When I began typing this article, I intended to title it "Forum Faux Pas". It was to be an examination of the more common errors of logic, argumentation, and good sense that can be found on the GWJ boards and elsewhere. You know, stuff like: arguing in favor of game X due to its creator company's sound fiscal policies; disparaging console Y for its failure to penetrate market Z; and succumbing to the more insidious varieties of the good ole ad hominem. But it occurred to me that most of the people who fall into these traps on a regular basis probably do so on purpose. Why should I draw them a detailed map to the Hellespont, when they'd rather summon up a storm and see everyone -- themselves included -- sink to the bottom of the Aegean? You know what lies at the bottom of the Aegean? Mud. Lots and lots of mud.
But there remained one faux pas that I could not dismiss with such ease. "Perhaps," my imaginary psychoanalyst fairy says, "that's because it hits a bit too close to home, hmmm?" Maybe. For those who would commit this offense, I would prove to be just as suitable a target as anyone else. Most people would describe the offense in question as "making fun of fanboyism." In an effort to get you to take me seriously, I'm going to dress it up a bit and call it "the denigration of reverie."
In a normal context, the word reverie can be taken as a synonym for daydream. For present purposes, I would prefer to redefine reverie and to place it in opposition to fantasy. So, within the constraints of this article and any discussion thereupon, let it be said that:
- A person fantasizes by inventing a fictional world for their own amusement.
- A person engages in reverie by adopting, modifying, or enthusing about a previously established fictional world for their own amusement.
Fantasy and reverie may both be said to be subsets of a more general category: escapism. The most important difference between fantasy and reverie is that in order to fantasize, one must also create one's own original imaginary universe; whereas to engage in reverie, one must choose somebody else's imaginary universe. George Lucas engaged in fantasy when he wrote the script to Star Wars. I engage in reverie every time I close my eyes and imagine swarms of Tie Fighters encircling a beleaguered Corellian Corvette in deep space. Fantasy can be described as an act of creating art; reverie, as an act of appreciating art. We tend to value fantasy over reverie, on the grounds that it is a rarer gem to unearth. However, each would be a rather pointless activity without the widespread abundance of the other.
I have noticed a tendency among forumgoers to make fun of people who enjoy losing themselves in the creative works of others. When some people denigrate reverie, they employ the following syllogism:
1. Reverie is a form of escapism.
2. Escapism is a bad thing.
3. Reverie is a bad thing.
What they fail to realize is that there are other forms of escapism than reverie. If we are to accept premise 2 as true, then we must also say that fantasy is a bad thing. But it seems that fantasy (as defined above) is not a bad thing; for where would our society be without its great works of fiction: novels, movies, poems, myths, plays -- and even games? This reductio immediately shows us that premise 2 is problematic. Beyond this, we might simply ask what justifies the deployment of premise 2 at all. Short answer: nothing much.
Consider, then, this further argument, which is directed against the objects of reverie:
1. Only certain works of art are deserving of reverie.
2. Those who engage in reverie with respect to an undeserving work should be chastised.
3. X is an undeserving work.
4. Those who engage in reverie with respect to X should be chastised.
An example might be, "Only uncultured idiots enjoy action movies." This argument does not oppose reverie per se, but rather only certain instances of reverie. Each of the three premises may be challenged, but the greatest fault lies with premise 3. Elysium did a great job of explaining why this is so, and I'd be silly to repeat after him. Wouldn't want him to get the idea that I think he's a swell fellow, and all.
Another common argument seeks to discredit only certain forms of reverie:
1. Certain ways of engaging in reverie are inappropriate.
2. Those who engage in inappropriate forms of reverie should be chastised.
3. X is an inappropriate form of reverie.
4. Those who engage in X should be chastised.
This sort of argument is quite common. An example might take the form, "OMG, you wore a cape to that Renaissance festival? What a pathetic geek!" Or perhaps, "You spent the night in front of the software store to get a copy of Doom3? Loser!" However, premise 3 of this argument is open to much the same objection as premise 3 of the previous argument. Who is to say that delighting in the make-believe world of the Renaissance festival is inappropriate? Why is devotion to the computer game worlds created by id Software so unbecoming a trait to harbor? Can these stances be justified without resorting to logical fallacies, such as appeals to the majority or circular arguments? I think not. So, if no harm is being done to others, why denigrate the reverie? Feel free to disagree all you'd like, but stop short of denigration.
I can feel the slight weight of my imaginary psychoanalyst fairy resting on my shoulder. I ask it, "Why oh why, psychoanalyst fairy, are some people so concerned with belittling others for their harmless exercises in escapism? What good can come of such a practice?"
My psychoanalyst fairy whispers an apocryphal tale into my ear. "Long ago in the ancient Greek colony of Miletus, there lived a philosopher named Thales. It is said that one clear night Thales was walking through a field, his mind totally absorbed in the canopy of stars that stretched overhead. He failed to take note of where he was walking, and so he tumbled into a ditch. Then, a lovely Thracian serving girl laughed at his misfortune. Do you understand?"
I think for a moment and nod my head. I've heard Thales' story before. It is supposed to be a cautionary tale, meant to encourage us to keep our attention focused on the world around us, and not to lose ourselves in heady matters. (I derive from it a different moral: If you're male, and you find yourself walking in a field at night, under a starlit sky, with a beautiful woman at your side... watch where you step!) Whatever the moral may be, philosophers, astronomers, and intellectuals of all types have been downplaying this story for thousands of years, and with little success.
Another ancient Greek philosopher named Aristotle argued that the thing that makes humans distinct from all the other animals in the world is our capacity for rational thought. If we are to believe Aristotle, and if we can agree that enjoying the creative works of others is an altogether pleasant exercise of our unique capacity for rationality -- and I think that it is -- then engaging in reverie is an essential part of being human. According to this view, it is vitally important that we sometimes depart the real world in order to frolic in the plentiful hills of myth and fiction. Perhaps Thales' "error" was no error at all.
Lately I've been replaying Baldur's Gate. Sometimes, I send my party marching through the wilderness north of Beregost. There is a waterfall there, and butterflies that leap from flower to flower. There is a bear that lives in the stand of cedar up ahead. I can see it digging for roots, and I can hear its giant nose sniffing the ground. HHnnFF HHnnFF HHnnFF!! With each inhalation, I am nearly swept off my feet. If I go too close to the bear, it will attack, so I don't. Instead I look about and ponder the sky, and the air, and all the things that make such clever use of it while we humans are stuck to the ground. There's a great white bird overhead now! The bird lands at my feet, takes my hand with its wing, and together we lift off. The bear stares at us with a puzzled look on its face. Bye, bear! Bye! Now I fly, up so high; up so high, in the sky, la-la, la-la, la-la!