Fueling the imagination…
I love to create… whether it be a script, short story, or even a poem. I can list off a laundry list of books, comics, RPGs, and such that have inspired me. Those are for another time, for I want to talk about a great influence on my ability to build a world, the wonderful invention called the video game.
I remember being a young lad in the early ’80s, roaming the arcades with a pocket full of quarters looking to play some games; Robotron: 2084, Joust, Ghost ‘n Goblins were some particular favorites of mine. (I could do a huge list of favorite games, but then it would be a bit of a boring read.) The one thing about most of these games from this time period is that they either had no story at all or such a bare bones one, that it’s plot could fit on a matchbook. Now before people start reaming me… but Shawn, they only had like all of a 96k of memory… I know that, that is not what I am talking about though. I never had the problem with the lack of story, because I would make one up for the game myself or build upon the minuscule story provided.
I use to sit down, imagine stories, draw (badly) comics of my favorite games; I would give elaborate back stories to these simplistic, pixelated creatures that captured my attention. One of my favorite games was Joust… I love it not only for the game play, but also for it’s bat shit insanity. The evil Bounders, Hunters, and fearsome Shadow Lords fly on vultures, looking to conquer the kingdom of floating (in some cases unstable) floating rocks. Opposing these minions of doom are two brave and fearless knights on their mighty birds of prey… the ostrich and stork?!? (Now I admit, not quite as cool as vultures, but hey, they were thinking outside of the box on this one.) Then should you slay your enemy, he shall drop a large egg, upon given enough time shall hatch into a full grown knight with a lance. Should you meander too long in your quest, a terribly drawn pterodactyl shall arrive to eat you. (Give me $200 million dollars and Johnny Depp… come on Hollywood, I’ll even let you put Michael Bay on as an executive producer.)
Now me being me, I tended to make up stories for the bad guys more often than not, they were just cooler to me, but there was was one that garnered the most attention from me: the dreaded Lava Troll. Once the bridge was burned away, if one was to fly too close to the lava, the disembodied hand of the troll would reach up, grab the bird by the legs and attempt to drag them to a fiery death. There was no story for him, but he fascinated me; he was a mysterious, murderous, elusive monster that I wanted to know more about. I had no need to be force fed his story or what he looked like beyond the hand that appeared above the lava. I let my mind fill in the blanks, made the story of how the troll came to live in the lava pits, I made him a truly horrifying monster in my imagination, one that even terrified the mighty Shadow Lords.
Needless to say I often give credit to early video games for helping foster my imagination. But as games evolved, more memory was available, and programmers weren’t so limited; I saw a change in the way I imagined the world I was playing in at that time. Before I start, let me say I do love a lot of the new games out now, I really do, there are amazing games, beautifully crafted and fully realized worlds. And there is my problem, the world is so fully realized, I don’t have to imagine a story for the characters or the places I am exploring. The story wasn’t personal anymore, my character had a name and story forced down my throat through enough excessive exposition to fill the next George R.R. Martin novel (come on George, I am waiting for The Winds of Winter). The creators tell you everything about the world and where to go, so that you do not miss a single glorious thing that they have programmed… why thank you Kardon wandering knight of the Wounded Walrus, would you like to help me? I need you to go to a rocky island in the Lagoon of Doom and pick up the Dandelion of Yellowishness that only grows there, so that I can make a soup that will prevent the Mushroom people from eating you. The coordinates are 55 degrees north by 112 degrees west… check your mini map for the big blue triangle to show you where this forgotten, forbidden island is located. If that is too hard, then follow this glowing green arrow trail to your final destination. Okay, maybe it is not that extreme, but you get the point; no exploring, no need to imagine what may await you. Plus all these prompts showing you where to go, kind of takes you out of the game and the story and don’t even get me started about cut scenes (for a while I swear ratio of cut scenes to actual game play time was about 3 to 1). But I shall not get side tracked on that issue right now, I shall save it for a different time.
I believe I have over analyzed this one a bit, and it is far from being my final say on the subject. But to summarize, I believe that video games are a great way to develop people’s imaginations, if they are allowed to create their own back story in the world the developers have created. And believe it or not, I am not talking about just the older, barely there story games of yonder years. In fact my favorite game at the moment that lets me create characters and fuel my imagination by creating back stories for them is the amazing Dark Souls. (Seriously, the game is awesome, at least when I am not tempted to throw my controller against the wall.) My thoughts on that game will be in a future blog post.
Til next time, tequila is a great substitute for apple juice.