About midway through Gilgamesh: Ishtar’s Scorn™ — newly released for PC, Playstation® 3, and X-Box® 360 — Gilgamesh falls asleep and wakes to his sidekick, Enkidu, sprinkling a “magic circle of flour” around him.
“What the f*** is a magic circle of flour?” you ask.
It’s a good question. No one knows.
But an even better question is why the people at LitReal® Studios refuse to accept that characters like Gilgamesh and Enkidu — or Ishmael and Queequeg from their last flop, The White Whale™ — simply cannot compete with gems like Halo® 3.
Gilgamesh follows the story of the world’s oldest book. The title character is king of a place called Uruk, which was apparently somewhere in the Middle East. The first level is a long tutorial in which you get acquainted with your kingdom. Some guy who looks like a lemur comes up and explains that you can do anything here, anything. And, I admit, for a while it is kind of fun to visit Ishtar’s temple for orgies with the high priestesses. But pretty soon getting passed between women like a baton gets old and there’s nothing left to do but knock over the toothless old peasants who are always shuffling down the middle of the street or to claim first rights to a young bride on her wedding night.
But just as you get the idea that anything goes in this level — and I mean if you and that mongoloid Enkidu want to dig a big hole and set up a subterranean bloodcult, go ahead — there is a cut scene: the old people you knocked over are praying you will become a more just ruler.
Just to see what would happen, I restarted the game and intentionally didn’t abuse anyone. I strolled around talking to people and buying their handi-crap. My “payment”: a leper invited me to some kind of bocce ball tournament and a young retarded girl cornered me in Ishtar’s temple to present me with a bracelet she’d weaved from her own hair.
Level 8: The Search for Immortality begins when Enkidu gets Hantavirus or something and dies (where was his “magic circle of flour?”). Gilgamesh assumes his friend’s death is punishment from the gods because they “flayed the buttocks” of The Bull of Heaven back in Level 5. Gilgamesh feels guilty and wonders if he’ll die someday too. So what is his answer to all this? He runs off into the woods where he eats roots and wears a loincloth with a lion face for the crotch. Then one day he up and decides to find real answers and sets out to meet this immortal Iraqi named Upnapishtim (you’d have to live forever to learn how to say that name).
So you take a casual thousand-mile stroll toward the seashore in order to find the boatman to take you across to meet this guy. You finally get to the beach and of course you’re so bored that, when you spy all these giant freaks made out of rock, you can’t help but chase them around and beat them to death with their own hands. But as soon as you’ve thrown all their carcasses in the ocean the boatman comes over and fills you in on a little secret: you just killed his oarsmen, the very ones who were going to get you across the ocean.
The boatman gives you a long, drawn-out lecture about how to be just and honorable and yap-yap-yap, but, just like your parents always did, he ends up helping anyway.
If you can call this help.
Your new task is to backtrack to the woods, the same woods you just came through, where you now have to cut down thirty trees to make thirty poles of a certain length. And I mean one at a time. With a dull stone hatchet (which is oddly reminiscent of a level from another LitReal® sh**show, Inferno™).
Eventually the two of you set sail. Things go well for about a minute. The ocean is wide. The sky is full of albatrosses (but Alka Seltzer® hasn’t been invented yet). The sea is brimming with weird stuff you can’t quite make out, which makes you lean in for a closer look only to see your own reflection distorted in the roiling shadows, which causes you to whip the controller around by its chord and crack it against the screen because, come on, using the monitor as a mirror is the most hackneyed trick in the book. But, by and by, it gets worse, and you come to a place called “The Waters of Death” where the wind completely stops and so does the boat.
Luckily, you made all those wood poles!
If you touch a drop of the water, you die. So to get across, you have to lower a pole into the water, shove off the bottom with the pole, drop said pole, and repeat until you run out of poles. But I hope you listened to the boatman’s directions about the poles back in the woods, because if one pole is one inch too short, you won’t make it across. You’ll both just sit there in the boat until you die of thirst. Or else reset the console.
If gamers weren’t habituated to constant improvements in graphic technology, some of this game’s details might be a saving grace. A less accomplished gamer might have been wowed by the roiling graphics warping your appearance in the Waters of Death. Or by the monster Humbaba’s seven-layered face. Or by the fact that, the longer Gilgamesh stays in the “Garden of the Gods,” the more physically difficult it becomes to leave. Or by the way his steps become so light that, if you aren’t paying attention, you just drift way up into the clouds, turn to a speck, and disappear.
But two seconds of actual content will always be erased from memory by three hours of floating around the ocean with your thumb up your butt.
In fact, it takes so long to finish this game and the conclusion is so pointless that I’m going to break my once solemn oath as a gaming critic and just tell you the ending:
When I met Upnapishtim, the immortal Iraqi, he said I had to stay awake for seven days to prove I was worthy of learning the secret of immortality. Great, I thought. Hit me up. Make this worth my f***ing while. But the second you sit down, you fall asleep. I mean, literally, it’s so boring that you fall asleep. And, if your experience is anything like mine, when you wake up there will be seven loaves of baked bread in a circle around you. All discombobulated, you’re like, “Who knows how to make bread around here?” That smug immortal son-of-a-b**** just shrugs his shoulders and sends you back to the first level while you’re still screaming at the TV: “No wonder we bombed Iraq! I’m serious! Where’d all this bread come from?! I hate bread!! Are you spying on me, Casey!? Linda?! Ned, Wendell, Pac Man?! Who’s out there?!! Anybody?!! Is this part of the game?!!! Show yourself!!! Tell me what this is all supposed to mean!!!!”
Back in Uruk, it was like nothing ever happened. Sure, my butt buddy Enkidu was dead, my thumbs were tired, I had a big drool stain shaped like Ishtar’s temple on the chest of my t-shirt, and the buildings seemed a little more golden, but things weren’t substantially different: the temples, the markets, the clouds, the people. Five thousand years of retelling this same old crap but, at the end of the game, there are the same number of praying old coots and slutty little priestesses. They say everything changes but apparently nothing does. Anyway, I was so sick of it that I didn’t bother to crash the huge wedding party that was taking place right outside my palace gate. The bony little bride was watching me out the corner of her one good eye, but I didn’t even stop to rape her. I just went inside, put my feet up on the hearth, and watched the fire burn.
 My ex-housemate and my ex-girlfriend’s big brother.
 My ex-girlfriend. I don’t know why she might have come back, but…maybe?
 Some guys I used to spend a lot of time with who might find it fun to torture me.
- Shane Castle is a hobby farmer, novelist, technical writer, and adjunct English professor in Helena, Montana. His story “Business Profile: The Inferno” can be read on McSweeney’s website beginning sometime in February 2010 and a short biography of the letter R, titled “R”, will appear on Fiction at Work on March 3, 2010. He is currently seeking representation for his literary adventure novel, Firestone.