The Ryan Lambie Column: Happiness is a warm console

If you want to warm up a freezing cold flat, then the answer might well lie in your games collection...

Warm games

You know that little square thing on a laptop that moves the cursor instead of a mouse? It doesn’t work if you’re wearing gloves. This is unfortunate, because a new ice age has dawned in our house. There’s something scientifically wrong with the radiators, and in an attempt to stave off the inevitable onset of hypothermia, I’ve donned every piece of clothing I can find.

As I sit typing this, huddled beneath the warmth of the laptop battery, I’m wearing a jumper, a Slipknot hoodie and a fur-lined deerstalker. My feet are immersed in hot salty water because my toes went numb sometime over the weekend and had begun to grow slightly in size every day since. Meanwhile, Sarah’s grilling sausages while wrapped in a duvet. It’s a sorry scene, like a post-millennial Withnail & I.

Thankfully, I’ve found a way of surviving all this hideousness: warm videogames. Now, even if I turned on all the consoles I own (which is a lot), I doubt I’ll be able to generate much more warmth than you’d get from lighting a couple of candles – though the racket the Xbox 360 makes suggests it would give off the heat of a jet engine – no, the kind of warmth I’m talking about is purely psychological.

I’ve therefore been driving along gorgeous beachside roads in a Ferrari in Outrun. I’ve been repeatedly playing the first level of Far Cry, with its azure seas gently breaking on golden sands. As I empty searing hot lead into dim-witted soldiers, parakeets fly serenely overhead. There are even little schools of fish in the water that swim away at the report from a hand grenade. Lovely.

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I play Super Mario Sunshine and bask in its virtual blue skies; then I realise that the game itself is like community service (washing graffiti off walls with a pressure washer? What were you thinking, Nintendo?). I play Pikmin, and lose myself among its verdant pastures.

As stupid as my ploy sounds, it works: like a UV lamp with a controller attached. Just a few minutes of Outrun – that hoary old driving game with its trees and cars wobbling into view – immediately lifts my mood. Maybe it’s the blue skies, or the catchy eighties sound track.

HP Lovecraft would have appreciated Outrun. He had a pronounced sensitivity to cold, and wrote in several voluminous letters of his need for warmth at all times; he once collapsed in the street due to a sudden change in temperature, and had to be carried to the safety of a nearby shop.

This palpable sense of coldness is all over his best work At The Mountains Of Madness, which charts the progress of a doomed expedition to Antarctica. It’s a slow-paced tale, full of gradually building dread and hints of dreadful, long-dead creatures among the snow and howling wind.

In turn, HP Lovecraft’s mark is all over the videogame adaptation of The Thing. Like John Carpenter’s movie on which it’s based, it’s set in the wastes of Antarctica, where a shapeshifting alien gradually works its way through an increasingly paranoid cast.

While not entirely successful (mostly due to niggling control issues), The Thing evoked a powerfully tense atmosphere, and it’s one of the few games that manages to create a genuine sense of place without the benefit of flashy camera angles or spectacular architecture. The Thing created a chill with little more than moody lighting and stormy sound effects.

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Not that I’ll be playing The Thing, or Lost Planet, or Pengo, or even Horace Goes Skiing, at least until this wretched ice age passes. Instead, I’m going to find some scissors and cut the fingers off these gloves so I can use my laptop’s little square thing again. The scissors are in the kitchen. I may be some time.

Ryan writes his gaming column every week at Den Of Geek. Last week’s is here.