If you’ve ever wondered what stands out most in games to people who don’t normally play them, I can offer a single data point. It’s the curtains! Back when Luigi’s Mansion came out, I was the person who didn’t normally play games anymore. I had dropped out at the end of the 16-Bit era, although I had dallied somewhat with a university friend’s consoles. Anyway, Luigi’s Mansion was the game that drew me back in.
Brief aside. My dad was a monk in the 60s – a silent order monk in a monastery in California. For years he did not speak, did not look out of the windows, did not engage with the world he was trying to save through prayer. He went in at the start of the 60s, and then one day, after he’d been a monk for a long while really, someone snuck in a record player and a brand new copy of Sgt. Pepper’s. It was the first popular music he had heard in the best part of a decade – the first music other than chanting and hymns he had heard. He didn’t remain a monk for very long after that.
Anyway, Luigi’s Mansion. I suppose it was my Sgt. Pepper’s, really? I had left university and I was temping. I met a lovely man named Stu who remains a very close friend to this day. He was very excited about the GameCube, this new console Nintendo was about to release, and, while we learned how to do data-entry for this huge complicated company where we were working together, he would zing me these little video clips of the games that were on the way.
Luigi’s Mansion stood out. Firstly it was Luigi, who I recognised. But it was also so busy! I had never seen a game like it. A Mario game that wasn’t about jumping, that wasn’t about Mario, even, but which had so much hectic action going on. Books flying off shelves! Ghosts whirling through the air! Spiderwebs stretching and pulling away from the wall! And those curtains!
When I left games back in the 16-bit days, they couldn’t do curtains. Curtains were a foolish dream! But suddenly here they were, billowing, bunching, being drawn towards Luigi’s vacuum. The ghosts in Luigi’s Mansion are great, sure, but those curtains were mind-blowing.
I went to Stu’s house when the game came out, and everything on screen was just a revelation. And the revelation was always in the details! The curtains! The carpets! The dust coming off chandeliers, the mice scurrying about. In the first room there’s a mirror. I didn’t know games could do mirrors! In another room, Luigi started singing along with the soundtrack! I had never seen a game this alive before, a game this aware of its own gameiness.
Frankly, I was hooked. And God knows how much later I still am. This Halloween, after my daughter’s in bed and the neighborhood ghouls have eaten all the candy and stopped ringing the doorbell, I’ll be dimming the lights and loading up Luigi’s Mansion 3. I’m ready for it – I tell myself that, anyway.