing is: you can just buy champions with real life money. But I haven't. I've "earned" them all. Playing games gets you IP (winning games nets you more, losing games gets you less -- see the point for me isn't to win, winning is merely a vehicle to more effective acquisition).

See, I earned my champs.

Then I think about Alien from the recent film Spring Breakers and the scene in which he shows the girls around his room -- well, actually shows the girls around his stuff.

"Look at all my shit!," he declares over and over again as he shows them gold chains and machine guns, colognes and nunchucks.

I see him standing there arms extended so that we and they, the viewers, can take in the room, take in his shit, take in himself -- what he "means" as a human being, what he has "earned," and how that represents him. And I see a fool there.

And I see myself as a gamer.

Look at all my shit.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

 
9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.


 
8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

 
7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

 
6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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