Saturday, August 14, 2010

Scott Pilgrim Vs. The Neglected Medium

My earliest memory is of me and my mother. I am five. I know this because my mother has told me that I’m going to get a younger brother, but she’s not yet obviously pregnant. We are in the basement of the house I lived in from the time I was 18 months old until I was 16.

We are sitting on the large wood-framed couch together and playing Super Mario Bros. I’m less prone to dying than she is, but whenever we get to Bowser’s castle I hand the controller to her because I’m afraid of the stark black and white architecture, the manic music, the fireballs that fly in from off-screen without warning.

I’m young, couldn’t tell you how old. Maybe 7? Memories from so far back are hard to pull up, nebulous. I know I’m not yet 8 because for my 8th birthday I received an SNES and never looked back. But today I’m not concerned with the NES, I’m concerned with waking up early on a Saturday morning. I descend from my bedroom to the basement, my parents both still asleep. It’s freezing in the basement. I don’t care.

I kneel down in front of the TV in my pajamas and start up Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I’m really bad at the game. I can’t beat the fourth level and rarely even see it. Little do I know I’ll never get further in that game. I’m too young to realize it’s not that the game is hard, it’s that the game is terrible.  I lack the capacity to make those judgments still.

Games have formed a pretty important part of my life, as much a part of my childhood as my parents. The problem is, games have always kind of lived in a section of my life walled off from everything else. As a kid, friends would come over and play Mario Kart or whatever. But they never seemed to think of things the same way I did. How many of them burst into tears when their parents gave them A Link to the Past for their 8th birthday but hid the SNES as a surprise gift in the closet? How many of them could hum the music to dozens of games on command? How many of them doodled in their notebooks not in stick figures but in pixels?

But the world didn’t seem to work that way. So my gaming obsessions were never connected to everything else. I enjoy music. I enjoy movies. I enjoy books. And while they’re all connected to each other and feed off each other and form this cultural mélange that allows a person to enjoy all the type of media together. It’s a foundation of culture. It’s a history. But gaming was never a part of that club. And so that part of my life was different. Separate. Alien. The people I would talk to about movies or books were not the same people I could talk to about games. And I thought that was just the way it was.

But Scott Pilgrim has come out, and I feel like something has changed. You see, Scott Pilgrim isn’t based on a video game, and it’s not even really about video games, but it is at its core drawing as heavily on the cultural references of video games as much as it does music or movies or the comic books its based on.

Movies have been getting away with this for years. Blade Runner isn’t overtly referencing Metropolis, but it uses the concepts and images of the previous work to help enrich its world and story. Similarly, Scott Pilgrim references games but doesn’t overtly name them or use them, but it uses the concepts and images to craft this world where games are just as relevant as all the movies one has seen and all the books one has read and all the music one has listened to.

Scott Pilgrim is the justification of the neglected medium. It is, at heart, a love story. But it uses concepts such as boss battles, leveling up, extra lives—things that games have been using for years—not as simple references for laughs, but as concepts that help enrich the world and as storytelling beats, as relevant as the concepts of every other medium. It welcomes the games medium, with its own culture and references, to join the mess of other forms of entertainment that have all been feeding into each other for decades. And in doing so, it not only provides a good film, but it provides a conduit for all the ideas that have been so long separated to spill out, not as nudge-wink references, but as devices used to tell stories, without shame or apology.

Scott Pilgrim is interesting for many reasons, but it’s magical because at its heart, the movie speaks to the child in me who remembers living a life that was ruled by how many lives I had, what level I was on, the final boss leering at me in the distance, my desire to explore these digital worlds and have these experiences of numbers and pixels and mechanics laid out before me as important and immediate to me as any other world I could experience.

That child would look at something like Scott Pilgrim and say “Of course that’s what the world is like” but the adult in me can only sit back and marvel that what I felt could never happen has already come to pass, that the two countries I thought forever separated in my life could be brought together in ways I had never considered, that someone could decide that all of these things that had been so long ignored were important.

And if that’s true, and the mediums are compatible, if games and every other form of culture and entertainment are on equal footing, who knows what incredible and interesting ways they can interact now and in the future?

Monday, August 9, 2010

An Explanation RE: My Actions

Five times in my life I've shot a man, and not once did I think it was the wrong thing to do. And I'm not the kind of person who doesn't believe in regrets. I regret that I never had a chance to say goodbye to my Ma before she died, and I regret that I didn't kiss Heather Woods in the 10th grade that time we went to the homecoming dance.

So sure, I regret things.

But the people who I shot ... those seven bastards deserved what they got. Every one of them was a bad person. And I can't feel sorry for doing what needed to be done.

The first was a mistake, a bad twist of fate. Some punk trying to steal enough to score picked the wrong guy. One dark alley, one threat, and I warned him too. But when he pulled the knife and advanced on me I did what any red-blooded American properly armed would do. I put two in that fucker's chest and left him there drowning in his own blood.

Okay, so maybe that's not the proper way. My Grandfather took me out to his farm back when I was a kid, to see the fresh air and learn about God's land in thorn and claw, as he said. One day one of the farm dogs got caught underneath the wheel of a tractor. It was all broken, limp as a wet dishrag, and my Grandpa had told me then that you never let an animal suffer when you could put it out of its misery.

So leaving that sorry fucker there in the alley to suffocate on his own tainted blood was bad form on my part. I made up for it. I went to Grandpa's grave and told him that I had done it wrong and learned my lesson and if--and God forbid that it come to pass--I had another chance to do the right thing, I'd make sure that I never left a broken living being behind me.

The 2nd and 3rd were another bit of bad luck. I seem to be one of the unluckiest men alive. But that's okay. Common sense and preparation can make up for a whole mess of bad luck, I've found. And I do my best to wield both. So when the two bums came in through my kitchen window looking to do Heaven knows what, I tagged them both. The police might have been suspicious at how neatly I had done it, one of them hit once in the chest and once in the throat and the other one neatly betwen the eyes.

I couldn't really tell them that the 2nd one, upon seeing his comrade fall, had gotten down on his knees and begged me to let him go, that he had made a mistake. But he was so helpless. I couldn't just let him run back out into the world. It was a hard winter that year, and he looked half-frozen as it was. I wouldn't do that to my worst enemy. So I did the decent thing and put him down proper. 

Thank god he had booze in his system and his friend had a cheap old gun on him. I was acquitted without delay. Nobody condemns a man for minding his own house. Not even in these awful times. 

The fourth time was a good work. Driving through the seedy side of town, as I did from time to time, I spotted a pimp beating up on his hooker. Or maybe it was just a husband who had gone too far laying hands on his wife. I'm not sure which it was, to be honest. You can't tell one from the other with those kinds of people. But the woman was screaming for help and nobody walking the streets in that part of town lifted a finger, scurrying into hiding and onto stoops where they could deny they saw a damned thing.

I was not as cowardly.  I didn't even have to stop the car. And all those people who were looking the other way obviously saw nothing. Nobody looks too hard for people who kill those types of monsters. The woman was simply grateful. No harm done. My good deed for the day achieved. 

Why am I telling you all this? Well, because the last time I shot a man was probably the last time I'll ever get away with it. I don't regret it, per se, but I understand that there are some things people don't look kindly upon. Like how my friend Chris from work didn’t look kindly upon my confession that I had shot four men while we were sharing a few 12 packs of beer.

You should have heard the things he accused me of when I detailed what I laid down before you here. He called me all sorts of names. Monster. Psychopath. They were unfair things. I’m just a man who protects what’s mine. It’s a carefully honed skill, the ability to defend. I am especially good at it. So when he threatened me, intimated that he would call the cops, I defended the thing most important to me without thinking.

So poor Chris is dead now. But he was always a bit of a pompous ass. So … there we go. I regret nothing, but I can’t exactly hide this one. I can’t think of an excuse that the police are going to like. So I’m simply going to tell them the truth, in as calm and composed a manner as I can. Which is why I write this. Five men, a drop in the bucket. Tyrants and patriots kill exponentially more every day.

I only did what was necessary.