Transience

This week we – the geekospheroid, blogging cognoscenti of the digital age -- were witness to something unique and wonderful. Joss Whedon's Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog was a rare gem. A musical morality tale wrapped under a meniscus of a superhero tropes. It was a great story, brilliantly realized, completely unique.

But that doesn’t really matter. That's not the point. The reason Dr. Horrible was so good has little to do with the easily reviewable components: the singing, the writing, the acting, the staging, the camp. The reason Dr. Horrible stands out as having been so good is that it’s already gone.

The most memorable experiences of my life have been transient.

When I look back on over 10 years of marriage I'm filled with a subtle warm glow: a knowledge that I am truly loved, a sense of safety. But I'm not overwhelmed by a single sharp memory. There are an endless series of short vignettes that stand out: trips we've taken, moments we've shared, those first few dates of falling in love. But those memories stand out because -- perhaps precisely because -- they were so short lived and so poignant. They can never be recaptured in flesh, and thus reside in a special part of my brain where they are kept close, carefully wrapped in lead foil so as not to degrade over time, carefully reviewable until senility robs them from me once and for all.

It used to be that all media was like this.

Before the advent of the VCR, the annual showing of the Wizard of Oz was a religious observance in my house. My mother, my first pusher of fantasy, would track the next network-TV airing of the Wizard of Oz with red pen on the Audobon calendar magnetized to the fridge. It was usually around Easter, which seems tremendously appropriate. It was a rare special occasion in a household otherwise fairly cold, distant, and TV-phobic.

Those viewings of the Wizard of Oz remain some of my most vivid and emotional memories - a personal unveiling of color in a black and white childhood. But if we’d had it on DVD, I would never have watched it, simply because it would always be there.

When I finished The Lord of the Rings for the first time, I was slipped into a bad, dark place for days. I wasn’t sad for the state of Middle Earth at the end of the Third Age. I was poisoned with the certainty that I would never again read the Lord of the Rings for the first time. I would never again not know how it ends.

Videogames are the cauldron where this sap of transient goodness has been boiled and condensed into pure essence. When a new game comes out – whether anticipated and over-hyped (Bioshock) or completely out of nowhere (Dwarf Fortress) – that first week is like falling in love. When Bioshock descended on my internet village, I was convinced this was the best thing ever. During that week, in the full frontal assault of the experience, it was the best thing ever. That week, at that precise moment in time, the extended community love affair with that game was like being in a cult without the koolaid kicker.

In retrospect, with a calculated eye, I won’t look back at Ken Levine's $100-bill nipple-rubbing hit and think it the best game ever made. Nor will I canonize Portal, Age of Conan, GTA IV or any of the other flavors-of-the-month that burn like bright stars and supernova, leaving dust and echoes.

The genius of Dr. Horrible is that it took this quality of time-compression and transience that we as gamers are intimately familiar with and intentionally exploited it. Even the most diehard Whedon fans had no idea what to expect when the first episode appeared. Instead there was a promise from Whedon: I'm going to drop something on you for a week, and then it will be gone. And as an extended geek culture I think we all bought in. For 6 days, every discussion, inside joke, and spare media moment in my circle of friends and colleagues was dominated by Dr. H. I carried it around in my iPhone, pushing it like crack ontp unsuspecting passersby at the local coffee shop. “What? You haven't seen Dr. Horrible? Sit! Watch! I'll be getting the Splenda."

Of course we all knew it wasn’t really going away. I don't think anybody ever expected it to disappear, even before Whedon confirmed that there would be a DVD, or perpetual iTunes availability. But in creating this lacy, gently wafting curtain of transience, Whedon engendered a sense of “I was there.” The feeling that you are a witness - to anyting - is powerful in any context. I was there when U2 played Red Rocks. I was there when the Red Sox won the World Series. I was there when the tanks rolled into Paris. I was there when the Beatles were on Ed Sullivan.

I was there when Whedon dropped Dr. Horrible on an unsuspecting world.

Was it perfect? Of course not. Two weeks from now pointing out the flaws in Whedon’s strike-project will be the new black. The true gift of Dr. Horrible was not the footage, or the story or the singing. The true gift was creating a transient moment where we can all say “gosh, I remember that week.” And for that, I am truly grateful.

Comments

I missed the third episode - family business this weekend. So... I kind of wish it had been up for more than two days.

Aside from that, it was great.

4 bucks on iTunes bro, and it can all be yours.

Wheedon? On a site with this many browncoats, you may as well have pronounced Jebus wrong on the 700 Club.

Funny you mention the Lord of The Rings. I happen to be reading them for the first time now, but unfortunately the movies have told me all the main plot points, though as I'm finding out now it seems like they re-wrote everything in between. Anyways, great article, but I didn't ever have a look at those Dr Horrible things, and now I regret it.

Dr. Horrible truly is fantastic. I will be making references to this...thing (movie? show? musical? web thingy?) for weeks if not months, and those who get it will nod knowingly. Those who don't will look at me funny. Well, funnier than normal. The limited-time thing finally struck me when a friend who was given the link to the site by someone else did not watch it over the weekend, and now it's gone. Unless you buy it (which I recommend spending $4 on. Joss would like to pay everyone for this fine work, eventually.) But in a world where we've become accustomed to on-demand entertainment--anything, available at any time and probably free--what's been done here has gone full circle and become an ingenious concept.

Nice insight into what makes us tick, mr. Murdoch

Similarly, in my town we are celebrating the 400th year of its foundation and last Sunday we had the pleasure of receiving Sir Paul McCartney on the historic Plains of Abraham. The show was free. I don't think I've ever seen that many people. Over 200,000 people gathered on the site to just ''be there'' because it was impossible to even see the scene from where I was, yet you could hear people around you saying left and right ''well at least I was there''

You sort of felt like it was a civic duty to attend to this event. Listening to a crowd of 200,000 chant ''Hey Jude'' sent shivers down my spine.

Now back to our programmation: I'm glad Penny-Arcade mentionned Dr. Horrible's Sing-along-Blog because I would have otherwise totally missed on this. I watched it last night and it was great.

Methinks we need more musicals.

I had no idea it was going away, so I just waited.

Saw it on iTunes today for four bucks... totally unaware I could have had it for free.

But hey, I don't mind supporting fantastic stuff... and Dr. Horrible was fantastic.

"I was there"

Indeed I was, and indeed I remember being there. And I'll always will.

Never saw it that way. It's ironic how the fleeting moments are those that we keep the longest...

This really mirrors a discussion I had a while back when a friend sent me a video to watch. It was the famous sketch comedy "Dinner for One", and I noticed it could be found all over the internet. This was the first time I'd watched it in years, and I watched it several times, and remembered how my father - who had been left behind by today's technology - used to religiously watch this sketch once every year on TV at Christmastime. I began thinking how it makes the event much more special than today's "always around" availability.

Perhaps fittingly, it is in many ways like Christmas - where the anticipation builds and builds, sometimes a long time before the actual event. It even comes to the point where the anticipation and fantasy that goes along with it becomes the real highlight, and the "unwrapping" or "watching the actual show" may even be ancillary.

On the other hand, having things perpetually available is a boon to those of us who didn't even know about something - like me, who didn't even hear about Dr. Horrible

I wasn't there. What's Dr. Horrible?? Why do I always miss the party?? Oh yeah .... life.

This site has some of the best written features of anywhere I read. I'm not saying it's the best writing of any video game related site; I'm saying it's some of the best writing, period. I was trying to express a similar thought far less eloquently to someone asking about Dr. Horrible; this is a clearer, more eloquent expression of what I was stumbling to say.

This is the type of thing we should all throw some cash at just as encouragement. Even NPR sat up and took notice, they had a snipit about it over the weekend. Made for the internet by people with talent involving people with talent. If you all want to see more of this Do what I'm doing and drop the cash on it as a vote.

Aw poop. I didn't realize they were only up for a limited time only and missed all of them.

I would rather buy a DVD when they get around to putting those together... I'd like to show it to my non-technical friends, for one thing.

Like it's been mentioned: It's up on iTunes (at least in the U.S.) for super cheap. The down side to that is... it's not as transient any more, true. The up side, is that people with sucky internet connections like me could see it (why are there video players that don't cache reasonable amounts of data ahead of time to handle slow links?), and that people who missed it can see it. And *ahem* another benefit is that you can put money into the pockets of the people who made it.

Absolutely Anax.

KingMob wrote:
I would rather buy a DVD when they get around to putting those together... I'd like to show it to my non-technical friends, for one thing.

Wait, you're friends with analogs?

beeporama wrote:
This site has some of the best written features of anywhere I read. I'm not saying it's the best writing of any video game related site; I'm saying it's some of the best writing, period. I was trying to express a similar thought far less eloquently to someone asking about Dr. Horrible; this is a clearer, more eloquent expression of what I was stumbling to say.

I gotta agree. Plus, he uses an image of $100 bills rubbed on one's nipples, which is something we can all relate to. Ah, to be back in Duckburg again.

wordsmythe wrote:
KingMob wrote:
I would rather buy a DVD when they get around to putting those together... I'd like to show it to my non-technical friends, for one thing.

Wait, you're friends with analogs?

You got a problem with annies?

Man, you digital types are all alike. "It's either on, or it's off." I don't accept your labels or your narrow little view of the world, maaaan. There's more to life than "Yes" or "No." There's, like, "Maybe." And "Sure." And "Perhaps" if you wanna be a snot about it.

Can it be we're already nostalgic for a time when Dr. H roamed free on these here internets? Oh those were the days, weren't they? Simple, villainous times.

Because I'm a pop-culture addled recluse, here's a tidbit to chew on: Miley Cyrus's "Best of Both Worlds" Hannah Montanna concert. THE hot-ticket event of last year. Sold out shows nationwide. Tickets being scalped for A THOUSAND dollars.

Disney's response? To meet the demand of thousands of Hannah fans out there, we're releasing the Best of Both Worlds concert in theaters. Using Disney's Cinema3D technology, you'll feel like you're right there at the show. But it's only playing for one week!

That one week became two. But nonetheless, it was sold as a special, blink and you'll miss it, once in a lifetime event. We're suckers for that kind of thing.

Mostly, it's because we want an experience to remember.

Are you sure it was actual transience, or simply hype, that created that feeling of a special event.

It took me all of 2 minutes to find a source for the episodes, even though I missed them. Nothing is truly transient these days, especially not if it is coded into 1's ans 0's and commited to the ether.

So what we are really talking about is that transient moment, the experience where the hype meets reality, the Christmas Morning effect.

It's really confusing two things though: whether or not Bioshock was the greatest game ever really has nothing to do with that magic moment when someone drops it into their 360 and gets that feeling when all the hype and expectation that led them to that point suddenly meets the payoff of the actual experience.

All experiences are transient. Hindsight tends to cast a shadow on all experiences, and the more experience you accrue, the more experiences are tainted by the bittersweet memories of the past.

Mateo: You make a good point, but I think we subconsciously seek out these flash-moments. I think the smart move here is hitting us right where we want to be hit. As I said int he piece, of course it wasn't really transient, but there was a feeling that we witnessed something cool and special that will fly away. It's the reason there were hundreds of mainstream press articles on it, that NPR covered it, etc. If this was just episode 1 of a 15 week series, it would never have had the impact that it did.

A shame you experience mortality.

I'm really torn between the Blues Brothers flophouse and Blade Runner.

Rabbit wrote:
The true gift of Dr. Horrible was not the footage, or the story or the singing. The true gift was creating a transient moment where we can all say “gosh, I remember that week.”

No, the true gift was watching Felicia Day. I'm so in love with that girl.

For what it's worth, I'd really encourage everyone to support Whedon by purchasing this production. $4 on iTunes for a solid 45 minutes of entertainment is value for money, and I'd really like to see more of this sort of thing in the future. Of course, you may end up like me, with "It's a brand-new day" stuck in your head.

Coldstream wrote:
No, the true gift was watching Felicia Day. I'm so in love with that girl.

Cute, huh? Sort of a quiet, nerdy thing. Not my usual, but nice.

You guys ill enjoy this weeks podcast methinks.

rabbit wrote:
You guys ill enjoy this weeks podcast methinks.

Ill enjoy, eh? I am filled with dread.

rabbit wrote:
You guys ill enjoy this weeks podcast methinks.

Did you use all your w's when you said you were a writer?

And you don't know us very well, do ye?

We are already sharpening our wits, stoking the fires of fanboi hatred, and getting ready the invective to hurl.

Or something.

rabbit wrote:
As I said in the piece, of course it wasn't really transient, but there was a feeling that we witnessed something cool and special that will fly away. It's the reason there were hundreds of mainstream press articles on it, that NPR covered it, etc. If this was just episode 1 of a 15 week series, it would never have had the impact that it did.

That makes me wonder then... Can we do this kind of thing with games? Better than what's going on now?

I remember that the Devs over at CCP try/tried something like it with EVE-online. I used to play it for a while, and I once got into what was one of many organised events - in this case, a reporter (real guy, not just an NPC, sothere was a lot of feedback between them and us) got in trouble with the wrong people and both sides had been asking the community for support. In the end there were 2 (small) fleets literally opposite eachother, each having been fed different information so they were quite likely to stay on their respective sides.
All hell broke loose at some point, the reporter ended up 'dead' after all, and some people needed new ships, but I remember that feeling being pretty much the same - 'this is cool and I was THERE'.
And that experience really wasn't coming back, because at best there were some screenshots.
The downside was that the coverage and impact weren't really big, so it kinda got lost in the big fleet battles and community soap operas that go on in that game, but the concept seemed good enough.

Is that maybe why at least some of us who don't so much enjoy the grind itself, play MMOs and RPGs? We hope for more of such rare moments in things like raids, where player interaction creates unique moments?
(even if we usually only end up getting spoonfed more of the same that others have found before and will find after us, anyway)

Sorry, perhaps that ended up a bit long.
Also just wanted to say hi, I'm the New Guy - been wandering around, and finally found the nerve to post. Please be gentle