It's All About Me

The new phone book's here! The new phone book's here!
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.

It comes.

"Gratz."

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.

Comments

Quite interesting for a narrcisistic rant based on a discussion in the last podcast. I keed, but to a certain extent your view of multiplayer as a forum for not only me but you treats everyone as a me. Ultimately yes, there is a person behind every bunch of polygons I shoot, but to me competitive multi player games merely offer the best and worst of team and enemy AI. Sure, I enjoy the random chatter, but to a large extent all the goodjers who play TF2 are merely team members or enemies that think and react like humans because they are.

I don't think you're gonna like WoW's endgame very much, rabbit. At that point, it becomes all about us... the group.

But the "us" is the ultimate form of "the me" - because it makes "the me" important in a context outside the game. Other people care.

Very nice, very insightful.

I appreciate your perspective; I'm also one of those hardcore gamers who has very few friends (and none I see on a regular basis) also interested in this hobby.

An aside: Although Bright Lights Big City is probably not a "great novel," it did achieve fair success and was written entirely in the second person. It's the only linear book I've personally read (I'm not counting "choose your own adventure" style books) written that way, although I guess there were others: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second-person_narrative

beeporama wrote:

Although Bright Lights Big City is probably not a "great novel," it did achieve fair success and was written entirely in the second person.

Aha! One for the Amazon list. THe movie was so gawdawful I never even considered reading it, but now that I've dug around a bit, it looks intriguing.

So I play games because they appeal to my raging narcissism? Insightful and likely true. Sort of the same reason I keep Fed's quote in my sig.

I haven't read it yet, but the opening quote places this article in my Top 5 GWJ Favorites list. And I would like to add, "Stay away from the cans!"

Again, I strike!

the musical stylings of the Monkeys

If it's the Davey Jones fronted band you are referring to, then it's spelled "The Monkees". This is also why I could never spell "The Beatles" correctly. I kept calling them "The Beetles".

Great piece, Rabbit. This is something that I bring up in class quite frequently. Gaming is an odd mix of Social and non-social interactivity. Is your opinion focused solely on Video Games, or do you think you can apply it to games where you are sitting in front of/next to your opponents/teammates? Where does a board game like "Lord of the Rings" (the Reiner Knizia masterpiece) fall in this discussion?

I exist, you think you exist, therefore you are like me or you are an extension of myself or x.

Wow, great article again Rabbit. You really hit on some key points there. I usually play games to escape from my life, leaving myself behind, and going into the character that is being portrayed in the game, so it really hit home. Great job again.

Sephirotic wrote:

Again, I strike!

the musical stylings of the Monkeys

I should just send you my pieces the night before so you can do this.

Where does a board game like "Lord of the Rings" (the Reiner Knizia masterpiece) fall in this discussion?

Interesting question - those do feel more social and also leave the sense of self more intact. More thinking required.

rabbit wrote:

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."

Brilliantly put.

Junot Diaz wrote a couple of his more famous short stories in the second person. He's very good at it. I was a little disappointed that his new novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, didn't have any second person chapters. It's still very, very good. If Jay McInerney is going to come up here, Junot Diaz needs some love, too.

Rabbit wrote:

Interesting question - those do feel more social and also leave the sense of self more intact. More thinking required.

This can fit into your world view. Its all about you, and your gaming friends are helping you be you. Because we all know that whatever the character/avatar on the screen that you embody, you are still going to be the one to win it all for yourself and your friends. So it is still all about you.

If we all keep this up we'll all die a disjointed race of strangers. Which suits what we have woven. Anyone read a good book lately? I'll take George RR Martin over the late Robert Jordan any day. Either author you choose is a gamble on youthful eternity.

Damn you, Rabbit. Just when I start feeling like I may, someday, be able to write about gaming in a semi-intelligible way, you come along with something like this and wholly put me in my place.

rabbit wrote:
Sephirotic wrote:

Where does a board game like "Lord of the Rings" (the Reiner Knizia masterpiece) fall in this discussion?

Interesting question - those do feel more social and also leave the sense of self more intact. More thinking required.

You should see my students flounder when I ask this question in a discussion. Not the fish. I don't think any of my students own a flounder.

My take is that it really depends on the perceived degree of control. In a computer environment, you are "alone" but with other people. In a social setting it's very different. You are forced to react to people next to you without the aid of anonymity. The internet is an equalizer of sorts in that you can be whoever you want without relative repercussions. I remember having a discussion with two programmers at lunch; we were talking about how the internet allowed people to have a semblance of a social life, but one that they could dictate the parameters of. When you are forced to directly interact with people it's a different game completely. You can't just say what you want and log off if someone gets angry. One of the programmers replied "That's why I love IRC and the internet! I don't have to talk to people and see them." I think he missed the point entirely.

So, in an environment that you control, the "you" becomes your only frame of reference as stated in your story. The moment you add someone with whom you can personally interact, you don't have the control that the anonymity of the internet provides, and it becomes about "Me and You" or "We". That's a completely different dynamic.

K, Sephirotic, your homework assignment is to rewrite my piece to include all that smart stuff you just said so I can take credit for it.

rabbit wrote:

K, Sephirotic, you're homework assignment

IMAGE(http://rps.net/QS/Images/Smilies/no.gif)

I have no idea what you're talking about.

(whistles)

Must've been my imagination!

he hates the cans! stay away from the cans!

rabbit wrote:

K, Sephirotic, your homework assignment is to rewrite my piece to include all that smart stuff you just said so I can take credit for it.

Egad! I'm the teacher! I grade the homework! Part of my job is to sound like I know what I'm talking about. I wouldn't have been able to type any of that if it weren't for your piece. And you did write about a topic that I love to discuss.

dude I read your stuff every day here. It's just the act of will.

Zen Mutty wrote:

If we all keep this up we'll all die a disjointed race of strangers. Which suits what we have woven. Anyone read a good book lately? I'll take George RR Martin over the late Robert Jordan any day. Either author you choose is a gamble on youthful eternity.

This truly is the tragedy of the internet. It seems Stephenson was really on to something important in juxtaposing the internet with the Babel myth.

wordsmythe wrote:
Zen Mutty wrote:

If we all keep this up we'll all die a disjointed race of strangers. Which suits what we have woven. Anyone read a good book lately? I'll take George RR Martin over the late Robert Jordan any day. Either author you choose is a gamble on youthful eternity.

This truly is the tragedy of the internet. It seems Stephenson was really on to something important in juxtaposing the internet with the Babel myth.

Snowcrash?

boogle wrote:
wordsmythe wrote:
Zen Mutty wrote:

If we all keep this up we'll all die a disjointed race of strangers. Which suits what we have woven. Anyone read a good book lately? I'll take George RR Martin over the late Robert Jordan any day. Either author you choose is a gamble on youthful eternity.

This truly is the tragedy of the internet. It seems Stephenson was really on to something important in juxtaposing the internet with the Babel myth.

Snowcrash?

No, Snow Crash.

wordsmythe wrote:
boogle wrote:
wordsmythe wrote:
Zen Mutty wrote:

If we all keep this up we'll all die a disjointed race of strangers. Which suits what we have woven. Anyone read a good book lately? I'll take George RR Martin over the late Robert Jordan any day. Either author you choose is a gamble on youthful eternity.

This truly is the tragedy of the internet. It seems Stephenson was really on to something important in juxtaposing the internet with the Babel myth.

Snowcrash?

No, Snow Crash.

Poopsicle's. Now back to the cryptography stuff that Cryptonomicon got me interested in.