A while ago Leigh Alexander’s Sexy Videogameland asked the question, What’s Our Mandate? The post concerned itself with a gamer’s sense of reality, the world around her, and how the two did or did not connect.
Tonight, I recalled this post for a particular reason.
I went to the Lakeshore Theater in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood (commonly known as Boystown for its large gay population) to see Amanda Palmer touring her new album, Who Killed Amanda Palmer?, which is produced by Ben Folds. She is one half of the Boston based duo The Dresden Dolls. The gushing already happened all over my personal blog. Here’s where I get serious.
In 2003 my college’s radio station received a promo CD from a band called the Dresden Dolls. I was good friends with the station manager (say hello, Cap’n Perkins) who insisted I listen to this band. This ended up being rather fortuitous, as they became the topic of my Gender Studies thesis paper (I decided to use all my disciplines of study: English for explicating song lyrics, Theater for analyzing performances, German for examining the cultural mileau from which they formed, and Gender Studies to tie it all together). So, bear with me as I delve back into it again–it really does have to do with gaming.
What you just heard/saw was a song from Amanda Palmer’s forthcoming solo album. The name of the song is quite simply Guitar Hero (the link leads to the lyrics). Upon learning of this song, I knew I wished to dissect it for this blog. The problem was that I looked at it, and as is quite common with the lyrics Palmer writes, I could see it from a few different angles (in this case I was trying to see whether or not it condemned videogames, and could come up with cases for both).
So, after the show I walked up to her and quite bluntly asked her, “Where’s the connection? Where’s the shift from gamer to war?”
What she saw was the similarities in the manner of disengagement with surroundings. Gamers and soldiers are in different situations, but there is a certain disconnect from reality for them. There is a need to lose one’s self in what exists around them by divorcing from reality. The manner of this divorce is different, but the concept is the same. Find some way to remove one’s self temporarily.
Perhaps most poignant is the point where the song does shift:
The targets in the crowd are a blur.
The people screaming just like they should,
but you don’t even know if you’re good.
This stanza illustrates both the gamer’s level of skill, the lack of an audience who gives feedback on actual guitar playing skills and then further illustrates the soldier’s fight in a heat soaked desert, where one has room to question the morality of war. Is what I am doing good?
What made me further disconnect these two portions of the song was the fact that the game that was chosen (possibly due to popularity and the relation to her field) is one that is not really all that violent. Instead of an FPS, we are presented with the relatively innocuous music game. There is no direct translation from gamer playing with guns to soldier utilizing guns in reality, though there is a metamorphosis of the plastic guitar into dad’s semi-automatic and the first reference to the gamer being ‘killer king.’
The narrator does not exempt herself from the culture that feeds these war-laden images. I’d rather pick up right where we left, makin’ out to faces of death. What I forgot to ask her was whether this referred to the film or the name of Bone Thugs-n-Harmony’s first album. Either one instills in itself some rather curious evidence as to the atmospheres in which we decide to put ourselves.
What made me perk my ears up even more this evening (beyond anticipating that song) was the song preceding Guitar Hero called Strength Through Music (a song about the shootings at Columbine and Virginia Tech). One particular stanza that struck me there was the following:
he’s only playing, and boys just want to have fun.
We all have moments in which we escape or become engaged with videogames. It is the Holy Grail of the gaming experience for many of us–that game that kept you up until the early hours of the morning (see, concerts can do it too!).
Yet, as Leigh Alexander put it in her post I linked at the start of this article, there is also a whole other world out there. Without having games preach at me, I would find it interesting to have a game at which I could puzzle and look as I did with the song Guitar Hero; I want to make a connection that gives me that epiphany sometimes. However, I am not calling for all games to be as such. Right now I am reading schlock fiction right next to Don Quixote, so I perfectly understand the benefits of not having to think too deeply all the time. Overall, it does seems a goal from which I believe we could all benefit.