Way way back in the mid-noughts, my roommates and I had our first encounter with J Edgar Hoover. Context is king: we were hot-seat playing through a first-person horror game called Call of Cthulhu: The Dark Corners of the Earth. A few years before, we’d played through Eternal Darkness, loved it, especially the endgame (“Protect… UNIVERSE!”). The concept of another Lovecraftian horror game with a robust sanity system and immersive first-person perspective pushed almost all our buttons.
The game was fine, not great—the sanity system, while present, wasn’t as pervasive or hilarious a gameplay element as it had been in Eternal Darkness, where low sanity manifested as everything from hallucinations and evil laughter to skulls spouting Hamlet to, in a spur of wicked genius, the game actually convincing you that it was about to delete your save. But CoC:TDCotE, say that five times fast, holds a treasured place in our collective psychology because of J. Edgar Hoover.
You see, Hoover’s a character in CoC:TDCotE. Your principal quest-giver, actually! And he’s a jerk. One of the serious A-level jerk quest-givers in gaming. Over the course of the game he keeps you in the dark, threatens you with incarceration, subjects you to electro-shock therapy, gets his goons to beat you up, and, once he’s strong-armed you into working with him, starts sending you, alone, into whole warehouses full of Cthulhu cultists while his buddies the US Army stand outside and wait for you to give them the all clear. Seriously. What a tool.
It got so bad that we started screaming at the screen whenever Hoover showed up. “Why don’t you send in the Marines?” “Why the f*** should I help you?” “What are you even doing here?” And at no point does your character ever say these things. No, you play the silent stoic protagonist, bravely enduring governmental torment to save the world from Things Man Was Not Meant To Know.
After one particularly grievous offense, which went something like “Go wipe out that fortified cultist position with like 40 dudes and a bunch of shoggoths singlehandedly with your revolver, so I can send in this infantry regiment with their tanks to arrest everyone, and no you can’t have any extra ammo quit your whining,” well… I shot him. Right in between the eyes. Because I was frustrated, I shot him. Because the game had never showed my character act logically around this jerkwad, I shot him. To see what happened, I shot him.
And he didn’t die.
J. Edgar Hoover was immune to bullets.
If there is a Hell, I imagine one of its subcircles feels a lot like that: J. Edgar Hoover standing over your shoulder, commanding you to go forth and murder in his name or else he’ll shock your balls off again—and you have a gun, and no matter how many times you shoot him he just laughs and laughs.
Which we did, of course—Hoover the Immortal becoming a shibboleth among we few, we geeky few, we band of brothers—and ever since that day, whenever I find myself faced with a frustrating choice or situation or character in gameland, and I’m not in Skyrim, I pop a few rounds into their face without effect, and chuckle in memory of J. Edgar Hoover.
Which brings me to last night, and my first playthrough of the ending of Mass Effect 3. To make a long story short (spoiler warning if you haven’t played it already), there’s a conversation at the very end of the game with Exposition Hologram Child, who explains the world and then offers you a choice of how to resolve a particularly thorny issue. It’s a frustrating choice for a bunch of reasons that I won’t talk about right now, because that’s a whole other blog post. The fact that it’s frustrating isn’t bad—but it was getting on 1 AM, and I was feeling punchy, and, well, I had a gun. And Exposition Hologram Child was staring at me, and when I hovered the cursor on him, I saw no health bars or enemy name, no indication this was a valid target at all.
“This one’s for J. Edgar,” I thought, and shot him.
And the universe died.
Enraged at my temerity, Exposition Hologram Child killed me, destroyed all life in the galaxy, and reduced my 100 hours or so of gameplay to a time capsule thousands of years in the future, mourning my mistakes and exhorting future generations to do better.
Roll end credits.
A tip of the hat to you, sir (or dame) Bioware. You half gave me a heart attack. You might have put a health meter and enemy tag on Exposition Hologram Child as a warning, but beyond that, I cannot fault your actions. You livened up my night. You had an autosave that let me go back and actually make the choice I wanted to make, even if it did mean I had to sit through the Illusive Man cutscene again.
And you proved, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that J. Edgar Hoover is mightier than an intergalactic swarm of mecha-Cthulhus.