Awesome Cinematic Failures
And for every single action-movie-quality rescue you perform, there will be a hundred instances of you tripping over your own grenade and apologizing to your team as your balls explode.
Fuck This Horse Anyway, by Nick Lapointe
Three years ago, I was playing Red Dead Redemption the day after it came out. I had just gotten off the homestead and I was about to start exploring the world around me. I'm trotting down a path when I see a dude getting mauled by five or six wolves. Naturally, I pull out my gun to kneecap him to make it easier on the wolves. I'm galloping toward the guy to shoot him before the wolves can finish him off, and I start aiming my six-shooter. Unfortunately, I hadn't quite gotten the hang of shooting from horseback yet, so instead of shooting the guy, I end up shooting my own horse in the back of the head. I tumble off the horse and fall over the edge of the nearby cliff, somehow losing my gun. Then the wolves chase me down ...
The Walrus in the Aerial Ballet, by Brockway
The Battlefield series is one of the most perfectly balanced gaming experiences out there. It's simple and approachable enough early on -- you might even score a kill or two in your first match and feel pretty good about yourself -- but you soon realize there's so much more going on around you, and your quaint "kill or two" is not now, nor has it ever been the point. In short, it's fun and easy to get into, but soon grows in complexity along a very logical learning curve.
And then there are the airplanes.
The planes in the Battlefield series (and, to a lesser extent, the helicopters) are like an optional calculus course at a grade school for special children. All of your previous gaming experience will tell you to nab the bitchin'est machine you can find and blow shit up with it -- and that works fine if you find a jeep, an artillery gun, or even a tank. But the second you step into a plane or chopper, you'll find you've dropped yourself in the middle of an intricate aerial ballet, only you're not a dancer: You're a brain-damaged walrus with boxing gloves taped to his feet and a crippling sense of vertigo. Unlike some players, after it became readily apparent that I flew planes about as well as I flew ice cream trucks, I stopped taking them. Either a better player on my team could use that plane to drop screeching sky death on the enemy, or I could break dance it into a river and die in a much-deserved fireball. The choice made itself.
As usual, my team was getting murder-blasted right in our lifeholes (this, uh ... this may or may not have had something to do with me spending half the game trying to jump a speedboat into a military bunker). Our base was almost overrun. A squadron of tanks had rolled in, mowing down my fellow soldiers left and right. And nobody was taking our planes up! I had to assume that my teammates, like myself, were too nervous about taking off in such valuable equipment, only to miss a bombing run and crash it into a mountain. But damn -- the enemy would use those planes if we didn't, and that would be worse than nothing! I saw my chance. The runway was clear. A squadron of my teammates was off to the left, momentarily holding the tanks at bay. My vision narrowed. My palms started sweating. The opening chords of "Eye of the Tiger" started playing in my heart. I manned up. I mounted that cockpit.
The instant my wheels left the ground, one of my own players came careening over a nearby hill in a jeep and clipped my wing -- just slightly, just enough to redirect me a fraction of an inch. The nose of the plane dipped down, caught, and pirouetted -- Do you see me, Daddy? I'm a dancer! I'm in the ballet now! -- and then slapped down on the pavement, backward, upside-down, and exploding. Right on top of my own squad.
Killing every single one of them, and myself.
I can't help but picture it from the other squadron's point of view: They're over there playing out the climax of a war movie -- all dug in against impossible odds, the unstoppable killing machines slowly coming for them. Then, a shadow comes over them. One brave young soldier looks up, just in time to see an airplane somersault butt-first onto his head.
I hope he saw my face, there in the cockpit, just before dying. I know it's impossible, but I hope my avatar waved.
No Story Is More Tragic Than Your Own
The human imagination is an incredible thing. We can listen to others spin tales and be moved by them, but nothing will ever touch the stories you tell to yourself, when given a stake and a blank slate to fill in. (Or you could just fill it in with tits and pop culture references like you did all those Mad Libs.)
Daisy, Daisy, Give Me Your Answer Do ... by Wash
A recent game of FTL I played: I tend to invest a lot of imaginary personality in blank-slate characters, because I need to go outside. I was playing with the Mantis B ship, whatever it's called, the one where you only get two startup crew members, and I managed to keep both of them (Gatsby and Daisy) alive right up to the final boss. I got very lucky with the random drops (Burst Laser III in sector one, Ithankyou), so we were basically crushing the boss into paste, teleporting aboard to disable his weapons, then creaming him repeatedly with lasers while he sat there feeling like an idiot.
Anyway, while not paying particular attention, I teleported Daisy into the last of the weapon rooms, not noticing that it had a breach. By the time I cottoned on, it was too late, and she asphyxiated before the teleporter could recharge. It sounds stupid (because it is stupid), but the disappearance of the little green sprite was actually quite upsetting. She had survived seven sectors in the cold of space and countless boardings of enemy vessels. She'd fought pirates, rebels, and those automated drone things, and come through it all, only to die alone, sealed in an airless room on an alien ship. Her reward for her determination and survival was to die a undignified, agonizing, and pointless death in a battle against an opponent we were easily beating. It felt like a game of FTL written by George R. R. Martin.
The Tragic Origin Story of Dick Squadron, by Brockway
I couldn't be guiltier of this behavior. And when XCOM gave me a randomly generated soldier named Dong, what was I to do? I wrote his biography in my head. This is the tragic story of Dong Li, the Chinese Berserker with everything to prove:
For some reason, most of my existing "A Squad" -- the high-level guys I used for the hardest missions -- were European or North American. Not white, but definitely Western. So when Dong came along, I assumed that the other members of A Squad, being soldiers in a tense situation, probably weren't going to be terribly PC about the dick connotations. They would make fun of Dong, naturally. When he got promoted, his randomly assigned call sign was the generically badass "ghost." He made it up himself, I decided, but nobody else really used it. The rest of the squad called him "Phallus," because it sounded vaguely like that go-to military nickname, "phalanx," to Dong's foreign ears. But obviously it just meant "dick." What's worse, he was a little hefty, and bald -- he even kind of looked like a human penis.
And because they teased him, Dong overcompensated. He was always first into the fight -- nobody dashed into new, unknown situations but Dong. Nobody charged the last enemy to take the risky finishing shot but Dong. Nobody used grenades while still standing in their radius. Nobody but Dong.
And impossibly, Dong survived. He should have died his first battle out, behaving so recklessly, but he stayed with me for most of the game. A special accomplishment, since I was playing on Iron Man, which means no reloading. But XCOM is a merciless bastard, and it spawned a squad of those Alien-esque monsters, the Chrysalids, right behind Dong after he had already used up his turn. It was too late. The squad tried to cover for him, but shot after shot was a miss. The aliens tore him apart, and worse: They poisoned him. Which meant that when Dong died, he came back as a zombie. The squad was shell-shocked. Some of them panicked from the trauma: They knew they had pushed him into making these kinds of decisions, and they gave him shit now and then, but they had always respected Dong's giant balls. Eventually, I took out the aliens, saving the undead Dong for last. With a heavy heart I put him down -- with a grenade. It was his favorite weapon; he would have liked that. When we got back to base, I changed all of the high-level soldiers' hairstyles to bald.
I never called them "A Squad" again. They were, now and forever, Dick Squadron.
Buy Robert's stunning, transcendental, orgasmic science fiction novel, Rx: A Tale of Electronegativity, right here. Or buy Robert's other (pretty OK) book, Everything Is Going to Kill Everybody: The Terrifyingly Real Ways the World Wants You Dead. Follow him on Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook.