I have written before about valuing incompleteness as an aesthetic -- or not incompleteness, but unfamiliarity, the kind of incompleteness that suggests the presence of some deeper system or at the very least an overriding aesthetic principle. The first place in gaming that I encountered this was, where else, in Glorantha, specifically through David Dunham's East Ralios campaign, which was written up in Peter Maranci's old Interregnum APA back in the day. It was a major swipe-source for my own Dragon Pass game.
When I first read something like this ...
As Halvar Stormeye raised his hands, a powerful whirlwind rose around them, blurring their vision. They were swept into the air, finally coming back down in a valley that looked much like their own, but greener and brighter, with taller hills and a fast-flowing river in place of the stream.... it blew the top of my head right off with its suggestion of a mythology that was actually, well, mythological.
Between them in the spot the stone had been was an odd person with legs as long as a man is tall. Aidin recognized him as a Flint Slinger, a spirit which often punishes initiates who break their vows. They gave the Orlanthi Greeting. He answered and introduced himself as Left-Stone Shouter, and said he would be their guide.
The valley contained no steads, but Left-Stone Shouter pointed them towards some trees. Sitting in them were two winged men, arguing about who had first spotted a bag of sand. Konall suggested splitting the sand, but they told him it was the bag that was magic. Minara proposed taking turns using the bag, and drawing lots to see who would have it during Sacred Time. They agreed to this, then brought them to their tree-top stead where they were greeted by the thane and given meat and water. The thane, who had magnificently dyed feathers, asked them to entertain the assembly. Konall played his flute, Harmast and Jornast told stories, and Una made whirligigs for the children. The thane was well pleased, and gave them each a feather bracelet.
Left-Stone Shouter leaped into the air to the height of 20 men, and described the green-skinned lady he saw. When they got to her, she asked them to rescue her herd, which had been stolen by men of darkness.
Now, in the case of Glorantha, it so happens that there is a huge underlying depth and complexity to all this, one that until relatively recently you had to be some kind of initiate to get full access to. But I'm not completely convinced that that really matters.
When I was younger, the other place you came across this was in video games. Consider Street Fighter II, for instance. If, like me, you were 12 when it came out, you were enthralled by the graphics and the different fighting styles and the characters. Some of them were easy to figure out, but like Dhalsim and M. Bison and Blanka -- who the hell were these guys? And most of all:
WHAT IN THE SHIT WAS A "SHENG LONG"?
Of course I know what it means now -- new versions of the game have him saying things like "you must defeat my Shoryuken" or whatever, and there's even a little joke about Gouken sometimes being called Sheng Long, which I think is a callout to this old hoax:
But at the time it was a mystery for the ages. And that sense of entrancement came from the fact that the whole "story" aspect of the game consisted of maybe a few garbled, contradictory, half-translated lines here and there, and that "story" was an aspect of the game considered so unimportant that no effort was made to make it consistent or comprehensible.
And we liked it.
For me, the pinnacle of this is Rygar. Inspired by a friend's writing about old games, along with my recent trip to the Centre for Computing History, I have been thinking about old video games even more than usual (can you tell?). And I keep coming back to Rygar. Maybe it was the bitchin' soundtrack:
Or maybe it was the insane enemies:
|More here and here.|
Or maybe it was the fact that your only guide around the game's weird (and surprisingly open) world were a bunch of weird giant hermits:
|Thanks a lot, Muscle Beach Santa. If I knew |
where the fuck either of those places were,
that would be super helpful.
I miss that game. I started playing it again recently and it turns out I'm still terrible at it after all these years.
Anyway, what all this adds up to is that I think I have a tendency to do this in my own game writing -- to try to create worlds that seem like if you studied them for a long time they might make sense, but which don't necessarily do so at first glance. In fact, I think a certain amount of alien incomprehensibility is desirable in any non-historical setting, especially if the characters treat it as no big deal. That's the secret to the success of Star Wars, after all, but that's a story for another time.