“It’s A Wonderful Life”, “A Christmas Carol”, “Silent Night”, “What Child Is This?”, “Carol of the Bells”, “Auld Lang Syne”
This time of year is packed with tradition. Why do we do the same things each year?
“The Lord of the Rings”, “The Hobbit”, “The Blue Sword”, “I, Jedi”
Why do we read books more than once? What is it about them that we want to revisit? Why are they so great?
“The Ten Commandments”, “Romeo and Juliet”, “The Tempest”, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, “Canterbury Tales”, “Casablanca”
What is it about these bits of entertainment that sticks? Is pop culture actually culture? (Beej, I’m especially interested in your take on this…) More than once, I’ve noted that a story is good, but “it’s no Shakespeare”. What was the expression before Shakespeare’s time? “It’s good, but it’s no Chaucer”? How is it that these things stand the test of time? How do they become cultural touchstones that people continue to look to and revisit? Why?
Why can we watch episodes of our favorite shows over and over? I can watch Stargate SG-1’s “Window of Opportunity” every week and not get tired of it. (The whiplash change from silly to serious just works, far better than most shows I’ve seen.) Things that resonate with us seem to always have a home.
“Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian” isn’t Shakespeare, but I’ve found that I enjoy it. A few moments stand out, though: The Tuskegee Airmen are my clear favorite, especially in a quiet moment with Amelia Earhart. You might get the gist of the interaction just from watching them exchange salutes, but if you know a bit more about the Airmen and Ms. Earhart, the moment is considerably more poignant. Custer‘s moment of reflection near the end of the movie also resonates with anyone who has read a bit of military history, or who has served in leadership, especially in the military. The movie works best when it draws from real history. (Of course, I’m also partial to the Air and Space Museum anyway, so it probably just resonates with me more than some, and I spent time in Alabama, where the Airmen are rightfully lauded as heroes.)
We can mention the Titanic in casual conversation and use it as shorthand to allude to hubris, arrogance, and human incompetence. No internet firefight (or id game) is complete without someone invoking Hitler or Nazis, whether directly or indirectly. The Constitution isn’t just a piece of paper. Da Vinci, Einstein, Newton, Jefferson, Washington, Lincoln, Stalin, Ghandi. We don’t even need their first names any more; everyone knows who they are and why they are important. (Tangent: or at least, everyone should know. Don’t get me started on the sorry state of American education.) These are the names, places and items that wove the tapestry of culture today. Does it always need to be real, though?
George Bailey, Ebenezer Scrooge, Puck…
Aeris? Is she even a spoiler any more?
Video games are young. Very young, compared to most of these cultural touchstones cited. And yet, what serious gamer hasn’t at least heard of Aeris? For good or ill, her plight is a touchstone in the gamer culture. And are we not members of society at large? If you prick us, do we not bleed?
Video games have a place in history, for good or ill. I harbor no illusion that Arthas is in the same weight class as Rocky, but his name is not unknown. He is no MacBeth, but he is important to some people. His rise, fall and ultimate fate aren’t exactly Campbellian, but they are an important component of a game that millions of players have played. It’s still bizarre to me to see “For the Horde” as a bumper sticker, but it communicates a lot in three small words.
We’re a motley bunch, we gamers, but more and more, we’re everywhere. What effect are we having on culture? Are we providing cultural touchstones that will help us build positive things in the future, or will our legacy live in infamy like that of the Titanic?
Perhaps it’s just that I’m especially introspective this time of year, but I do reflect on these things on occasion. I believe that games have great potential, and can be a force for good. We can make things that are replayable, and offer something each time through.
I’ve taken the opportunity to replay LucasArts’ “The Dig”, and I’m finding things that I didn’t catch the first time through when I played over a decade ago. Each time I read “I, Jedi”, I find something interesting. Each time I watch “It’s A Wonderful Life”, something else clicks for me. (Especially now that I’ve spent a few years studying financial and political concerns.) I fully expect that playing FFVII or even watching Advent Children again will make something else click for me. Playing Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days has me itching to play the original KH again, to see what else fits together.
Every time I read the scriptures, something else clicks for me. Not because the content of the scriptures changes, but because I have changed. It’s nice to have those touchstones to bounce off of, and build on.
I often wonder what I’m providing to build on.
Happy New Year, everyone. Here’s hoping the last one was a good one for you, and that the next one can be built on the successes of your past.