Crispy Gamer

DLC MC: Woe! Red Rings of Death!


I am lost. My head hangs heavy. My heart is torn apart. I cannot sleep. But I dream about her, so far away, thousands of miles.

I go to Halloween parties, dressing as a tattoo-headed vampire, masking any semblance of my self. The Yankees win on television, a momentary diversion. I see the orange autumn sun stipple brilliant yellow leaves. But the leaves fall and I am sad -- over my Xbox 360.

For the fourth time, she died. As she died, she blinked again and again, blood red. The disease? Red Ring of Death.

I miss her body, sure, that charcoal tone which stood proudly in my living room. And I miss her brain, her hard drive. We like the same things, you see.

But I really miss what's inside. Not the big epic games. Finishing Batman: Arkham Asylum can wait. Borderlands' post-apocalyptic nightmare will be there later.

According to various developers I've interviewed recently, not that many people ever get around to finishing a top game. If 25 percent of gamers finish a longer game, that's considered by publishers to be a pretty huge success. I fall into that category, too, with a lot of games -- maybe more, since I have so many games to look at for an audience.

I mourn for the little things, the DLC. Without downloadable content, I am a gamer traversing the bleak wilderness.

For a while, I survived, if you can call it that, by living in the past. Wasn't it good to go all Super Metroid-retro with Shadow Complex? Wasn't it great to be locked down and in the zone and hit the top-10 leaderboards in Pinball FX?

But then, I began to live again. It's due to what Will Wright calls "generative" stories. At the Game Developers Conference, at a small San Francisco club in February of 2008, Wright explained that the best stories in our culture and our history -- including the tales in the best games -- lead us to re-imagine these tales into our own narratives.

In my Xbox-less mind, Gay Tony meets Demon's Souls.

I'm not the only one.

You've done it.

You, in your own mind, embellish what you've witnessed in games. It could be merely fantasizing about Chun Li or Lara Croft. It could be plotting your next move in Demon's Souls. If I do X, will I get past Y? And then what happens?

Weirdly, it's been DLC that has stayed with me and made me dream stories. DLC doesn't die when the hardware breaks. These gameplay experiences live even when I have no controller in my hands, even when I can't see them on my 50" TV.

See, the characters I end up thinking about offline are the characters whose story I can embrace like those in a fast-paced book, a 20-hour experience as opposed to a 100-hour experience. I wouldn't be ruminating on how Marcus Fenix got his scar. That's because in Gears, I'm more concerned about moving forward in the game, via the pop-and-stop cover system, than I am about story.

But with Shadow Complex, which is exploration-based, I can think about what I have discovered in its 20-hour experience more easily. In my head, I can expound upon what's given in the story and make my own. For instance, where would I fly if I had that jetpack here on the Lower East Side?

Right now, I am thinking about the punky humanity within Rockstar's polished gem The Ballad of Gay Tony. Specifically, I'm thinking about Gay Tony himself. His role is small enough for me to muse about him in my gray matter, whereas Luis' story is so wonderfully big and in my face, I feel I know enough about him (at least right now).

So these characters become richer -- as long as the game itself started full and fat, with sprawling story or branching play that spread high and low.

Tony is like every fancy nightclub owner I've ever known mixed with the ego-filled personalities of what Tom Wolfe called the Masters of the Universe in "Bonfire of the Vanities." Big men. Big balls. Expensive crap everywhere.

Gay Tony's a total ass, but he's cool, savvy, ruthless, psychopathic. But I bet he's not always heartless. Gay Tony makes me think beyond the game.

I remember once that legendary club owner Michael Ault had this debauched Halloween party at a New York City club. Ault came from a fascinating family and once lived in the sprawling manse Robert Redford used for "The Great Gatsby." He went elephant hunting as a kid. He dated the most beautiful models I have ever seen, and always said the right thing.

On that spirit-filled Halloween night, Ault himself was a powerless zombie being led around on a chain in this mix of rich kids and poor pseudo-hipsters such as myself. The amount of creative genius spent transforming that club into a haunted place was staggering. I was happily creeped out.

Blasphemy? Imagine Kratos wearing Jeter Jordans with devil wings sticking out of them.

So in my story, Gay Tony meets Michael Ault in a turf war on Halloween.

Gay Tony controls the catacombs-dark magic of the fiends in Demon's Souls. His skeletal minions, dressed in semi-hip Armani, slash and cut at Michael Ault's minions, many of whom can hack and slash like Kratos in God of War. Except they're dressed in frilly Christian LaCroix dresses with not-that-expensive Jeter Jordans which help them move with alacrity.

Then the shoes sprout red devil wings to make them fly, which gives them the advantage over Gay Tony's monsters.

Me, I don't know where I am, but I can see the proceedings. I feel a choking clamminess.

Everything around me is black, liquid black. I feel a sense of falling from a great height. This panics me and I claw with my nails, ripping to get out of this confinement. There is flesh under my nails and then I bend bone with my fingers. I burst through the rotting flesh of one of Ault's dying, falling demons.

At my disposal, I have various undead supermodels with long, hairy "Where the Wild Things Are" tails that spew blue fire.

Gay Tony's got nothing on us. His glasses melt first. Then, his face.

Wanna hear the one about Point Lookout where I become the fog? Every drop of that musky mist transforms into an incarnation of Freki and Geri, an endless array of vicious ravenous and greedy dogs. We rip flesh wherever we tread.

Wanna hear the one about the DLC for Madden that lets me play the old Buffalo Bills with Jack Kemp? In the chilling blizzard of War Memorial Stadium, on the downtrodden east side of town, I win the championship. And it all has to do with a chicken wing from the Anchor Bar and a team comprised of pierogi-making Polish bakers. Truly.

Such is my imagination when she is away: Thankfully, they don't let me make games.

But I'll tell you one thing. The stories based on games that roll around in my head help staunch the bleeding that comes from being without the Xbox's DLC. The stories make it OK -- almost -- that my Xbox is an Exbox that has to be nursed back to health in some faraway and dusty Texas town.

Come back soon, darlin'. I miss you so much. XOXO.