It's All About Me
This is the kind of spontaneous publicity I need! My name in print!
That really makes somebody! Things are going to start happening to me now. "
- Steve Martin, The Jerk
I am surrounded by swirling light. The world around me changes from the drab grays of the salt flats to a shimmering orange. The change lasts only a second, but it's real. I feel stronger. Power runs through my veins, sparking up and down my arms, sparking from my outstretched fingertips. I open and close my left hand a few times, testing the tendons. I run my right hand through the mane of AngryBoy. The bear shakes his head, purring with a bass that shakes the hardpan. I feel it through my feet.
It's going to be a good night. But I am alone. I call to the heavens, invoking the mysteries.
"Ding 32," I howl, a barbaric yawp. I wait for the acknowledgment, the nod from god that confirms my presence, my importance, my existence.
I spend too much time thinking about games, probably more than I do playing them.
When I don't take games seriously, it's often because I see them as "just" entertainment. Half the time, cocktail parties and parent meetings fill me with self-hatred, as I lambaste myself for spending so many waking hours on something that shares more in common with Herman Munster than Melville.
When I take them too seriously, I wallow in bloggy existential angst and self-importance. The tired trope of games-as-art fills my thoughts, turning alcohol-infused socialization into "you just don't get it" soapboxathons that often end in my guests shrinking into the corners hoping the mad man will stop, or at least drink himself into a state of quieter condescension.
In my most sober moments, I realize the obvious - that games most likely live in between the extremes. More importantly, I realize that the endless argument is of little importance, because games will always differ from both the written literature of canonical import and the musical stylings of the Monkeys in a single, crucial way: they are about me.
No other form of human communication is persistently in the second-person. There is no great novel that relentlessly speaks at the reader, imploring with the word "you" time and again. Barring the occasional art house mustache twirling exercise, there are no great movies that rely entirely on first-person perspective, allowing the world to address me in the second person.
But in games, it is always - always - about me.
Since that first invocation, "You are in a maze of twisty little passages, all alike," the important word has always been and forever shall be "You."
In an online multiplayer world, whether it's World of Warcraft or Counter-Strike, this validation of my humanity is even more profound because it's not only about me, but about you. Not only can I ping 127.0.0.1 and discover that yes, in fact, I am still here, I can broadcast my own "Hello World" and discover that you are there too. And then, you can acknowledge my importance in the fiction we have both chosen to experience. Whether I am good at the game, whether you are my opponent or my compatriot, my experience will still be about me. The eye of the neo-deity in the box will stay upon me and you will simply be the ego-affirmation of my id-feast.
Oddly, this focus on the second person is also why games are such good escape. The me that a game is about - the target of all of that "you" is explicitly not me. There is no game in which the protagonist is a 40-something bald epileptic freelancer living in the country. Because I must truly become the main character in any game story, I must also leave my self behind. A paradox? Perhaps. But a delicious one nonetheless.
It's also because games are about me that I care so much about them. A good game is more than a good game - it's a personal affirmation. A bad game is the opposite - it's insulting. Perhaps this is the font of all fanboys. When you disparage a game that speaks to me, you disparage me. When you disrespect the power of my favorite platform to deliver the venous injection of self-worth that gets me through the day, you're breaking my heart. It's not about the game and the console - it's about me.
When Papa Levine says "nobody cares about your stupid story," he's right. I don't care about his story. I care about my story. As tired as I am of waking up with amnesia at the start of a game, there's a reason for the crutch: it works. It immediately puts the focus on me, instead of some character the designer has been crafting over cornflakes every morning for a decade.
I'm not a game junkie. I'm just a solipsist.