The Inevitability of Change

There’s something that rings false about the big, epic finale.

The final moments as you transition out of one thing and into the unknown future are as commonplace as any that came prior, and that strikes me as very poignant. A hurled ball bounces around erratically, but it always calms down before coming to rest.

I recently finished an amazing novel called The Shipping News. I was so reluctant to read the last sliver of pages because we were at no particular place in the story, just another handful of routine days for the characters, and the book was clearly going to roll to a halt. I didn’t want it to be over.

Real life is more like that. Change is fundamental to the human condition. Much of The Hero’s Journey, the late American mythology professor Joseph Campbell’s theory regarding the commonality of major myths from very different cultural origins, can be seen as a metaphor for change leaving home, meeting people, encountering challenges and even death, the big change we all deal with eventually.

One of my favourite stages of the journey is called ‘The Refusal of Return’. You know that scene in Return Of The King when the hobbits get back home after having hung out with ghosts, received medals from kings, run around in caves with wizards and stabbed evil demons on giant battlefields

They are sitting in that same pub in Hobbiton where they started, looking at each other like: “What now” How do you return home after something like that The answer is you can never really come back to where you started. Frodo even had to get on a big boat and cry at everyone and sail off with some elves, he was so incapable of fitting into his old life again. That’s a perfect example of Refusal of Return and the irreversible power of change.

I’m sentimental and nostalgic. I actually thank my personal effects, like socks and toothbrushes, before I throw them out. You know, for everything they’ve done for me. So you can imagine that packing up for moving is a big challenge, having to touch every artefact of my existence and think about where it was positioned in the routine I’m transitioning out of and where it will land in the uncertainty before me.

These sentiments must be ones videogames are capable of capturing, don’t you think

It reminds me of Tetris: things falling, finding places for them. If you had two wells for Tetris, one full of shapes previously placed, and one new, empty well, and you grabbed shapes out of the old one to drop into the new one, could that resonate with the experience of moving

Well, it wouldn’t be very emotional, Tetris blocks being simply shapes in a geometric puzzle. However, emotional attachment is well within the realm of games. Observe how people feel about their World Of WarCraft characters. Do we vest our in-game inventories with sentiment Do we say: “Oh, that’s the mithril axe I used in the floating keep, back before I found my +8 sabre. That axe really meant a lot to me!”

Maybe a game could combine those two ideas, forcing you to move items around once you’re invested in what they represent. The Portal designers said they decided not to make the end of the game an ultimate, paramount challenge. Beating glaDOS was easy enough, fluid and fun instead of annoyingly insurmountable, but it did come with that air of epicness.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s still the best videogame ending of all time and all that. But I’m sure we could adapt The Shipping News approach to games. I didn’t want Portal to end, either. If it had coasted to a stop, that might have been bittersweet as well.

Or maybe none of these designs is on the right track for using the interactive medium to communicate the phenomena around change. Change is really about being in the transitional space between things. About the inexorable march forward. Perhaps the first Mario Bros gets closest, since the screen can only scroll to the right, never back the way you came.

Annie Proulx, who wrote The Shipping News, is from a small, quaint state in the north-east of the US called Vermont, and that’s where my girlfriend and I are from too, and that’s where we’ll be living by the time this goes to press, after having driven all the way across the country in a giant van to arrive at a small house on the edge of a frozen lake.

It’s about as extreme a reversal from my noisy, urban life in Los Angeles as you can get, but I was never that sold on living in LA in the first place. I only came here to work on LMNO, and I send that project my fondest and most sincere wishes for the fabulous success that is surely within its reach, lofty ambitions, reduced staff and all.

Change is unpredictable. For myself, hopefully it will be fabulous too, once I land and come to rest, but the unknown future is just part of the human condition.