Inside the Sun

Today, it looks like it’s going to get up to the sixties in Memphis. It’s a strangely beautiful break to see blue skies and feel the warmth of the sun in between the bizarre snows we’ve been having of late (and are again scheduled to have next Tuesday). To be honest, it makes me a little stir crazy to look outside and be tempted by a false spring. I recall my lab class back in college. One of the few classes I attended with enormous, distracting windows (back when windows were windows and not Windows).  You see, my high school was an experimental design in architecture where the windows were set up high and recessed. The reason? Someone (in their infinite wisdom) decided it was far too distracting for students to stare out the windows. Whatever the reason, it made the school look intimidating and monolithic from the outside, and just a tad gloomy on the inside. Hence it was dubbed “the prison school” for its daunting and, let’s say, less than friendly, outward appearance. Oddly or coincidentally or as a result of, the school was ranked among the best in the cities, so maybe that old architect knew something we kids did not. So, when I went to college, the large, open windows effected my like some type of paralysis ray. I saw the green of the grass; I saw the strip of blue sky; I saw freedom awaiting beyond the streaked, glass panes. Perhaps that’s the reason why I did not excel in the science class (or was a contributing factor). Though I am found of science, I am no scientist, and the science teacher went by rote and made the course about as appealing as drinking a glass of cardboard dust through a thin, glass straw rimmed with barbed wire. Hence, I am not a neurologist, but plumb the depths of the human psyche in my own weird way, through interactive media.

As we age and mature and develop our own groove and cut our own swath through the fields of knowledge awaiting us, I see the convergence of information and the divergence of intelligence ever growing. Our hobby grows fractured as its spawn has sprawled across the electronic landscape and feasted upon the bones of its forebears. RPGs, once the private purview of the chosen few–geeks and techs and nerds and outsider and the rare norm (with avant-garde) tendencies–expanded its reach. Its tendrils found its ways into the synapses of programmers and games soon seeded the fertile fields. We, as lovers of game, embraced them and enjoyed their novelty and convenience. We who were nurtured on poor art yet heady with imagination had no problem envisioning the eight-bit monstrosities sprightly dancing across our monochromatic screens as dragons and skeleton warriors and hit the proper letters on the keyboards to swing our abstract swords. Some of us were weened on Pong. Who were we to doubt the glory before us? We reveled in the fact there were others out there. Designers of code who chose to fashion the magic bits of binary into worlds where we could play? We who remember the text adventures where we had simple choices of E(ast) or W(est) or (N)orth suddenly had a smorgasbord laid before us–a veritable bounty of limitless play. Those of us who read science fiction and could peak into tomorrow knew the technologies eventually would match our inner eyes. We creep every closer today. And that’s a sparse understatement. Leaps and bounds befitting an early Superman have transformed into true flight as we are able to play games with amazing graphics online and play with people whom we’ll never know or strike up friendships in clans and participate in raging wars against the Horde or plunder the unknown depths with friends who’ve moved far away.

Is this excess good? We have looked up at the sun. We have marveled at its power and majesty since time immemorial. We have been cautioned by legend and myth about getting to close. Now, we are inside the sun. Has it burned away our creativity? Do we no longer use our inner eyes to see this as they could be? Has our imaginations been laid barren? Has our hungers been so sated? Has the next generation forgotten the foundations upon which the gaming industry was built?  I think not.

Within the sun, we have the choice whether to let the power consume us and blind us with choice or we can instead choose to use the power to elevate us even further into our own realms of creativity. We can learn lessons from both divergent paths of gaming and acknowledge and appreciate them both. Some of the best video games (and here I’m broadcasting the term on the broadest spectrum possible to encompass both console and PC games) are rooted in the knowledge of tabletop RPGs and attempt to recreate the experience. Many give us some solid emulations and permutations resulting from choice and it’s no wonder the sandbox style games take preeminence–the games allowing us to determine our own fate serve two masters–the folks who know the boundless options permissible within a traditional RPG and the new generation of gamers who appreciate the ability to forge their own stories. Even as the video game industry seeks to recreate the experiences we have had with a handful of friends and dice for over thirty years, the RPG industry is experiencing a renaissance of its own. No longer are we shackled to dungeons rife with dragons. No longer must everything be a mere confrontation determined by random chance. New systems arise enabling us to tell tales in whole new ways. The hobby emerges like a phoenix from the flames. Ever stronger. Ever brighter. Ever more enchanting. Yet, despite its newer plumage, there is the sense, the understanding of continuity, announcing to the world we’re not dead yet. We’re gamers. We’re a creative lot. We have high survival skills (check our character sheets). We’ll look over our gear lists, in whatever form we receive them, and prepare for our next adventure. We’ll carry on. Until next time, I bid you, dear reader, adieu!

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