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Thursday, September 06, 2007

Sidebar #3: The Legend of the Greasepole Game

A big shout-out to Rob Burke who made this all happen!

I am deliriously giddy as I relive all the fun and memories of my university experience.

The Legend of the GreasepoleSo back in University, one of my good friends Rob decided it would be a great idea to make a video game based on one our orientation rituals, the Climbing of the Greasepole. I think we were drinking. But good idea or bad idea, the idea eventually came to fruition and our Class has an actual video game built around it and containing all the friends, faces and voices that made my 4 years (ahem…5 years) there wonderful. It even has our year song (More Human Than Human by White Zombie).

Of course in the age of Facebook, as the story goes, it was only so long before someone said, “Hey Rob, so when are you going to release the game for Xbox360?” And because he is just far too bright and keen for anyone’s good, he did, and hot off the presses I’ve got myself a copy and am happily, grinningly demoing it on my laptop (is “demoing” a word? It is a conversational word, but Word doesn’t seem to like the word so maybe it isn’t a word, at least according to Word…OK, I’ll stop now. Random jolts of joy just jar me jumpy).

Greasepole 2005So what is this game about? Really hard to explain, or to explain remotely well, but basically…at the culmination of Frosh Week at Queen’s Engineering, the first years – aka Frosh, as they shall for ever known by their upper years – are summarily dumped in a muddy pit of cold water and told to climb a well-greased goalpost. Only once they retrieve the tam (Scottish headgear) well nailed to the top, will they be considered a year. If it takes all day, so be it. As the upper years say, “We’ve got plenty of beer and no where else to be.”

Greasepole 2It started back way back in the mid 50’s and has been the centrepiece of orientation ever since. Classes boast of the fastest time or laugh at the slowest (one year in the 70s had to come back a second day, the clock ticking the whole time). Eras are marked by when girls were first allowed to join in or when they switched from axle grease to lanolin due to changing environmental regulations. The pole has been stolen by rival faculties, upper years (including ours) and schools and ransomed back. It has been a lightning rod (to use the pun) for Administration criticism and rallying point of change. It is extremely important to the Society. The climbing is about teamwork and bonding and despite some heavy taunting by the upper years, everyone wants your year to succeed, eventually. Nothing like the thrill of achieving something pointless, but coveted and having your new classmates and all the upper years celebrating as one.

But to really understand it and see the whack of pictures from its many decades, you should delve into the detailed companion compendium for the game, now hosted online here. I highly recommend it as a fun and in-depth insight into who the hell these crazy purple-clad engineering students are and what damage 4 years of conditioning have done to my psyche. But then, I wrote it as a contribution to the game (I’m also one of the crowd voices, how fun is that!). I had a lot of fun digging into the archives and old papers for the history, stories and photos. It was my first attempt at writing anything public, a long-ago prelude to this blog come to think of it. It’s got some good stuff in it and some of the only archival records online (the Queen’s archives are, I hear, way behind the times and still resisting digitazation). I’m mildly embarrassed that it also contains record of some my early and feeble attempts at poetry. Poetry, I’ve learned, is not my format. I had forgotten Rob had posted it. But oh well, points for bravery I suppose. :-) Mercifully, I’ll stick to blog writing and story telling.

Game SreenshotSo the game version puts you in charge of a spectator with the task of stopping the Frosh from climbing. Like lemmings (and like real Frosh, come to think about it) the AI Frosh aren’t so bright, but they are persistent little monkeys and get better with time, building successive pyramid layers towards the top. In your arsenal, you’ve got an array of wacky and odd-seeming items mined from our dubious traditions to distract, disrupt, weaken or pick off the frosh like the happy, little targets they are. It is a game against the clock and you hold them off as long as you can and get a few laughs along the way.

The game is just plain fun and silly all its own, full of frivolous elements and inside jokes, but what really has me giddy it is how perfectly it captures and brings me back to my time there. The game simplifies life back into the things we most cherished (pizza and beer), the things we most coveted (our jackets and iron rings) and the things we most feared (physics exams), where we belonged (discipline) and our stereotyped rivalries (other faculties).

But deepest of all, it brings back the people. The characters are actual digital representations of my friends and classmates, their faces and voices bringing a stream of good memories, funny stories and questionable adventures. I had many really good times at these events and with these people. And to be reminded in full-motion glory was a treat.

I remember our day in the sound studio recording the effects, laughing at the script, “You want us to say what?” Every voice in the game pulls a name and a smile. It is like we were all back there for a moment. It’s like nearly being famous, but without the paparazzi. They say a picture is worth a thousand words and one memory. So how many words and how many memories is a whole game worth?

Once the game is out of beta, I’ll post a link to it for anyone who wants to know what this is all about (don’t download the game from the LegendWeb site as it is the original version). You may get it, you may not, but it is a fun diversion either way.

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