Tuesday, April 12, 2011

This Entry Is Not About the Homoerotic Connection Between George Foreman and Genghis Khan (Genghis Khan, George Foreman's KO Boxing)

But that doesn't mean I won't make sure that it becomes the first Google hit for anyone looking for Genghis Khan/George Foreman slash fiction. In any case, it's been a while since we've talked about fighting, and I don't think anyone actually read that entry anyway. (For very sound reasons, nobody progresses to the beginning of the archive) So let's do it again. Or shall we say, conflict.

Genghis Khan, depending on who you ask, is either a conquerer who amassed the single largest empire of any human being ever, or what is widely recognized as the best strategy game of all time. In his former guise, with a set of brutal tactics that included the routine massacre of civilian populations, which does make it easier to conquer huge swaths of the world, people generally being the major problem with ruling the world. But the Mongol empire, at the time of his death, included parts of what are now Iran and India. At the height of the empire, it included parts of what are now Poland and Vietnam, which I encourage you to stop and think about in terms of scale, given that it was a contiguous empire.

Part of the shock of this fact is that in a world currently divided into individualized nation states that provide a sense of microculture that is heightened by the fact that mass communication is such that a subculture can exist. The odd effect of this is that we tend to marginalize the genuine strangenesses of ancient cultures. It took a surprisingly short amount of time for globalization to set in, with light Sino-Roman relations existing, as well as the wonderful example of the Indo-Greeks.

The unfortunate reality of the world being that the sword, through most of human history, has been a relatively effective mechanism of cultural exchange. But even there, Genghis Khan is oddly out of place, since he was extravagantly destructive of cultures. The Mongol Empire was cosmopolitan in a weird way, in that it was brutal in breaking the backs of existing cultures, but positively progressive in its tolerance for the cultural quirks of the survivors so long as the money still flowed to the capital.

But this gets at the fact that military conquest is a genuinely complex affair. Which is why in most regards the primary genre for war video games has been, for most of the history of video gaming, the turn-based strategy game, of which Genghis Khan is an example. I've talked about the difficulty of these games for this blog before - the fact of the matter is that half an hour is nowhere near long enough to get into a game that depends on enormously complex game mechanics.

At its heart, the turn-based strategy game depends on the tension between a game mechanic that is trivial to use - "Pick something off a menu" - and a game mechanic that is enormously difficult to use well. This is oddly suitable to the art of war and combat, in which the act of shooting someone in the face is unsettlingly easier than balancing the competing desires of multiple nation-states in an attempt to ensure a stable geopolitical situation.

Indeed, there is a strange tension between Genghis Khan and George Foreman (that could possibly, but in all likelihood will not, lead to passionate sexual congress between them) in this regard. Genghis Khan's primary genius as a military leader was in his ability to organize the complex machinery of war. In other words, his genius was specifically in his ability to distance himself from the actual mechanics of fighting and battle in favor of the mechanics of geopolitical motion. George Foreman, on the other hand, was a master at the art of defeating people.

It's difficult to comment on a game like George Foreman's KO Boxing prior to the primal scene of boxing video games, Punch Out. At the end of the day, these games are rhythm games with violence, about the pace and tempo of the fight. George Foreman's KO Boxing is based on dodging punches at the right times and landing punches at the other right times.

This is not actually any worse an approach for a boxing game than turn-based strategy is for a war game. Just as war is about the vast complexity of its moving parts, boxing is about the intimacy of combat in that classic homoerotic way. It is about the intense physicality of the experience every bit as much as war is about the intense abstraction of it.

But what occupies the space in between the intimacy of combat and the theory of war? What fills the gap  from soldier to general? That void between the experienced reality of combat and the unknowable but equally, if not more true and more important reality of the abstract systems that war fuels. In the fumbling coitus of boxer turned kitchen appliance salesman and vicious historical warlord, this mysterious point of contact between the two seems to be everything - the unknowable spark of battle and forbidden love.

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