Over-Classification and Organization in Games

It is basic human nature to seek order, reason, knowledge. We are rarely (if ever) OK with the idea of leaving the unknown unexamined; when the rain fell on our earliest ancestors for the first time they, rather than accept it was a process they didn't fully understand, attributed it to a higher being and developed a complex series of rituals and rules in order to properly appease this ‘god’. One view of the world refers to this phenomenon as ‘god of the gaps’; the idea that we fill in what we don’t understand or can't account for with faith in a higher power.

If you want to get philosophical about it, arguably the only piece of actual knowledge we have is the intrinsic understanding of the self, of our own existence, and everything else is just ‘science in the gaps’; the acceptance that we can make observations about the world around us and rely on those observations to remain true so that we can call them knowledge.

Wow. At this point I have invoked centuries-old arguments on civilization, philosophy, spirituality, and existence in an incredibly simplistic and poor manner and you're probably already preparing counter-arguments in the comments.

So what, exactly, does this have to do with Video Games?

Well, generally, there has been a lot of discussion about labeling in and around video games recently. Rogue-like-like-likes and metroidvanias. The use of the term ‘gamer’. The definition of what is and isn't a video game. My worry here is that, with our innate desire to classify, organize, and align; that basic human nature which has created gods and science and post industrial German punk reggae causes us to get sidetracked into a quagmire of genres and classification that obscures the infinitely more interesting critique running beneath the surface.

In a nutshell, when a piece of interactive audio/visual software is making the rounds on game-centric sites (i.e. Giant Bomb, Rock, Paper, Shotgun, Polygon, Gamespot, etc.) it is more valuable to debate the merits (or lack thereof) of the software, rather than argue its qualifications as a 'game'. We're all fans of this awesome medium that can encompass anything from Fire Emblem to Call of Duty to Mountain and I would rather hear why you did or didn't enjoy those titles, as opposed to why you don't think one belongs.

Ok, so maybe this doesn't make as much sense as I had hoped, but I've been thinking a lot about this lately and needed to write it down somewhere.

Thanks for sticking around.

-Dylan Bartholomew


Reanimating Belief

I have only been in one major physical altercation in my life. Sure I've wrestled around a bit, and my brother and I have traded our fair share of blows but I’m talking about a I-really-want-to-hurt-this-guy fight. Throughout school I had all the traits of a bullied kid, I was slightly overweight, had glasses, was always buried in scifi and fantasy novels, bragged about my Pokemon cards and Nintendo games; somehow I was lucky, sure I had my share of bullies over the years, but I also knew people just like me who had it significantly worse. As such, I had never discovered if I could, when push came to shove, fight back. By high school I had developed the proper social defense mechanisms, I had an agreeable personality, I kept the nerd talk to a minimum, I joined the school's lacrosse team as a goalie. Partway into my freshman year, I was sticking my practice gear in the locker room when I heard a player from the football team, another freshman, bragging about messing around with the lacrosse stuff (someone had thrown our equipment into a trash can a few days earlier); I approached him later, when we were relatively alone, angry and ready to call him out, probably hoping I would look ‘cool’ to my new teammates or something. After a heated exchange he grabbed me by the collar and pinned me to a wall, and I froze.

I had always assumed, if push came to shove, I would be pretty capable in a fight; I was under no delusions that I would go full Jason Bourne, simultaneously disarming and knocking unconscious multiple attackers, but, you know, I could go punch for punch, at least hurt them as much as they hurt me. Books, television, video games, movies, these only reinforced my belief, if Ed Norton in Fight Club could take a punch, if the kid from A Christmas Story could beat up his bully, hell, if Gordon Freeman could take on an entire alien species, I could hold my own. What I actually should have been thinking is that, in reality, a scrawny nerd who just discovered an aptitude for lacrosse probably shouldn't step to a 250+ lbs. monster who had been trained in physical violence since peewee league.

So I froze, realized I didn't know how to make a good fist, didn't know the 5 point exploding heart technique or even where you were supposed to hit someone in a fight. I decided then to, at the minimum, get my ass kicked with a little dignity and figure out a way to explain the black eye to my mom, because (and I love her very, very much) she would have gone straight to the administration of the school and taken whatever shred of pride I had left down with the kid who hit me. Knowing all this, I limply grabbed the front of his shirt in an approximation of the way he grabbed me and stared him in the eye. I waited for the blow to land and… nothing came, he just kinda stared back for a few seconds while we stretched the collars on each others shirts, let go, pushed me hard, and walked out of the room. I’d like to think that, in the moment, he also didn't know how to fight; he was no more Ivan Drago than I was Rocky Balboa. What probably happened was that he didn't want an accidental manslaughter on his permanent record so he decided to spare me, or maybe he worried hurting a weird, quiet kid would come back to bite him… anyway I got away without a scratch, though I didn't quite feel like the hero in my personal revenge of the nerds story.

an accurate depiction of our 'fight', if you replace Stallone with a scrawny, twitchy nerd

Also unlike the average school revenge narrative I didn't suddenly become king of the school, me and the bully never became friends, and I didn't even get to kiss his girlfriend in front of him as we drove off into the credits. What did happen was that we awkwardly avoided each other for the rest of the year, and he transferred over the summer to go play at bigger, better school.

So anyway, plenty of films, books, video games, etc. skip the training and preparation of their characters for entirely practical reasons; watching a spy sit through hours of lock-picking school would ruin the pace of a film, and sucking at hand to hand combat or aiming and firing your weapon is hardly conducive to the power fantasies promised by video games, but this has given rise to misconceptions about skills and abilities that take an amazing amount of time and dedication to master. We are required to suspend a certain amount of disbelief when exploring fictional stories, and while there is nothing especially wrong with that it leads to situations where we forget to ‘reanimate belief’ when looking at the real world. My solution? since my failed attempt at honorable combat I have explored all manner of skills, determined to never take my ability to act in any situation for granted; I have boxed, taken a swing dancing class, learned basic Russian, designed a board game, fired guns, made some (TERRIBLE) paintings, prepped a go-bag and read up on basic survival skills, and even had a friend in the local society for creative anachronism teach me how to wield a long sword and short bow.

Some of this might sound crazy, and overreaction to some almost-incident that happened to me in high school, but I've found that the desire to never again get caught so completely unprepared has lead me to some really amazing people and situations that I would otherwise have never encountered. My current forays include writing (of which this is a small part!) and building a game in unity.

Thanks for taking the time to read my weird thing, I hope you found it interesting

-Dylan Bartholomew A.K.A Elwoodan