232 – The Reclamation of Wonder

The wonderful world of Wonderputt.

I wrote a thing about video games!

Yes, yes; I’m rather proud of it, too. It’s been so long since I last found any game that moved me enough to write about it. I mean, I wrote about Dungeons & Dragons: Daggerdale after the NewbReview crew were kind enough (or as it transpired, cruel enough) to give me a copy, but my review of that cynical example of franchise abuse was one shat out a solitary spiked syllable at a time. I’d gone into that game hopeful, having good faith it’d turn out as enjoyable as previous D&D-based dungeon crawlers but instead it was a slap in the face, and I ended up envisioning its creators sat about a table not rolling dice but laughing to themselves about how RPG fans will buy anything.

I hated that game and feel sorry for anyone who purchased it blindly. By that same token: guys, you really should have read my review; I played it so you didn’t have to.

In more recent weeks I’ve compiled a whole sheaf-load of notes about the forthcoming social network MMOG Glitch, which has created a little buzz by dint of having Katamari Damacy creator Keita Takahashi on its design team. I’m not sure of the legal ramifications of writing about it at this stage in its design process; it’s in open beta so anyone can play it, but there’s probably some fine print in the terms and conditions that entitles Takahashi to steamroll my house with a giant sticky ball if I leak any details.

But you don’t know where I live, do you Takahashi? So I can write about it as much as I damned well please.

Takahashi’s previous games have carried a sense of wonder – something you’ll know by now I prize in my games. I mean, I’ve only played We Love Katamari Damacy, but wasn’t that wonderful? Sweeping across the world, sticky ball a-trundle, snatching up people, places and things as your ball grows ever larger. Royal Rainbow! The King of All Cosmos! All those things that used to be special back before people drove them into the goddamned ground.

And though I never played Noby Noby Boy, that looked pretty wonderful, too. You’re a wee snakey man who eats things and poops them out, and grows longer and longer until you stretch to the moon. All over the planet players ate, shat and stretched, working together to reach astrological bodies further and further away. The players were a community, working together for the good of all Nob-kind – or at least they were until they grew board and threw in the towel. Still, even before the fickle hands of gaming abandoned DuelShocks the players’ cumulative stretching had sent GIRL to Saturn and possibly beyond, and that’s an achievement all PS3 gamers can feel proud of, should they ever remember the game exists.

“Campfire, you promised us you wouldn’t use this One A Day journal to talk about games you’ve played! Are you a liar?”

I’m not going to review Glitch here.

But – AND NO, THIS ISN’T A REVIEW – Glitch, which has all manner of delightful little idiosyncrasies that’ll make you smile, is a little on the empty side. One the novelty’s worn off – and it wears off quickly – there’s not much impetus to keep going. I don’t enter the game anymore; I log into the site, choose a skills my character to learn, and while its being learned go off to do something else like write blog posts or build virtual LEGO sets, or – let’s pretend I did something cool – ride in motocross championships to win money for disadvantaged orphans. Beyond first impressions there’s no joy to the game, no wonder.

Something’s obviously gone wrong.

I’ve written about the devaluation of wonder in a post called – appropriately – The Devaluation of Wonder. So now let’s look at what can be done to turn the tide in the opposite direction.

I wrote a thing about video games – a video game, as it happens; a game I enjoyed very much. The review can be found on my other blog (you know, the one about games that nobody reads. You can find it here: http://campfireburning.blogspot.com/ ) where I positively gush about how it made me tingle in inappropriate places.

Wonderputt – the game in question – does everything right regarding the reclamation of wonder; it’s an absurdist fantasia where seasons pass in seconds, stone circles have magical powers and rainbows and rocket ships are the only goals to set your heart upon. You might think these sentiments are childish and, for the most part, I’d agree with you. I hate those optimists who insist if you reach for the stars you can snatch down stardust; when I reach for the stars – and I frequently do – I end up with a stiff arm the next day. I hate that kids are told in school they can be anything they want to be, because those are lies we’re telling, as false as creation myths and reassurances the world’s a good place where nothing can hurt them.

We want to reassure our children. My neice went through a period of being a worry-wort. at five she was scared of news reports on medical issues and fretting about recycling and the environment. I think her class had had some seminar at kindergarten – possibly involving puppets made from trash – where they’d been told the world would turn into a rubbish dump where mutant cockroaches subjected humankind to constant cancer screening and it had scared the bejesus out of her. The most truthful thing any of us could have told her was that this wasn’t something she needed worry about right now. You’re a kid, kid. Fiddle in the sun while you still can; there’ll be plenty of time to worry about the state of the world when you’re older.

Is that the right thing to say? I’m not a parent yet so it’s not something I need concern myself with; I too can fiddle in the sun, and indulge any misconceptions my nephew and nieces might have regarding who I am. You think I’m a superhero when I tell you I’ve played Champions Online? Sure, I can live with that. You think I know kung fu because I can do a cool stance? Well hi-YA! to that, little buddy.

But the world’s not so much falling into the toilet as trying to escape from the u-bend while being clawed at by a shit monster. Those kids don’t have any responsibilty yet but by the time they some it might be too late to teach them.

Let’s face it, that’s what happened to us.

I don’t think every human being is a special and unique snowflake. I think most of us are faceless shit-monsters sliming through one another like the ghosts of slugs. At supermarkets, on the bus and elsewhere I see the same miserable, vacant faces who’d scoff at my pastimes if they knew them, and weren’t already too busy scoffing Ginster’s pasties (and what kind of freak eats Ginster’s this close to Cornwall?). The people who’re special to me are very special indeed; they’re shining stars in a darkened sky, the last bright matter in a faecal universe. I refuse to believe every person is actually pretty interesting once you get to know them because most of them have sold their sense of wonder to be replaced with the vicarious thrills of Saturday night television.

Think about it: how many people watch The X-Factor rooting for some kid with the lungs of a whale to become a global singing megastar? Hey fella, watching at home with your wife, your kids and your twelve piece bargain bucket – that could be YOU!

I mean, sure, you can’t sing, but you need to find your own X-Factor to win. What are you good at? What do you like? Don’t tell me the highlight of your home life is watching Louis and Simon disagree over whether or not Laeticia from Essex has what it takes to be a star. Simon’s gone, baby. You’re gong to watch Louis argue with Gary Barlow from off of Take That, and when Laeticia goes through to the finals and has a number one smash hit you’ll still be sat licking chicken grease from your fingers. Is this what you want? ‘Cause that’s what’ll happen.

I like writing. One of the favourite things from the past few weeks was when in the middle of one of my posts I decided for two paragraphs to take the reader to an impossible future billions of years from now. I say ‘the reader’; I actually mean myself. Writing’s my ‘thing’. There’s nothing to stop me right now from writing a conversation in this post between myself and say, a yellow elephant. I’m not going to, but you can picture the elephant, can’t you? Banana yellow, sitting on its ass, legs splayed out looking rather forlorn because I’m ignoring it. Sometimes it brightens when I turn in its direction, lifting its head, flapping its ears, its trunk raised . . . and then I turn away still ignoring it and it slumps back into sadness. Perhaps a tear even rolls from its eye, its trunk contracting as it sniffles.

And maybe you feel bad for this yellow fucking elephant and are perhaps even a little angry that I referred to it as a ‘fucking elephant’ in spite of the fact that it doesn’t exist and never will. And if I were to point an elephant gun at its dumb fucking skull and it looks up, eyes wide and smiling because it doesn’t understand I’m about to blow its brains all over the wall and saw its tusks off for their ivory; because it thinks I’m finally paying it attention and am going to be its friend, then  trigger pull, click, boom, splat, that’ll be £400 please Mr. Ivory Dealer – well then, that would just about break your gullible little heart, wouldn’t it?

That’s the power of wonder for you.

Sometimes I feel surrounded by people who’re letting the shit monsters torpedo their wonder. I see their worth and tell them as much, but still they feel unspecial, mundane, another empty section of sky where nothing twinkles. They’re wrong and it makes me so very annoyed that things have gotten to the point where they can feel this way. Maybe it’s my strange, swinging ego at work here but even when I feel my worst I never think I’m just another guy. Am I actually unique? Well, probably not. There are millions of people like me who play board games and video games, who like the things I do and write their own uninformed commentaries on Internet blogs. Maybe to you I’m not special at all, but to me I’m about as special as it gets. Come on, I killed an elephant in a post about wonder! Who else in this world is going to do that?

And who else is going to be like you? If you sit in darkness watching the stars shine, everyone. But you don’t have to do that. Stop for a moment, watch the world spin about you and know that you stopped and it did not. You’re ice in an ocean, you’re calm in a storm, and you are who you are because you choose to be that way. Circumstance may sculpt you but you’re your own master builder; if you think you’re boring, change your opinion of yourself. Be exciting. Be cruel. Be passionate. Be wicked. The game that prompted this post is a golf game in which flying saucers abduct cows and meteorites bomb observatories. It could have been as dull as golf always is but the creators created and made something wonderful.

I know you’re responsible. I know you work hard. It’s okay to do both – and we need to do both – but if we don’t fill the air with the sweet sound of fiddles, who will?

Reclaim wonder for yourself. And the next time you’re feeling drab don’t let anyone tell you yellow elephants don’t exist. You’ve seen for yourself that they do.

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