doesn't make much sense to analyze humans. The media's
created a bunch of people who think they're dysfunctional
and duly provide sports cars stretching to Infinites
for those in the Psychiatry racket. What an industry
of quacks. Any self-help book I'd write would only
be a page long, because it would consist of a single
sentence: "Do what makes you happy." But we live in
the era of the mythical nobility of the psyche, a
self-centered pretension that even gets into the heads
of some who once complained about joysticks that didn't
self-center. Makes you wonder how all those soldiers
kept their heads in the World Wars without any "official"
mental validation. Can you imagine sessions at Normandy?
Therapist: Now, we're all going to nurture
each other by sharing our feelings. We'll start
with you, young man. What's your name and what's troubling
Soldier: My name is James Swanson and I have a German
rifle shell in my chest.
Therapist: I understand. And how can we deal with
this in a peaceful, rational way?
Soldier: By not wandering into the wrong medical tent
and bleeding to death. If you'll excuse me.
Therapist: Of course. Now, who else wants to YEEEEAAAAAAAAARRRGHH!!!!
last exclamation is the result of a five-hundred-pound,
celluloid-fused bomb falling on the tent from the
belly of one of the Luftwaffe planes above.
This just goes to show that academia doesn't mean
a thing when you consider the parts of life that really
game characters, on the other hand, do not have cerebral
cortexes or any of the other elements that enable humans
to act of their own free will, seek personal versions
of happiness or even get nervous before engaging in
gunfights. No matter how much personality a silicon
protagonist might have, he's built according to the
mathematical logic of computer code and he's programmed
to act in one particular way according to every circumstance
possible in his game. So we can have a little fun figuring
out the intrinsic motives of those most primitive creatures
in the world of classic games: VCS characters.
not going into the 8-bitters here because I'd have
to take into account a certain type of deceptively
simplex character in the interest of not shunning
any part of gaming history; I'm talking about the
early text adventure parsers. Even among their bare
bones, there's just too much to analyze, especially
in the case of a Scott Adams parser. In a recent letter
to Adam I remarked on the age-old horror of discovering
that I'd inadvertently loaded an Adams game while,
say, exploring a newly acquired disk of "archived"
YOU ARE IN: PATH
YOU CAN GO: W
YOU ARE IN: PATH
YOU CAN GO: W
}yes, you told me that already. I wanted to look more
closely. And how could I be IN a path, exactly?
UNKNOWN WORD: yes,
WHAT DO YOU WANT TO DIG THE path WITH?
YOU HAVEN'T TAKEN ANY hands
}crap crap crap crap crap
UNKNOWN WORD: crap
YOU ARE IN: OTHER PATH
YOU CAN GO: E
LOOK, GIMME A BREAK. I'M DOING THE BEST I CAN WITH
WHAT I'VE BEEN GIVEN.
}when do all these paths stop?
HOW SHOULD I KNOW? I DIDN'T WRITE THIS CRAP.
The multiple diagnoses
would take us forever. So let's stick to the 2600.
Harry springs to mind immediately. He's interested
in moving forward -- always forward, no matter what.
This is a blind optimist. He just goes and goes. His
strength of will is verified by his excellent posture.
That back never bends, even when he throws himself
against a brick wall. He even sinks into a mud bog
with perfect posture. Legs burnt off in a campfire?
The straight backbone doesn't so much as quiver. A
man with his chin up 'till the end, that Harry. But
no matter how unshaken his hope or fearless his progress,
his explorations remind us humans of the suspicion,
always present but kept at bay like an unpleasant
sight in one's peripheral vision, that hanging somewhere
above every place we go and everything we accomplish
is a timer, counting down in anticipation of the unavoidable
closing theme that'll play at the end of the long
song of life.
of that well-known danger tune, the notes playing
at the end of Pitfall! begin the life of Mario.
We go from horizontal exploits to vertical and instead
of a civilized human visiting the jungle, a primate
from the land of leaves is perched on a man-made construct
alongside his captive, a girl with terrible posture
but great hair. The 2600 rendition of Donkey Kong
is a poor follow-up on its arcade counterpart -- it
doesn't even carry over the simple intro song I mentioned
-- because most of its memory is committed to the
Mario graphic, the entity to which we'll now turn
been obvious to me for years that the would-be Italian
hero -- he wants to be a spicy sandwich, y'see (couldn't
help it...he he hee) -- bears a major identity crisis.
Let's look at his jobs first. He started out as a
carpenter. Then he decided he'd be happier as a plumber.
By the time he wound up on the Nintendo 64 he fancied
himself an action hero, his explorations and rescue
missions making Pitfall Harry look Pitiful. It demonstrates
that it's the size of the nose that counts.
Mario's ever-changing vocation is just the tip of
his submerged mental problems. Not only is he never
satisfied with himself concerning work, which has
nothing to do with happiness anyway (put that
in your therapy tent and bomb it), but he won't stop
changing himself as a person. An argument could be
made for the ostensibly inspiring way in which he
seeks to better himself in each game sequel; but to
me, his inability to stick to anything seems like
more of a reluctance to allow himself to be happy
with who he is.
Donkey Kong he could only run, jump and climb.
Sure, he could hammer anything to hell, but he was
a carpenter; that came with the girder-lined territory.
He was so self-critical and confused after failing
to rescue the girl, he tried his hand at being evil
for a while, caging the monkey and holding court at
the top of the Donkey Kong, Jr. playfield --
once again turning the tables by visiting the eaves
of the jungle. This didn't work for him, so he allowed
himself to be lured by his brother Luigi to the plumbing
trade and forced himself to learn how to bend matter.
That's right! Jump up against the underside of any
platform in Mario Bros. and you'll see our
pudgy hero's new metaphysical breathrough in action.
not able to rest his head, he trained himself to overcome
the slow movement dictated by his weight and was,
by the time he found himself in the Super Mario
Bros. trilogy, able to run at incredible speeds.
Now playing the part of the high-strung Italian, he'd
studied up on cyberbiology and had taught himself
how to grow in size on a strict diet of mushrooms.
If he broke his normal eating routine and enjoyed
a flower, he rendered himself capable of self-produced
firepower. (Good thing he never had any gas problems.)
think this would be enough. But challenged by the
apparent ease with which some hedgehog ran even faster,
Mario easily crossed the line from self-improvement
to neurosis in Super Mario Bros. 3, in which
he flew among the clouds, pretending to be able to
soar with the birds and remaining in denial about
the fact that he always fell slowly back to the ground.
He even pretended to be other animals by wearing silly
costumes. In subsequent games he raced souped-up go-carts,
swam so deep he ran out of breath and finally -- I'm
giving him the benefit of the doubt and chalking this
up to his newfound peaceful resign -- took up Golf.
something tells me we haven't seen the last of the
little guy. Mark my words, folks. Mario has issues.
And I'm not talking about old copies of Nintendo
it's the 2600 I'm supposed to be focusing on, let's
leave Mario with the assurance that at least he has
superficial reasons for feeling inadequate. Short,
fat and probably bald (you never see him without a
hat), he faces challenges foreign to Superman, the
strongest guy in comics, the most aeronautically flexible
non-mechanized Atari character and the superhero who
refuses most stubbornly to die. The D.C. guys hit
"reset" too many times -- I mean, I think that once
a comic character's dead, he should stay dead
and not render moot the drama of the unexpected plot-twist
-- but the Man of Steel as he appears on the VCS retains
the coder-given right to perpetual reincarnation,
downplaying that issue anyway because he also refuses
to adhere to the customary laws of physics.
one of us earthlings flies into the ground, we don't
wind up in the sky over a different part of the city.
In fact, we usually get hurt, depending on how far
up we've thrown ourselves from. And if we non-Atari
non-superheroes were to board airplanes and fly up
towards the sun, assuming for the moment the luxury
of unlimited fuel, we'd just keep going. Eventually
we'd reach outer space and the plane would fall apart
or we'd suffocate. But when Clark Kent's more color-coordinated
alter-ego belly-flops into the street (that's the
largest amount of hyphenated phrases I've ever used
in a row), he appears with a noisy gust of wind in
a different area, usually hovering over a structure
that looks like the impossible entity: a government
building erected on a low budget. Likewise, if our
hero hurls himself into the sky, he comes up out of
the ground elsewhere. Superman's refusal to acknowledge
the most basic principles behind the physical properties
of living beings places him in the "major denial"
category, which would be worth discussing further
if it didn't seem to work so well for him. This doctor's
reminded of the old joke about the lady who admits
that her husband thinks he's a chicken. When her friend
responds with "That's terrible," the first woman replies,
"It's okay; we need the eggs."
preparing to speculate on the adversaries in
the 2600 universe, we have to make clear the distinction
between "mad" and "evil." The Mad Bomber in Kaboom!,
for instance, doesn't necessarily think that what
he's doing is right. Obviously an escaped prison convict,
M.B. has become defeatist; since he's likely to be
nabbed again and thrown back into the slammer, he's
intent on causing the most destruction possible while
he's free. A moody character, M.B.'s facial expression
gives away his jumpy mindset concerning his violent
spree. He's either very angry, very happy or wholly
surprised at the performance of your buckets. Since
the buckets seem to be moving without any human help,
one wonders if he's not stupid as well; the look of
shock should appear right at the beginning. His ignorance
of the fact that the shallow buckets aren't overflowing
with bombs after the first few seconds seems to solidify
the imbecile theory. Therefore, one shouldn't get
too angry when the buckets miss a bomb and they all
go off. The Bomber's a confused, frightened soul and
doesn't really wish any harm on anyone, or he wouldn't
be dropping the bombs in such orderly, predictable
Otto's another matter altogether. This leader of the
mechanical Berzerk team of antagonists always
has a big smile on his face. He knows that what he's
doing is bad, but he's satisfied and feels no remorse.
He exists to jump on stick-men and pulverize them.
There's no internal conflict whatsoever. He's so happy
about being evil that he bounces around merrily. Evil's
what he gets up for in the morning. Evil's what he
sings about; evil's what he sees when he looks up
at the moon. Evil's carried on his ocean waves and
evil's in the chirping of the birds outside his electrified
window. Evil gets him to sleep and evil's what he
Therapist: Now, how can we find new ways of releasing
our pent-up emotions?
Mad Bomber: Well, for one thing, I'd have to change
Therapist: Yeah, that pretty much says it all about
you, doesn't it!
Otto: There's no other way. I have no pent-up emotions
anyway. I'm just evil. Simple as that. I wish more
people would accept me for who I am. I lie on this
couch and look up at the ceiling and all I can think
about is evil.
Therapist: Have you tried asking yourself where this
evil comes from?
Otto: No. I don't have the patience for that.
Mad Bomber: Just get yourself a bunch of bombs. It
makes you feel so much better.
Otto: Shut up! All I need is for that damn humanoid
to show up in one of my mazes with a bucket of water.
That'd probably screw up my robots as well.
Mad Bomber: Jeez! Sorr-ry! (sob)
Otto: Look, don't cry. I've just been feeling especially
Therapist: Have you tried asking yourself (zzzzzap)
Mad Bomber: Thanks.
Otto: No sweat. She was getting on my nerves. Wench.
Parser: UNKNOWN WORD: Wench.
Otto and Mad Bomber: Shut up!!!!
Mad Bomber's eventually chased by an actual human
in Keystone Kapers; he's working under an alias,
sure, but this is because he's turned to theft. These
ex-cons never learn. He's pursued by a speedy cop
who proves much more effective than the magical floating
buckets. Winky, the hero in Venture, is Evil
Otto's twin brother. Whereas Otto recognized from
early childhood that evil was, all things considered,
his essence, Winky was always a dumb and extremely
naive geek. The grin on his face is indicative of
his failure to take into account the dangers of the
dungeons he explores in search of what he's been overheard
calling "pretty, shiny, neat stuff."
course, that's what keeps many of us going. Wipe that
silly grin off your face and stop giving your money
to industries that offer you nothing valuable in return
-- especially the shrink community. It's perfectly
easy to get rid of any stress you're feeling: Play
a video game. Oh, yeah -- have a sense of humor. That's
the most important part, no matter what you're