Why Must I Be Derailed?

What did I expect searching the internet for “video games with train crashes”? Obviously, my screen shows me no sort of study on gaming’s favorite set piece trope. Instead, I am rubbing my face in my hands as my screen fills with a deluge of “let’s play” clickbait involving the use of physics engines to see how the rectangular rigid bodies of train cars spin and flip as they are sent to their Roller Coaster Tycoon style sandbox doom. In a way, it’s fitting. In my head were ideas talking about how games were narratively catering to a desire to see things unravel, with one of the basic building blocks of our industrial world coincidentally taking the helm for some time thanks to simple to render geometry.

I could spend an ungodly amount of time researching all the commercial examples, but the greatest number of them spring to mind in the big money Hollywood shooter genre. The people at Valve sure seem to love their fucking trains. Taking time to think about how train props littering the landscape of Call of Chernobyl even got there in the first place sends me into fits of laughter. The opening staging area of Overwatch’s Stage 66 (which also makes nods to Area 51 souvenir shops through an ongoing parody of gaudy science fiction films such as They Came From Beyond Space) feels like an overt wink and nudge from a level designer teasing the audience with a “Yeah? You get it? Don’t you get the reference?” Call of Duty just can’t get enough of derailed trains and now I’m starting to worry about how safe it might be to travel by rail near Activision-Blizzard HQ.

Oh, trains! I love how effortlessly you transport my tiny flesh prison through the works of the greatest diorama artist we could ever know, that green astral bastard called “nature”. And despite my smallness in your iron perspective, your own smallness in the scale of a floating-point number relegates you to the game design bin of diversion. And how disrespectful this all is to the form of shooter games in the first place, since even when granting the player the most Liberty to move these games are still nothing more than a digital version of those shitty dark rides at carnivals, delivering the audience from one thing to another without stopping to keep them from getting bored.

And like the irritating noise and movement of a poor train line, riding a not derailed train in these games is just seen as a necessary irritant. So, I guess we must move along, so here is a train we can use to show you that you are moving along! Half Life did it! How it must feel to be the iron girl on the side when your man keeps promising you he’ll divorce his wife the grim reaper but he never does that does he.