virtual silence

a review of Virtual Silence
a videogame developed by virtanen games
for windows xp
downloadable with this link
text by Eden Bradfield

4 stars

Bottom line: Virtual Silence is “perversely clinical.”

Virtual Silence is essentially sex on wheels, with Kurt Cobain playing the role of the driver and Steven Hawking spitting into the fuel tank at an exhaustive pace, but Steven Hawking is only “one man!” and he cannot spit that much. Nevertheless, it’s still sex on wheels. Apart from it’s grunge, not punk.

It’s what would happen if Moby designed a game and Moby wore plaid instead of the white minimalist Helmut Lang designed spacesuits that he probably wears.

I want this game to be a white spacesuit of a game. But it’s too lo-fi for that. It’s like a teenage minimalist — no, a 20-year-old minimalist who’s broke. He’s trying like hell to be minimalist, with all those white surfaces and an Apple computer and simple-but-elegant clothes. In reality though, he can’t afford the elegance of white minimalism- and attempts to make do with an old beige bomb of a PC and plaid shirts because the ones he wants are too expensive, and an old couch that has coffee stains (and who knows what else) on it. And his room has flower wallpaper from the 70s, and he’s too cheap to even afford paint from the Indian man down the road whose wife left him and it was her who wanted to walls of their house painted white.

When you open the game up you’ve got the black screen and very simple colours. It’s all very simple. There’s a bit of pixelation here and there. That’s where the mood of this game is established — it’s the opening key. Plaid minor.

Bob Dylan once said “my music is mathematical music”. Of course Bob was just playing with the possibly drunk/stoned/bad-smelling reporters that were positively stuffed into those anonymous rooms that are always, always black, white, and stuffy. And grainy.

Bob Dylan music is not mathematical; but Virtual Silence is a very mathematical game — in the sense that everything is perfectly calculated and the design is perfectly laid out, to an almost nauseating extent.

You go here, then here, then here. And it’s all predetermined by the designer, of course. In most games you don’t really notice it- you’re too busy jumping or punching or uh, making your people go to the toilet. You’re too distracted to notice that your path is basically set out, by some greater god. Here the wall between the designer and myself is so thin that he could be in the next room. At times the veil’s almost lifted, but not all the way. The wall between the designer and myself is paper thin, but it’s still there.

At times this annoyed me. I guess, as a player, I expect to be distracted with clever little devices and bells and whistles. Actually, it scares me. Everything about the game is revealed to me.

I don’t mean that it’s almost nauseating in a bad way — we “game critics” are always looking for “the perfect gameplay,” whatever the hell “gameplay” means; we’re always looking for the perfectly laid-out game.

Pikmin is perfectly laid out. “The Velvet Underground and Nico” is also perfectly laid out. “Blonde on Blonde” is a freakin’ masterpiece. And whilst Virtual Silence is perfectly laid out, the mechanics perfectly extrapolated and exploited, it is not a Freakin’ Masterpiece. It does not want to be. If it was it wouldn’t be Virtual Silence. It’s like if you made Tom Waits’ voice — very Coffee and Cigs and Vodka — into that of the voice of a “beautiful” choirboy.

I mean, if you look at it from a very pure “game” sense, that is, Metal Gear Solid without the cut-scenes, well, it becomes too repetitive. To actually describe the mechanics would possibly ruin the game. It’s one of those things where half the genius is to discover it yourself.

I mean, the whole game sort of feels like a white painkilling pill — something that has the slightest taste and comes out of a sealed bit of foil and plastic. There’s no feeling in the game. It’s a virtuoso pianist who can play all the notes — every single one — at a breakneck speed. But what I get is not an absence of feeling, as such. It’s more a black hole in the fabric of Video Games and Culture as a Whole.

I can see that something’s there, but I’m not sure how it makes me feel. It’s a curious mixture of interest and white corridors. Very local anaesthetic.

But here’s a storyline, and here’s presentation. And that’s why I kept playing.

The whole thing is so perversely clinical (Look at how the story is presented. How the text comes onto screen. How the characters speak), the storyline so detached. There’s no emotional swindling involved. It’s here that Virtual Silence becomes so apathetic at times that it becomes more (post?) punk than the grunge that I ascertained it was back in the first paragraph. I can hear The Sex Pistols yelling out in the background “No Future”, “No Future” from the depths of their very lips. A cigarette hangs by, and, of course there’s booze laying on the floor. Yet some ounce of Hope exists, throughout this whole game, whatever. But is it care for the character or the sheer perversity of us, the player, which drives us on?

The main question is: Who is this character we’re playing, and why is he here? (and in the back of our minds: “glad I’m not in this situation!)

It’s not a comfortable game. It’s missing something. There’s tension throughout, and this is its strength, probably. If it wasn’t “missing” something we’d be comfortable, and then it’d just be Another Game to play and forget. It’s Andy Warhol to the Pollock-like La La Land series. Both deal with reality — a twisted but believable reality, but in Virtual Silence most traces of the hand of the creator have been removed.



Anyway, go listen to “Heroin” by the Velvet Underground, and “God Save the Queen” by The Sex Pistols. Ideally in a white coat, as we at Action Button Dot Net do as we expertly review each and every game that we play with our shiny little silver gloves. And then play Virtual Silence and reflect at its perfect robo-made (imported all the way from Germany!), and wonder where the missing piece is. ‘Cause there is a missing piece — is it the music? It’s a beautiful shebang, in any case.

–Eden Bradfield


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