Hushtag

I don’t remember why or how (probably either while sleep deprived or intoxicated, or both) but ten years ago I sometimes loaded up MSPaint and “drew” my Phantasy Star Online character, in what appears to be an attempt at the Jet Grind Radio cel-shaded style, tagging an underlined PSO on some form of… skybox… or blue wall, if you wish.

Jet_Grind_PSO

“Jet Set PSO”, in Europe and Japan.

Shortly after having stumbled on the above piece, I couldn’t help but message AJ about it. I didn’t even get to the point of telling him why I was doing so before I came to a realization. Something that, perhaps even back when this was drawn, I didn’t notice despite having depicted it so clearly.

Before I fall onto that subject, though, I’ll tell AJ (and you) why I sent him that picture: it’s crazy, don’t you find we have the same MAD SKILLS with MSPaint? I could have sworn it was you who did this!

With that taken care of, here’s the BLEEDING HEART of the subject:

Why – amid all the freedoms that are granted to us in today’s world of gaming – are we still limited to actions like parkour, stealing cars, blowing stuff up, shooting people or robbing banks? There are other things we can do in a big city with all those walls, ya know, and it’s called ART. Or, graffiti.

I know some of you will say “we can tag in Team Fortress 2 and Left4Dead! It’s called Spraying!” But you’re missing the point: while you may use a program to import a tag and then press A button to make it appear in-game, there is no gameplay element involved in the process of tagging. Well, other than maybe trying not to get killed while doing it. Still, tagging – in and of itself – hasn’t even been properly implemented in anything but the few games that featured the mechanic as a core element of the gameplay (I’m thinking the Jet Grind/Set Radio series).

jet_grind

Jet Set. Jet Grind. WHATEVER.

Nowhere can you tag. The only way to tag is, if you’re playing on PC, by ramping up the details and duration for decals to stay. If you’re on console you have to hope that the default settings will be enough and make smiley faces with bullet holes… or paint the town red with NPC innards!

I can go out of my way to do ALL SORTS OF FUN (AND/OR NASTY) THINGS in Just Cause, InFamous or Saint’s Row yet I can’t tag. Actually, cross Saint’s Row off that list since there ARE some elements involving tags (and messing up other people’s tags); it’s minimal BUT present so I should exclude them from my rant. As I was saying: I can go out of my way to do nearly anything in any game, but tagging isn’t one of them, except where it’s a game about tagging.

It seems funny because the fact is that in all these games, players now have extra content at their disposal to hunt down which – if you ask me – negatively affects the game world, as far as immersion is concerned, more than tags do on real buildings. I’m thinking here of the many little things there are to hunt and collect in games like, say, Assassin’s Creed. Though I have to admit hunting pigeons in Grand Theft Auto IV was one of the best implementations of such a feature, even if it was just a tiny bit gruesome (minus the part where we hunt seemingly radioactive glowing pigeons… but I guess they had to give those of us who won’t be buying a strategy guide a small chance).

Ah, but those cursed flags in Assassin’s Creed. I swear. God I hated them, with their bright and twitching “digital artifacts” visible from one point of the horizon to the other. It felt like they were at the top of every tall or neat-looking building in my game; there was no way you’d miss one (or twelve) from standing atop any high building anywhere. This was particularly infuriating given I had noticed early on (before noticing the ‘field of flags’) that the game offered an option to turn off all HUD elements. “Great!” I thought. “I can experience gameplay with the most perfect and awesome and pristine immersion!” I thought wrong.

Anyway. As much as I may sound like I’m ranting off on a tangent, I’m not (quite)! This brings me to a semi-related point: why would ONLY the devs get to litter their game worlds with graffiti?

I’m thinking SOME devs got it right with games like Minecraft. Just look at what you’ll find in Google Images when you type in “minecraft”!  That’s a game that is both about making graffiti with blocks, and doing everything else which doesn’t fit in that category (also with blocks). The player base that could enjoy a bit of tagging in their games is definitely present. So having the ability to draw on the environment? I don’t think we should be missing out on that fun! Get back that jittery feeling of long-lost simpler times from our youth, back when we were kids, drawing on walls with crayolas. And besides, it’s not like we can’t do things far worse than draw on the walls these days; we can destroy those walls, or even the entire building that comes with them, in many a game.

meta_art

“Look, it’s so clever, it’s using minecraft blocks to depict art made of bullet hole decals in other games” said no one ever. … and yes I made this as well.

All in all, you’d think that a character carrying a sharpie, or having tagging as a hobby, or simply being able to just BUY a sharpie to mark stuff with would be – while not as common as clothes stores in Liberty City – present somewhere in modern gaming, right?

But you’d be wrong, for today’s gaming world is a grim one: we can only tag with bullets and blood…

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