Life Story


Every time something new enters our lives, we rewrite our story to accommodate it. We project it into our future, and sometimes into our pasts, in order to construct a story for ourselves that makes sense and tells us who we are and who we want to be.

This story… It’s never quite right, but sometimes it’s close enough, sometimes it lives a long time. modified bit by bit until its unrecognizable, just like a person ages, day by day. Sometimes it lives long enough to die with us. Just as often, though, it dies suddenly, brutally, and unceremoniously.

It’s not a tragedy, but it’s not easy.

Wishes are fireworks that float away or explode. Plans are grains of sugar that melt in the rain. Even when they collapse, lose stability, and disappoint the high hopes entrusted to them, they are still so beautiful, still so sweet, it’s impossible to regret them. In the end, the dissolution of a story about ourselves becomes a component of a grander, sadder, stranger, truer and more complex story about ourselves.

These stories intersect when we meet each other, and they seldom agree. All of these people who surround me, strange and complex and human, are the main character of their own stories, but mostly they’re just extras in mine. Mostly they are nuisances or conveniences, cardboard cutouts: AI bots. I know that’s not the extent of who they are, I am not caught in some self-indulgent solipsism, but that is the extent to which they exist in my story about me.

If it were otherwise, it wouldn’t be a story, it would be a phone book.

I’ve expressed concern before about the implications of the ways that games show less-important characters as being less than human, but really all that is is a terribly blunt look at the way the human mind works. These are the roles that we cast our fellows as. The terrorist, the obstacle, the sheeple, the civilian, the statistic. Some are uglier than others, but they are all the same kind of shallow non-person.

The danger is that in games, that is literally all they are. If you poke under the surface, it turns out that terrorists really are just robots trying to murder you, and the girl really does exist solely to be rescued. You cannot ask them why they are who they are, ask the terrorist why he’s so angry, ask the girl why she’s so helpless. That is the extent of them.

We get used to that path being closed to us.

We get used to the only part of a person we see being the surface that they willfully project outwards.

It becomes easy to believe that the cover is the book, that the clothes make the man.

And the possibility space of what our story about ourselves can be becomes smaller, becomes more constrained, and begins to shut out the possibility of ever knowing another human being.

Maybe its best to have these little firework daydreams explode now and then; to throw us off course; to show us that not all things can be predicted; to show us that there are, indeed, more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy. To show us that we are not alone.

We were never alone.

  1. Janet W Hardy said:

    Something I’ve noticed in fiction is that – to use an *extremely* broad generalization – female writers are less likely than male ones to deploy “spear-carriers” (characters that exist only to fulfill a plot function, such as conveying information, getting in the way, or dying, and who have no self and no interior life beyond that function). Is there a large enough database to draw or disprove similar conclusions about video games?

    • Video games are so rarely developed by one person that that’s pretty impossible to meaningfully measure. Even having a single writer is fairly uncommon in the big budget games space. There are games out there by one author, of course, but not a big sample set, and most of them tend to not have a strong basis in character at any rate, since they tend to try to stick as closely to the bare-bones game mechanics as possible.

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