It's not quite Omnislash, but it'll do.
Okay, as a disclaimer I need to say right from the outset that this post is unavoidably self- promotional, since I'm referring to things that I've done in my very own comic.
However, I kind of have to do that to write about this topic since no one else actually makes literary references to video games, which is KIND OF THE POINT.
I started writing an article in response to the perennial "When will we see the Citizen Kane of Video Games?", but it was so pedantic that I wanted to shoot myself, so the capsule summary is this: We did, it was over ten years ago, it was called Chrono Trigger, and thinking that CT is not eligible for that honor is ascribing entirely too much artistic merit to Citizen Kane. What that film represents in this dialogue is not perfection, technical or otherwise-- it couldn't have represented that the day it was released, let alone now-- but a widely acknowledged high-water mark for the medium. That's a description that applies to CT.
Do we have a problem that too many games are delivering shallow male power fantasies, or appealing to the lowest common denominator for profit? Certainly. But as far as I'm concerned, the problem is not that games never achieve greatness; it's that on the rare occasions when it does happen, it isn't acknowledged. Gamers appear to be waiting for some sort of divine game that sparkles with the crystallized prismatic quintessence of artistic merit that they can point to and say "HERE is our piece of art!
Try to deny this game that was clearly excreted by the Almighty himself, naysayers!" Except for the cast of RetroforceGo!, no one seems to want to admit that they have been strongly emotionally affected by games that already exist, and that those feelings were as real as they come.
Instead of acknowledging that our small, but distinct library of landmark games exists and that we have just as much right to deem them cultural classics as generations before us did with other media, we go for a kind of half-assed solution: "I don't know if you could call it ART or anything, but Chrono Trigger was an awesome game." Games aren't classic or artistic in our collective vocabulary, they're just "an awesome game", or "an amazing game." That's trying to have it both ways-- "yeah it was one of the greatest things I've ever experienced in any medium
, but at the end of the day it's just a game."
We don't want to get to big for our britches and claim that it's like, meaningful or important or anything.
Good games will become classic games that will be worth remembering and worth alluding to the moment we believe that they are, and no sooner.
Chocobo Zeitgeist: Final Fantasy VII
I hate the phrase "You had to be there"; it's such a cop-out. Was it good, or wasn't it? However, in the case of Final Fantasy VII, you probably did have to be there. On it's own merits, the game is confusing and repetitive. However, as the game that opened the door of gaming for a whole new generation of gamers, it was an adventure on the frontier of all that was shiny, mysterious and wonderful. Whether or not scenes like Sephiroth killing Aeris were truly that novel (yes, Phantasy Star II did it first), the important fact remains that scenes like that have become an important point of reference for gamers. Despite vastly different personalities and tastes, it's something nearly all gamers can relate to; discussions of many topics including character death, climactic plot moments, villains, emotional attachment to characters and so on will include a mention of the famous scene, seemingly inevitably.
It's not necessary to be terribly enamored of FF7 in order to appreciate this; just look at Hamlet. No one disputes that Shakespeare's Hamlet is an important event in the history of human achievement, but how many people reading this right now actually LOVE Hamlet? How many even particularly like it? The most definitive thing that you can say is that SOME people think it really is truly great, and a lot of people think that it is overrated to a debatable extent.
And yet, most people know the plot of Hamlet, many are intimately familiar with many of its scenes and even individual lines (sometimes dozens of them), and EVERYONE at least knows "To be or not to be." Why? Because it's fucking Hamlet
, that's why. The reasoning is crystal clear and confoundingly illogical. And yet, it's how we like it.
Aeka self-inserting in Hamlet; Don't bitch about the lack of backgrounds, if you were trying to do your entire major and minor in two years you would go light on the bg too. Pixels, I Allude to Thee
I singled out Chrono Trigger as the Citizen Kane of video games and not FFVII because CT is a more cohesive, fully-realized game-- almost never do you hear someone say "You know, Chrono Trigger would have really been improved by _____". FFVII is a bit of a mess, albeit an extremely memorable and ambitious one, but if you take into account the way it made people feel about gaming-- the zeitgeist of the time--it's as much of a high water mark for gaming as CT is. No one ever said that the practice of attaining cultural clout was entirely fair.
Cross-referencing Hamlet AND Final Fantasy AND breaking the fourth wall AND continuing to develop the character interaction in your own, unrelated story, is technically referred to as a "Benevolent Literary Clusterfuck."
In Chapter One of my comic, Sterling, I alluded to Hamlet, even putting in an entire scene from it. I picked the scene because it was relevant, but I was also interested in the idea of Hamlet as a cultural barometer-- you can tell a lot about a person by what they have to say about it. However, for me personally and, I suspect, for many gamers, Final Fantasy VII is just as important. It's a cultural barometer for a smaller realm-- the gaming subculture--but one that I have a lot more personal investment in than the extremely general field where Hamlet is king. I wanted to allude to FFVII in Chapter Two the same way I did to Hamlet in Chapter One in part because drawing my characters in FF-gear is fun, but mainly because I want to make FF7 more of a classic; I want people who have been affected by it as much as I have to acknowledge and celebrate that fact. In essence, by treating the game like a classic work of fiction, it IS one; there's no higher authority who can overrule me on this. Or you, for that matter.
One thing I quickly realized was that I wasn't just dealing with allusions and homage, but layers upon layers of it. The whole look is obviously based on FF7 (elements of other FFs are in there for many reasons, but the whole 'world' in the comic is FF7.) However, those who know FF7 as well as Sterling can find clues buried in dialogue, sight gags, and even the characters' stats. What do you call it when you foreshadow a future plot twist on a character's stat page via their equipped materia
? We don't have words for this kind of literary, ne gamerary allusion.
It would be inaccurate, and thus criminally irresponsible, to neglect the existence of materia that are ungodly fucking useless.
By the way, I'm aware that 'gamerary' is a horrible, pathetic excuse for a term, I'm just using it out of desperation since (watch for falling anvils!), there is nothing else.
Homage vs. Rip-Off
One small problem I've encountered with this storyline, which is still ongoing as of this writing, is that people who see the scenes out of context just think I'm "ripping off" Final Fantasy (and since the FF scenes are the only ones in color, they get read out of context a lot). As you may have surmised by reading thus far (and if you have, bless you and all of your descendants), "homage" or allusion versus "ripping off" is more a question of perspective than anything else. People make movies that are either based on, or borrow large swaths from, Shakespeare's plays and nobody bats an eyelash; it's just assumed that it's okay to use those stories as templates. In fact, a lot of what we consider to be great art includes very clever instances of "ripping off" other writers; from this perspective, Dante's Inferno is practically one giant fanfiction. While I certainly understand the need for creators to protect themselves from people stealing their work and taking credit, the fact is that many aspects of copyright law are inconsistent with the norms of human history; feeding off each other's creativity, a never-ending cultural dialogue that, despite our mortal limits, actually surpasses the barrier of time, is where all of our current "Works of Art" came from.
Just to clarify, someone who draws a completely derivative comic and calls the main character "Baruto" and tries to make money off of it is not a participant in said cultural dialogue; they're more like someone watching from the nosebleed seats. Just borrowing content is not in and of itself any good, it's HOW it's used and the intent behind using it in the first place that matters.
Of course, that means that determining who's doing it right is extraordinarily context-sensitive, which means the law sucks at dealing with it. Seriously, it does, but that's another rant I don't even want to start with since there's nothing I can do about it.
I really do love the idea of a Dark (Matter) Knight. The Dreaded "In Conclusion" Part
The amount of times a work of fiction is referenced is not, in and of itself, a reliable indicator of status or quality. Too many great books, in particular, are woefully under-represented for that to be the case. However, it is a start, and if you believe that great games deserve to be appreciated as the works of art that they truly are, treating these games with the respect and love they deserve is what you do about it. I believe that I am doing that in my comic, and while I don't think that I deserve praise for it-- I'm doing it because I want to, and because it makes my comic that much better, not to ADVANCE THE CAUSE OF GAMING-- I wanted to demonstrate one way of going about it. If playing a game has ever left you with the feeling that you'd love to do something, anything to put you back into that world, as a participant on the other side of the screen, then I think you know what I'm talking about.