“Stuntman” as wild rabbit


Recently, Hennessey has started an ad campaign encouraging us all to chase our “Wild Rabbit.” Now, excluding the comedy that usually comes from someone in the throes of a cognac drunk chasing that rabbit in real life, be it a fistfight or a profoundly uninterested woman, there’s something curious about the idea of a liquor ad encouraging us all to overcome whatever obstacles we may find. It’s weirdly positive. Patton Oswalt has a fantastic bit about how liquor advertising is mostly about how you need to buy a 24-pack of Bud Light Platinum so that your friends will want to be seen around you again. By comparison, Henny encouraging everyone to find their biggest obstacle and overcome it (and maybe develop the drunk strength to rip the door off a cop car in the process) is fairly posi.

It got me thinking about what my wild rabbit might be, my obstacle I’ve never been able to overcome. Over time I realized it wasn’t the severe social anxiety that I struggled with until about two years ago. It wasn’t any sort of long-held body image problems, or any of the other things that I’ve found troubling in life. Hell, it wasn’t even my running lack of commitment to any single social issue for any length of time, because of a mixture of low tolerance for hypocrisy and my prevalent ADHD. No, my wild rabbit is simpler, a thing that’s nagged at me for years on end now, a loose end I’ve failed to tie up.

My wild rabbit is the Playstation 2 game Stuntman.

Stuntman is a deceptive game, in that it seems ridiculously easy, but features a difficulty curve that will make you hole up in your bedroom, shirtless and wielding a shotgun as your friends and family try to coax you out. You’re a stunt driver for six different Hollywood movies, and you have to complete a series of scenes in detail, as onscreen icons appear telling you exactly what maneuvers to make. If you execute enough of them, or fewer of them and you do it perfectly, you get to move on to the next stunt. When you finish all the stunts (3-5 per film), you get a fake trailer for the movie you made. I’ve also deliberately neglected to mention the director, who tells you when each stunt is coming up, yells at you as it’s happening and has no problem chewing you out if you fuck up.

That director will make you want to dig your teeth into your hands, incapacitating your fingers so you’ll cease playing. As it is, Stuntman requires an absurd level of hand-eye coordination, but that’ll only get you so far given how counterintuitive the controls are. It takes virtually nothing to flip your car over, and if you do that, or even get a few seconds too far behind in your stunt sequence, your director will interject with a “CUT! That was toooo slooooow!” that will make you want to destroy everything he’s ever loved just to prove a point. It’s a mostly forgotten B-level title from the heyday of the PS2 that received lukewarm reception upon its release, and hasn’t really left a particular impression on gamer culture. So why do I still care?

I think it’s because I never finished it. Partly due to Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, and partly out of some delusional completist’s instinct, I have a huge issue trying to go without finishing terribly shitty things. I tried to walk out of the Hayden Christiansen franchise non-starter Jumper once, and couldn’t handle it. Eventually, the urge to not leave a loose end hanging somewhere in the cosmic ether was so strong that I had to rent it and sit through it, shaking my head at the fact that such a wildly mediocre movie could rile me so. With Stuntman, it lingers stronger because I could never beat it. Every so often, I fire it up, determined to end this godless game, and I finish maybe one more level before I rage-quit and start drinking malt liquor. And yet, for as much as I know I shouldn’t even give a shit, I can’t stop.

There’s a need in all of us, an innate drive that pushes us to not leave any ends hanging. After all, popular culture is more than happy to remind us that we’re all living on borrowed time. It’s ironic, then, that we spend such borrowed time on some of the most trivial shit in the world. I’m not saying this is a bad thing, though, or that you absolutely need to abandon ship on finishing the complete series of Shasta McNasty lest you forever feel something of a void as you lie in bed at night. I’d rather look at this as noble, as the ultimate existential sign that we’re still alive and we still care about things when we doubt them. Particularly at the age I’ve reached, in which I’ve realized a distressing deal of my peers are post-everything dicks who approach life like a really obnoxious freshman sociology major, I like being reminded that there are things to care about, stupid and trivial pop cultural tchotchkes that exert an inexplicable magnetic force upon us. Someday, I’ll finish Stuntman, and the world will keep turning. I, however, will lower my head, raise a solemn fist and pour out some of that malt liquor for one more loose end of my life being tied up.