Back in April, when I read The Freedom Phalanx, one of the City of Heroes novelizations, I posted some thoughts about it. Last month I read another novel set in that game-world, Web of Arachnos, and that pretty much passed without comment. Mainly that was due to the fact that the second novel wasn’t much of a different reading experience from the first; it covered a different, earlier period in the fictional history of that fictional setting, but it employed all the same tropes and suffered all the same pitfalls as its counterpart. It amused me and I enjoyed it, but I don’t think any deeper analysis than that is required. What I didn’t realize at the time, however, was that it would kick off something of a resurgence in my preoccupation with Paragon City.
I pointed out in the Freedom Phalanx post how that novel skipped right over the origin stories of individual heroes and dove straight into the story of how a superhero team which had disbanded was reformed by a new generation when the city needed them most. I almost certainly read the novels out of order, because not only does Web of Arachnos take place in the 1930’s, but it is essentially the origin stories of the heroic Statesman, the evil Lord Recluse, the several support-role heroes who make up the first incarnation of the Freedom Phalanx, and the FP itself. Again, everything that happens in the Web of Arachnos novel has to happen, in order to lay the groundwork for the video game world in which the MMORPG is set. But it was competently done, especially in terms of the little details that set Statesman apart from his obvious comic book inspiration(s).
In thinking about that inspiration, though, I was put in mind of another blog which I enjoy both for the sheer, insane amount of content posted there on a daily basis (all by one dude from Canada!) and its subject matter: Siskoid’s Blog of Geekery. One of the recurring features Siskoid currently provides is called Reign of the Supermen. Superman has appeared in many different forms and variations within official publications of his corporate owner, DC Comics, and has also inspired countless analogues, homages, rip-offs, and so on. So for close to a year now, Siskoid has been posting one profile every single day of a character who is a version of Superman, from the copyrighted on-model iterations to the parodies, subversions and deconstructions. I’ve been enjoying the feature, and after reading an entire novel about a Superman-analogue, I was possessed with the urge to e-mail Siskoid and ask when he was going to profile Statesman for a Reign entry. After a bit of back-and-forth, he did so this past Monday. I was geeked, especially because he basically (with permission) used a lot of my arguments/analysis about exactly what kind of Superman analogue Statesman is.
With all of that heavy thinking about City of Heroes characters, I realized that I still hadn’t played the actual game in quite a while, despite finally upgrading to a new computer not too long ago. So over the weekend, during a couple of peaceful interludes when both children were either asleep or at least (in the case of a certain rowdy little guy) temporarily confined to their rooms with doors shut for Designated Quiet Time, I fired up the MMORPG and reacquainted myself with it. I think I mentioned that my wife and I deliberately purchased a very economical home PC just so that we could have something that a scanner, Skype, iTunes and a few other peripherals could be connected to, and also to store files (for a while, until the next inevitable upgrade) someplace other than my fading laptop or our mini-netbook. To borrow some analogies from my wife’s line of work, my laptop is like a gray-muzzled Golden Retriever with arthritis in his hips whom you really don’t want to ask too much of if you can help it; the netbook is like a cute little toy dog who seems fine but (in my mind at least) you never know when an unobserved defect is suddenly going to make it drop dead. Clearly we needed another workable dog-computer. Or something. But nothing extravagant. However I am pleased to say that even a cheap-o desktop manufactured in the past year is a lot more powerful than the best that 2004 had to offer, which approximates whence the older home PC originated. So City of Heroes is almost a completely new experience for me, it just loads so much faster and plays so much smoother. I am geeked again!
I was in fact so smitten with the enhanced gameplay that I elected to keep playing a few more levels on Saturday even after the little guy’s Designated Quiet Time was over. He asked if he could sit on my lap while I played, and that was fine with me … and then the “why” questions began. I consider it a fortunate blessing that my son will almost certainly not remember that particular conversation from before he was three years old, not that anything went horribly wrong during it, but it wasn’t full of sparkling insight, either. It’s tough to explain to a child, who still needs frequent reminders that we don’t hit or bite or kick and we must be nice to people, that it is highly entertaining to daddy to play a game where you make a man run around hitting and kicking. The morality gets even more questionable considering that the rules of the CoH game allow and encourage you to identify enemies and get the drop on them before they attack you, which means you often come upon bad guys who aren’t really doing anything bad, and you commence whomping on them without provocation. I found myself seeking out the programmed instances where the computer generates hoodlums attempting to steal the purse of an innocent civilian, because in those cases I could unleash the fury and still assure my little guy that I was the good guy because stealing is wrong.
I long, long ago made my peace with violent entertainment all the way up to and including horror movies and revenge stories, but it’s only now that I’m realizing that all of my sophisticated rationalizations about challenging art and the release valves of a sane society don’t really work very well in service of the simple “hurting people is wrong” values I’m trying to instill in a very small child of my own. I suspect as time continues to march on, bonecrunching video games and the like will have to be post-bedtime, adults-only business. Because it’s not like I’m going to give that stuff up or anything. I just got back into the game.