Tag Archives: death

FGC #444 Silent Hill: Shattered Memories

Spooky!Today’s article talks about Silent Hill: Shattered Memories. While my usual policy is simply “thar be spoilers” for the entire site, and, yes, today’s game is already a decade old; I highly recommend playing the title “blind” if you’re at all interested in ever picking it up. The reasons for this will become apparent in the article (somewhere around a thousand damn words in), but just giving anyone who hasn’t played the game a chance before we get going. You have been warned and whatnot.

Also, we’re going to be talking about death. A lot. It’s kind of a 4-thing. So I suppose that makes this little bit of a trigger warning, too.

We all on the same page? Great! Time for memento mori.

Videogames can be about anything. To take an easy example, many Pokémon games are about “gotta catch ‘em all”, but there is also the significant theme of discovery, of venturing out into the unknown, and, like a child, finding your way in this world of colossal poisonous insects. In the end, you will be the champion, but you will also know every town, monster, and gym from here to your mom’s house. Even when the “plot” of a Pokémon title is razor thin, there is still that underlying substance. And, like any good story, this information is relayed to the player/audience in an almost imperceptible way, so, even if you are just playing to finally hatch that shiny, maximum IV drowzee, you’re still soaking in the base message of the piece. This is true for nearly any game that is released nowadays, whether it be a Mario game that tells you there is a great big, diverse world out there for you to explore, or a competitive FPS that may be claiming that the only way old soldiers know how to retire is to repeatedly shoot each other for ten minutes at a time. Games have themes. Games have stories. And, whether you overtly notice those narratives or not, they are certainly there.

And maybe personal circumstances can influence your interpretation of those themes…

MEMORIES!A friend of mine died recently. It sucked. He died after a two year (or so) battle with cancer, and, while we were not particularly close (slightly above a co-worker level of friendship, kind of guy you predominantly only see in specific circumstances), he was still someone I considered important. Given he had been diagnosed a couple years back, and we all literally knew this was coming, the whole event was in no way a surprise. I was more “mad at the world” back when I first saw him struggling with the first chemo treatments, but by now, by the time of his death, I had come to grips with the typical “why do bad things happen to good people” issue (answer: it’s because we stand too close to microwaves). It was rough to see a friend die, but, unfortunately, these things happen. It’s death. You will die one day, too.

And when you die, I hope to God that you don’t have an extensive VHS collection of past performances that I have to sort through.

I’m a computer guy. To be more particular, I suppose I’m a “media” guy. People know I have a personal office that I erected nearly a decade ago with an emphasis on being able to digitally preserve anything. I am a data packrat, and, whether you hand me a record, cassette tape, or Kodak slide, I am prepared to find a way to transform that into a MP3 or PNG that can be replicated on a thousand USB drives. So, naturally, because my departed friend had been involved in theatre troops since his college days, he had a full stock of old performances on VHS. As I write this, I am literally looking at a stack of tapes going back to 1989, and I’m digitizing every single reel, because, ultimately, this was a man’s life. He saved these tapes. He thought these tapes were important. So I’m going to save them, pass along some USB drives to his daughters and friends, and keep the man alive.

Except he’s not alive. He’s dead. He is so dead, I’m digitizing tapes so we have some interesting bits to show at his funeral. He lived a long and generally happy life, but now, this all that’s left. A pile of VHS tapes and DVDs. Computer hard drives fat with “project” files. A bed that will never be used again, but currently shows an unmistakable imprint. This is all that is left of a man. Everything that was not recorded, every thought that he didn’t think to write down, that’s all gone now. All that’s left are these bits and pieces of a man. His own thoughts are now forever gone, and, in time, our own memories of him will mutate and fade. We’ll make up stories. We’ll claim he did things he never would have thought of doing. Moments that never happened will become “funny stories” we’ll tell about him. It will be wrong, but it will feel right. And, all the while, these tapes and files will be the only real proof of what actually happened. That he was a man, and now he is dead, but he was once alive, and did these true, concrete things.

And it kind of sucks, because these things that he did were obviously lies to begin with.

COME ON!These VHS tapes are almost entirely routines. As mentioned, my friend always not-so-secretly wanted to be a song and dance man, so he took pretty much any opportunity to perform on stage. Sometimes he sang his own, original songs. Sometimes he covered “Weird” Al numbers. But no matter the source of the performance, it was still a performance. There is an audience, and, whether it was intended for the theatre or a camcorder, he knew about the people watching. Even in the candid videos, the “behind the scenes” moments with family and friends, he knew there was a camera. He wasn’t performing per se, but I don’t need to tell you that there’s a gulf between reality and selfies. Having now personally watched literally decades of this man on tape, I can safely say that his real life persona was very different from anything captured on any camera. And this is not to claim that he was a completely different person, or somehow deliberately deceiving anyone that might watch these videos, but… well… Let’s just say he was good at Facebook before it was ever a thing.

With all that said, suffice to say I was somehow… not emotionally prepared when I was reminded that Silent Hill: Shattered Memories starts with an unseen person popping in a deteriorating, old VHS tape.

Steamy?Silent Hill: Shattered Memories is my friend. … Wait, that came out entirely too wrong. Take two… Silent Hill: Shattered Memories is a lot like my friend. For one thing, this is a game that, like a certain someone, is a singularly unique experience (in fact, SH:SM is one of my favorite games). SH:SM includes a framing device of an unseen patient (that effectively becomes you) during a psychological session. And, while the average game might use such a setting as an easy backdrop for a character creator (“tell me how you see yourself”) or simply a way to heighten the horror of the situation (“oh, did my face just turn into a pile of snakes?”), here SH:SM outright tells you from the start that it is psychologically profiling you, player. Many of the most innocuous actions in SH:SM influence how things proceed within the story, and how the world of Harry Mason deviates and mutates in his quest to find his missing daughter. Whether you’re the type to obsessively check every area for hidden items or check out an abandoned strip club for… uh… research, the game is always watching, and forming an opinion on “your” Harry Mason. And, given the final reveal of the true protagonist of this tale, it becomes obvious that this is very deliberate action, as the only “real” Harry exists in ancient, concrete VHS recordings, and every action performed by “your” Harry was merely pieces slapped together by someone desperately trying to remember a dead man.

I can relate.

But the other truth of Silent Hill: Shattered Memories is that I can never experience the game the same way ever again. Yes, such a statement is usually reserved for back-of-the-box bullet points (“Always a different adventure!”) that expound on how you’ll experience “70 hours of gameplay” and maybe even enjoy some RPG-Action-Adventure-Rogue-like-Fighting elements. However, in this case, it is 100% true… but not in a good way. It is inevitable that, after learning the final twist of the title’s ending, the player will realize what has been going on. There may be monsters running around as an easy distraction, but it’s pretty obvious that, when all is revealed in the ending, a player will learn “how” they were being watched. There’s no “Harry will remember this”, but a more focused, less frightened playthrough reveals the seams of the story a lot more perceptibly. LOOK AWAYThus, subsequent playthroughs make it nearly impossible to get the true “psychological profile” again, as, once you know what’s actually happening, you start performing. You know you’re being watched, being judged, so you behave differently. You’re no longer you-as-Harry, you’re now officially playing as your ideal Harry, who is inevitably very different from an “honest” Harry.

So, basically, on any subsequent playthrough, Harry becomes his own VHS-recorded ideal. The “real” Harry died the first time you saw the credits. You may as well aim for that ending with the goofy dogs now…

And maybe this gets me thinking about my own death a little more than I would expect.

Hi, and welcome to Gogglebob.com, where I have written 444 or so articles about videogames, some amusing recaps of a few other games, and two Let’s Plays that covered literally everything across four different games. In many cases, these words on this site are completely honest. In other cases, they’re complete dramatic bullshit. Have you ever tried to write a thousand words about a videogame featuring a cheerleader with a chainsaw? Do you know how easy it would be to just write “look, I was horny and had sixty bucks, now I got a game where there is literally an achievement for peaking up a woman’s skirt”? Is the article I’m directly referencing a complete lie? No, of course not. But is it the same article I would have written if I was the only audience for my own musings? Of course not. I have memories that are purely my own of literally every videogame I own, but I am absolutely not going to share that vaguely fatphobic version of Devil May Cry that I imagined when I first played Lollipop Chainsaw (long story, trust me). I know there is an audience, I know I am being watched, so this Book of the Dead that is my personal blog about my personal videogames is not exactly as personal as it appears. One day, someone will read through my site, and remember the man I once was, and the person they will remember will be a complete lie. And I bet they’re going to feel like a real jackass when they get to this article!

Here we go!But I’m not dead. I’m alive. If you’re reading this, you’re alive. And, as the game says, “you need to live your life”. We can spend all day dwelling on what might have been, or who a person really was, but, in the end… or maybe more appropriately, in the present, that’s not what’s important. We can pour over old tapes, or replay old games, but what’s past is past, and what’s past will never be “alive” again. Enjoy the memories you have. Learn from the mistakes that you’ve made. Acknowledge that the past has inevitably made you who you are. But don’t let it dictate who you are. Don’t let the dead dictate the person you can be. Your memories are fragmentary and unreliable. Physical objects are only as important as the feelings we ascribe to them. And even VHS tapes of people long gone are only showcases for one side of a person, one fragment of a persona forever preserved in amber by arcane technology (I assume most camcorders are designed by wizards).

One day you too will die. And one day, people will only remember you in unreliable ways, too. Don’t worry about that. Make an impact now. Make your life matter now. Because one day, you won’t have that choice.

FGC #444 Silent Hill: Shattered Memories

  • System: Nintendo Wii, and then PSP and Playstation 2. I will note in a moment why this title should never have left the safe harbors of the Wii…
  • Number of players: It is truly a singular experience.
  • Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: Didn’t I? Look, I love this game, as it is one of the few truly unique gaming experiences out there. And that’s pretty good for a game that is already like the sixth in a franchise! Everything in Silent Hill: Shattered Memories jells so completely, it is hard not to be wholly absorbed into one of the few horror games out there that doesn’t just rely on jump scares…
  • I hate this placePlay Control: And a significant reason for SH:SM being so good is the way the Wii-motes are utilized. You have to keep your flashlight up at pretty much all times, which already forces the real-life you into a much more “ready” gaming pose than when you’re munching on pretzels while playing Final Fantasy. And the fact that your only offensive options are tied to literally shoving with the motes during high-stress, high-risk monster areas keeps the adrenaline up at the exact moment you should be “frightened”. This is the experience always promised by the “virtual reality” component of the Wii. … Or at least it’s better than bowling.
  • Speaking of Horror: If I want to play a horror game, please give me a game where my hero has practically zero weapons available. I want to shoot some mindless drones, I’ll just play Mega Man, thank you.
  • So which ending did you get? The sexy one. I am apparently a pervert that spent way too long staring at “hard bodies”.
  • Least Favorite Area: This is a horror game, so “least favorite” is the new “favorite”. Anywho, the high school scares the everloving crap out of me, and the moment it asks you to venture back into a monster-infested area to unlock the way forward… I get chills just thinking about it.
  • Did you know? I don’t think I’ve played a single other Silent Hill title to completion. Horror isn’t exactly my bag…
  • Would I play again: Probably not! Shattered Memories is an experience you can only truly experience once. I would like to play it with some fresh meat sometime, though…

What’s next? Random ROB is back to completely random and has chosen… Dengeki Bunko: Fighting Climax! Well, doesn’t that sound climatic? Please look forward to it!

CRAYON FACTORY

FGC #433 Castlevania: Bloodlines

BLOOD!If gaming is a language, then franchises must be dialects. And among dialects, of course there must be regional variances. And Castlevania: Bloodlines is, unfortunately, the regional dialect of Atlantis.

Gogglebob.com: come for the videogames, stay for the extremely strained metaphors.

Castlevania: Bloodlines is a game very near and dear to my heart. Back in my younger days, I was very much a Nintendo kid, but a Sega Genesis was available to me by about the midpoint of the 16-bit console wars. And, while I owned a mere three Genesis games, my dad granted me one Sega Genesis rental every two weeks. So, about twice a month, my ADD-addled brain got to experience a brand new videogame for a few days, and that whole new experience that was sure to make me scream, “Sega!”

…. Or I just rented Castlevania: Bloodlines again.

I’ve always been a Castlevania fan, and, frankly, I’ve always been a sucker for a game that I have to “defeat”. It took me a long time to come to grips with the idea that I don’t have to “beat” or “100%” a videogame, and showing my love for a piece of art doesn’t mean I have to experience every last secret room or collectible. But back in my younger years? If there was a game that I thought was even marginally fun, and I didn’t beat it? Then what the hell was I even playing the game for!? Fish gotta swim, dogs gotta bark, Pokémon gotta track my sleep for some reason, and videogames gotta get beat, ya know? And, since Castlevania: Bloodlines was an enjoyable Castlevania game that I absolutely could not beat (on Normal difficulty), it meant that I had to retry that title over and over again until I finally conquered death itself (and Death). My young thumbs were still not developed enough to suffer through its insane final boss gauntlet, but I was going to try, dammit!

Swing is the thingAnd, if I’m looking at this title with some kind of wizened hindsight, I can probably admit that the other reason I kept coming back to Castlevania: Bloodlines was that it was simply a damn good game. It features the signature measured level design of previous Castlevania titles, and, while your protagonist often feels like he is being propelled by the same force that could eventually push a snail to cross a parkway, the majority of the title feels fair and appropriately scaled to Belmont (Morris) speeds. The dual heroes of the tale are different enough to feature their own unique (and fun) moves (spear vaulting is great for vertical areas, and whip swinging is… amusing to look at), but also similar enough that we don’t wind up with an X/Zero situation where one character is that much more of an advantage. And, as always in the Castlevania series (give or take a Gameboy adventure), the music is top notch, and the creepy crawlies that haunt the European countryside are numerous and inventive. And murderous. They’re always murderous.

So it’s kind of a shame that the majority of the Castlevania loving public forgot Castlevania: Bloodlines ever existed.

Possibly more than any other franchise, Castlevania has always been a very… what’s the complete opposite of progressive?… nostalgic franchise. When Bowser got seven Koopa Kids and a brand new butt stomp for Super Mario Bros. 3, Dracula was still using his same ol’ teleport/fireball pattern for Castlevania 3. When Mega Man X completely redefined everything that Mega Man ever was, Super Castlevania IV still had Simon trudging through Drac’s dilapidated hallway o’ zombies. This isn’t to say that Castlevania has never had an original bone in its obviously an angry skeleton-based body, but Castlevania has always reveled in its past since before it escaped the gravity of the NES.

DEATH!And (I’m sure you’ll be shocked to hear me say this) there is nothing wrong with a little videogame nostalgia. Particularly in the 16 and 32-bit days, it seemed like games were rapidly attempting to burn their pasts on the altar of “cool” and “new”. But it was still cool to see old mainstays like Frankenstein(‘s Monster) or Medusa show up when many contemporary titles were trying to reinvent the wheel by detonating every nearby car (literally, in the case of Grand Theft Auto III).

And, while Castlevania: Bloodlines certainly pays tribute to the Castlevanias we all loved before (“Hi, Frankenstein! Hi, Medusa!”), for a long time, it seemed like appropriate acknowledgment was not paid to Bloodlines in kind. Castlevania Symphony of the Night is the uncontested turning point of the franchise, and, as a direct sequel, it owed much of its plot and iconography to Rondo of Blood and its PC Engine/SNES origins. It also was clearly influenced by much of the imagery of Super Castlevania (that’s where Death met his buddies!), and the Reverse Castle featured the pieces of Dracula of Castlevania 2 mixed with the iconic bosses of Castlevania 1. And, while it almost seems like a footnote at this point, let’s not forget that Alucard premiered in Castlevania 3, and wound up fighting his zombified allies. Truly, Castlevania Symphony of the Night was the culmination of all console Castlevanias that came before, and paid homage to all of those titles in fun and inventive ways.

Except Bloodlines. Nobody cared about Castlevania: Bloodlines.

This is not a glitchAnd, unfortunately, this created a sort of ripple effect in the fandom. While Symphony of the Night encouraged visiting old titles to see first appearances of Slogra & Gaibon, Phantom Bat, or Grant DangheNasty, there was no such drive for Bloodlines. And when future titles decided to bring back more past friends and foes, we saw Skull Knight of Castlevania 3, not Mecha Knight of Bloodlines. And when we finally saw some significant references to Bloodlines in Portrait of Ruin, it was to let us know that both of Bloodlines’ protagonists died inglorious deaths, and Eric’s lance would only return as an accessory for a ghost. A whole Castlevania game was lost, and when the entire experience was lost and forgotten from the virtual consoles and collections that accompanied the new digital era, nobody batted an eye. You could download Super Castlevania, Castlevania: Dracula X, and even Castlevania Rondo of Blood, but Bloodlines was wholly absent. And there were no conversations about the title, because, frankly, who cared? We got all the good Castlevanias, right? If Bloodlines was any good, it would be referenced heavily like those other titles. Symphony of the Night was the pinnacle. IGA wouldn’t steer us wrong.

But a miracle happened just recently. Castlevania: Bloodlines was released as part of the excellent Castlevania Anniversary Collection. Now, Bloodlines is able to stand tall next to its early Castlevania console brethren. Now, people are talking about Bloodlines, and many of them are talking about it for the first time. And they like it! They really, really like it! Because it’s a good game, and always has been! After a 25 year banishment from the gaming consciousness, Bloodlines has returned, and people are again speaking the language of magical lances and Gear Steamers. Bloodlines can once again take its proper place in the Castlevania pantheon, and rest easy knowing that now more people have seen its horrible Dracula and his disturbing crotch face.

DONT LOOK AT MEUltimately, I find this success story to be the best way to conclude this Game Preservation Week (“Week”). None of these games that have been discussed have to be gone forever. Like Castlevania: Bloodlines, we’re always just one collection or digital release (or mini console, apparently) from a title returning to the gaming consciousness. And let’s see some solid videogame archiving in the future, so another game isn’t lost to decades again. The future of gaming may be streaming, but let’s remember our past, our dead languages, and see how they can make our future better.

And then let’s whip some skeletons but good.

FGC #433 Castlevania: Bloodlines

  • System: Sega Genesis. And now available for Playstation 4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, and Steam via the Castlevania Anniversary Collection. Sweet!
  • Number of Players: Two choices, but only one player. We’d have to wait for another forgotten Castlevania title to see some multiplayer Castlevania.
  • Goggle Bob Fact: I rented Bloodlines from the local rental place so much, I eventually bought the cartridge when they were liquidating some of their “old” stock. That makes Bloodlines my fourth or fifth owned Sega Genesis game (the real money went to my beloved SNES).
  • Out of the Castle: Bloodlines follows John ‘n Eric as they battle around some of the more interesting mystical spots in Europe, like Atlantis or Pisa (?). This leads to some more interesting venues for our hunters to traverse, and maybe an excuse to battle a minotaur or two. And you get to fight World War I German war skeletons. That is so close to whipping undead Nazis!
  • RatzisFavorite Character: I lied earlier. Eric LeCarde makes this trip through Europe so much more manageable. His additional reach is a godsend, and the ability to vault straight into the skies… isn’t all the useful, actually, but it’s fun in exactly one room at Varsailles. Oh! And he has beautiful girl hair! I don’t see how that helps vampire slaying, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.
  • A Little History: The big deal of Bloodlines is that it tries to tie the Castlevania mythos to Bram Stoker’s Dracula by claiming the vampire slayer Qunicey Morris (and thus his son and grandson) was actually a Belmont descendant. Who cares? What’s important is that Bloodlines seems to imply that Elizabeth Bartley started World War I as a cover for resurrecting Dracula. Now that’s something they don’t cover in history books!
  • Did you know? The Princess of Moss, the boss of The Versailles Palace stage, is a monster moth initially disguised as a woman. And that woman is apparently supposed to be Marie Antoinette, famous queen and cake-eater. Now, this is not to say that it is official Castlevania canon that Marie Antoinette was some manner of undead, immortal insect creature… but the opportunity is open for future Castlevania titles.
  • Would I play again: Now that I have it permanently loaded onto my portable Nintendo Switch? You’re damn skippy I’m going to play it again!

What’s next? Random ROB is back in action and has chosen… The Legend of Zelda 2: The Adventure of Link! Are you sure that isn’t an Error, ROB? Oh well. Please look forward to it!

I hate this jerk.  He just... rains.

Goggle Smart Kid

Photo credit: guessThe most dangerous thing I ever read in middle school was Harrison Bergeron.

For anyone that hasn’t read the story and doesn’t have time for a short story that you can google in six seconds and would probably be a better use of your time than this essay, Harrison Bergeron is a 1961 short story by Kurt Vonnegut. It tells the story of a dystopian future where every American has been “averaged”. If someone is beautiful, they are forced to wear an ugly mask. If someone is athletic, they are tied to heavy weights. And if someone is smart, they are equipped with a helmet that randomly dispenses blaring, concentration-destroying sounds. This “averagefication” of America is legally mandated, and this short story tells the tale of one intelligent, athletic Harrison Bergeron, and his short, easily stymied revolution to bring extraordinary back to America. Spoilers, Harrison is shot and killed almost instantly, and his parents, an idiot mother and an intelligent father forced into a thought disruptor, barely register the tragedy thanks to their handicaps. Looks like the Bergeroniverse is going to stick to its “average” existence.

And that scared the hell out of me.

Identity is always important. I’m not certain at what age such thinking starts, but I know nine-year-olds and fifty somethings that both seem to be in the same boat: they want to know who they are. But it seems like the nine-year-olds have an easier time of it, as they more readily accept the descriptors assigned by their peers and/or adults. Tell me, were you ever described as the fast kid? The fat kid? The smelly kid? The cute kid? The kid that can eat eleven tacos in one sitting? The sports kid? The smart kid? Who assigned you that moniker? Was it a parent? Grandparent? Teacher? Sibling? Friend? Bully? And, regardless of source, when did you start to internalize that description of yourself? You are the fat kid, and no matter how much weight you lose, you still see that pudgy face in the mirror. You are the fast kid, even though you haven’t run more than three feet in the last decade. Maybe you’re still convinced you have a skin condition you got over in college, or maybe you’ve been happily married for ten years, but still think no one on Earth would ever date you. These descriptions we internalize, they can last whole lifetimes, and sometimes they just originate with a random, careless comment that was forgotten by the commenter as quickly as it was said.

Photo credit: guess

Me? I was the smart kid, and it wasn’t hard to understand why. I don’t have any siblings, and I was raised by a very attentive pair of parents, and 3 out of 4 grandparents (my paternal grandfather died the year before I was born). And everyone in my family, one way or another, was very educated. Since I didn’t have much of a peer group 90% of my time (no siblings or cousins around to play Ninja Turtles with), I mostly conversed with my parents. I want to say they dumbed down the conversation a bit for my young ears, but they never lowered their vocabularies or talked down to me (my father actually has a distinct loathing for “baby talk”, which likely explains why he couldn’t stand it when I flipped on Rugrats). This is why, when I was a wee lad of about eleven years old, my friend’s mother asked me, “Why do you talk like a forty year old?” I took it as a compliment. Regardless, whether or not I have ever been smart, I have always sounded smart, and so I happily adopted the “smart kid” identity. I liked school! I did my homework! I could always spout “fun facts” and lecture my friends on the application of metaphors! I used phrases like “the application of metaphors”! And, looking back, I have no idea if it was because I enjoyed doing such a thing, or if the act of committing to the “smart kid” persona just properly tickled the pleasure centers of my brain. See! I’m the smart kid! And I’m doing smart stuff! Me so smart!

So I wound up in the Gifted & Talented Program, and, one day in sixth grade (or thereabouts), we read Harrison Bergeron. And I liked the story, naturally, because it was funny, quick, and absurd. If that wasn’t already the entire base of what I look for in entertainment, it would become such in the coming years. And we discussed the story in class (Gifted & Talented was a forty minute “elective” class containing like ten students. While we were discussing Vonnegut, the kids in “normal” class were, I don’t know, learning how to entice termites onto sticks or something). I seem to recall the girls found the story sad, while the boys were busy chuckling about some dumbass getting his brains blown out. We talked about the ludicrousness of an entirely “averaged” society, and then we moved on to the next topic at hand (which if memory serves, was Flatland, for some reason). In a way, that should have been it. I can’t distinctly recall the thoughts “around” most anything else we read in Gifted and Talented, and Harrison Bergeron should have been no different.

Photo credit: guess

But some time not much later, a thought started to creep into my head, and I’d argue that it never left. That thought was rather simple, and it irrevocably changed my life:

They want to make you stupid. They want to make you stupid, just like them.

Before we go any further: I want to plainly state that, as an adult, I see Harrison Bergeron as nothing more than some light satire about what would eventually be identified as “politically correct” culture. It’s a silly story that is meant to highlight the ridiculous potential endpoint of homogenizing the human race. It’s not a manifesto, it’s a farce. As an adult, I understand that.

But as a kid? At the age of twelve? I want to say it was the hormones. I want to say that, at that age, with my kind of mentality, practically anything could have set me off. It’s like having your sexual awakening while watching Rescue Rangers, right? You were going to be get turned on by something, it could have been MTV’s The Grind, or it could have been Gadget Hackwrench. Best not to think too hard about such a thing. But, source or no, somehow Harrison Bergeron radicalized my own thinking. It was no longer enough to be “the smart kid”, now I had to defend that position, and keep my precious brain safe from all those that would attempt to bring me down to their level. I’m the smart kid, dammit, and you damn normies aren’t going to catch me unaware! Going to a hockey game this Wednesday? Ha! That’s clearly a trick! I’m going to stay home, and read books! That’ll show ya! My galactic brain will stomp out your brain, which is clearly as dull and lifeless as your hair. Ain’t nothing gonna bring me down!

And I thank God every day that I had great friends, activities, and teachers during that time, because if I didn’t? I’m pretty sure I would have been a danger to the world.

I’m a white male living in The United States of America. Statistically, that means there is likely something wrong with me. According to all available data, there are good odds that, more than the women and “minorities” in my school, I could have been a danger to myself and others. This isn’t some self-depreciating statement, this is a simple fact proven over the last few decades since Columbine (which, incidentally, occurred while I was in high school). I am well aware of this fact, and, every time there’s a shooting (which is depressingly often), I think about how such a thing could happen, and if such a thing could have ever happened to me. And, no, I don’t think about if I could have been shot while in high school, I think about whether I could have been the shooter.

Photo credit: guess

And, deep in my heart, I hope that I could never have been that person. I’m not violent by nature, and I think I’ve been in exactly two fights my entire life. I traditionally see violence as an absolute last resort, and it’s a rarity that I even consider hitting someone, left alone jumping down the long series of philosophical hoops that would lead to me wanting to see someone dead. I can barely bring myself to stomp out a spider! They serve a valuable purpose! But I also think about being a teenager, and how every little kiss and breakup and math quiz was the most important thing that had ever happened in the history of mankind. I think about how quickly those emotions could be amplified into something terrible. And I think about what I was thinking about at that time, and who I was.

And I was the smart kid.

When I was twelve, I determined that the world would try to drag me down to average. It never did. I kept my ears open, I kept my nose to the grindstone (book stone?), and I scoffed at obvious attempts to lower my IQ (a fear that alcohol is the “new” opiate of the masses may explain why I have a distaste for beer to this day. Ditto on drugs in general… which may literally be opiates…), and, thankfully, I made it out of my teenage years with my brain intact. My identity, who I considered myself as a person, was never truly threatened. The Harrison Bergeron World was not one that ever intersected with our dimension, and I was safe in my little smart kid bubble. I am the smart kid, and I would continue to be the smart kid.

But I feel that only proves that I’m lucky.

I never really chose to be the smart kid. At some point, I made it an integral part of my identity, but the things that made people identify me as such, the things that made me “the smart kid” were all just random bits of fate predominantly inspired by parents. I understand it’s like a kōan to ask something like “who would you be if you were born an entirely different person”, but the point is that the identity I clung to like a security blanket for so long was less my own doing, and more of an identity thrust upon me. I wasn’t “smart” because I was the most studious second grader in South Jersey, I was smart because I sounded smart next to my friends that were still aping Ren & Stimpy. Adults told me I was smart, I told myself I was smart, I studied to prove I was smart, and then I defended my smartness through smart activities. Would you like to see my high school yearbook again? I think that would prove my nerdity once and for all.

So, in a way, I can’t imagine being a different random white boy with a different defining personality trait. And, more importantly than that, I can’t imagine having a different “Harrison Bergeron”. It’s only through deep meditation and reflection (re: got bored while watching Jessica Jones) that I came to the realization that one simple story impacted my life in significant and subtle ways. So if I barely know myself, I can’t imagine we are even capable of discovering the “trigger” for the white boys that actually decide to kill others. And, in a way, that’s to be expected. We are, by nature, selfish creatures that look out for our own interests. We are capable of empathy, but considering we barely admit our own motives to ourselves, it really is nearly impossible to truly know and understand what someone else is thinking.

Photo credit: guess

And why do I bring this up at all? Because it doesn’t matter.

I was never violent, but my own thinking was radicalized by a humorous short story. Similar things may have happened to other children. It may not have been Vonnegut, but it could certainly have been a television show, movie, or videogame. It could have been a random comment by a commentator on Westminster Dog Show. It could be anything. And that’s important, because we could outlaw all media except for Sesame Street, and someone could still get the idea for a murder spree by misunderstanding Grover. And that’s just addressing “media” as a radicalizing agent, let’s not even considering what kids say to each other. Kids are mean, and someone just trying to be funny could leave permanent scars on a psyche. And some scars never go away, and simply fester and ooze until they control a life, steering it directly into something that is going to require “thoughts and prayers”.

And how do you deal with that? You don’t.

I’m not saying that people cannot be healed. I’m certainly not saying that someone cannot be convinced to, ya know, not be a mass murdering terrorist. There are good, wonderful people out there that help people with these scars, and there are people that have been pulled back from the brink by even the tiniest glimmer of kindness. But can we rely on that happening? Can we say we can eliminate every radical stimulus, and thus live in a perfect, terrorism free world? Hell no. The idea that we could “nice” away violent behavior is absurd, and, frankly, right up there with “your spouse won’t hit you if you are just nicer” or “stop wearing that dress, you’re asking to be raped.” It doesn’t truly address the problem, and it hoists the blame onto the victim, not the perpetrator. The thought of being pleasant all the time is insane to begin with (you are allowed to be sad, irritated, or angry, boys and girls), but the idea that you must be a smiler, else it “set somebody off”, is downright dangerous. Someone hurting people is not your fault any more than it is Vonnegut’s fault that I was a dick to anyone I deemed unworthy of my intelligence.

So if someone tells you the solution so school shootings is to be nice to the goth kid, go ahead and tell ‘em they’re on the wrong track. White males are allowed to have their ridiculous identity issues, but, as long as we present the solution to those issues as violence, we’re going to keep seeing violence. “Proving yourself as a man” is horribly ingrained in our society, and how many deaths can we attribute to the boys that internalize that message? How many times are we going to see someone “solve a problem” with an assault rifle? How many people have to die before we change not how we interact with each other, but what we allow to define our society every minute of every day? “Being nice” was never going to be the answer, and we need to change so much more than our social circles to stop this problem once and for all.

Anyone can be radicalized by anything, but the overarching “morals” of our society too often present violence as the answer to solving problems. People are going to keep identifying themselves with simple characteristics, and when those assumptions are threatened, they will lash out. It’s up to us to limit the methods by which someone may lash out. It’s up to us to save lives.

Getting rid of guns would be a good start.

Hey, it would have saved Harrison Bergeron.

Photo credit: guess

Goggle Zombie

NERDS!Let’s talk about being a stupid teenager, and how that almost got me killed.

My freshman year of college, I fell in with the wrong crowd. While other students were joining fraternities and making lifelong friends/drinking buddies, I joined a different kind of club. I joined the Medieval Society. In case that name isn’t descriptive enough for you, I joined a club that was theoretically supposed to study/celebrate medieval society… but mostly just played Dungeons and Dragons. That’s… like the same thing, right? Look, we were supposed to have a “living” chess game in the quad one time, but organizing things is hard, and… We tried, okay!? But, yes, the point is that we were a big group of nerds, so I fit in almost immediately. I was welcomed with open arms! And I had a Dreamcast!

And, if I’m being completely honest, there were a number of “adventures” with that gang that could have led to… grievous bodily harm. Don’t tell my mom, but I’m pretty sure I was sealed in a cardboard box, and then rode around campus on the roof of a car. That… somehow seemed like a good idea at the time. “Bopper Weapons” were constructed crudely, and tetanus shots may have been required. We weren’t allowed on the roof for a very good reason, but windows were fair game, and… Oh man, the more I think about it, the more I’m surprised I lived to see 20.

And then there was the time I really almost died.

It was a crisp December morning. Actually, scratch that, I just remember it as “morning” because it was my freshman year of college, and “morning” was defined as “any time before 3 PM”. Regardless, it was a nice enough day, and I was filming a zombie movie with my friends. Jim (real names used because I don’t have enough foresight or consistency to use the pseudonym “Tim”) was part of the film program at our school, and he wanted to create a sort of Romero-pastiche. Please note that this was a million years ago, and well before zombies were trendy. Just want to be clear on the simple fact that we were never cool. Anyway, because of my movie star good looks (Alan Alda is a movie star), I was chosen as the star of the piece, or at least the one remaining human. The rest of my fellow cast members were zombies, and I was the lone survivor who would, in the end, blow his brains out rather than join the hordes of the undead. This act of final defiance would, of course, require a prop gun.

And that simple prop gun nearly sealed my fate.

Unrelated EventLet’s set the scene a little further, as I don’t want there to be any questions about what was happening here. First of all, we were filming this movie on campus, and we had done so the week before without incident. Jim, our director and filmmaker, had a permit, and permission to film his school project on school grounds. It was a Saturday, and this was predominantly a commuter college, so campus was fairly deserted. And, again, I can’t stress this enough: with the exception of myself and a few camera caddies (including the aforementioned Jim), everyone was in tattered clothes and zombie makeup. Granted, the tattered clothing could have been typical college chic, but it was rare a group of people could coordinate such a look on a Saturday afternoon. Oh, and, yes, as mentioned, there were people with video cameras, which, given the epoch/school funding, were not the tiny, “cute” cameras of today, but something more akin to one of April O’Neil’s gigantic accessories.

Point is that, even from a distance, a layman should have been able to identify that something “fantasy” was happening here, and not, say, a mysteriously very quiet shooting.

But one campus security guard apparently did not get the memo, and drew a gun on me while demanding that I freeze.

And I’d be lying if I said I never think about that very specific moment. I was filming a movie with my friends. These friends, it should be noted, were not the most serious people in the world. After all, after we were done with this bit of “business”, we were probably going to hit the school cafeteria and see how many dessert toppings we could pile on a waffle (scientific answer: ∞). We were a generally optimistic, lighthearted group of people, and took very little seriously. This was bound to change over the years, but we were all fresh-faced, and practically teenagers. Actually, scratch that, the majority of us were teenagers. I think only one of us was old enough to (legally) drink. We were stupid teenagers, and, while we might have also claimed to understand all of the secrets of the universe… we were also pretty likely to puke week old sushi and tequila because we somehow thought eating week old sushi and tequila would end in anything other than tears. So with these (soon to be) life-long friends by my side, I felt pretty safe and… Funny? That was the general mood, ultimately, things were fun.

So you’ll forgive me if I reveal that my first impulse was to use my fake gun to challenge campus security to an Old West-style duel.

To be clear, I did not do that! But it was my first impulse. My absolute first thought was that this was a “fake” situation, and this could not possibly be a real life person training a real life weapon on my fragile, fleshy body. My brain could literally not comprehend that I had just gone from “a fun afternoon with friends” to “literal mortal danger”. That’s the thing about guns: they kill. They are designed to kill. Once a gun is introduced to a situation, someone could plainly die. In this case, had I made the wrong move, I would have died, right there, a corpse bleeding out on campus grass.

And I want to say that this security guard was a kind, level-headed fellow who immediately realized his error. But the reality is that I dropped the gun and held up my hands (still not really believing this was happening), and the guard, who could not have been any older than 25, proceeded to call us “retards” for brandishing a fake gun. Again, we had a permit, it was already a secluded section of campus, and, unless a zombie cult had started up in the last few months, it was pretty clear these cameras weren’t here to film a documentary. But, regardless of all obvious evidence, Big Hero Security Guard was going to save the day from 100 lb. kid with a fake gun, because think of the carnage that could be caused with that apparently very, very quiet gun. That’s certainly worth someone losing their life!

So, if you’re curious about the zombie shoot, we were “politely asked” to leave campus for further filming adventures, and we wound up relocating to a friend’s surprisingly post-apocalyptic backyard for further video hijinks. I mimed blowing my brains out, and my friends dined on raw liver that you were meant to believe dribbled out of my skull. It took all freaking day, and was a comedy of errors our director still recounts to this day, but it did wind up actually, ya know, ending.

But one thing hasn’t ended, and that’s the gun control debate. I like to think my feelings on the subject are pretty clear, but I hope this story makes one thing obvious: kids are stupid. In a life or death situation, there are roughly 50/50 odds that someone will make the right decision on a good day. In what was once a safe, peaceful environment, it is very easy to misread the situation, make the wrong call, and be killed for your mistake. I absolutely know this from experience, and it is nothing short of a miracle that I survived being a dumb teenager with a fake gun. But there would never have been the threat of death without a real gun in the mix.

Keep guns out of our schools.

Period.

Post script: And the other obvious statement is that I survived because I was/am white. We’ll talk about that more on Friday…