I recently found myself sitting in the Frankfurt airport, twiddling my thumbs, waiting for a miniature plane to take me to Slovenia to visit my parents-in-law. My one-year teaching contract in Korea has expired, and my wife and I have a two-week break before next year’s contract kicks in, ergo the trip. I’m typing this from the comfort of my parents-in-law’s home in Ljubljana, having already been here a week, relaxing and taking in the sites, but my story takes place in the Frankfurt airport… twiddling thumbs. So I’m sitting there feeling very sorry for myself—being six-foot-seven, and all, and already having had to endure eleven hours of economy class torture—mind wandering, cold blue lights slowly sucking the life from my bones.
With no direct imperative from my mind, my hand slips into my backpack and finds my laptop; out it comes. Zip zip, open click, the hum of fans, the Windows chime. I am reminded of another mind-numbing airport wait from several months ago—one that felt like death, in my state of depression at the time—and suddenly I know what I must do: the same thing I did then: Destructivate.
Alt-Space for Launchy, and I type the title in; nothing; the launcher must be acting up. Start menu then; searching.
But the place where Destructivator should be is blank, is not there at all. I remember a hard drive formatting… of course. And suddenly I’m almost depressed again, because I realize that Destructivator is not simply the game I played last time I was numb, waiting at a gate. Rather, it is the game that I must play at every airport gate, always. Like the airport, the world of Destructivator is cold blue steel; humanity’s ability to control the elements, inverted; modernism at its peak, above its peak, below its peak; Kurtz; despair.
In Destructivator, I get to blow that world to kingdom come, with that world’s own science, using its own devices. I destroy modernism with modernism, nihilism with nihilism, the awesome and fearful airport with photons from the airport’s own cold lights.
The anonymous world of modern humanity is fast, and soul-sucking, and boring to tears, but I am faster, and deadlier, and more precise than boredom: I am Destructivator.
Really, the game is nearly perfect at what it does. Kind of like an army ant: an efficient, lean machine. Check out the graphics: pixels, yes, but more than that. They are incredibly simple, stylized… even for pixel art. Look at the colors: iconic, complimentary, almost sans-shading. The graphics, like the world and what it represents, are Mondrian: modernity, angles and squares, precision and essence. People have become part of the system: little pink men with guns, walking around like lemmings, sucking and destroying for no reason at all, because the system sucks and destroys:
Children who are born into a tired world as batteries of new energy are plugged into the system as soon as possible and gradually drained away. At the time when they become adult and conscious they are already depleted and prepared to accept a world of shadows (Jeanette Winterson, Art Objects).
When you kill the pink men there’s no blood, because their humanity has long since gone: only particles of pink remain, which soon evaporate to nothingness. The spaceships are the thing itself: the machine that we’ve created, the soul-less essence that drives us to work for nothing and no one, to achieve all the right angles and shapes because that’s what our science tells us to do. The robots and aliens are what we hope to achieve, or have already achieved: the modern human. Or is it the post human? Who knows anymore?
Now listen to the music: mechanized, robotic, repetitive… and also subversive, with its carnival theme. It is industry mixed with absurdism; it proclaims automated production, while leading you toward the only end your being will allow: destructivation. You kill because you exist, and because you hear music: Meursault from Camus’ The Stranger.
And so with scientific precision you follow through on inevitability: systematically destroying the systematic world, serving death to those who would serve it, granting nihil to the nihilistic. There is no wrath, no emotion, for you are a product of the world you destroy. Only speed, accuracy, machinery, cause and effect, rules, and their outcome. This is the implosion of modernity.
Speed is what we have always striven for: roads for horses, then combustion engines, silicon chips, the Large Hadron Collider at CERN which accelerates protons to 99.9999991% the speed of light—and so you are fast, like lightning.
Anonymity is our god, and so you are the same as everyone else. Your costume is only different in color, and color does not really exist—this is The Matrix after all. You are the Terminator who was made by humanity’s own progress… Agent Smith, or The One?
Who cares? You’ve got empty shells flying out the back of your head, which is all that matters.
Why is Destructivator a platform game? Because modern life is a platform game when given the Mondrian treatment: jump and you’ll go higher; climb the ladders of progress and you can reach the top. Reach the top, and it’s the same as the bottom. And everyone stuck in a frinkin’ room. This is not Beacon with its dark spots and expansive world of mystery, because we have already discovered everything. This is not Rez with its interweave of modern and postmodern psychedelic abstraction, because we haven’t gotten there yet (and never will). This is not Fate of Atlantis, because there is no more adventure to be had. Just frinkin’ rules that never fail. A platform game.
A hard platform game, because life is hard. Except not really. Destructivator is only as hard as you make it with your beating heart. Become the machine, repeat with precision, and the game is simply a button you press down, the same way life is. You won’t find any power-giving mushrooms here because stuff like that just feeds imagination—power doesn’t come from mushrooms, and imagination is a bad thing. Ladders, speed, inevitability… that’s what life is made of, and that’s how you will beat the game.
Destructivator isn’t an art game, or a game about art, or a game about meaning. It is the opposite. It is a game about anti-meaning and non-art. It is a game to play and grind, and never take a thing away from, because there isn’t anything to take away.
Unless you’re stuck in the airport at 2:00 A.M. with your soul slowly being sucked out of you.
Sometimes enough is enough and you have to fight back. But you can’t fight back, so you let yourself be the hand of destiny, the product of the things you can’t stand, so that you can destroy those things. Not with wrath, because you have no emotional vibration left in you, but with speed and precision. Not in real life, because that would be too dramatic, but in a game, because that’s what real life feels like.
Anna Anthropy (a.k.a. Auntie Pixelante) recently wrote a nice analysis of Star Guard, a game which bears a decent amount of similarity to Destructivator.