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.