the artistry and psychology of gaming


A Lament of Innocence

A Lament of Innocence

I saw something that inspired me the other day.  The results of this inspiration were a chuckle, followed by a lament, followed by this article.  It was a poster inspired by World 1-7 from Yoshi’s Island, which bears the title, “Touch Fuzzy, Get Dizzy”.  Those who remember the stage will almost undoubtedly recall the introduction of a new enemy: the titular Fuzzy.  Many enemies in Yoshi’s Island can be devoured by the ravenous dinosaur and converted into eggs, which are your primary source of attack, and can also be used to solve puzzles.  Fuzzy, on the other hand, would warp the player’s reality if touched or eaten; Yoshi would stagger around while the screen became wavy, and the music distorted.  As a youth playing the game for the first time, I giggled a bit at the sharp transition, thinking of it as a clever obstacle to be overcome, a spore that confused my happy little dinosaur like an errant status-altering spell from an RPG, and nothing else; it was merely a fun element in a game that was meant to be just that.  This poster, however, brought quite a different perspective; perhaps you’ve seen it:

I couldn't find the real one again, so I made one.

I couldn’t find the real one again, so I made one.

A drug reference; not all that far off the mark, but is it really necessary?  We whine about how the myriad reboots across all media are ruining our childhood memories, but it looks like we’re doing the same.  The cruelty of reality has twisted us to be so cynical and snarky that everything we encounter – unless it is so deep that it provokes our intellectual side – absolutely must be made into some sort of drug reference, sex joke, or other manifestation of “adult” humor.  I’m no stranger to crude humor – I enjoy it, too – but its omnipresence and the shoehorning of it into everything is sometimes staggering.  It would be an outright lie for me to claim innocence in all of this, too; a recent replaying of Little Nemo: The Dream Master, a childhood favorite of mine, evoked a similarly disturbing twist on a very innocent scene.  Take a look at the game’s introduction and tell me that you don’t see it, too.

This kind of perversion is hardly new, and it’s hardly exclusive to video games.  For longer than I’ve been alive, the masses have insisted that the old Beatles tune, “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” is about drugs.  “You can abbreviate it as ‘LSD’, and they’re rock stars; it has to be about drugs, right?”  As it turns out, it was, like many of their songs, inspired by a silly little anecdote.  John Lennon’s son, Julian, had a little crush on his classmate: a girl by the name of Lucy.  He came home from school one day with a wild drawing of a girl, seemingly floating through the night sky.  When his father asked him what he had drawn, the response was, “Lucy in the sky with diamonds.”  Looking at the lyrics through this scope, it paints the picture of a nonsense fantasy created by a small child, who was the inspiration for the song in the first place, and yet, we have twisted it into our own story.  We wax nostalgic for things from our childhood, whether they be TV shows, movies, video games, food, or what have you, trying to recapture those magical days that never seemed to end.  Whether or not we realize it, I think that what we are really trying to regain – what it is that we truly miss – is our lost innocence.

I’m sure you’ve all heard the phrase, “What has seen cannot be unseen” (don’t type it into an image search if you’re the queasy type), and that undoubtedly applies here.  Those of us who have endured trauma at an early age know full well how it paints our perception of even the most innocuous things.  Think of an afternoon that you’ve spent with family and how much you touch each other.  You shake hands, hug, or kiss each other when you greet; you put your hand on someone’s back to get his or her attention; and you might even hold hands and say a little something before a meal.  It’s all very normal, but to me, the idea of any of that makes my skin crawl.  Yes, the mighty Alice Kojiro, queen of the sick and twisted, visitor of the darkest corners of the Internet and the human mind will squirm just by hearing the sound a kiss makes, or even just hearing the word.  Whatever your trauma, whatever the severity, and whatever period of your life during which it occurred will take its details, pin them down in your mind, and smear the black sludge part of you all over them, changing your perspective forever.  Now that you know what drugs are, and likely know someone who has used them, you’ll never be able to see our old pal, Fuzzy, as anything other than a floating ball of psychedelics.  It’s sad, but that’s the world in which we live, and which we help to create; we live in a world where I’m not comfortable with the online community knowing what I really look like.

An artist's rendition of what Alice Kojiros might look like

An artist’s rendition of what Alice Kojiros might look like

So, what does this long-winded diatribe have to do with the gaming industry?  As one of my closest and most beloved friends, Kaitlynn, once said, “You teach people how to treat you.”  As gamers, many of us say that we want mature games, because we have grown and matured, and yet, we focus less upon adult content, and more upon “adult” content.  Adult content deals with issues that are societal, psychological, analytical; things that only an adult would understand.  “Adult” content is an endless spewing of crude humor.  Where an adult story about drugs would focus upon what it actually means to put such substances into your body – the consequences, whether or not it’s really as bad as we’re told as children, how it affects our economy, and the like – an “adult” story about drugs is just for laughs; it focuses upon things like the stupid things you say and do while you’re high.

They call 'em fingers, but I never seen 'em fing.

They call ’em fingers, but I never seen ’em fing.

The same can be said about many of the complaints against Ted Woolsey’s translation of Final Fantasy 6.  He did an excellent job making the characters speak how real people would actually speak, rather than just having a robotic translation with no character of its own.  Such effort should be applauded, but what’s this?  He took out all of the swearing and alcohol references!?  Gaijin!  I’ll have his head for this!!!  Final Fantasy 7 had a translation so incomprehensible that, even aside from lines like, “This guy are sick,” entire parts of the plot make no sense, but thankfully, it had swearing and alcohol references; that was a close one!  That’s what we’re going to complain about?  Had the swearing and alcohol references been relevant to some sort of deeper message, the gripe would be almost legitimate – Mr. Woolsey removed them because Nintendo of America would have fired him had he not complied – but having an old man drink cider instead of alcohol is meaningless in the face of the game’s message, and for those of you who haven’t done any actual translation work, let me confirm this for you: the most important part of translating anything is effectively conveying its message.  This might seem very elementary, but it is an important distinction.  Because of this contradiction spewing from out mouths, “Rated M for Mature” has become a joke.  I have played games rated E – or their equivalent before the ESRB got it together – that have had deeper societal analyses than many M-rated games have even attempted to do; just try compare how Paladin’s Quest addresses the issue of race with how Mortal Kombat addresses anything.

Game developers study us a lot more closely than you might think, and that’s because they want our money.  It’s not necessarily wrong – we all need to get paid because we all have bills to pay and mouths to feed – but the reason that their focus seems to be so far off the mark is because of our own.  Not all of us are to blame, of course, but the overwhelming majority of us will buy most or all of the most popular games, and the money we spend and the way we talk about them shapes how future games will be made.  The occasional out-of-the box game comes along every once in a while because a developer has confidence in its product and perhaps even wants to change how gamers view the medium, but for the most part, the relationship between gamers and developers isn’t that much different than that between us and the fast food restaurants at which we eat; keep happily eating garbage, and they’ll keep pumping it out for your consumption.

Oh, absolutely; don't mess with the classics!

Oh, absolutely; don’t mess with the classics!

If you’ve read my series on JRPGs, then you know that games in general today tend to follow one of two possible outcomes: pretty or gritty.  The truth is that this dichotomy was not always so rigid.  Back in the Third Generation, you will find that most games are fairly colorful; even Super C with its sweat-dripping, manly motif has bright red bullets, blazing sunsets, and a deep purple alien lair.  I cannot say where, exactly – though my money is on the focal bloodbath that was the bit wars – but somewhere along the line, the gaming industry, gamers included, has lost sight of its former vision.  We demanded mature games, but we were too young to know what that really meant, and our childhood conception of the adult mind took what we liked as children and did the opposite.  In Mario games, violence was against things not even remotely resembling humans and was usually relegated to bopping them on the head; still gruesome, if you think about it, but the game is framed in such a manner that you’re not meant to.  In Mega Man games, colors were bright, reality was cast aside in favor of fun, and music would get up and punch you right in the face with its sharp chiptune instrumentation.  The opposite is a colorless, gritty bloodbath with an orchestral score that fades into the background; anything less is considered childish.  “Colorful games are immature; the only color I want to see is red as the blood of my enemies paints the screen. ”  That’s what we said and that’s what they sold.

So, what can we do about the state of things?  That’s the easy part; we live in a time in which information travels more quickly than ever.  I have friends all over the United States, in Canada, in the United Kingdom, in Indonesia, and in Argentina, and I can type something up, click one button, and in an instant, they can all read the same message, and I’m not even on FaceBook.  Communicating with developers is just as easy as socializing; they want your feedback because they want you to enjoy and continue to purchase their wares.  They search the Internet looking for discussions about their product, and most will use the information that they find to improve upon it.  If they happen upon your particular haunts, they will readi your praise and criticism and take your very ideas to hear, but you can take the element of chance out of it entirely.  If you have compiments, comments, complaints, concerns, suggestions, or anything else you want to say, you can easily find the information necessary to contact them, and if they want your business – spoiler alert: they do – they will take your words under advisement.  If enough people make their voices heard, change can be made, but we have to want it.  If you want things like fun and innocence back in our games, then stop treating them like your own personal filth emporium in public forums.  If you don’t want a slip of paper saying only, “The cake is a lie,” to show up as a total non-sequitur in a game that has nothing to do with P0rtal – such as Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – then let the joke be a joke and stop brainlessly regugitating the same line out of context because it made you laugh.  Conduct yourself in the manner in which you’d like to be treated by the industry, and the results might surprise you.

Special thanks to my friend, Arurue, for the artist’s rendition of me.  She’s an incredible artist, and if you’d like to check out her work, you can do so right here.

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