The Great Gatsby
I promised in my previous post that the next article I posted would not be a book review. I had further hoped that my joke about the Bill and Ted franchise would have driven the point home that this subsequent article would have absolutely no value to readers seeking substantive and astute literary criticism on the pages of Non-stop Karate. I’m talking none whatsoever.
And I would like to assure you that this is a promise I intend to keep.
For the past week or so I have been confined to a small apartment. We won’t go into the particulars- suffice to say, I am vicariously reliving the high points of my childhood which typically occurred indoors and involved books, comedy, and video games.
I’ve been stuck in here for the past week and have cycling through various diversions in order to stave off boredom. I had already gone through a stack of books, watched three seasons of the Kids in the Hall, and had come at last to the threshold of, you know, actually constructive activity. That is when the Internet opened up her golden mouth and regurgitated this into my lap.
That’s right. This is an old 8-bit NES game released in Japan under the title Doki Doki Toshokan: Gatsby no Monogatari that follows the plot of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic The Great Gatsby- if of course the plot of The Great Gatsby involves Jay Gatsby teleporting away from his garden party in a surge of light, and Nick Carraway, um, following him? On the back of a train going through “The Valley of Ashes”? Only to be thwarted by martini slinging waiters, train conductors and hobos, and then finally confronted at the front of the train by a pair of flying disembodied eyes that wear spectacles and shoot laser beams?
Anyway, in the time that I’ve been stuck here I’ve mastered and beaten this video game, which is pretty easy once you get the hat throw down. And needless to say it just keeps getting weirder, with trips into the sewers, crab monsters, and what I assume to be either Arnold Gandil or Arnold Rothstein, masterminds of the 1919 Black Sox Scandal- whoever it is, his henchmen are baseball pitchers, and he explodes from atop his perch of bootleg liquor casks after you defeat him.
And Doki Doki Toshokan: Gatsby no Monogatari is not the only piece of classical literature adapted to video game form. Also adapted for NES were iconic titles like Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Tom Sawyer, Dracula, Enders Game, and of course, Burgertime.
Playing through this old, borderline incoherent NES game made me recollect with nostalgia the diversions of my youth. You see, I am an 8-bit man. Always have been, always will be.
Every day you hear about the kids these days and their Halo, their Call of Duty, their Grand Theft Auto. Sure, they are visually stunning. Sure they weave together choice, narrative, and interaction in such a way that provides both the masterful storytelling of an award-winning film with the kind of aesthetics that make them visual art just as much as they are recreational pass times. However, there seems to be one thing that most contemporary video games are lacking.
See, when I was a child, video games were a leaping off point for the imagination- largely because the graphics were so bad that you needed your imagination to stay interested. The video games of my youth didn’t coddle you with lifelike high resolution displays- they met you halfway with geometric shapes that shot smaller geometric shapes at other geometric shapes. While video games may now require more technical skill, they no longer challenge us.
To illustrate the point, let me ask you a question:
Are *you* a bad enough dude to rescue the President?
Well, are you?
It’s okay if you don’t immediately know the answer. This is a deeply existential question. What kind of dude is bad enough to rescue the President? Am I that kind of dude? How bad is bad enough? Just what kind of dude am I?
And how do all of these deep, reflective questions get answered? By undertaking a spiritual journey- a spiritual journey that involves doing jump kicks, fighting ninjas, and maybe, just maybe, if you are sufficiently bad, rescuing the President.
No video game of today provides that kind of raw and brutal freefall into existential questions about the burden of human freedom or morality in a godless, ninja-strewn void. Bad Dudes was not just a game, it was a manifesto that shattered the bourgeois egos of an entire generation.
And Bad Dudes isn’t alone. Consider Zelda, whose mythos depicts a Platonic picture of the three-part human soul in the imagery of the Triforce, comprised of Power, Wisdom, and Courage. Or Gauntlet: Legends- what better reminder of our inevitable mortality then the constant trumpeting of a deep, sonorous voice that “GREEN WIZARD IS ABOUT TO DIE”? And really, what else is Megaman other than a dystopic morality play lifting technology up as both the source of our destruction as well as our only salvation?
To snip this hanging rhetoric, that is exactly what Megaman is, friends. E.X.A.C.T.L.Y.
So it is easy to see why my loyalties lie with the 8-bit generation, or at the very least, why I am inclined to hold a dim opinion of games designed after Golden Eye. Except Psychonauts. Psychonauts rules.
Where did video games lose touch with the deeper, darker currents of the human psyche, moving away from meaningful expression to mere recreational pastiche? It’s hard to say. Probably Aquaman: Battle for Atlantis. Yeah. That sounds about right. It’s all been downhill since there.
And if you’re like me, handsome, and waiting on edge for the video game adaptation of Walden or Being and Nothingness, you should probably prepare yourself for a long, cold winter of visually impressive but spiritually bereft “popular” video games. I won’t say don’t despair, because despair is our due, but rather that we need to better understand our pathos.
It reminds me of the last time I went to an EA store at the mall:
Most of the old Gamestops were closed now and there were hardly any lights except the shadowy, moving glow of a zamboni across the mall corridor. And as the flourescents rose higher the inessential stores began to melt away until gradually I became aware of the old kiosk here that flowered once for Dutch gamers’ eyes—a fresh, green breast of the new world. Its vanished games had once pandered in whispers to the last and greatest of all human dreams; for a transitory enchanted moment man must have held his breath in the presence of Nintendo, compelled into an aesthetic contemplation he neither understood nor desired, face to face for the last time in history with something commensurate to his capacity for wonder.
And as I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the red light on the front of Daisy’s console. He had come a long way to this blue Hyrule, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.
Gatsby believed in the red light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—to-morrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And one fine morning-
So we beat on, nerds against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.
HA! HA! HA! HA!