How to Deal with a Sleeping Dog: Part II

longboarding

In the moments leading up to that sensation of missing games I had some epiphanies. I realized I liked action, I thrived on adrenaline, and that proprioception was a thing that I had to keep chasing. I really came into the idea that I like doing things more than anything else. All of this might also be chalked up to the fact that I was doing a lot of cross-training, powerlifting, and longboarding at the time.

I also realized that I kind of hate thinking.

Okay so I don’t hate thinking, but I hate the connotation that thinking is inherently useful or good or better than other things. It’s not. Thinking alone is useless unless you do something with your thoughts. And the more stuff I did, the more I realized that the process of doing that made me think better.

This really dug into me largely because video games on the whole aren’t about doing much. In most games consequences are transient: levels reset, enemies respawn, terrain reforms, resources are infinite. Pushed further outward, consequences are usually digital and not physical, nothing ever really comes out of the game to actually pinch your skin and leave a mark. Most of what’s significant about games is emotions that are produced, and most of what modern games writing talks about is just that.

feel thingsI’m also not a huge fan of emotions.

So when I started playing video games again, it felt different. I missed them, sure, so I was happy to be back, but at the same time things just weren’t the same. It wasn’t that the whole “heartbreak and a half” left a bad taste in my mouth that was associated with video games or that games somehow were less “fun” than they used to be, it was that somehow I couldn’t bring myself to care about anything that happened in the game.

It occurred to me much later that when I removed videogames from my life after my fiancé left me, I also removed the reason that I play them. By tearing out this activity from my life I unwittingly tore out, vein by vein, the most potent mechanism for dealing with negative emotions that I had. The restlessness I felt in those two months, the never ending desire to do things, was in fact the severed ends of those veins flailing wildly inside me, being battered about by the newly unrestrained bad feelings that were now erupting from that negative space.

wastebucketSo I tried to tie them down.

I tried to do this by playing some of my old favorites like Fallout 2 and Chrono Trigger, trying to somehow dredge up the good times I had playing those games, but got nothing. Instead I found myself playing them differently than I had before: I picked all non-combat skills in Fallout 2 and was mean to everybody. I killed Magus. I never fed my cat. I just went through the motions. I just…passed the time.

As I played, I began to entertain the idea that maybe I had outgrown video games somehow. That they just lost their luster because I had finally gotten past all the fantasies and unmet desires that I had bottled up inside. I grew up.

who caresThis feeling was only reinforced by the stream of serialized power-fantasy games like Assassin’s Creed and Call of Duty being released, in which I had no interest. Yet even Christine Love’s Analogue: A Hate Story, a game about relationships, love, choice, and loss (and robots), didn’t strike me as relatable. And in fairness, neither did Sleeping Dogs.

On paper Sleeping Dogs is basically a poorly-drawn children’s cartoon of a straw man: something of an offshoot of the True Crime series (a franchise that exploits movie tropes and racial stereotypes like H&M exploits Indonesia) and based around the really very poorly-understood (or at the very least heavily underexposed, in gaming) Hong Kong/Cantonese subculture, Sleeping Dogs could basically be written off by the average American consumer as Infernal Affairs: the Game. And since the average American consumer has no idea what the fuck Infernal Affairs even is it’s unlikely that they’d really give the game a fair shake.

Strangely enough, that on-paper-caricatured-strawman is basically Sleeping Dogs.

Sleeping Dogs is a caricature of Hong Kong/Cantonese culture. It is a ridiculously overdone reimagining of Infernal Affairs. And despite what development hell may or may not have done to it, it is basically True Crime: Hong Kong. From the way that hassled civilians will yell at you to “go die in the street!” or “Take my wife! Take my wife!” to the way Wei Shen becomes increasingly, incredibly entangled in a disturbingly “Hollywood” depiction of the Chinese gangster underworld, Sleeping Dogs is so stereotypical that it hurts. I almost laughed out loud the moment I heard Jackie Ma open his mouth.

What stopped me was the fact that Sleeping Dogs reminded me of my fiancé.

stuff i likeShe wasn’t a caricature, my fiancé, but she was very…stereotypical at times. She loved things that were cute and asian and swooned over fashion and beauty. She was a “girly girl” who also happened to be very Cantonese. She listened to lots of Jay Chou on occasion and would make me try to learn Wang Lee Hom songs. She would spontaneously break into a flawless broken-English dialect (yes, this exists) whenever she talked to her parents that was peppered with effortless mutterings of “bak chee!” and “mou menh tai”. She also really loved Infernal Affairs.

As I played through Sleeping Dogs I found myself constantly thinking, she would love this game. She would love this game because when Winston Chu threatens to “kill this motherfucker!” he sounds just like that guy from Infernal Affairs. She would love the way the karaoke bars have nothing but Air Supply and Tears for Fears playing all night long. She would love this game because it’s like going to Hong Kong. She would love this game, if only I had the chance to show it to her.

I won’t. She also had an irrational hatred of video games.

The longer I played Sleeping Dogs the more I wanted to keep playing it, that by playing I’d somehow be able to find an answer to my negative emotions. Playing the game made me think. It made me think about what I liked about her and what I couldn’t stand. The ridiculous tropes were reminders of actual conversations and the outlandish stereotypes were real quirks she had. Then it struck me: Sleeping Dogs wasn’t tongue-in-cheek caricaturism, it was bare-fact replication.

And all of a sudden everything I did in it started to matter.