Tuesday, October 21, 2008

When 'things get too straight'

I loved Iggy Pop from the start. I always felt he was a rather under-appreciated musical hero of the counter-culture. It was only when the film version of 'Trainspotting' was released that his music became the unofficial anthem of an entire subculture and achieved some of the attention it deserved.

So much popular music consists of a voice for the disaffected and the alienated. Thank God for that! Without a natural outlet or form of expression, emotional meltdowns occur. Many tragedies in society are avoided, I daresay, by losing oneself in a favourite piece of music, whether it is an opera, a symphony, Punk, Goth, Heavy Metal, the Blues, Emo, tribal drumming or whatever else releases the soul from its prison temporarily.

I was listening to 'Lust for Life' this morning and the lyrics to 'Some Weird Sin' impressed me anew.

'Well, I never got my license to live.
They won't give it up,
So I stand at the world's edge...

I'm trying to break in,
Oh, I know it's not for me,
And the sight of it all
Makes me sad and ill.
That's when I want- Some Weird Sin.

Things get too straight:
I can't bear it.
I feel stuck, stuck on a pin...

I'm trying to break in,
Oh, I know it's not for me,
But the sight of it all
Makes me sad and ill.'

The lines that speak more eloquently to me are: 'Things get too straight: I can't bear it. I feel stuck, stuck on a pin...'

There was a time in my life when that entire dilemma was almost unbearable. A part of me wanted to become a part of what generally was considered to be 'accepted society', to make efforts towards material gain and society's fame, to keep my head down for once in my life and create no waves. At the same time, I simply could not DO it. There always was too much in me that was individualistic, that could not pretend to agree with lifestyles and principles that did not suit me or make any sense on a profound level.

As one grows older, one learns to float on the tides instead of thrashing against them to some extent, but there still are moments when 'things get too straight.'

I realised, however, that I have found a wonderful antidote for that in gaming. Without being self-destructive or altering the paths one has chosen (and which usually involve other people for better or worse), one can leap away from the 'straight and narrow' and become some one else in another life or another world for a few hours. That resource is a lifeline to me and has to be one to many creative individuals who are sensible enough to avoid self-destruction but who still need some release from what generally is defined as 'sanity' or 'mainstream life'.

There are many forms of self-expression and self-liberation but gaming is an extraordinarily diverse resource as it can offer so many different things. One can choose a combat game in order to act out rage and resentment without hurting any one, including oneself. One can choose a fantasy RPG in order to escape reality in its grim and oppressive forms. One can maintain a sense of responsibility towards family and friends in real life but be freed from all constraints and restraints in living in a different universe through the magic of a game.

Beyond that, there is 'empowerment'. In games, we can be gods or successful farmers, great heros or simply charming flirts. We can choose different personalities and characters, try them on and then discard them at will without affecting other people.

The 'empowerment' in gaming that allows one to perform the impossible, whether it is soaring with wings into the heavens or executing amazing martial arts combinations is not the only sort of empowerment games offer. Games make order from chaos, operate according to given rules and do not deviate from them. One can BELIEVE that justice will be rewarded, that loyalty will endure and that one will not be robbed suddenly of success once it has been won. It may not translate completely into real life, but games can be a reminder of the values we hold dear and which we would like to see embodied in our own society.

The other side of the coin is the ability to behave badly without fearing the consequences. One can 'blow away' any number of enemies in a game without being damned to eternity or sent to Death Row. One can be wicked, mischievous, indolent, feckless or simply contrary without being forced to live with the consequences forever. It can be fun to be wicked sometimes, especially when no one is hurt.

There are those who argue that games increase violence but I believe that the opposite is true. They are a wonderful outlet, a means by which one can 'let off steam'.

As for the games that actually are based on a rather utopian ideal, such as Harvest Moon, they are the greatest gift to players of all ages, dispensing a positive philosophy with humour, wit and beauty. One cannot devote oneself to games entirely to the detriment of reality, but one can use them as 'safe havens' when one feels one has been 'stuck on a pin.'

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