Off with their heads

Lewis

I gave up on blogging a long time ago. My LiveJournal space turned into a psychological battlefield–friends, enemies, and frenemies were going at it in a frenzy of glee-spattered angst. I can’t stop writing, though. It’s like a disease with no cure–once you catch it, there’s no going back. Sometimes I dictate things in my head. Usually, I scribble in any one of what are now hundreds of Word files, all password protected so that they die with me. (As most of them should.)

Then I played What Remains of Edith Finch, and things took a disturbing turn.

It’s a fantastic game, and I highly recommend it. Molly’s story was, by far, my favorite. But it was the story of Lewis Finch that gave me the metaphorical concussion that I’ve been walking around with ever since.

*Spoilers ahead*

Lewis worked in a cannery, so as Lewis, you perform the mind-numbing task of chopping the heads off fish. The game has you use the right thumbstick to move Lewis’s hand to the left (pick up the fish). Then you move it to the right (chop the head off the fish by placing it under a blade). Then you move it up (release the fish to the conveyor belt). And then you do it again. And again. And again.

Chopping the heads off fish for hours on end is not anyone’s idea of a stimulating experience. Lewis escapes by daydreaming. He starts small, but his daydreams grow into a grand world. There are lands to explore and kingdoms to conquer. You use the left thumbstick to navigate through these ever-evolving scenes. At first, the daydreams only cover up a little bit of the reality of the cannery. Eventually, they take over the screen entirely, all while you continue beheading salmon like an automaton. Not only does the right hand not know what the left is doing, they no longer even inhabit the same world. The only bits of reality that you’re left with are the fish and the hand, and even those disappear in the end.

Rather than impeding his ability to function, the game makes it clear that Lewis actually performed better at his job after he started letting his fantasies take center stage. I loved that little detail. Most people would probably assume that daydreaming gets in the way. For some, it probably does. In my experience, it does the opposite. I have more time for my headspace when I do my job quickly and well. The last thing I want to do is waste time correcting mistakes or rushing to catch up.

I am Lewis Finch. I’m guessing that a lot of people are.

Lewis2

You don’t have to work on an assembly line to find yourself bored by your job. When you’re sitting in a meeting, how many people are paying attention, and how many have drifted off? Everyone does it to some degree, but it’s not the tendency to do this that I related to. It was the extremes Lewis took it to that I identified with. In the end, Lewis chose to leap down the rabbit hole. I don’t blame him.

It’s not just work, it’s life. Most, if not all, of us ask the same questions at some point. Why am I here? What am I supposed to do? Does any of this mean anything? What’s the point? When it feels like your day-to-day life is a meaningless grind, those questions could quickly become toxic to your state of mind.

Internally, I’m almost convinced that I know the answers. I’m pretty sure that nothing I do matters in the grand scheme of things… and I’m not even certain I believe that there’s a “grand scheme of things” in the first place. Some very small percentage of us make a mark of some kind upon the world, are remembered long after we die… but few of us will ever be Mozarts or da Vincis or Einsteins. Most of us won’t even be Kardassians or Osbournes or Hiltons. A hundred years after we die, nobody’s going to search for us on Google or Wikipedia to find out who we were or what we did. Nobody’s ever going to hear our names at all. I’ve sunk into near-nihilism in my head. Where do I go from there?

Further into my head, apparently. Much as Lewis did.

I’ve spent a lot of time crafting my own fantasy worlds (and committing a lot of them to forbidden Word docs.) Those worlds can start to seem much more meaningful than the real world does. Like Lewis, when you create a fantasy, you can make yourself the star. In those worlds, what you do matters, because you decide that it does. People will remember you, because you can make them remember you. Everything is entirely under your control, something that rarely (if ever) is true in the real world. You get to call the shots, and no one can do a thing about it. (Of course, you can always imagine that they tried to do something about it, and then imagine what you’d do to them in response…)

Lewis didn’t try to impose his fantasies on those around him. He talked about them, sure, but he didn’t try to make anyone else conform to his imaginings. What if he’d made a different decision? What if he’d decided to try to make everyone else live his fantasy–tried to force them to bow down to him and make him their king?

Sometimes, people decide that their fantasy worlds shouldn’t be imaginary at all. Sometimes, people decide to impose their interior worlds–places where they are the most powerful and important people ever–on the real world. Sometimes, those people find (or create) an ideology that promises them the power and importance that they lack in their lives, and they use it to try to make their fantasies a reality. When those ideologies are based on the fantasy that any one race, creed, or religion is “better” and more worthy of… whatever… than others, then those fantasies become threats. Threats to peace, threats to decency, and threats to everyone who doesn’t share their fantasies.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m no fucking saint. I really don’t like people much. If you’re a bully, or a jerk, or an arrogant assbutt, or an idiot who thinks you know everything while spending all of your time getting in everyone else’s goddamned way… I probably don’t like you much. I couldn’t care less about what you believe, or what shade of puce you happen to be, or what you do with other consenting adults.

Just don’t be a dick.

Lewis Finch can lead you down a lot of different rabbit holes. I don’t know if the people who made this game intended to lead me down this one, but it doesn’t matter. What matters is that Lewis made me think. Stuff that makes me think? That’s really all I want.

What Remains of Edith Finch clips

(Full disclosure: Ok, sometimes, when I just spent the day dealing with some assbutt arrogant bullying jerkoff shitforbrains, I don’t want to think, I just want to kill some shit until I feel better, which is something else that games are good for. My go-to is usually to just run rampant through the streets of randomplace in AC:Black Flag, or go crazy in Borderlands 2. Don’t try this in real life, kids. Fantasy != reality.)


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