Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Love Is the Law, Love Under Floppies (Crash and the Boys: Street Challenge, Crystal Mines, Crystalis)

(Wondering what happened to Cowboy Kid? First off, you're a nerd if you know the games in order that well. Second, it's over here, done out of order so that an interview could be completed.)

I confess to mild surprise at learning, in the opening crawl for Crystalis, that on October 1, 1997, "Savage war engulfs the world... Civilization is destroyed." I didn't remember that one happening. A quick check at Wikipedia suggests that October 1, 1997 was actually a fairly boring day. For my part, I was in the early parts of my second year of high school. Records suggest I was likely taking a C++ programming class on the side at the local university, though I might be off by a year there. This would have been during my exposure to RPGs, playing Vampire: The Masquerade LARPs in the course of my introduction to my late high school social scene due to what was basically a chance meeting with the social leader of that scene in my Latin II class.

Widen the lens a smidge and we see me coming off my third year of CTY, in many ways the most influential of them. Having taken Playwriting, not to any particulr fanfare or future, I was beginning to face the looming reality that the problem with my writing was not so much lack of ability as complete and searing lack of any ideas, a problem I am only just starting to come to some solution for. It's difficult to even frame the essential lunacy of this year. At various times across it there would be first stabs at serious relationships, first sexual encounters, intense friendships that shifted with terrifying rapidity to equally intense emnity, and, by and large, the consolidated and mind-wrenching commencement of adolescence in earnest.

Actually, as apocalyptic years of my life go, my second year of high school (by and large my years run September-August as much as January-December, if not slightly more so) is one of the bigger ones, which makes my inability to remember what exactly was going on in October of that year a bit funny, really. We speak too often of the world ending in some combination, perhaps, of fire, ice, or nuclear fallout. This ignores the wealth of apocalypses that occur in life. I have, in my pocket, a telephone that has a processor substantially more powerful than the computer I had in 1997. It gives me access to Wikipedia, which has more information in it than, essentially, any library that has ever been built. It also has more storage space and memory than any computer I owned until 2003 or so. And this is not a particularly unique or special phone. Millions of ones just like it exist, and that's just the specific model I have. Ten years earlier - in 1987 - the power of this phone would have been unimaginable except as science fiction. Somewhere in the intervening 23 years, that world ended and a new one took hold.

More broadly, of course, there are dates like September 4, 476, December 21, 1991, or September 11, 2001 - dates that clearly, decisively, and irrevocably changed the world in ways that one can clearly refer to the before and after of. The world of September 10, 2001, or December 20, 1991 is gone. It cannot come back. It's over. Personal apocalypses are just as common - the two most notable for me of late are the 48 hour double whammy of my wife leaving me and my father having a massive stroke. Though these are extreme cases, the general phenomenon, in a broader sense, occurs continuously, with the present moment shattering to irretrievable memory.

These ends of the world fuel the multiple histories concept introduced last entry, distorting our present reality into a chance contingency of an inaccessible chain of events accessible only through a realm of memory that is frighteningly indistinguishable from dreams and memory in any metaphysical sense. I can recall details of Buffy the Vampire Slayer as easily, perhaps more easily, than details of my marriage. Indeed, given the shocking arbitrariness of the latter's end, the relatively tight Aristotelean construction of the former renders it perhaps easier to recall and sort through. Human memory, in fact, seems designed to generate this phenomenon - moments of extreme trauma are blocked out by the brain despite their manifest importance. We are not built to remember events but stories and narratives, and the harsh intrusions of material reality, whether in the form of a car crash or a shopping trip, fade from memory in favor of at least partially fictive personal mythologies.

So Crystalis, released on April 13, 1990, constructs a story of apocalypse. The world ends. Crystalis, a minor game in its time, has, according to Wikipedia, become a cult classic. Its genre is classic Nintendo - a Zelda clone. Rereleased in 2000 for the Game Boy Color, the game was heavily redesigned, including the addition of an all-new story (apparently in the belief, perhaps justified, that a three-year-old apocalypse was not going to provide adequate dramatic tension). The original game that I've played here, then, is a lost history, an artifact of a world dead countless times over.

What am I doing here, exactly? Secret histories abound here, a thicket of possibilities, all fictive, even the real ones. This is not a game from my history, nor any history I have access to. I say this often, but it is worth stressing its strangeness. The NES is an intersection of everyone I could have been with who I am.

Here is a person I was not - Crash and the Boys Street Challenge. The thicket of meanings here is vast. 1992, with a far better Japanese title (Astonishing Hot-Blood New Records! Distant Gold Metal), it is part of the Technōs Japan series called Kunio-kun. Only sporadic bits of the series have seen US release, the best regarded of which is no doubt River City Ransom. They share little in common in US form save a particular stylized representation of the human form.

The game is an urban sports game with Olympics-style events - a swimming challenge, a hammer throw/golf combo, a sprint, Judo, and a parkour-esque rooftop run. I'm familiar enough to see the iconography, but not familiar enough for it to mean anything for me. The game's a blank slate, a chunk of history that could be anything, but clearly isn't mine. Who played this game? Or, more accurately, who is the me who played this game? More accustomed to urban settings? More athletic? Streetwise? Capable of buying drugs? I don't know. I don't seem to be him.

There is a thought experiment, a variation on Schrodinger's Cat, called Quantum Suicide. Like Schrodinger's Cat, it depends on a quantum effect being used to determine whether a deadly device is released. Here, however, instead of a cat, you yourself are in the box. And instead of taking place once, the experiment is repeated. Over and over again. Each time, your odds of survival drop precipitously. But if we utilize the Many Worlds interpretation, more accurately, each time the number of universes in which you are alive dwindles. But, because this is a fraction of infinity, some you always survives. Eventually, carried out enough times, you attain a state that is difficult to distinguish from immortality in any practical sense.

Is the NES library sufficient for this task? Every game played now and understood renders explicit an infinity of Others that will never draw a breath. This blog is writing as mass murder, as mass suicide, Jim Jones Kool-Aid Melange of psycholudology. So be it, frankly. I'll take the hit here. That's the thing about quantum suicide - if you live to care, you're the immortal. As the writer here, a construct less of adenine, thymine, cytosine and guanine than of grapheme, I'm fine. By definition, I'm not going anywhere. Hell, sit back, let's load up another bullet.

Crystal Mines - an unlicensed Color Dreams game that, like most Color Dreams games, got re-purposed by their Wisdom Tree subsidiary into a Bible Game called Exodus, is itself a Boulder Dash clone, creating the sort of turtles all the way down chain of ripoffs characteristic of the days when "Don't Copy That Floppy" was the whole of the copyright law, which really amounted to Do As Thou Wilt. Never played it. Playing it now, don't miss it. Any me that ever loved this game can, frankly, fuck off and die for having no taste.

This is the ugly truth of this project. There's vastly more crap than quality. There's a reason I write it the way I do, and only part of that is that I find it really funny to bash out a history of pre-human existence in the name of talking about a dinosaur coloring book. It's that short of vast mythology, there's nothing to do with the sheer banality that is most of the NES. Having turned the eye of memory, perhaps against my better judgment, back on the painfully mundane vicissitudes of the bulk of video games, one is left with few options beyond apotheosis, whether of myself or of these sprites.

After the end of the world, what's left is the rebuilding. Gather your weapons, defeat the enemies, hack through an RPG that rips off Zelda and Nausicaa in equal measures. There is much power to be found in a risen god. Amongst the piles of bodies left behind any end of the world (and every moment is the end of the world) there are many such beings to find.


  1. I love this:
    "We speak too often of the world ending in some combination, perhaps, of fire, ice, or nuclear fallout. This ignores the wealth of apocalypses that occur in life."

  2. I was just thinkin about human memory today. it's like an evolutionary benefit, absorption of trauma--we don't remember burning our fingers, but we'd never put them on the stove again. don't bad things in the past always seem better with memory, like old friends and dead relatives? even if you immortalize them in print. score one for personal mythologies!

    love your blog btw! I'm gonna spend some time readin it :)

  3. This is my first time to come here.
    I like the blog!


  4. I apologize for my uncle, Uncle cheap-wholesale-business, for his rude interruption above.

    Thanks for this great blog post. Explores some fascinating issues sparked by otherwise forgettable video games. Well done.