Boredom Breeds Jerks.

If I’m seriously playing a game I find it hard to take the evil/jerk options if I’m given the choice. Maybe it’s because I like to think of myself as an upstanding member of society and being a total ass in games runs counter to that line but it’s probably because I like being the hero loved by everyone rather than the dark tyrant conquering the world. Still if there’s marked differences between the good and evil choices and the game is good enough to warrant a second playthrough (like Mass Effect 1 did, I haven’t done it with 2) I’ll usually go the other way just to get that experience. However I’ve found that, usually in sandbox type games, once I get bored with certain aspects of the game I have a tendency to switch into what I call Jerk Mode where I start messing with the game and its people in any way possible usually with hilarious results (for me anyway).

I hadn’t really done this in quite a while until I recently began trying to play through Red Dead Redemption. I had fully expected the game to be done in about 15 hours but after spending that long on primarily slogging through the story line missions I started to get a little bored with the world I had been in for so long. What followed was a classic example of Jerk Mode engaging as I began hog tying the entire town of Blackwater, punching up horses and eventually letting off hundreds of rounds in the middle of town just so I could find where the last free roaming citizens were hiding only to add them to my pile of hog tied comrades. Why the in game police take offense when I look at them the wrong way when holding a knife but barely give me a second look when I have a pile of 20 hostages tied up is beyond me, but it was quite comical when they’d walk past saying “Good day Mr Marsten”.

I’ve also found myself in Jerk Mode whenever I’m watching someone play a game that allows you to break things in extremely funny ways. I remember watching one of my housemates play Fallout 3 just after it was released and he remarked on how he could kill anyone in the game, even the core story NPCs. What ensued was an hour of me watching him over the shoulder and telling him to beat up everyone he came across, just because it would be funny. To his credit he never relented although what followed was me installing the game afterwards and acting out my twisted sense of humour on the poor citizens of the Fallout world, much to his dismay.

Looking back at all the games that were privvy to my jerky behaviour I come to realise how much it endeared the games to me. Once I had got to that point of boredom in any other game I would have simply stopped playing them and found something else to fill my time. With the ability to change my playstyle completely and fool around for a while I’d end up spending quite a lot more time with the games than I usually would and, most interestingly, enjoy them quite a lot more. It could be that I’m just supressing my inner jerk and these few times are the moments when he comes out to play but there’s something to be said for a game that allows the player who has lost interest in the game to immediately rekindle it, even if that means toturing the poor NPCs of the game’s virtual world.

My gut feeling about where this behaviour stems from is that open worlds with emergent properties really didn’t exist up until about 5 years or so ago and now that I have the opportunity I’m reveling in a new found freedom. As someone who’s been a gamer for as long as he was able to muster the hand eye co-ordination required to play them I lived through the days when the games were barely able to stray from the linear formula. Today however it seems odd when games don’t incorporate real world physics, meaningful choices and at least the feeling of a big wide world that you can bend to your whim. Sure there’s still great experiences to be had with strictly linear games but I’ll always have a soft spot for games that keep me hanging around for a little while after I’m done with them, unleashing my inner jerk on the world.

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  1. We often play games to do what we can’t in real life. Hence the appeal of sports games in particular, but especially anything that lets you roam in a City ala GTA IV. And yes, being a jerk in such games is a lot of fun. One of my favourites was in GTA Vice City. Standing on the roof tops and shooting out the tires of other cars. They’d squeel off and run over half the city in desparate bid to escape. Until i threw a grenade onto them 🙂

    It’s also one of the better aspects of games. For every 1 fool who finds validation via games in his already present wish to act violently against other living human beings, over 10’000 find it as a stress relief that releases pressure, anger or anti-social sentiments in a harmless virtual world. We are better people for playing games.

  2. Andrew, David, completely agree with you both on this!
    Ive got a couple of golden oldies that I used to love playing purely for the jerk factor (and also because i haven’t really played many games properly since) –
    FIFA World Cup ’98 – Not sure if current FIFA titles let you do this, but this version allowed you to swap teams in the middle of a game, so if you were losing, you’d get your mate to swap to the other side, take one of their players and consistently slide tackle their own goalkeeper whilst you scored from a long 40 yard shot!
    Postal 2 – Anyone and anything went on this game. It basically was designed for jerk players, so i guess you could almost say the point is moot. The amount of messed up stuff you could do on this game was what made it so endearing to me. I remember being in hysterics the first time i played it, laughing at the thought of you pissing on some poor citizen when they’re fire to douse the flames.
    I still consider GTA to be the granddaddy of them all though!

  3. I’d agree that GTA pioneered games that allowed my inner jerk to flourish although they were far from the first. Many of the older Bioware RPGs had dialog options that were distinctly asshole-ish but apart from that the ability to be a jerk in rather inventive ways was limited.

    I remember Postal 2 as well, that’s a game I’ve never quite got around to explaining to anyone who isn’t a gamer themselves 😉

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