Thursday, March 4, 2010

Deeper Than Did Ever Plummet Sound (Astyanax and Athena)

If the Nintendo Project is a chronicle of my childhood in the abstract (and it is, among other purposes) then it is the chronicle of only one of my childhoods. It is by its nature a separate choice from the Super Nintendo after it, or the Commodore 64 before it, or the Internet on which many things, good and bad about me, were forged.

There is another childhood, wandering somewhere in 1997 and 1998. In it, I discover Sandman. One of my first two issues is actually the last. The main character makes a potent claim - "I am prince of stories, Will, but I have no story of my own. Nor shall I ever." I used the line as a sig for many years on the Internet.

Astyanax and Athena were not games I had played before. Athena came out in 1987. Behind the scenes, in a world I was not yet familiar with. Watchmen finished its run. Alan Moore was writing Swamp Thing. Neil Gaiman's first comic, Violent Cases, an attempt to grapple with the metaphors of his own childhood, came out.

Three years later, Astyanax came out. Sandman was well underway. Grant Morrison's final issue of Animal Man came out. I knew none of these things. My own future childhood was happening without me. My secret history.

Athena, a goddess of Wisdom, seemingly had nothing to do with her own game. Perhaps the game made some marginal amount of sense in Japan, where its petulant girl goddess main character existed in some cultural norm. Here, the line between the generic Swords and Sorcery cover and the anime girl on the title screen is basically unbridgeable, especially in 1987. It doesn't help that the game is unplayably bad. A clumsy arcade port. Arcades are not a secret history for me but a partial history - one marked by two major doubling backs, one in the early 1990s when I played pinball, and a second at the turn of the millenium as I played Dance Dance Revolution. At the turn of the millennium, Grant Morrison's Invisibles was concluding. I am reading it only now.

Astyanax gives every impression during its lengthy intro of ambition before slumping over with awkward controls only slightly better than Athena's. It too is an arcade port. But its story is a richly detailed chunk of fluff and nonsense. The story does not propel the gameplay. The fact that my avatar has an axe and things are attacking it propels the gameplay. The story sits more or less abandoned, an uncompelling footnote to an uncompelling game. A secret history.

There was a time when I was going to tell stories. What stories are perhaps unclear - my fanfiction days coincided neatly with Middle School. By high school I was a serious writer, and these were serious stories, or perhaps they would have been if I'd written a damn one of them. Into college. Poetry happened for a few years, not entirely without aesthetic success, but what the hell does that mean in practice. Today, some part of me would write comics. But there is no story waiting to be told. No story trying to burst out of me. I want to create art because it surrounds me. Not because it is inside of me.

In some secret history, it is 1987. I am in an arcade. I am not sure why I am in an arcade at age five, but I am. These things happen. Behind a dusty Athena cabinet, someone has dropped a copy of Watchmen #1. Curious, I open it. No wisdom is more potent than that which one cannot yet understand. There is a story to be told of this secret history. Perhaps in this secret history, I could have told it.


  1. "But there is no story waiting to be told. No story trying to burst out of me. I want to create art because it surrounds me. Not because it is inside of me."

    A sad but true fact for many of us :(

  2. Or, as Dudley Moore put it in "Arthur": Everyone who drinks is not a poet. Some of us drink because we are not poets.

    Ok, I just realized that had nothing to do with anything here. It just popped into my mind.

  3. They flutter behind you, your possible pasts.