There are some people who categorize their gaming preferences not by genre, but by the activities they engage in while playing. Listening to podcasts, for example, or lying in the bathtub (which then categorizes the selection of platforms according to water resistance).
It is up to the amateur neurologists of another generation to find out whether this has much to do with multitasking, but to me, at least, this impulse to combine videogames with other media seems fairly obvious. I am now playing Dark Souls, this small, unknown niche game from 2011, for what feels like the twentieth time. And what can I say: things are starting to repeat themselves. That’s in the nature of every game, but before I start talking to the rats and then to myself in Undead Asylum, I’d rather listen to some voices from the off via headphones. The sound cues and score of Dark Souls have gotten into my blood anyway and are already hallucinated when I only see the corresponding images.
Maybe it’s a kind of unconscious efficiency optimization, maybe double layered escapism – or maybe it’s more like a cooking experiment. Because not every game can be combined with any audio material.
When the sound card on my first 486 IBM PC wasn’t compatible with LucasArts’ X-Wing, I learned early on that for some reason Elton John’s “Made in England” was a great way to glide through space. My father had bought the album new at the time, and since the computer would refuse any sound output, I wanted at least some other musical background. Side effect: If I hear even one chord of the record today, pixelated star clusters and green glowing crosshairs flash up in my mind. Sometimes I also imagine I am holding a joystick in my hand, which can be unpleasantly misinterpreted by outsiders.
A few years later, the nostalgic 80ies soundtrack of GTA Vice City, of all things, had to partially give way to my beloved band of the time, Mando Diao. Rockstar even offered – at least on the PC – quite easy ways to mix your personal favorite song into your in-game radio playlists. And so “Beat it” rotated with “Mr. Moon” and sarcastic radio moderations.
In my Tekken 7 phase, which ended a few years ago, the recipe then found its culinary climax to date. The unbearably aggressive dub synth pounding gave way to an audiobook by Marc-Uwe Kling, switching the primary and secondary activities of those hours. The fighting game was something for the fingers to occupy themselves with while the mind followed a sex android, a cheeky pink tablet and a broken fighting robot through their adventures.
Uniting the exclusive, blending the seemingly unblendable, may not be punk yet, but it certainly is a bit provocative. One feels straight compelled to have further discussions about art, works and artistic intention, only to have to agree in the end anyway that perception is de facto as individual as the interpretation of one’s own Rorschach test – and almost just as arbitrary. No one can say exactly what game experience I’m truly having. Which is fortunate, because it also dissolves the pretense of an optimally-intended gaming experience into thin air, and I can continue to mix ingredients together wildly. Slay The Spire and Roxette. Wine-soaked long-distance calls and Mario Kart. Metroid Dread while watching a speedrun of Hollow Knight. Fused in my mind into something more unique than just the sum of its parts.
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