What have I been doing the last couple of months, while not writing regular entries for this blog, you may have been wondering? (Or not, but for the sake of argument I am going to assume you were.)
The answer is that I’ve been reading. Books. Fiction. About two books per week, on average. One book that I liked particularly, and which I can mention here because it is, in fact, related to video games in a major way, is Lucky Wander Boy, by D.B. Weiss.
I was so engrossed in this book that I took it along on my recent trip to the Netherlands with only a couple of dozen pages left to read, and finished reading it in the corridor leading from the airport into the plane.
It’s a book about a guy who finds much-needed meaning in his life through classic video games, which leads him to write hilarious quasi-intellectual essays on Pac-Man and Frogger. My favorite sentence in the book is from the essay on Donkey Kong:
It is difficult to ignore the similarities between Donkey Kong (the creature) and the demiurge of the Gnostic heresies.
And yes, once you’ve read the full explanation, it is difficult to ignore the similarities. I would have loved the book just for that sentence by itself, but there’s much more to enjoy. The various articles on classic video games not only spoof academic criticism (in my humble opinion), but are actually integrated into the rest of the story in various neat ways.
And then there’s Lucky Wander Boy itself, the ultimate rare video game. I won’t reveal the excellent explanation for a) why Lucky Wander Boy cannot be emulated by MAME, b) why it is so rare and c) what the game is about. That revelation is what the whole book is about, and it’s a fun read, and quite believable.
I never quite figured out the ending, or what the obscure Chinese book about Leng Tch’e, the death of a hundred cuts, has to do with things. I can come up with explanations for both, but none that completely satisfy me. But don’t let that keep you from reading the book.
One element of the book was of personal interest to me (I mean, more so than the video games). At one point, the protagonist goes to work for a Hollywood production company called Portal Entertainment (the book is set in the late 90s). These rather clueless people made money from doing the movie based on Eviscerator, an incredibly violent fighting game, with bizarre characters such as the Spectral Samurai. Sounds familiar?
In 1998 I visited a company in LA called Threshhold Entertainment, makers of the Mortal Kombat movie. They were just finishing up Beowulf, a “sci-fi update of the famous 6th Century poem”, starring Christopher Lambert. If that doesn’t set alarm bells ringing, I don’t know what will. I was told someone noticed a similarity with Beowulf at some point during the making of the movie, so they decided to, ah, rebrand it. I also saw the scene where the Bad Girl reveals her character’s inner nature by growing huge tentacles from her back and tearing open her own torso. I was told the actress who played the Bad Girl in question was the Playboy playmate of the month in October 1997. All of which did not increase my faith in the overall quality of the movie. But, to be fair, I never saw it.
Anyway. I mean, threshold, portal? Come on.
Read the book.