June 16, 2008

Dream Analysis

I wonder what this means. Two nights ago I had a dream about writing a Hit Self-Destruct post. When I woke up, not only could I remember the post but I felt that I had done a okay job with it. That afternoon it still seemed good to me. And this wasn't just an idea. This post was completely finished and merely waiting to be published in real life. So, here we are. Writing credit goes to my dreams.

Earlier this year I read David Michaelis' biography of Peanuts creator Charles Schulz. Maybe the most interesting thing about it is how Michaelis illustrates the narrative with some of Schulz's strips from the period. It's staggering, in an "all these Deadwood characters were real people" kind of way, to see how much of Peanuts' 50 years commented on or was directly influenced by Schulz's personal life. Their placement in this book lends them with a tremendous surplus of meaning. About three people in the world would have fully understood the intent of some of those strips when they first ran; a time when hundreds of millions of people were reading them. When a love-struck Schulz began an affair with a woman about twenty years his junior, he writes Snoopy a storyline about longing after a cute girl puppy he met at camp. Schulz's wife suspects when she sees all the long-distance phone calls Schulz had been making. Soon after, Charlie Brown angrily forbids Snoopy from making long-distance calls to his girlfriend.

I can't wait to see what we'll find out when David Michaelis writes a biography about a game designer. I think it would be fascinating to learn that a well-known commercial game was secretly all about the life of its developer. Probably getting a biography of a game designer published is a tough enough proposition as it is, though. (Incidentally, I'd pay for a Seamus Blackley biography. And when I say "pay" I mean I would finance it.)

Has it ever happened? That a story, or a character, or a piece of level architecture was written in code. While it was meant to stand on its own for an audience not conversant in the developer's psych files, that game element had immense personal significance to that developer. It was inspired by the developer's divorce, or a bereavement, or their drinking problem. He or she is the only person to understand it and that's exactly how it's supposed to be. Schulz wasn't publishing his strips with annotations or even clues; transparency makes it boring. Then it becomes a private tragedy processed into an accessible tearjerker, when it should be a creative person using a creative outlet for cathartic and therapeutic reasons. The latter of which is infinitely more respectable, and when we discover these things after the fact, as kind of a work of archeology, it becomes so much more interesting.

Is anyone even doing this? I would be satisfied with a yes-or-no answer to that. It seems like it would be so hard. Video games have such a protracted development and are produced in such a collaborative environment that co-opting and shaping a major theme of the game without telling anyone sounds impossible.

What will we learn in the future about the games we play today? What were Bioshock or Metal Gear Solid really about? What did the endless corridors of Doom and Halo signify? Are we talking about the next step in the emotional maturity of this medium?

It doesn't look like I dreamed an ending for this post.


Steve gaynor said...

As I understand it, a lot of MGS2 is this kind of thing. Kojima's hinted at a few things.

Alex P said...

Did you not play No More Heroes, Duncan? It's a beautiful mess of a game.

It's been speculated that the protagonist Travis Touchdown represents Suda himself, while the assassins he must overcome are other major players in the gaming industry. A lot if it seems like a stretch, but some of it fits pretty well.

Regardless, I recommend giving the game a playthrough.

Required reading (try to avoid spoilers!)



Duncan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Duncan said...

I played a little No More Heroes. I decided I wanted to wait to play the uncensored version and apparently that obstacle has dimmed my enthusiasm. I'll get around to it eventually.

Regardless, from what I do know about the game, I can fully believe that interpretation.

Anonymous said...

"Video games have such a protracted development and are produced in such a collaborative environment that co-opting and shaping a major theme of the game without telling anyone sounds impossible."

I think this statement is true for mainstream games. Independent games from individuals or small teams don't have this restriction, though.

Being somewhat related to your post, I wanted to point out that Jon Mak spoke in 1up's RSVP video about how he enjoys seeing flaws in games because it points to the humanity of the game maker (I'm paraphrasing from memory and possibly injecting my own thoughts into that last sentence).

Duncan said...

Yeah, you're absolutely right, and I actually remember wanting to make that distinction as I typed it up. I blame my dream for letting me and my readers down.

Anonymous said...

Yes, it happens.

Duncan said...

Haha, I guess that's what I asked for, thanks.