Of Plutus and Tetris: Preserving the Legacy of Video Games


Post by Kate Klein

When they excavate Washington D.C. 2,000 years from now, they will know us by our video games. That is, if they can get them to work.

The Smithsonian American Art Museum discussed this week the difficulties of preserving video games as art. They’ve acquired Flower (created by Jenova Chen, Nicholas Clark, and the composer Vincent Diamante for the Playstation 3) and Halo 2600 (Ed Fries's "demake" of the Xbox classic) for the permanent collection. Meanwhile, the Smithsonian’s Time-Based Media and Digital Art Working Group is confronting the problem: how to let visitors of the future play the games long after the last PS3 and 2600 have vanished?

I have a more basic question: How do you keep a game in a museum?

It’s more complicated than preserving the cartridges that contain the games—you need a compatible player in working order, as well, a lesson I learned recently while doing some excavation of my own through a basement. 

In a shoe box, I found several game cartridges (Tetris! Super Mario Land! Bugs Bunny Crazy Castle!) and the husk of my old chunky, grey Game Boy original.  I could practically hear the tinny music in my head and feel the stiff action of those A and B buttons, but no amount of tinkering or cajoling could bring the thing back to life.  At the end of an afternoon, instead of a game, I had two handfuls of hardware.

“You really need the architecture of the Playstation 3,” said Michael Mansfield, the museum’s curator of film and media arts, “to play [Flower] into the future. They can’t be separated.”

The preservation of digital architecture made me think of some physical architecture I visited this summer: the ancient theater at Epidaurus, Greece.
Designed 2,500 years ago, it seats 15,000 and hosts an annual theater festival.  This summer, I watched from the cheap seats (limestone benches that soak up the westerly sun all afternoon and keep your rear end nice and warm after dusk) as a live troupe performed Aristophanes’ Plutus, translated from ancient into modern Greek, then translated again on my iPad into English.  

Open ancient console, insert compatible cartridge, create twenty-first century experience of theater as it once was . . .

 . . . only it wasn’t.  The acting troupe was superb, the music the best approximation of what a 4th century B.C. comedy might have sounded like, the acoustics just as stunning as they were went the theater was first carved into the hill.  But it wasn’t the same.  

A game—like theater and live music—is a “time-based art.” It happens once, then it’s done, even if you play it again. Even if you play it again a thousand years from now. That one game, lost to time. 

In any case: I want the Time-Based Media and Digital Art Working Group to figure out how to bring my dead classic Game Boy back to life.


Some Recommended Reading for Hogswatchnight Eve


Post by Rebecca Demarest

It’s December 24th, and, for me, that means a return to my favorite Christmas classic: Hogfather, by Terry Pratchett. I know it's not a traditional Santa-and-cookies tale, but this delightful parody of Christmas cheer has some of my favorite lines in all of the Discworld books.

It starts with the Auditors (of life, the universe, and everything) hiring the Assassins' Guild to take out the Hogfather, Pratchett’s version of Santa. The Auditors think that by ridding the world of this symbol, they’ll rid the world of a measure of messy belief. Unfortunately for them, the removal of the Hogfather only causes loose belief to fly around and incorporate as random entities (Bilious, the Oh-God of Hangovers is a personal favorite). Ultimately, Death himself decides to take a hand in things and make sure the children still get presents, thereby ensuring belief in the Hogfather.

Full of social commentary on commercialism, religion, belief, the power of the human imagination, and the importance (and awkwardness) of family during the holidays, Hogfather should be on everyone’s reading list at this time of year. Of course, if you don’t have time to sit down and read (because you’re wrapping presents or baking ninja-bread cookies) you’re in luck, because the BBC turned this book into a delightful miniseries years ago.

Unstuck Playlist: DEATH PROM


Post by Josh Denslow

In a press release, Annie Clark had this to say about her upcoming St. Vincent album: “I wanted to make a party record you could play at a funeral.” So specific while being refreshingly open to interpretation. The sound you’re hearing is not the sound I’m hearing, I can assure you.

To clarify, I created my own funereal dance party. (Click here to listen.)

1. “Brim” by Olafur Arnalds

If there was ever a song that demanded you dance and cry at the same time, this is it. It even comes equipped with a weepy violin at the end. And it’s called Brim! Are you kidding me? Like how everyone’s eyes are always brimming with tears in Victorian novels.

2. “Honey-Suckle” by Xiu Xiu

No funeral dance party is complete without Xiu Xiu, and mine is no exception. Annie Clark’s description fits them so perfectly they might want to update their Facebook profile. As my mourners decide how much they can solemnly bob their shoulders to this song without drawing unwanted attention, someone will surely throw themselves on my coffin in wailing despair. Most likely the guy who changes my oil.

3. “Ashes in the Snow” by Mono

There’s a particular way to dance to Mono and their bass player has it down. Go see them live if you don’t believe me. At this point in my funeral, everyone will lean forward, push their hair in front of their faces (if applicable), and sway.

4. “Lovely Bloodflow” by Baths

My funeral will be a well-attended affair (of course!). This song will play as everyone lines up to speak. "Lovely Bloodflow" has the kind of beat that makes you adopt that walk/dance thing people do when they head to the bar at a nightclub.

5. “Baptism” by Crystal Castles

I knew that Crystal Castles would feature prominently at this dance party, but choosing Baptism seems apropos. Certainly better than picking a song called Pap Smear or Wrath of God. Baptism has this Nintendo-style lead keyboard line and a driving beat that makes you either nod your head or slam-dance everyone around you. Those eulogizing me will have to scream over this one.

6. “Distance” by Why?

My funeral must have a slow dance. Grab the nearest Grandma! Yoni Wolf’s voice is percussive and hypnotic. You could dance to him reading the Cheesecake Factory menu.

7. “Royals” by Lorde

And then Lorde comes on and everyone knows that everything is going to be okay. Because this song is so good and she’s like five years old and she has another ninety years of life ahead of her. At least.  Perhaps she’ll live forever. This is the hopeful portion of my funeral.

8. “Chain my Name” by Polica

Now it’s time to shrug off those inhibitions and dance like you’re in your bedroom singing into a hairbrush. It also would be a good time to tell humorous anecdotes about me. Like the time I fell asleep on the train to Chicago from the suburbs and the other commuters left me there. I woke up in the train yard.

 9. “Nosetalgia” by Pusha T (feat. Kendrick Lamar)

The video for this song features Pusha T walking down a dark street, all in one take. He’s joined halfway through by Kendrick Lamar. It’s shot in gritty black and white, and these guys are too cool. Maybe the type of coolness that eluded me during my brief life. Here’s hoping for reincarnation! The dance that accompanies this song is of the waving-your-hands-with-emphasis variety. It can be done as the mourners file to my coffin to say their goodbyes (ideally in verse form).

10. “Fancy Period” by Growing

When they wheel me out to my final resting place, this song will drone in the background. The dancers might wonder what is going on. Where’s the beat? This is just two guitars in direct competition. But halfway through, I daresay a pattern emerges.  A low hum. Some may tentatively lock into this pulsing beat, shake their hips, shuffle their feet. But just as in life, nothing makes sense until the very end.

Welcome to Adventure!!


Post by Sherene Aram

When I was in college, the interactive text-based program called Adventure transported me to a place where logic, curiosity and humor were equally valuable tools, where I could escape from the stuff of daily life. In the game, I could be a treasure hunter and intrepid explorer, and I got an infinite number of "do-overs." Like many of the best stories, Adventure inspired me to action. Such as sneaking into the computer lab in the middle of the night to solve just one more puzzle.

The story goes that Adventure was shared person-to-person, mainframe-to-mainframe from Stanford to MIT. Programmers reportedly lost a week of coding time to this brand new toy. Two weeks, for those who set out to build their own versions. An apocryphal senior was so captivated by the world of the Colossal Cave that he failed to graduate.

It started with Will Crowther, who built the game’s framework in the early 1970s while developing assembly language programming for ARPAnet. Along the way, he developed computer simulations of maps and incidentally spurred the creation of a new gaming genre. Next was Don Woods, a student working in Stanford’s AI lab, who discovered Adventure on one of the university systems.

Woods supposedly reached out to Crowther by sending email to “Crowther@ every computer on the internet” -- which at that time was a pretty small number.

Like many others who came after him, Woods sought to expand the game world, invent new puzzles and contribute to the Adventure narrative. These early game writers anticipated crowd-sourced digital storytelling by a good three decades. That’s like ancient history on the gaming timeline. But Adventure lives on.

There’s no need to prowl the nearest campus for unlocked doors or windows anymore. If you’d like to play the original, it’s here. And there are a bunch of apps that allow you to crack puzzles on your favorite hand-held: search for "Colossal Cave" or just check out my favorite. I’d argue that Adventure’s early impact stemmed from the novelty of its quirkily engaging delivery system – computer as storyteller, parsing just one or two words at a time to invoke the very human experience of imagination.

But that’s not what has kept interest in Adventure alive. Again like some of the best stories, Adventure blends the new and the archetypally familiar. The game balances magic (elves, wands) and realism (the actual topography of Colossal Cave in Kentucky). Adventure is a place where control and chaos meet. It offers the fulfillment provided by mastery – whether understanding the architecture of the world or the logic of its challenges. And it captivates us with the unexpected. It is a place where we can abandon our preset boundary conditions and generate new-made selves time and again.

On Fiction, Reality, and Windows into Cows


Post by Leila Mansouri

Often, a story sticks with you because of what it makes up. With a story like Kelly Link’s “The Hortlack,” you’re immersed in a world that does not and cannot exist – in this case, a 24-hour convenience store at the edge of “the Ausible Chasm.” The chasm seems to house an entire zombie community – though it’s hard to be sure. The two clerks, one of whom may have worked for the CIA, never leave. The zombies try to buy things that aren’t for sale. They puke pajamas. The pajamas have the clerks’ dreams on them.

You can’t reduce the pleasure of stories like “The Hortlack” to these bizarre details. Even the most fantastical of stories has to be more than the sum of its strange parts. Still, these details and the world they create are essential. Whatever else this kind of story does, it needs to you to fall into the impossible world it’s imagined first.

The stories that haunt me most, though, are the ones that only seem to be making up something impossible – stories, for example, like George Saunders’s “Downtrodden Mary’s Failed Campaign of Terror.” 

“Downtrodden Mary” is a quick and dismal snapshot of the life of Mary, who works an embittering menial job at a themeless themepark featuring, among other things, the Iliana Evermore Fairy Castle, stillborn babies in formaldehyde jars, and a cow with a plexiglass window in its side. Mary is poisoning the cows (there have been six) not because the windows are cruel but because her boss is a dick.

“Downtrodden Mary” is probably not anyone’s favorite Saunders story.  If what you want is his acidic take on how surviving in Darwinian capitalism tears at those whose lives are most precarious, “Sea Oak” offers a fuller, more engaging version. (There, a zombie grandmother scolds the protagonist to “Show some cock!” at his stripper-waiter gig so as to get the still-living portion of the family out of their run-down housing complex before a drive-by kills her grandchild.) Likewise, Saunders's more recent work -- like “Puppy” and “Escape from Spiderhead” in Tenth of December -- does a more nuanced job getting at the ethics of the way we feel for other creatures – or don’t.

But “Downtrodden Mary” has that window into the cow. A window I had chalked up to Saunders’s absurdism. A window that turns out to be a whole lot like these very real ones.

Windows into cows have been used in veterinary research for decades, it turns out. There are likely hundreds, if not thousands, of cows with windows in their sides walking around right now.

It’s a small thing, recognizing that these windows which had seemed the stuff of horrifying fantasy are actually real. But getting us to do that small thing is what the best writers accomplish over and over again. Sometimes what we recognize is as concrete as plexiglass. Other times, that recognition is harder to pin down. Maybe it’s something in the confusion of the zombies that keep handing our dreams back to us on plush PJs. Maybe it’s the resentful anxiety that comes with showing your cock – and risking your job – to save your family. Whatever it is, good writing makes us look – and keep looking – until the everyday reality we thought we knew is irrevocably transformed. 
Post by Allie Werner 

"At its heart, wrestling is all about the 'Tinkerbell moment,' that moment in Peter Pan when Tinkerbell lies dead and the outraged audience shouts and claps and cheers; desperate to change the outcome. The best wrestling crowds are the ones who are united in their belief that if they believe hard enough; if they clap hard enough; if they shout hard enough – they can change the outcome."

- Michael Ryan, “I Am El Generico's Father”

When I moved to New York I got a roommate, and my roommate got me into professional wrestling. On Monday nights I would wander through the living room and sit through part of a WWE match. I liked the stunts, and the soap opera dramas enacted on the stage, but I never had my Tinkerbell moment. I didn't become invested enough in the WWE narratives to feel my heart in my throat when a favorite wrestler was in danger of losing a match.

Then she introduced me to Kaiju Big Battel.

Wrestling is fiction. I know that. You know that. Nearly everyone who watches wrestling knows that. Kaiju Big Battel is an indie wrestling group that takes wrestling's fictionality and runs with it.

While a mainstream wrestling circuit like the WWE features broadly sketched characters and ongoing plots, it likes to stay tethered to reality. As the WWE constructs its narratives, it creates stories that are ostensibly occurring within the same world that its audience lives in.

Kaiju Big Battel, meanwhile, has men and women in monster costumes performing piledrivers into cardboard buildings. When wrestling abandons any pretense of being an unscripted contest, something wonderful happens. It can embrace any sort of framing narrative. Kaiju Big Battel takes its cues from monster movies, kung fu epics, and comic books.

Kaiju Big Battel doesn't follow the laws of our world. There is no conservation of mass. The biology is a mess. One of Kaiju Big Battel's most beloved teams is Los Plantanos, twin brothers who are also giant, anthropomorphic plantains. Ancient viking warriors battle space bugs and demons and sea monsters. Heroes ultimately triumph and villains receive their comeuppance. Kaiju Big Battel's laws are, ultimately, narrative ones.

This is why Kaiju Big Battel works so well. There is no awkward mapping of the narrative necessities of wrestling onto the practicalities of our reality. Instead, the audience agrees to enter the internal logic of a live action Saturday morning cartoon. Kaiju Big Battel constructs its own hyperreality of heightened colors and flying kicks that reads as brighter, truer than our everyday real.

Unlike cartoon characters, however, the wrestlers are aware of their audience. They react to the audience's boos and adulation. The participatory nature of a wrestling show allows the audience to feel that they, personally, are cheering their favorites towards an uncertain victory. Even though the results of the match are scripted, those are real people in fake monster costumes slamming each other into the mat. They can hear you.

Wrestling exists within a twilight zone of real and not-real. Kaiju Big Battel, by embracing its unreality, felt realer to me than any other wrestling match I'd ever seen.

I attended my first Kaiju Big Battel match a few months ago. Along with the rest of the audience, I screamed. I shouted. I stamped my feet and clapped my hands until they burned. At the climax of the match, as the Baby Sky Deviler emerged from the wreckage of the Internet and sent evil monsters flying with a gentle push of its small paws, I knew that I, somehow, had helped bring that event into being.

I was so proud of all of us.

*   *   *

Photos and wrassle facts courtesy of Sarah Jacoby.

Unstuck Music Pick: The Resource Centre Series


Post by John Mark Lapham 
[Image by Gareth Courage]

The Resource Centre is the brainchild of John Hanson, one half of the Birmingham duo Magnetophone. If you're familiar with Magnetophone's output, you may notice some similarities here in the childlike melodies, the sense of adventure and experimentation. The Resource Centre deconstructs those dense compositions, leaving only a skeletal, almost intangible trail with just a hint of melancholia running throughout.

There's something very British about these recordings and, perhaps largely thanks to titles such as "The School System," they bring to mind some classic coming-of-age films such as Kes, Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner and Unman, Wittering and Zigo. The tone of these compositions is more modern classical than modern electronica, harking back to pioneering works by the likes of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, Raymond Scott, and Terry Riley.

Recommended listening:

The School System, Phases 1-3

A Million Voices for Nature

Dreams to Remember


Post by Alyssa Ramirez

I’ve been working my way through the NYRblog’s series on dreams this week. I have troubling, convoluted dreams, replete with violent international conflicts and complex relationships with nonexistent people. On a recent vacation, I awoke shouting from a nightmare, a not-infrequent occurrence. This time, though, I had to explain to my hotel roommates the reason for my cries.

Don’t worry; I won’t bore you with the details, except to say that, like the woman in Charles Simic’s essay, I have dreams that span days (“like afternoon soaps,” he writes brilliantly). This bothers me. If my dreams contain recurring characters and established settings, if they retain continuity from month to month and span days within themselves, well—I can’t help wondering, perhaps childishly, if my dream life goes on while I’m still awake.

The unexplored corners of the mind fascinate me, so it’s no surprise that I’m mostly pro-dreams in literature. But there seems to be a schism in the literary world, as evidenced by (what I’ve read so far of) the NYRblog’s series: In one corner, we have Michael Chabon and his frank contribution, “Why I Hate Dreams”; representing the dream team, we have Francine Prose and Nicholson Baker.

Obviously, there’s no right answer. Sometimes a dream telegraphs an ineffable insight into a character’s mind or delivers the perfect inexplicable sense of dread. And sometimes you can see the clumsy weight of the writer’s hand all over it, smudging details just because, or tossing in objects pregnant with symbolism. For years after opening one of those dream interpretation bibles in a Borders (R.I.P.), I found myself plagued by nightmares of losing my teeth, because the book said that motif indicates money problems, and I always have money problems.

But when I think of my favorite dreams in literature, I can’t even really think of any dreams. (One exception is the baffling dream sequence in Nathanael West’s underappreciated Miss Lonelyhearts.) Instead, I think of Kelly Link’s “Magic for Beginners.” If that story contains a dream sequence, I can’t recall it. But the oneiric sense of Jeremy and his friends chasing The Library through the snowy climes of cable TV reminds me more than anything else of my relationship with dreams, of my daily wakeful struggle to grasp some magical ephemera before I’m plunged back within it.

Link is a master of her genre. Years after reading Magic for Beginners, I actually did wonder whether the title story existed or whether I had dreamed it. (Of course I didn’t dream it, because I am not a master of Link’s genre.) Perhaps it’s the distorted sense of familiarity permeating her work that tricks me into believing a plot had shuffled out of some shadowy dream space in my head. It’s like how you misremember a childhood incident, imbuing it with some impossible power: your grandmother’s musty handbag that seemed to contain worlds, those creepy lawn ornaments you swore moved on their own, that beautiful story you’re not sure you really read.

* * *

Below: pretty much the best ever depiction of a dream.

The Unstuck Activity Book: Looking for God in All the Wrong Places


Post by Molly Laich

Watching so many films alone in dark theaters—feeling vaguely as though my Heavenly Father has abandoned me—I started to think about God in the movies. If a movie creates its own universe, then the governing truth behind that universe is there in the bones of the art, is it not? Here on earth, IRL, we can’t be sure that God is real, but maybe in cinema?  

Sometimes I write film reviews for a little paper in Montana, which means I wind up seeing a lot of movies. Just for you, I’ve invented a fun game called GOD or NO GOD. It’s a one-person game with no rules, scores, ending or winners. I’ll show you how to play using a random sampling of 13 new releases from 2013.

Movie 43

The fact that this aggressively mindless, star-studded film was ever made and released in theaters is evidence of Richard Dawkins’ blind watchmaker at work. If there ever was a god, he abandoned these characters long ago.


Now You See Me

This is a movie about magic in the “staged illusion” sense of the word, but they end it with an inexplicable CGI glowing eyeball of a halfhearted suggestion that real magic exists. Ergo, God is a wizard.


The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

Unlike Now You See Me, which treats teleportation like it’s the easiest trick in the world, the makers of The Incredible Burt Wonderstone claim that all of the stage magic performed in this incredibly dull excuse for a movie is based on real magic tricks, aided by only minimal CGI. There’s no real magic and there never was.


Before Midnight

Jesse and Celine are at each other’s throats for half the goddamn film. Gravity has defeated their bodies. Celine drowns the little ones in the tub in the last scene… (Not really.)


After Earth

I overheard some people say this father/son adventure saga was about Scientology, which it turns out isn’t true but here I go repeating it anyway. Nevertheless, remember that M. Night Shyamalan is the director, who made that movie Signs about the little girl who changes destiny by leaving glasses of water all over the house. Apply the auteur theory, carry the one, and…


This is The End

All the good people get sucked up to heaven in blue rays of light and I think Satan waves a towering penis around at some point, if memory serves. Sometimes this game is easier than others.


World War Z

This is a tough one. It’s a conclusion that every moviegoer has to come to on his or her own: Are zombies an expression of a harsh, indifferent, predatory existence? Or are they God’s retribution sent down from the heavens in the form of a virulent, rabies-like disease or whatever? I think


The Conjuring

They cast a demon out of a woman using the Lord’s Prayer. Since the prayer worked, I have to tentatively conclude


Blue Jasmine

I think we can all agree that Woody Allen is an outspoken atheist who’s really more like an agnostic. Not a lot of mention of God in Blue Jasmine, but if you look at Crimes and Misdemeanors and its sister film, Match Point, you’ll find that in both stories, the evildoer gets away with his crimes, because of privilege, chance, or both. The implication is that man dishes out his own punishments and rewards. Then again, who can say for sure that the Martin Landau character isn’t burning in hell as we speak?



I really went back and forth on this one. There’s George Clooney’s ghost, but most people interpret this as a hallucination. When Sandra Bullock talks about the death of her daughter, she describes it as a random accident, not predetermined or divinely inspired. Now, does the fact that Bullock survives in the end confirm or contradict the conclusions she came to about her daughter’s death? Did she survive with the help of an inner, Godly strength as part of a predetermined plan, or did she just happen to beat the odds and live? I think this movie flirts with the divine, but it has a stronger hard-on for the human spirit.


The Counselor

Cormac McCarthy wrote the script, so.


Ender’s Game

The movie is for kids, and they’re not just going to send our little ones into darkness. More to the point, it seems that Ender’s conflict at the end reeks of moral absolution. He’s deceived by man but ultimately answers to a higher power. It’s probably some sort of futuristic God is a robot inside a video game wrapped in a dream from the future God, but a God nonetheless.


12 Years A Slave

This is the movie that first got me thinking about GOD or NO GOD in the first place. In my review I wrote, “it feels like God or the devil is lurking in the shadows, pressing down… Always it sounds like a storm is on the way, but it never rains. A cotton field is both beautiful and feels like hell. The black people are in hell and so are the white people.” And somehow Brad Pitt always manages to be on the right side of history. He must be real.


From a Couch in Norton, MA


Post by Pete Coco

Put an MFA on a couch with an ergonomic controller in his hands, carnage of his making on the television before him and a compatriot on the other end of his one-eared headset and the question arises inevitably: can video games truly be narrative art?

Of course they can. But how many video games even want to be?

My compatriot, similarly encouched twelve states away, raises the question first but in different words.

We’re playing Diablo III. To put it in terms that assume no knowledge of the game’s genre, the point here is to kill all the hellspawn standing between us and Diablo (they are legion), collect their stuff -- weapons and armor, mostly, but also some shiny trinkets -- and either pawn it away or use the best of it to kill Diablo (in this, the third iteration). Meanwhile, each kill makes us incrementally more powerful. But the bad guys get more powerful too.

Diablo himself is pretty much who you’d expect a guy named Diablo to be: large, red, covered in spikes. Monstrous; smoldering at the edges. Evil incarnate, basically. The game is infinitely replayable, as the point across run-throughs becomes less to merely slay Diablo and his minions and more to find the rare stuff they happen to be carrying that will kill the next horde of them with fewer thumbstrokes -- but not too few. That would be boring. Our goal, then, is a balance between our own relative bad-assedness and the increasing challenge presented by our enemies at each stage. Imbalance in one direction, and you die, over and over, failing to progress. The other way it’s all too easy. Pointless. It’s about as Buddhist as iterative carnage can get.

There’s a whole genre of games premised on this balance and I love them. The key is to think of your goal not as increasing the efficiency of your play but increasing the badassness of your in-game avatar. This progression -- bedraggled noob whacking away at the hordes with a fat stick all the way up to messenger of some Wagnerian god, encased in shimmering plate mail and wielding something like justice itself -- it is a stay against entropy.

For my compatriot and I, playing Diablo III together is also a way for us to catch up with one another. Apart from the technology that now allows us to do this outside of a single room, we’ve been doing this exact thing for more than a decade. Back when we were bedraggled noobs ourselves -- level zero creative writing majors -- the conversation was different. Now we talk about our wives -- he is recently remarried -- and my daughter. Our aging parents come up.  It’s pretty much the usual conversation between two old friends in their mid-thirties. We’re coming to that crest in life where the terrain begins, in ever increasing proportions, to be of our own making: personally, professionally, dentally. The difference is maybe that the lulls in our conversation are longer and less uncomfortable than they would otherwise be if our hands and eyes weren’t united in a common purpose: killing evil hellspawn a world away.

Can games be a form of true narrative art? The question should embarrass us (and someday will), though in a case like Diablo III, we might need to stretch our terms a bit. Certainly, there’s a story in the avatar’s progression across sessions, a bildungsroman of sorts, and then, of course, there is what it means to my compatriot and I to be sitting here, both together and not, like we always have and also not like that at all.

Our avatars enter a burning village of hostile, polearm-bearing goatmen. The creatures pour from the fiery ruins of their thatch-roofed huts and my compatriot breaks one of those long, not-uncomfortable silences with the question at hand.

“Do you ever wonder … like are we maybe the bad guys here? Going into an indigenous village and raining down slaughter? Because why?”

Whatever his doubts, they don’t slow us. The goatmen continue to fall beneath our blades with the efficiency of victims. My avatar, a sort of holy man, yells at his vanquished enemies.  It reminds me of Schwarzenegger in his heyday, the way his pithiest insults were also aimed at the fresh corpses of his enemies.

The corpses lie on the ground but don’t pile -- each lies for maybe half a second before courteously phasing out of this dimensional plane. Blood puddles remain, but the carnage is otherwise erased from the moment -- and history, whatever that means in this context.

It’s not that we aren’t enacting a story. We are; we just couldn’t care less. This story was composed, written by somebody, and for all our own literary pretensions, we mash through the expositive dialog with the same righteous impatience we bring to a village of goatmen. We even use the same button to do it. What matters is that we are endlessly sprinting across plains lousy with beasts, varyingly demonic, dispatching them back to hell one by goddamned one. Why? For our own reasons, or none at all.