London may not be to everyone’s taste, but I for one love living in a city where all-night bagel bars snuggle up to bring-your-own-alcohol curry places and bring-your-own-food beer places all against the backdrop of the City. I love the history of London, I love the streets of London and I love the sheer bloody-minded diversity of the place. There’s no room, here, for the “Polish quarter” mentality of the New World – immigrants live shoulder to shoulder, hip to hip, nose to nose with previous generations of imports (every soul living in London today is an import from sunnier climes if you go back a few generations). Jews alongside Arabs, Celts alongside Romans, Muslims alongside Christians – our lives in this city are intertwined in ways too numerous to mention. They say that you are never more than 20 feet away from a rat in London. I don’t know how true that statistic is, but if it is true, then you are also never more than 20 feet away from the divine. Rats and angels in equal measure.
This month people have been trying to hurt my city. And suddenly, London appears to have noticed the danger that it has always been in. People have—almost overnight—realised that London is a target. Really, it’s no more of a target today than it was two months ago, it’s just that the ordinary people, me and you, have finally realised this and are reacting accordingly.
We are constantly eyeing each other up. Not in the normal surreptitious “would I like to have sex with you” way, but in a rather more sinister “how likely is it that you’re going to explode” kind of way. I’ve found myself doing it every morning on the tube, every coffee break in Starbucks, every evening in the pub. I hate doing it, after all, isn’t the point of a suicide bomb attack that you can’t tell who it’s going to be but I just can’t help myself. I position myself at strategically chosen points furthest away from would-be assassins, I mark where the exits are, and sit next to the pretty girls – not because they’re pretty, but because they’re less likely to try and kill me. On my way out of the tube station this morning I passed a small gaggle of policemen fussing over a semi-automatic weapon and had to stop myself from sitting down for a quiet gibber.
And into this atmosphere of fear and mutual distrust, and in one of the most unfortunate release dates in videogaming history, Hudson have unleashed a new generation of Bomberman. This time in Nintendo DS form.
I’m a militant gamer in many ways. I’ll play videogames in pubs, on the tube, at work, anywhere where there is an opportunity to play and I have a spare five minutes. I care not for the look that quite clearly says “playing videogames, at his age? Tsk”. Shop assistants assuming that the copy of Pac Pix I’ve just picked up is for my daughter is all par for the course. I do what I do, I play what I want to play, when I want to play and if anyone has a problem with that, then – well, that’s their problem.
But I don’t want people to see me playing Bomberman on the tube.
It just doesn’t feel right. All of those tactics which used to make me laugh like a drain – trapping an opponent between two bombs, setting up a chain reaction and hoping to get out of the way in time, dropping a bomb and sheltering behind a nearby brick wall, picking up a bomb and hurling it over a wall into the path of an enemy… Well, they just have too many associations with my real world now, with my fractured home. Even the (unskippable) opening animation, a fairly typical Bomberman short culminating in a comedy “BOOM”, makes me uncomfortable.
So why play it? Why do I keep plugging away at the game even though it makes me squirm every time I go near it?
When I bought the game (from under the counter, it seems I’m not the only one unsettled by this game’s release) I thought it was because I didn’t want to alter my behaviour as a result of an act of terrorism. On Wednesday 6th July, I was looking forward to the game’s release so I bloody well wasn’t going to change my mind about it on Friday the 8th of July just because a handful of nutters let off some real bombs. In my mind, it was my little two-fingered salute to the terrorists – my way of saying that I was not going to change my behaviour because of them.
But I still don’t want to be seen playing it in public.
It’s quite simple really. We like to pretend sometimes that games are just games. We will debate whether Project Gotham Racing promotes dangerous driving or if GTA encourages copycat behaviours until the cows come home. But, as much as we may like to comfort ourselves with our proper grown-up attitude to videogames, we have to accept that we don’t play them in a vacuum. Videogames are informed by the world around us. They exist alongside television and film and music and, yes, alongside the terrible things that we do to each other.
My friend Paul lives in Detroit and explained recently why he doesn’t enjoy another comedy killing game, GTA:San Andreas: “Drive by shootings are less funny when you have them happening one street over from your gaming chair.” He has a point. Bomberman just isn’t funny to me at the moment and, at least in the short term, is destined to remain a guilty pleasure. Maybe I’ll wake up one day and it will be “just a game” again but, until then, I won’t be playing Bomberman in company.
Originally published on WayOfTheRodent.com, in response to the 7/7 terror attacks