Monsters, RPG Heroes, Dark Souls, Fascism, and the end of the world

The “end of the world” is an understanding of approaching human annihilation by means of environmental degradation or destruction. This understanding is very old – it goes back at least as far as the early industrial revolution, a deep psychological understanding long before science would be able to provide confirmation. This understanding exists even in people who convince themselves into believing otherwise, like CEOs of American fossil fuel companies.

In a living system, the morality is about perpetuating life. This is true even in the midst of war – wars are ended when their destruction becomes too great for life to bear.

The morality of the living system of earth is ancient – it goes back at least as far as the first conscious beings – a minimum of tens of thousands of years. The morality of the dying system of earth only goes back a few hundred years. It’s fair to say we don’t know what we’re doing with respect to a dying earth.

While a living system goes about it’s life in service to it, a dying system desires to be saved, to be changed, to be transformed into a living system. Zombies call out for “brains” because they want to be alive again, and they consume humans because they want to be human. Likewise, our modern dying earth consumes it’s cultural history in an attempt to revive itself.

Fascism is terrified by death, marking it as the defining political construct of the modern age. Fascism collects all human effort into the state (which is often a function of corporations) and maximizes it’s power.

This is part of the framework of reality into which video games were born. Video games derive from the anarchic “do-it-yourself” desire, which is at least in theory the polar opposite of fascism. Video games, like the computer culture that gave birth to it, are about gaining mastery over an “alternate reality”, the virtual reality of computers and the internet.

Role-playing video games are often about saving the world since that’s what we want to do in real life. We would rather that life on earth continue but we lack the power to make that happen, so we play video games where we do have the power to make that happen within a virtual fantasy.

The worlds we create in video games are not industrial, and therefore are not dying. This problem is typically solved by a deus ex machina – a vastly evil being who seeks ultimate power, which is not the RPG hero himself but rather his foe. This foe, essentially fascist, has corrupted many living beings, transforming them into monsters serving him, and so the RPG hero hacks and slashes his way through the corrupted minions to reach and kill the evil being, thus preventing any further corrupted living beings and rendering the murders “breaking a few eggs to make an omelette” at best or “cleansing the land of evil” at worst.

This classic RPG premise doesn’t correspond to reality. An enraged Yemeni for example even if he could hack and slash his way through American minions to reach the White House and slay Barack Obama who directly authorized the murder of his friend, subsequently killed members of his family, and is the lead spokesman for what the global community calls the “biggest threat to world peace” doesn’t accomplish much. Obama just gets replaced with someone who does the same thing, or even worse due to the justification of Obama’s murder.

Conan the Deathbarian is a fantasy even WITHIN a fantasy. The world isn’t good except for a evil leader – Iraq isn’t a wonderful place now that Saddam Hussein is gone, the United States didn’t improve after George Bush left office, the world didn’t improve after Osama bin Laden’s death. There’s no such thing as saving the world, one corpse at a time. It’s a machistic myth, one consumed by people across the world, as Egyptians are currently discovering in their post-Mubarak era.

Even Hitler, the modern archetype for the “single evil person attempting world domination” is a *product* of his situation, not a cause of it. Germany’s terrible economic status after World War I gave birth to Hitler, but the RPG hero never hacks and slashes his way through economic policy, just through flesh and bone.

As we might say to Jason Vorhees – “murder is not the answer”. Jason Vorhees kills vapid over-sexed teen-agers who immorally defile the pristine state of nature, but he finds out that they just keep coming. Murder is futile. Perhaps Mr. Vorhees could consider that teenagers are vapid and over-sexed out of a sense of impotence regarding their dying world. As the porn industry can tell us, sexual oblivion is a powerful tool to deal with approaching annihilation.

In Dark Souls the main purpose of the protagonist is to provide hope to the world by lighting the bonfires. This hope is defined as some greater reality beyond oneself, manifested in the game’s gods. The world of Dark Souls is filled with creatures who no longer want hope – hence the attacks upon the protagonist who wants to remind them of what they’ve lost. Degree of humanity within the game is defined by one’s attitude toward hope – humans are hopeful and monsters are both hopeless and satisfied in that condition. The subversive element within the game is the questioning of the very people playing the game – do we have hope?

So while Dark Souls is a classic RPG in many respects, very much within the saving the world, one corpse at a time model, it’s progressive, abandoning the myth of the “single evil world-dominating being” and feels much more human as a result, despite or perhaps *because* it’s filled with the undead.

Other modern RPGs have likewise abandoned the “single evil being” myth, like the Witcher series.

Curiously, these “progressive” RPGs depict fairly terrible worlds, as if to compensate for the lack of a single mega-evil person the evil needs to be spread out everywhere. This is called “realism” but it’s no more real than the brutality in Game of Thrones, a pornographic rather than realistic depiction of brutality.

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