My youngest son is interested in the planets, and so we have a series of short books written for pre-schoolers that teaches him about each planet. Every night before bed we read some of these books, usually beginning with his favorite planet, Saturn, and then cycling the others in and out of the rotation. These books are filled with short facts that should not be comical in the least.
“Uranus is much larger than Earth.”
I’ve always pronounced Uranus with the long A sound. It is a pronunciation I’ve clung viciously to, refusing to be swayed to the short A sound just because part of my more familiar version is a homophone for describing someone’s posterior body part. When I am wearing my grown-up face, I say the word with all the conviction and apparent obliviousness that is appropriate so I don’t seem like a tittering child. But, on the inside, I titter.
A war for class and taste is being fought on the hills and valleys of my brain. The part of me that has a mortgage, job and life-insurance policy holds grim dominion over my actions and usually my words, but an inane man-child is entrenched deep in my broader psyche, and he thinks the word Uranus is hilarious.
“Uranus is very cold.”
A smirk plays embarrassingly at the edges of my mouth, and if you’re listening for it you can hear my voice twinge just a little bit. At that moment, my four-year-old who is enraptured by this information on alien worlds is the adult in the room.
It is this inner idiot that is entertained by Reddit memes, bad knock-knock jokes and, on the very darkest of days, AFV. This was also the part of me that truly revelled in the reckless joy of Saints Row 3, and though more sublime and subtle parts of me could appreciate the tightly tuned gameplay and design, there was an undeniable draw exerted on a more prurient segment of my psyche.
Had someone in Saints Row 3 announced that Uranus is orbited by more than 40 moons, it would have had me rolling on the metaphorical floor with gales of undeserved laughter.
The thing is, I too often try very hard to repress this side of me, and the older I get the more I think that’s just a terrible idea. As odd as it may seem, the more mature I become, the more I realize that life is just better when I let my juvenile side out to play. There’s some old saying there about being as young as you allow yourself to be, to which I think there is truth.
Being irreverent, or even just allowing myself to laugh at and appreciate the irreverent, is strangely freeing. It can certainly be abused and misused, of course, and there are times where even if I want to snicker at some childish musing, the time might not be right (for example, during business meetings or doctor’s exams). However, and perhaps you can relate to this, I play a lot of video games. And, almost anachronistically, I think video games should primarily be fun. Thinking back over recent time, I’m surprised how much of this supposed play time has become very, very serious, both in the way I approach gaming and the way games present themselves to me. I feel like we have entered this unnecessary place where a lot of the games try too hard to position themselves as serious ruminations on complex topics.
It seems like every action game these days has to take you to the heart of its own personal darkness, and while that can be a good experience when it’s a story in the right hands, it’s also getting to be a bit of a downer. I loved Dishonored as much as anyone else, for example, but I look back on that game as being something that seemed to spend a lot of time discouraging me from feeling like I was having fun. I may have been allowed to be entertained, or emotionally engaged, or challenged, but I’m not sure I have ever or would likely now say I had a lot of fun with Dishonored.
In February of 2011 EA published Bulletstorm which was developed by People Can Fly studios (now part of Epic Games). The game was reckless, obscene, juvenile and — in several important ways — the most fun I’d had with an action game in a long time. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it was the best or even a particularly great game, but it brought with it a whimsey that has become so unfortunately rare in this day and age, that it just made me enjoy playing it.
While not nearly as juvenile, I also recall with fondness the classic No One Lives Forever series of games by Monolith. And I remember a game called Giants: Citizen Kabuto by Earthworm Jim makers Planet Moon, and the largely average but still surprisingly fun to play Armed and Dangerous also by Planet Moon. These were games that made me laugh, that seemed to really want me to walk away with a smile on my face in a way that I don’t think a lot of modern games seem to.
It’s not that I don’t want to be challenged intellectually or emotionally by my games anymore. But some levity every now and again would be a more-than-welcome change, and just letting loose and taking a chance on making the player feel a little bit like a child again is far from a sin.
I fear that this is a cultural thing, though. I worry that this kind of joyful abandon is being avoided because it’s out of style, or because these kinds of games aren’t always the AAA blockbuster franchises that publishers so deeply adore, or because the industry has become wrapped up in trying to prove itself as all grown up and mature — much like I did back in the days before I was actually mature and realized that proving you’re mature is fruitless, pointless and self-defeating.
I don’t know. Maybe it’s all of those things. What I do know is that I could really use more fun in my life. I could use more bad jokes that I wouldn’t necessarily want to laugh at around other people. I could use more games that say screw the subtext, here are a bunch of fun things to do just because. I could use more levity and less evening news. I could use a good Uranus joke.
“Spacecraft cannot land on Uranus, because Uranus is made entirely of gas.”