Years ago I remember my ex-girlfriend, who was a violinist and everything, staring at the Sony PlayStation 2 startup menu for more than a minute and then presenting me the information that the dancing ball of light was a clock. She explained how it was never in the same position twice in a twelve-hour period. I figured she knew her stuff.
I guess a day came where I told her I didn't need her because she said I could tell her such a thing at any point and she wouldn't cry. She did cry, though I forgive her for lying. I ended up having the same thing happen to me, and then I ended up having a pretty worthless life for a couple of years. Then, after interviewing the president of a videogame company for a magazine I would never touch if it weren't for the fact that it kept arriving in my friends' mailbox and they wanted nothing to do with it, I got a job offer, and then a job. The first couple months of the job I was homeless, which wasn't so rough because of good weather. Christmas Day 2005 was the last day I spent on the street; I spent boxing day sleeping on a cardboard box on my living room floor. By the New Year I had a futon to sleep on, and a girl to sleep on it with. She moved to Egypt for reasons of "Yakuza Stuff", and I kind of liked her more the last time I saw her than I had before then, than I would starting the next day. And not two weeks later, following a bizarre event involving a Japanese social networking site called mixi (think MySpace, only perfect, simple, fast, and non-customizable), I was dating an actual Japanese swimsuit model. It seems impossible; I thought it was impossible, myself. It turned out actually happening. She apparently been using a covert blog with a cult following to write about her ongoing email contact with me, during which she'd been pretending to be a guy in Osaka who loved punk rock. The part about the punk rock was true. She sent me DVDs months into this exchange, told me the girl bouncing on beachballs and smiling in the DVDs was herself, and I told her yeah, sure. She'd said she'd be sending me a present to cheer me up because of my recent blog post, in which I'd apparently sounded depressed, according to the several hundreds of Japanese girls who this model had pasted the blog post to. (Copyright infringement!) She showed up at my door and I couldn't believe it. She really made something out of me. I'm many of you are sick by now, reading this sort of thing. I'm sorry about true things being true.
Thanks to her, I got an HDTV. See, Japanese electronics retailers have this system called a point card. You buy things, and you get points. One yen's worth of points for every ten yen you spend. It's not a bad idea at all. Or, maybe it is. If you spend 10,000 yen, you get 1,000 yen of points, though you're only going to be able to spend those points at that store. What's more confusing is that, out of respect for these monolithic retailers (Bic Camera and Yodobashi Camera), manufacturers seldom release the suggested retail price as public information. So who knows -- expensive things could just be ten percent more expensive than what they're really worth. The stores could be rooking you; or, hell -- and this is a mind-blow-dryer -- how do we really know what something is "worth", anyway?
I'm scared of metaphysics, though I know cold hard numbers when I see them. And this girl told me, a week after first sitting on my sofa and showing me these DVDs of hers, which guys put on as visual background noise -- like one of those fish-aquarium videotapes, for a person who likes pretty girls -- while they listen to anime soundtracks and post on internet forums, or practice speed metal guitar, after calling herself the lifestyle non-GAME OF THE YEAR, 2006, that she could talk any electronics salesman down to 30% points instead of 10%. This girl had boobs out to here -- she was like a Dead or Alive character, I mean it (I introduced her to Tomonobu Itagaki at a party and he cracked) -- so she put on something that showed near-illegal cleavage and stood in front of the Sony Bravia 40X-2000 that I wanted and managed to get 40% off points. When it came to the subject of paying, she flipped open her cellular phone, and I stepped over. "There you are. Is this the one you want, then?" The steel-haired old guy clapped his hands, wiped his forehead, and cackled. He'd been had, and he'd loved it.
I'd later buy my PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Wii with those points.
When the TV arrived, it had to stand on top of two plastic boxes containing magazines (comics, actually -- ones I'd translated) until the TV stand arrived. Why they couldn't ship them together, I don't know. I looked at the TV standing there, and felt kind of empty. I tried out Ridge Racer 6 with the Xbox 360 component cable purposely set to "SD". Then I shut the system down, switched it to "HD", and witnessed the difference, and the spectre of buyer's remorse exploded with the sound of a bitching power chord. I was changed. I have burned the bridge; I can never go back to a standard-definition television. Weep for me.
It was my pride and joy for the longest time. I brought friends over and they drank beers and gawked at Dead or Alive 4, a trash bag of a videogame that just looked so amazing on that large, perfect television. After everyone I know had known about the splendor of HDTV, after a rollicking night wherein I played Oblivion in my boxer shorts in the dark for a silent half an hour before shouting "More like Oblowvion!" which woke up that girl, melon-breasted and naked on my bed five feet away, I started to wonder, what, really, am I going to do with this thing?
I'd bought it because it was 1080p, and it had two HDMI ports. I'd bought it for PlayStation 3.
And oh, by the time PlayStation 3 came around there'd be chaos. Why my girlfriend had lined up with us that night until four in the morning, at which point she trotted off with her friend to go to a Chinese rock massage spa, I don't know. She'd wanted a PS3 of her own. She didn't get one. Maybe -- nah, I don't know. I got a PS3 and didn't buy any games. I got it home and plugged it in and immediately realized that the dancing ribbon of smoke within was a clock; I also realized how dead, embarrassingly incomplete the PS2 was. I'd heard from a reliable source that Ken Kutaragi had envisioned the PS2's operating system as what ended up on PS3. I also had it on good faith that the PS2 should have had a hard drive ("good faith" being "a glance at the huge, empty expansion port in the back of a PS2). Yet it went for years, and few pined over having never loved at all. We had excellent games, after all: we didn't notice or think twice about how ridiculous it was that the startup menu only had two choices on it.
And now, here's the PlayStation 3, with no games. I downloaded the "Casino Royale" trailer and frightened the hell out of all unbelievers: 1080p is real, and it is spectacular. And then I fell into something of a technological depression. Two weeks later I bought a Core 2 Duo Macbook Pro. Shortly after that, my faith in controlling computer-generated images with handheld devices was restored by Gears of War, and again, I patted myself on the back vigorously about that television.
What about that PlayStation 3, though? It sure can handle ripping CDs like a son of a bitch. And my photos? Man! It slashes through eight megapixels, I ain't even kidding.
I wish I had some games for it, though. Well, I mean, I do. I just can't stand any of them.
It was a few days after buying the PS3, hooking it up, registering an online account, and showing everyone the wonders of 1080p that I discovered, almost by accident, the insertcredit.com GAME OF THE YEAR, 2006, Toro: Mainichi Issho.
I wrote about it in a couple of places. Might as well paste the best of it here:
"This was the first time a videogame ever fed me.
One week after the launch of the PlayStation 3, I turned my console on early in the evening and checked to see what Toro -- Sony Computer Entertainment's unofficial mascot -- was up to. Toro is a cute little white cartoon cat unknown outside Japan because his games are set in an intimately detailed Japan that would perhaps be too difficult to localize. The basic gist of Toro is that he's a cartoon cat who wishes to be a real human. This is probably impossible, though since he's a videogame character, I don't know if I would count him out.
In "Toro: Mainichi Issho" -- "Together Everyday" -- for PlayStation 3, Toro moves into his very first apartment. His neighbor Kuro, a black cat, comes over to welcome him to the neighborhood, and Toro lets Kuro know that it's his dream to someday become a human. Kuro tells Toro that humans are quite fond of news programs, and that if Toro agreed to do a news program with Kuro, he'd probably get a chance to become human someday. Toro, delighted, agrees. Kuro steps out into the hall and rubs his hands together. "He won't even expect pay! All I have to do is get Sony to send both checks to MY address . . . !!" So the story is set up.
Basically, in the "game", Toro sits in his room. He rolls around on the floor. Sometimes he plays a videogame on a console that looks like a hybrid Sega Saturn / Super Famicom. The controller is somehow wireless. He has a refrigerator nicked with rust stains. His straw mat floor is rendered in painstaking 1080p HD.
You can't control the camera. Or Toro. You can only call up a menu or exit the game. Toro's animations are all poisonously cute; he will start and stop them at random; he might be rolling around the floor one second, and then the camera cuts, and he's opening the refrigerator. He never leaves the room [update, 02142007: actually, with the latest patch, he uses the toilet!], except when packages arrive. (You have a chance to win one package each day. You choose the packages from the menu. The packages are usually food. He'll eat the food and then thank you. And then go back to, perhaps, talking on the phone (in random squeaks and meows) and then drawing a picture with a crayon in a sketchbook.)
When the sun is going down outside your real life window, it's going down outside Toro's.
The music is brilliant 1950s-style pre-pop, with bells and whistles and jazzy drums.
Once (or sometimes twice) a day, the "game"'s intrepid staff upload a "news program" to the server. It appears in the menu. You can watch Toro and Kuro talk about various topics. Maybe they're talking about Ridge Racer 7, or maybe about Gundam: Target in Sight. Usually, they talk about movies. Early on, Kuro said "That 'Casino Royale' trailer is really something, eh?" Later, they started talking about sports, or the weather -- things unrelated to the Sony PlayStation 3. A few days after launch, they showed pictures of people in line for PlayStation 3. They thanked Weekly Famitsu for the photos.
Sometimes they ask trivia questions -- about literature, or movies, or current events. Get the questions right, and you'll earn an extra roulette chance to win a present for Toro. Eventually, you might be able to win him some new furniture. Like an HDTV. They might ask you, "Which character would you like to make an appearance on this show?"
Kuro might sometimes be on location live in front of some real-world photograph from somewhere in Tokyo.
At the end of each program, they ask, "How would you rate this program?" You can then choose a rating from one to three stars.
Obviously, this is marketing. It's marketing wrapped in a gorgeous package. Yet what is its motivation? American "previews" of it seemed to miss the point. Maybe they failed to recognize how hilarious the dialogue is. Kuro is constantly trying to get Toro to say perverted things, or accidentally referencing his paycheck. The experience of winning a "beer" from the prize roulette and then watching Toro drink it is priceless. This non-game is obviously designed to entertain people on a daily basis. I've personally not failed to check it every day.
Why does it work? Because the material is well-written and interesting. Because it's a marketing tool -- the game asked me what games I bought with my PlayStation 3 in the first episode, for example -- that, at the same time, has its own personality. It's a blog. The scripting software for creating installments is no doubt easy to use. You never have to choose to "download" anything -- the online experience is seamlessly integrated; the downloading of a new episode takes seconds -- no longer than a fast loading time. It doesn't even say on the screen that it's "downloading". It just is.
And the game also introduced me to something delicious. One rainy day when Kuro was "late to work," Toro decided to just "ramble" about his favorite steamed dumplings available at Japanese convenient stores. Somewhere in his "impromptu" top five, he mentioned a Philadelphia Cream Cheese steamed dumpling, available only at Family Mart. My eyebrow rose. I went outside after that, crossed the street, entered Family Mart, and bought one. It was delicious. I wouldn't have known it existed were it not for this game.
The game is a free download. The "news broadcasts" are done in text form. Who's to say, though, that this level of brilliance won't be emulated elsewhere? Who's to say that "daily content" won't become a serious criterion of games in the future? What about a "viral" "game/blog" ("glog", we could say) that uses full voice? I can see where this form of design is headed -- slowly, more and more interactivity will seep in, while standard games slowly gain blog-like comments. Such content has existed in smaller Korean online games and social networks for a few years -- never, however, have those games starred such an appealing character, and taken place in such a polished setting. Likewise, in Toro, you'll soon be able to purchase furniture for Toro's room for tiny payments of 30 or 80 yen at a time. It's adorable.
Design-wise, Toro: Together Everyday is as spotless and brilliant as Animal Crossing. The question is not "should an English version be made?" -- it is "who should write the English version?" Obviously, the Japanese content would not be merely translated -- it would be fresh, entirely new. It'd really be something."
When I count the reasons for wanting to apply for a Japanese credit card, Amazon.co.jp and the Toro goods available on the PlayStation Store are my index and middle fingers.
One month later. A female friend I'd known in college was in Japan. A white girl. On my sofa. What were the odds? This was after my girlfriend had gone AWOL on her own birthday, after finding out that she shared birthdays with another girl who had liked me unrequitedly for several years. Said the girl, "In Japan, couples are always together on their birthdays!" Something wasn't adding up. Not a month ago, a man at a rock show had walked up to her as I'm standing there with my arm around her, and asked her, straight-faced, "Do you have a cellular phone?" She said, "Yes." He said, "What kind?" She took it out. He said, "Let me see it." With the quick fingers of a short man, he sent himself an email using her phone, gave the phone back to her, gave me a "What's up?" nod with an understood "chief", and walked off. After New Years, she'd email me, asking for her birthday present -- an iPod nano -- back. It turned out it wasn't the rat-like guy who'd taken her from me, though i'm certain it was him who gave me the chlamydia. According to a friend of hers, a customer at a hostess club where she worked -- where she drinks alcohol with me and tells them their jobs are interesting while they simultaneously apologize for talking about things girls don't understand (like porno for patronizers) -- bought her a condo and a car. She had been "too ashamed" to tell me about it herself -- I knew her shame because I'd listened to her compliment herself in the dark: I turned down a pair of diamond earrings today, I turned down a diamond necklace today, I -- accepted a Chihuahua last week because the guy was a brute and I wouldn't want to leave the dog with him, though I had to give it away to my friend Eri because my apartment won't let me have dogs (I know, a chihuahua, though, I mean, thing's technically a rat). I guess someone clicked the "Buy it Now". And I was burning, deep inside my pants. Sitting there in the dark with the metal shutter down over my veranda window, a hard rain pouring outside; the day we'd went out to buy the HDTV, we'd had sex on the futon with the window open. I'm sure some homeless man had heard us. And now there I was with a girl I'd known in college, and she was telling me that maybe I hadn't paid enough attention to the big-boobed runaway. I'd told her I was buying a condo and I wanted her to live with me; I'd said, we might as well get married! My friend from college said, "That doesn't matter. She knows she's not going to be beautiful forever. She went with the first good offer she got." To which I said, "I hadn't told her I required her to be beautiful forever." My friend said, "Then you apparently misunderstood something about women." My reply was, "Or apparently women misunderstand something about themselves." My friend said, "With this attitude, of course women will run from you." She was dead wrong in my world, the world where the girl and I had understood one another. "I did not drive her away." "Then maybe she didn't love you." My reply came a minute late, and it was "Duh." My friend had laid her head on my shoulder and was staring me in the eye. I wouldn't touch her for all the right reasons.
The Flaming Lips' song "Waitin' For a Superman" played on, within my high-definition television. The screen behind the visualizer was dead black, until, by the middle of the song, an orange light began to rise from the bottom. It occurred to me three times, in one instant, that the ribbon of smoke generated by the PlayStation 3 was a clock that would never occupy the same position twice in twenty-four hours, and that if I changed the internal settings, I could make it so the sun wasn't rising.
[next: and then there was "the"]