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It is a season for kindness and goodwill towards men. Yet amongst the maddening crowds and the dazzling lights, wandering the maze-like malls adrift on a sea of humanity one can feel a sense of loneliness and longing. The reason for the season forgotten in avalanche of advertising and unchecked commercialism.
Across the globe on Christmas Day millions will celebrate, but what is the nature of their celebration? Followers of the faith the day marks proclaim that it is commemoration of an event transcending history: where the world of faith and the world of Man were united in the birth of a child. "For God so loved the world...." as the story goes.
Regardless of whatever faith one follows or not, I think there is much that day speaks to even now. On that cold December day, how could that child know of the expectations that would be lain at his feet? On that cold December day, as the sun rose and shed its light upon the sleeping child, how was he to know that the world he newly entered would demand that he justify all its history and horrors?
"Who am I?" "Why am I here?" These questions are as valid today as they were two millenia ago, and today of all days, on this cold December day, they have many earnestly seeking, if not justification, meaning.
Philosophy, politics, science and art have all addressed these questions. It speaks to the magnitude of that which the questions demand and imply that all have come up with less than satisfactory answers.
With the advent of new forms of expression, art and ideas, these age-old questions were explored anew. Video games are no different in this regard. In the realm of video games perhaps no other effort comes as close as Final Fantasy 6 does in reaching towards a form of understanding both the nature of the questions of "Who am I? Why am I here?" and speaking towards the world in which those asking such questions find themselves.
The world of Final Fantasy 6 is introduced with an ominous march across a vast frozen wasteland. Mechanized mobile weapons of war approach an isolated town. Machinery clanks and black smoke lingers in the wintry dark of night. The protagonist Terra finds herself thrust into a world of violence and darkness. Her first words are "Who am I?" as Terra wonders why she finds herself in this strange alien world.
FF6 is a story about the loss of meaning: the loss of wondrous things in an increasingly rote world where woe and misery are mass produced. Magic is relegated to myth as the world ceaselessly marches towards mundane modernity. Terra herself loses her memories, her identity. Her humanity itself is called into question upon the realization of her heritage from a race of legendary creatures, the mystical Espers. Rejected by her fellow man, labeled a demon and a monster, Terra struggles to reconcile her birthright with the person she seeks to choose to be.
Like Terra, how often have we wondered, "Why am I here? Who am I?" How often have we felt pulled between worlds, and felt like love and peace could be found in none. These questions explored in games have especially poignant meaning for many gamers, who have recently found themselves once more vilified and proclaimed to be sub-human monsters.
These accusations are nothing new; they are as old as video games themselves. They are the remnants of the slings and arrows of long-ago wars now hurled forth by crusaders seeking what they thought to be a weak and easily conquered foe. Against this legion of misery and hate arose a ragtag rebel alliance who called themselves GamerGate. The movement itself, like Terra, has no easy answers to the questions of who they are, and what they seek to be. Such is the nature of a movement that is open to all, and welcomes all unhesitantly and without reserve or prejudice in regard to identity or ideology.
Yet such transparency, that very inclusivity is what those opposed to the movement fought against to begin with: a movement based on the principle of universal humanity finds itself no stranger to the gathered forces of discord and discontent which have swarmed and plagued the world since its founding. In an almost Kakfa-esque series of events, those that have fought for the inclusion of all, for the silencing of none, have found themselves deigned the irate and irrational mob, and their foes paragons of virtue on the side of angels even as they ceaselessly unleash the most vile vitriol, wielding the levers of power of a political and societal machine fueled by envy, jealousy, and outrageous gibbering hate and loathing.
Like many gamers, Terra and her allies find their world turned upside down. Kefka, the megalomaniacal self-appointed deity of the world of Final Fantasy 6, spares no effort, no one and nothing in the mad quest to remake the world in his nihilistic self-image.
But the greatest challenge Terra and her allies face is not Kefka. Likewise, the greatest challenge faced by GamerGate and humanity is not those who would appoint themselves the arbiters of what is sacred and profane. The greatest challenge brought on by the question "Who am I? Why am I here?" is the burden of love.
On this day millions across the globe celebrate a birth, "For God so loved the world." But the greater meaning, regardless of faith or lack thereof, is to understand that the world in its abundant mysteries gives birth to an innumerable diversity of peoples, but all of whom share a unifying commandment to love and be loved, issued forth, if not by some supreme being, by the mandate and moral imperative of a common and enduring humanity.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices in truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. For some this is the time of year where such things are rediscovered; for some this cold December day may when they are discovered for the first time. For many who call themselves gamers it is that which has been their creed and their calling as they find themselves opposing the forces of misery and misanthropy.
It is not easy to find the answer to "Who am I? Why am I here?" It is not easy to love, and for so many it can seem so, so hard to believe that one can or should be loved. Their worlds no different than that of Terra after the nihilist forces of hate shattered and sundered them. This world, so often, can itself seem no different than that of Terra. An entire world orphaned and displaced.
The old longings are there. Passion bestirs humanity to claw out of the rubble, hope still pulses forth from the heavens of which Mankind ever reaches for. And on that fragile, orphaned, displaced sphere limping through a seemingly cold and uncaring cosmos which neither records nor remembers the tragedies and triumphs of the tribe known as Mankind, its inhabitants find within themselves and in each other the might to refute the great dark and numbness of nihilism: a revolution which topples Empires and the thrones of kings and self-appointed gods. They discover an unparalleled Magic. They find themselves confirmed by, and capable and deserving of, love.
I am not a participant of GamerGate. But I have observed it. I have observed strangers reach out and walk one another away from the edge. I have watched strangers discover within themselves a power heretofore they did not know they had, and have taken that strength and freely shared it with others. I have seen their foes block, ban, and blacklist them and created walled gardens, "hugboxes" where dissent is forbidden and contempt is the currency of the land while those "misogynistic monsters" demonstrate through genuine compassion what a community founded on equality and empowerment for all looks like. I have watched strangers realize they are not strangers, but participants in the human struggle.
And so, no matter who or where you are on this cold December day, realize you are not alone, for as gamers, as human beings, we are all united in the grand game of life.
Larry Carney is the author of Dreams of A Distant Planet: Chrono Trigger and the World Revolution of Video Games. A scholar of the culture and industry of gaming, he can be reached on Twitter @JazzKatCritic
Where does one gain the power to protect the things important to them? In video games one constantly gets new power ups, so that defeating entire armies or hordes of demons becomes second nature. But in the real world is right and wrong so black and white, and can even the most pathetic coward become a white knight, a champion of justice?
My childhood mentor was a ‘shroom tripping middle-aged mustachioed plumber. So maybe my parents were right to be concerned about how I would turn out. Gamers, they thought, were hooligans with nothing better to do than slither around the neon-purple haze of trashy arcades and smoke-filled bars, throwing away quarters and their lives in some inscrutable and meaningless pursuit. In some areas of society and the media, games and gamers still don’t have a much better reputation, even today. As gamers, our history and our culture is one marred and defined by controversy and challenge: when the full force of the government of the United States of America is brought against your industry and your hobby, as it was during the Senate hearings in the 90s and as games are pilloried in state capitols even today, when gamers are sneered at by professors, politicians, parents and TV pundits, one can perhaps understand why one might want to more fully explore what video games are about, and what it means to be a gamer.
They had to be right………right? After all, their accusations and their recriminations were all so lofty and seductive: staring up at the heights of those ivory towers and mountains of moral outrage from which so many proclaimed that to game and be a gamer was an unpardonable sin, one is left awed and dizzy with vertigo. But by nature we gamers are curious: we seek out secrets, we venture forth to decipher the mysterious foundations of virtual worlds. So I sought to scale that mountain. I dared to climb the ivory tower.
What I discovered was astonishing.
The view from atop such lofty heights is not one looking out unto the great vastness of the cosmos and its mysteries. Rather, one finds oneself in a small, empty room. An echo chamber. In which there are ghosts of debunked theorem and the lingering staleness of rotten ideas, jostling around for superiority and purpose and amongst that tintinnabulation one is left alone with only a mirror, at which to admire one’s ego. That is the reward and the sacred ritual found atop the mountain of moral outrage and the ivory tower.
So I left.
Adrift and unmoored from the academic anchor around which I had built my island of calm in the maddening modern world, I felt as those ancient artisans in Rome or Greece must have felt when, realizing the truth of the idols built with their own hands, gods born of mud and the hand of Man, they wondered what to do and where to go with their craft: they knew the truth of their profession, knew that if they continued in their present course they could find gainful employment at the cost of deceiving the public, that the cult-priests guarding the treasuries would open the door to riches and fame if one would only swear fealty to their lies.
The lamp of truth shining in the darkness of Platos’ cave: that is what scholarship was meant to be. What it once served as. “Lux et veritas” (In Light, Truth) the former oath of the keepers of the flame of knowledge finding itself now to be “Veni vidi vici.” Or in the modern parlance, “I Got Mine.” Intellectual mercenaries seek to hire themselves out to any and every side in culture wars and the barbarians are at the gate of gamerdom. Culturally, academically, and in the industry itself games and gamers find themselves at the edge of the Rubicon: and if some gamers are to be believed, the one who leads the charge towards chaos and total war is a modern Caesar, Anita Sarkeesian.
There is no doubt Ms. Sarkeesian is a political actor and devotee of the art of agitprop, and much of what surrounds her is a mix between a circus and kabuki theater, and much of it is due to her masterful control as ringmaster. Fundamentally, however, it’s not even if I disagree with or can disprove her thesis; everyone has a right to be wrong if they put forth the best effort to seek truth. That’s how science and scholarship works: that is how we put a man on the moon and that is how everyday people in society determine who they are and what their culture will be, to decide the policy of the homeland and of the hearth. But to not consider the possibility that one could be wrong; that is the basis for tyranny, that is enslavement to ideology or hubris or both.
I’m not saying it’s a problem that she has problems with some elements of gaming: there are many people who are gamers, all who approach gaming with their own values and beliefs, and there are many people who are video game creators, who instill in their work their own values and beliefs. This dialogue between audience and creator is something I address in my own work. But that dialogue isn’t the problem. It’s when that actual dialogue is replaced by demagoguery.
As a gamer, I’ve had to defend my hobby and culture against politicians, professors, TV pundits and parents. And what I’ve noticed is that, at least with the parents, many of their misconceptions come from the doublespeak and spin done by some of the other groups. Ultimately, all they want is something objective that explores what and who games and gamers are, but no one is willing to offer that. When I leveled up from talking about video games on the playground to considering what and who games and gamers are using the tools of my profession as a scholar, I decided that the young gamers of today could benefit from someone looking at games and gamers, much as when I was a young gamer many of my classmates could have benefited from someone objectively looking at the culture, industry, and people of gaming and letting those parents of my classmates know that hey, that NES won’t turn your kid into a mindless moron (they can instead thank the broken educational system for that).
That’s why I decided to write Dreams of A Distant Planet: Chrono Trigger and the World Revolution of Video Games (now available globally for Kindle, PC, tablets and smartphones through the Kindle Store and Kindle App). As gamers, we explore the unknown and do so without fear. That is the same approach I took towards the questions that matter the most to the gaming culture and industry and the identity of what it means to be a gamer: regardless of whether or not the princess was in another castle, no matter who would be his foe Mario would pursue her, and I could do no less in my search for the truth. Crono, Marle, Lucca and the others had a responsibility to the dreamers of their world, to do what they could to find a reply to those who would lead that which they loved to ruin.
Could I, can we do any less?
It aint over till Game Over.