Thursday, August 14, 2014
New England Reflections 2014 (Cont.): Platypus Travels Part XLVIII
Places can become ways of seeing things, but things can also become ways of seeing places. I discussed this in regard to books in the previous post, but today I'd like to take a moment and extend the concept to video games.
Games can also be a way of seeing. In fact, we should expect this since video and computer games are primarily a visual medium. An abnormally frosty morning in North Houston can be transformed for a group of teenage boys just by playing the first notes of the Skyrim theme. Eyes light up, slack faces crack into a smile, and immediately their imaginations begin to spin. The chill frost and bleak landscape they were complaining about a minute ago is transformed into a wide world of adventure with a wilderness of dragons. In my youth, games like Secret of Mana and The Legend of Zelda colored the way I saw my surroundings. Exploring the woods, or canoeing, or archery were all different because they were the sorts of things the heroes and heroines of those games might do. Playing A Link to the Past is enough to ensure that you never look at bushes or tree stumps the same way again. On the other hand, until quite recently the abstract quality of video game art required a well-stocked visual imagination to give it life. The blocks of color in the original Legend of Zelda or Super Mario Brothers that stood for trees and rivers and mountains had to be transfigured by the imagination of the player to be enjoyed (that process still occurs in contemporary games but improved graphics have made it less pronounced). This means that based on the stock of images in each player's mind, the game as experienced by the individual player might be significantly different from that of another player. For me as a Yankee, Link's world had a New England feel, even as the woods of Connecticut and Massachusetts will always have something a bit Hyrulean about them. Real world and imagined world each influence and enrich each other.
Like Tennyson's Ulysses we are a part of the real and imagined places we have been. They are our way of seeing the world and circumscribe our personal autonomy just as light circumscribes our sight. Put another way: places are a part of what makes us who we are. We usually think of place in terms of geographic location, but the artistic locations of books and video games can have a powerful impact on us as well, both in themselves and in the way they subtly shape our perceptions of the locations where we live and visit. What are the places real and imagined that have shaped you? In what ways do they cause you to see the world differently from others? In what way might the geographic and artistic locations you have visited shape each other?