“There’s a killer on the road
His brain is squirmin’ like a toad
Take a long holiday
Let your children play
If you give this man a ride, sweet family will die”
The Doors, Riders on the Storm
The Hunt for the Red October is a mystery thriller set in 1984 that features a rogue Soviet Submarine with a class of nuclear missiles that CIA analysts must determine if the intentions of the captain, Ramius, is to defect to the United States or launch a first strike attack. The story ends with some great detective work by Jack Ryan after he successfully ascertains the true intentions of the captain are to defect after receiving plans for a nuclear first strike mission.
I started playing Super Mario Bros on Nintendo when I was five years old. I don’t recall that I ever beat the game that young. I moved the character around the world, fought koopas, giant venus fly traps, traveled down green portal plumbing tubes and ate mushrooms that gave me temporary powers. On youtube there is a video of someone beating the entire game in less than 5 minutes. Its hilarious watching as an adult because you can now see how simple it is. When the player finally reaches Bowser, he effortlessly moves Mario past him, deftly dodging flying axes and drops a gate that lets Bowser fall into a lake of fire under his own weight. Later versions of the game and similar game traditions (i.e. Zelda) always end with a final face-off against a larger, stronger enemy where a weakness must be identified and exploited.
Published in 1945, George Orwell’s Animal Farm depicted a Utopian society where two pigs lead an animal uprising against their human overlords ultimately creating a system as bad as what they had previously lived under as the result of the dictatorship of a pig named Napoleon. Snowball, the well intentioned brainchild of the uprising who planned the construction of a windmill to provide energy and electricity to the farm is eventually run off the farm by Napoleon to leave the farm under his control. As things unfold and things don’t go as planned, Napoleon uses the name of Snowball as a political scapegoat to keep the farm animals compliant. Its actually a hilarious premise. The concept that a pig could be a successful overlord of a utopian society when pigs are associated with dirt, mud, greed, and gluttony is an obvious mechanism for satire.
In the book Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman a famous psychology experiment is cited. Performed by Walter Mischel, four year old children were offered the choice between a small reward (one cookie) that they could consume immediately or a larger reward (two cookies) that they had to wait 15 minutes for. They had to remain alone in a room with a single cookie. There were no toys or other distracting items in the room. A follow up study on the children ten to fifteen years later determined there was a significant difference in the outcomes of the children who had resisted temptation vs. those that had not. The ‘resisters’ had higher measures of performance in cognitive tasks and especially with their ability to focus attention effectively. They were less likely to take drugs and performed higher on intelligence tests.
The 14th century epic poem Divine Comedy, written by Dante Alighieri is considered one of the most important pieces of classic literature, Inferno, being the most frequently cited and referenced. It follows Dante as he is led by the Roman poet Virgil through nine concentric circles of hell, traveling further, deeper and perpetually downward into darkness until they reach the final layer where histories worst sinners can be observed suffering the punishments and consequences of their actions and poor decisions in life. After the last circle of hell, Virgil shows Dante a small light and he begins his ascent out of darkness.
Abraham Lincoln is credited with saying “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”
The great classical physicist Issac Newton said, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”
The average age of a U.S. Congressman is 58 years old and the average age of a U.S. Senator is 62 years old. Thomas Jefferson was 33 years old in 1776 when he signed the Declaration of Independence. He is also credited with composing the initial draft before it was edited by Congress. It is baffling to me that Jefferson at 33 carried enough influence at the time to be selected to draft one of histories most important documents. He did however have many older and influential advisors at his disposal including Benjamin Franklin (age 70), and John Adams (age 40) who were also present for the signing. Jefferson later succeeded the older John Adams to become the 3rd President of the United States, confirming age and experience took precedent.
“I used to write letters
I used to sign my name
I used to sleep at night”
Arcade Fire, We Used To Wait
All video games present characters a limited set of binary options: “up/down,” “left/right,” “A/B,” but as you progress deeper and further the villains become progressively more absurd: flying turtles, walking mushrooms, giant plants that can consume a man whole. As the character survives each challenge they are funneled down a final path to come face to face with the villain at the center of it all. If the character fails and dies there is always the option to respawn and start over again from the beginning. It is unlikely that you can play a new game to completion successfully on the first try without failure. All games are impossible without guidance, or experience of previous failures. The best players have practiced, rehearsed or have guides that share their experiences to increase their learning speed.
In the 1997 film Titanic, two characters Jack and Rose spend most of the film getting to know one another as they adventure through all levels of the ship. At one point Jack takes Rose down to the lower levels before Rose takes Jack up to the higher levels. The movie ends with them both symbolically near death on one of the many doors they opened for one another. No villains were literally defeated, but the villain lost control through experiences and knowledge gained by those around him.
When playing a video game, we sometimes also have the option to select our avatar. In Mario Tennis, you can be Bowser, Yoshi, Peach, or Mario amongst a host of minor characters who all have different abilities, strengths and limitations. Mario is frequently depicted as a well rounded character, no significant strengths, no significant weaknesses. This makes him relatable, but ultimately boring and sometimes forgettable. I can recall almost never selecting Mario, but Bowser was always too damn slow.
All games have to have conflict and an evil villain at the center of all the problems within the games universe. Most villains are depicted as controlling something, either a treasure or princess that has been locked away. Therefore all games are ultimately about freeing that which is hidden, or locked away. A monopolistic business ruled by a controlling CEO, or a country under the rule of a dictatorship would be real-world applications of the same. By enhancing freedoms, new wealth can be found and shared. In life, once we die we can’t respawn. But we do have numerous guides, histories, and books to reflect upon where humans have failed in the past and also succeeded. If life is a game, then we are all trying to push humanity forward by continually finding new ways to experience freedom and enhance our wealth. Further and deeper and back again, or conversely more and more locked away depending on our paths and decisions.
“If you want to keep a secret, you must also hide it from yourself. You must know all the while that it is there, but until it is needed you must never let it emerge into your consciousness in any shape that can be given a name.”
George Orwell, 1984
“Each person is at each moment capable of remembering all that has ever happened to him and of perceiving everything that is happening everywhere in the universe. The function of the brain and nervous system is to protect us from being overwhelmed and confused by this mass of largely useless and irrelevant knowledge, by shutting out most of what we should otherwise perceive or remember at any moment, and leaving only that very small and special selection which is likely to be practically useful.”
Aldous Huxley, The Doors of Perception
One of the final scenes of Inception is when Leonardo Dicaprio and Ken Watanabe wake up seated at a large table in the castle on the shores of limbo, near the deepest layers of the subconscious mind. Dicaprio and Watanabe both appearing aged, lost and confused, Dicaprio looks down to see a loaded gun at the table near his hand.
A few years ago I found the theme song to a childhood show, Pete and Pete. The song is called Hey Sandy by Polaris. I listened to it and instantly remembered the all the detailed absurdities, and chaos of the show and my youth.
“Hey smilin’ strange
You’re lookin’ happily deranged
Could you settle to shoot me?
Or have you picked your target yet?”
Polaris, Hey Sandy