Better Than Cheap: Mighty Jill Off

I love Mighty Jill Off. Absolutely love it.

The phrase “charming retro platformer” usually translates to “cutesy animals and rainbows with chirpy soundtrack”. In other words, mostly nauseating. It was refreshing to play a NES-style platformer that charmed the fuck out of me with nary a fluffy cloud in sight. This game is about punishment, domination and spikes. Plus, it’s called Mighty Jill Off, with a secret hard mode called Jill Off Harder, with a one-handed spin-off called, well, Jill Off With One Hand. Puerile humour and BDSM, what’s not to like?

You play Jill, who lives in a tower with the Queen. One day, after being too forward with her adulation, the Queen declares “you have to earn that!” and throws her to the bottom of the tower. Luckily for the player, Jill is a mighty jumper, and it’s up to you to guide her to the top again to prove her devotion.

When people say a game requires pixel-perfect positioning, it’s usually hyperbolic – after all, pixels are generally too small to discern – but not in Mighty Jill Off’s case. Big chunky pixels are the order of the day, and you’d best pay attention to them if you want to survive. It’s an appropriately punishing game. I found I had more success when I trusted my instincts and tried to go as fast as possible. If I hesitated, I’d usually mistime a jump, just like in real life.

Were the enemies and platforms placed haphazardly, the game might be less compelling, but the challenge is designed with care.  Several times, I found myself staring at a seemingly insurmountable obstacle, only to discover that I was more than capable of overcoming it.  It’s this kind of awareness of what the player sees, and how they proceed, that leads to a satisfying experience.

Jill is pretty adorable, so I felt sorry for her initially, but then I remembered she’s a submissive and she really digs the pain she’s going through. I’d make a terrible dominant. On the other hand, having put myself through the repeated frustration of trying to get to the top of that goddamn tower just to beat the game and get my reward of the ending scene, I think I’d make a pretty good submissive.

The game was made by Anna Anthropy, voted the 90th Hottest Queer Woman in the Galaxy by Autostraddle, which strikes me as a remarkable achievement, since I doubt many other videogame designers have made a “Top 100 Hottest” list. She’s made a whole mess of games I’m eager to try out (Encyclopedia Fuckme and the Case of the Vanishing Entree is particularly intriguing), and has written a book called Rise of the Videogame Zinesters which seems like my kind of bag. I’m hugely thankful people like her are making games, because even when it comes to something as straightforward as a retro platformer, I’ll take sadomasochism over those cutesy animals any day.

Mighty Jill Off is available as a free download for PC and Mac.

A very important train ride.

“You just hate being wrong.”

I used to hear a lot of that, and I always thought it was unfair. I don’t really care about being wrong. I never have. The correct answer existed independently of myself and whoever was accusing me of arrogance. Whether I was right or wrong, when the truth came out, someone would have learned something, or at least consolidated their knowledge. It was a win-win situation.

It wasn’t really that I hated being wrong, it was that the other person hated being proved wrong, and had to retain some kind of dignity – it was the teenage equivalent of saying “yeah, well, you’ve got a stupid face so nyeah”. I was right a lot (not all) of the time because I tend not to get into debates over objective facts if I’m not at least 95% certain I’m correct. Anything below 95% and every statement I make will be followed by “I don’t know, I could be wrong.” But if my internal computing reached that percentage of certainty, I’d get involved. I wouldn’t get worked up, because I knew I was right, and when I was inevitably proven so, I would appear as a smug asshole. Even though I’d rarely thrown a tantrum over being proved wrong, I developed a reputation as someone who “just has to be right all the time”. Luckily, we now live in a world where we can consult the internet at any time, so now I simply say “well, go ahead and Google it” and the sorry proceedings are over before they begin.

There’s a difference, however, between being wrong and being misguided.

And good lord, I have been misguided so many times throughout my life that I wonder when it will ever end. Maybe it won’t. Like I said, I wouldn’t get into arguments over facts unless I was mostly sure I was correct in the first place, but for some reason, I would throw myself fully into arguments over subjective things, things I treated as completely objective. Things like music.

On one of my websites, back from 2002 (made in Frontpage Express, sigh), I posted a diatribe about what ‘good’ music was and what ‘bad’ music was. It seemed to me that there was some immutable line between that which was good and valuable, and that which was bad and worthless. Our tastes could differ within those boundaries, but they never crossed. I think we all have the same line within ourselves, but I believed that, like the correct answer, it existed independently of our minds.

In my first couple of months at university when I was 16, I’d sometimes get the train back to Irvine with my sister. One time, we met Graeme Hunter, a friend of my brother’s, who was no stranger to lively debate. Now, I’ve watched Graeme be wrong about a lot of things, but I am forever thankful to him, because in that 35 minute train ride, he absolutely tore my world apart with an argument that went on to define the rest of my life.

“How do you know there’s good music, Ryan?” he said.
“Because some things are good, and some things are bad.”
“Yeah, but that’s just your opinion.”
“You can’t just cop out like that,” I replied. “There have been musicians around for hundreds of years who’ve studied and practiced and become masters, and they’d say today’s music was shit.”
“That’s their opinion.”
“But they’re geniuses! And they know what good music is!”
“Yeah – in their opinion. Everything is just someone’s opinion.”

Is it a recursive argument? Sure. Does it seem ridiculous now that something so simple would have such an effect on me? Absolutely. But I was completely flabbergasted. I can honestly say I have never been so lost for words before or since. I’ve come close on the few occasions that someone has presented me with an idea that had me questioning everything I’ve ever known, but no-one ever quite turned everything upside down the way Graeme did on that train ride. My sister whooped and hollered in joy, so thrilled was she to see her annoying little brother utterly trounced. She’s another one of those people who believes I can’t stand being wrong.

It took a long time and a lot more experience for this to be internalised, but once you introduce that element of doubt to a mind, it can never truly be rid of it.

Almost a decade later, while I was on /r/music tonight (I don’t remember why on earth I’d be on /r/music), I saw a comment by a user who insisted that there was a line between music and noise, that criticism could not be dismissed, and I saw myself ten years ago. I saw someone who was afraid of how arbitrary everything seemed to be, and was defending one simple truth s/he could hold on to, to set themselves apart from those who didn’t seem to take music as seriously as it deserved to. I sent this hasty reply:

I think some people want music to have some objectivity, some ‘line’ by which we can define good and bad taste, because it’s easier. It’s easier than accepting its complete subjectivity. It gives us a goal: if you want to have good taste, listen to this music and not that music.

There are no rules, and there is no right answer. People like different kinds of music because it appeals to certain aspects of their personality, which is defined simply by the experiences they’ve had in their lives. Nothing more.

You can draw your own line, but remember it remains only that: your own.

I’ve always despised those “write a letter to your younger self” exercises, because they seem like a whole load of vapid nonsense, yet more glorification of childhood as some ultimate experience we can never supplant. But tonight, I got as close as I ever could to actually doing that, and it felt kind of nice.  It reminded me of how far I’ve come, and how far I might yet go in the next ten years.

Not today.

I don’t feel so good today.

I don’t feel like anything could make me happy today.

Woah, hold on a wee minute there, buddy. You can’t just start talking shite.

I don’t feel so good today.

Don’t start thinking you can out-misery me. I’m the master of misery. I am Tristram, born in sorrow. I’m a black hole of the blues.

I don’t think I’m going to be proud of anything I do today.

I refuse to believe what I am hearing. You’re a point in time, the source of a million extrapolations. I am everything leading up to that point, one pure, single line of unhappiness. All your little failures, unremembered but still felt over the years, accumulating and bearing down on you. I could depress joyful June. I have made friends cry simply by explaining my grief, so convincing is my rhetoric. I can suck the life out of a thousand rooms.

Maybe I’ll write a song…

Bollocks. You’ll write nothing. I’m the one who writes the songs. Everyone hates your songs. They think your songs are dumb. My songs are the ones you let people hear and they go “oh, I quite like that one.” I’ll always write better songs than you, because while you were off having fun and making things happen, I was sitting at home and drowning in futility.

I hate you.

Hate me? How can you hate me? I am you.

I don’t want to be you.

Not right now. But a day will come, and I’ll be your best friend in the whole fucking world. You’ll welcome me with open arms because I’ll give you something to cling to.

What’s that?

A sense of romanticism? Misguided notions of nobility and truth? Who gives a shit. At least we’ll survive. I’ll keep us alive.

I don’t believe you. I’m not you.

Not right now. Some day, probably sooner than you’d like, you will be.

But not today.

… No.

Not today.