I think it’s fair to say that Nerd Culture has never really suffered from a shortage of pretensions about itself. You can’t blame it though, I guess. If, like Bob “MovieBob” Chipman from The Escapist, you want to derive a legitimate criticism of US immigration laws from the film Machete, irony blinkers are going to prove invaluable headgear. However, as that great misanthropic sage of Nerd Culture Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw noted upon the emergence of the (admittedly excellent) “dark” fantasy game, “Dragon Age: Origins”, “sometimes it’s better to just drop the trousers of pretension so that everyone can understand what you’ve got swinging around down there”.
Well with the emergence of “The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim” some months ago there may be hope of that nerd detrousering yet. Skyrim, for those who haven’t played it, is basically a masculine power-fantasy romp around a mythological landscape so unapologetically Germanic it’d make Wagner swoon. Just in case you thought the production team weren’t a hundred percent committed to a lack of pretension there’s also a deliberate ignorance of anything Freud ever wrote, just to compound upon things. Once you’ve plunged your two-handed weapon in to the exposed belly of a lady barbarian, with a sword thrust that’s just a little too “crotchy” for comfort, then you can tell me that that whole experience doesn’t leave you feeling the need for a priest (dare I coin the phrase “Wagnerian hard-on”??).
Simply put, Skyrim offers just what the rhythmic male chorus in the backing track promises; total regression without the fig leaves of “artistic credibility”. It knows you’re a Neanderthal but it doesn’t judge. Well, in the hopes of contributing to what could well be a wave of pretension amnesties in the Nerd world, I feel I should point out that there’s one fig leaf that’s going to leave its owner particularly worse off once it has been blown away. And it’s hiding in plain sight amongst a cohort of Italian courtesans. Time to wrestle it from those pudgy, clammy, cheeto-stained hands.
The “Assassin’s Creed” franchise, before we begin, is a much treasured export from the nerd swamplands. I hold a lot of affection for it myself and so my moment of self-awareness whilst playing its latest manifestation was a painful one indeed. However, once a game has you cramming bits of twisted metal and the bodily fluids of various animals in to an explosive device designed to slaughter the foot soldiers of a secret conspiracy to advance the crusaders’ agenda in a middle eastern country, I would hope that current events will give you reason to pause and reflect also.
Is Ezio Auditore de Firenze really Osama Bin Laden, I guess is what I’m asking? Don’t you dare try and dodge out of this one! Secretly you always knew it. You don’t join the elite killing unit of a nebulous faction obsessed with conspiracy theories without some part of you knowing. This is a post 9/11 world after all. How about that first game hmm? You know! The one that opens with you and a pal feigning a suicide to show those dirty Europeans what it really means to love death instead of life. That not a familiar catchphrase at all?
It’d be tempting to mount a horse of considerable stature at this point and condemn Ubisoft for sneakily playing to this darkest of urges. But, if I’m honest, the whole situation just smacks of an astounding lack of self-awareness on their part. It’s actually gotten pretty funny. I’m tempted to start taking bets on how close they get to modern day Afghanistan as a setting before the penny drops and they think that maybe the level where Desmond has to go around the local schools and save young girls from Templar textbooks perhaps wasn’t given enough thought. “Ah Christ,” as they realise what they’ve done, “….Fox News is gonna have a f*cking field day with this…”
This article was first published on Toby Weighman’s blog.