As I'm writing this, my 2-month-old son is sleeping on my chest (in a wrap-type sling). I said that my comments on Gameology (regarding sex, relationships and romance in gaming) would be a combination of the academic and the personal. This post is going to be more toward the personal end of the spectrum.
My review of the Void went live on Play This Thing! last night, and I'm thinking about how that review turned in part into a discourse on Eastern Philosophy - and the review partially into an analysis of how I played that game.
I've been thinking about process a lot lately - the processes of human growth and development, the process of becoming a parent (a much longer and more complicated thing than reproducing, though human sexual reproduction is a wonder in itself). This has also brought my thoughts back to philosophies that are about process and becoming, rather than telos (ends, goals).
Whether it's the concept of wei wu-wei (doing/not doing), the act of sitting zazen, or Gilles Deleuze's positing of "becoming" without ever "being," the idea of being in the process - and also in the moment - is more appealing to me than ever. People with grown children always tell new parents to enjoy every moment, a nostalgic sentiment that seems just as unhelpful to me as frustration and resentment are.
I'm not trying to enjoy every moment, I 'm just trying to be in every moment, to take them as they come and accept them for what they are. Strangely, I'm also doing more of my own writing, and finishing more of it, than I've ever done before without the coercion of a deadline. I'm busier than I've ever been in my life, between my job, being a fully-involved father, and everything else, but I'm more productive and feel more capable than I ever did in grad. school.
Taking care of little Soren first makes everything else easier. I've approached fatherhood or, as I prefer to think of it, full parenthood (as much as possible, considering that I lack functional mammaries) as a way, in the Taoist sense, if you'll forgive me for being so self-aggrandizing. It's not easy - in fact, it's a constant challenge - but it's self-motivating and self-sustaining in ways I find hard to describe.
I was thinking about The Void in terms of Eastern Philosophy before Soren was born, so I don't think I'm just imposing my current state of mind on the game. At the same time, I make no claims whatsoever about the intentions of the games creators. I feel I can say that comfortably here, where more people reading this are going to be familiar with "the death of the Author."
I've generally found it easiest to find genuine, credible hope in the darkest of places, and the world of The Void is definitely dark enough. There are things about the game that I didn't mention in the review, small-"t" truths that more easily fit into a critical, even condemnatory, understanding of the game.
All of the "Sisters" in the game are beautiful in an exoticized but simultaneously entirely conventional way. Their clothes (when they're wearing them), faces, hair and mannerisms are all quite distinct, but their bodies look like they were created by taking a single "barbie doll" 3D model and varying it only by degrees. It's far from the most extreme modeling I've seen in a game, but there really is only one body type in this game, and it represents a pervasive (indeed, international) "ideal" of female beauty that I believe is unhealthy.The Sisters are also all white, though some of the fashions in the game bear an Asian influence.
It would be easy to the point of effortlessness to describe the game as engaging in, parallell the gifting of color to prostitution, and dismiss the whole thing as a heteronormative sex fantasy.
But it wouldn't just be easy - it would be uncritical, maybe even ignorant. No mistake: any criticism of gender roles and norms in The Void is complicit, indulging in what it critiques, but there is narrative and moral complexity in the story, a wealth of details more than sufficient to allow it to be guilty of objectification and make a point about it at the same time.
One review of the game I saw online too it to task for the fact that all of the pretty, naked people in the game are women - a valid point, but not a deep one: if there were male "Sisters" and female "Brothers" the game would be less troubling, and this game is intended to be troubling.
The first time I saw "The Odd Couple" performed, it was "the female version" of Neil Simon's play, and I still like that version better. A gender-swapped version of The Void would be interesting - more so, I think, than most simple inversions of this sort. For one thing, if the "Brothers" were female, they would immediately read as "monstrous, uncontrolled femininity" and surely be described as "domineering" by reviewers. Beautiful male "Sisters" would immediately be culturally coded as "gay" even if the game's protagonist was female.
If anyone out there decides to to the infinitely improbable and create a demake of The Void, I hope you'll go the extra mile and gender-swap it as well. You'll have at least one player.
This brings me back to process, and to Eastern Philosophy. Games are played experiences, a concept I tried to capture (unsuccessfully, I fear) in mt dissertation with the label "processual narrative." By this, I don't mean procedurally generated content, though that could be a part of it. What I mean is that the only story any game ever tells is told through the act of playing it. In this, art imitates life imitates art, as I am convinced that the only meaning in any life is in how it is lived, moment-to-moment.
Soren is still asleep. In a dream I had while working on my review of The Void, or maybe it was when I was working on the previous review, of Embric of Wulfhammer's Castle, I was being grilled about what I wanted for my son by a smarmy stranger. I replied "I want him to be as free as it is possible for a human being to be, and that's not much, but it's enough." I'm glad Soren woke me up (needing to have his diaper changed) or I surely would have forgotten that dream.