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Contrarian Gem

I frequent the website IGN regularly, and the contrarian corner articles have become one of my favorite features.  In them, the author offers an antagonistic perspective on whatever video game is hottest at the time.  The author doesn’t simply nitpick like a photographer critiquing a top model contestant or a pick-up artist chastising his protege for not negotiating a threesome properly.  The writer challenges the consumer’s idea of excellence similar to how Socrates forced his fellow Greek citizens to examine their own culture and reevaluate their definition of good.  The writer regularly uses evidence from culture, history, and life experience to reach his conclusions, and when he does, his points often have applications that transcend the video game world introducing fresh, valuable perspectives on the basic concepts to anyone willing to notice.

In the following excerpt, he compares playing the newest iteration of Final Fantasy to his experience building a wooden fence around a small garden in Madagascar.  It’s unsurprising that he finds physical labor more difficult than playing a video game, but the way that he frames his argument enhances the juxtaposition in provocative way.

Begin Excerpt

[early on he is referring to Final Fantasy combat.  It’s a game where you play a character who uses spells, weapons, and armor to take down imposing mythological beasts.]

The most literal purpose of this system is to apply human logic to an array of barbaric spells and attacks with the sole purpose of subduing every living creature that surrounds your party. It’s a contradiction in terms, perverting a quality of thought and careful planning for a purpose that should only be tenable in the absence of human logic. It’s a fantasy in which your body can do the extravagantly impossible if you just logically plan for it ahead of time.  It’s a relief from the real world constraints where the gap between even the simplest ideas and their physical execution is the widest.

It took me three days to build my fence in Madagascar, digging in the hot sun, winding metal twine around sticks that were three inches in diameter. I felt a great and manly pride when it was finally done, looking at it in the evening air after the last day’s work. I pushed against it, feeling how tightly set in the ground the sticks were. I tried to wedge my fingers between the cracks, but there was no give. That’s a great fence, I thought to myself. All the math about how much wood, twine, and time would be necessary to cover the garden had been right on. I had bloody blisters on my hand, sandy red dirt all over my body, and my muscles ached from the continual exertion in the sun. But I had won.

A week later, I woke up and found three baby pigs eating my tomato plants. I couldn’t change into any other paradigm or hit the “retry” button. I ran outside and chased the pigs away and stared at the narrow gap in the corner that they’d come through. I could have wished for a menu command to let me “close hole,” but XIII’s the kind of game where the only option would have been “burn pig.” And in the pulsing blue menus, either choice would have been equally arbitrary and without meaning.

End Excerpt from http://xbox360.ign.com/articles/107/1079860p2.html

So in this game, you use all these make believe weapons and armor and spells to take down monsters, and you do it successfully by solving relatively simple math problems, observing and reacting to simple patterns, and using your common sense.  In the real world, you build a a small fence of wood and wire to the best of your ability, and you fail to keep baby pigs out.  Compared to his paragraphs, my two-sentence summary doesn’t really do it justice.

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