Content Warning: Horror scenes/art, violence, depression/despair, cosmic horror, Nietzsche as interpreted by teenage boys, political stupidity (esp. capitol riots)

A Tribute to Games I Can’t Play

            In January of 2016, I was living with my wife in our Pennsylvania apartment.  I was in my third year of classes at Baptist Bible Seminary, but I’d hit a roadblock.  I had borrowed as much as the government was willing to lend me, and I was no longer able to afford to take classes full time.  In the fall I’d dropped from a full load of four-to-five classes per semester, to only one.  I had started substitute teaching at a local private school to help make ends meet.

            Then, one day my wife came home from work early and announced that she had just been laid off.  The college where she had worked for five or six years had mismanaged its finances and was facing major changes going forward, starting by laying off dozens of staff members, including her.

            I turned off the game I was playing, and haven’t ever turned it on again.

            That game was This War of Mine – 11 Bit Studios’ incisive simulator of trying to survive in a war-torn city.  The game had been widely praised for its difficult ethical decisions and unflinching portrayal of wartime hardship.  In it, you alternate between managing a group of survivors in an abandoned building during daytime hours – harvesting water and crafting new tools – and going out at night to scavenge what supplies you can find from other buildings in the neighborhood – abandoned homes, grocery stores, etc.  Along the way I’d found an old couple hiding in their home: people just trying to survive, like me, who I’d left alone (wasting precious time) rather than rob them, even though they could not defend themselves; and a sniper picking off anyone who came within a long radius, who I’d managed to reach after getting shot in the leg, only to lose my character to one of his compatriots.

This War of Mine remains a good game I can't play.
Image courtesy Wallpaper Abyss

            I stopped playing not because it was a bad game, but because I no longer had any interest in playing a game rooted in the same difficult decisions that I now had to make about my family’s livelihood.  In the year to follow, my situation would never become as difficult as the one faced by the characters, but I felt no need to play a game that simulated hard choices and unpleasant work while I was making hard choices and doing unpleasant work.  In the next year I’d end up working long, eight-hour shifts doing online grading for the ETS (the same service that publishes the SAT) while my wife and I lived out of my parents’ basement.  We had no privacy, no space, and a succession of unfulfilling, unreliable jobs that left us exhausted and miserable at the end of each day.  Gaming was still an important part of my day-to-day life; I would play idle games while grading and often spend my unpredictably-scheduled days off playing long stretches of Starcraft II or Gemcraft or Heroes III – familiar strategy games that made me feel smart and powerful – but ever since that day in 2016, I’ve become rather wary of games that add to my stress level, rather than detract from it, and there are a lot of perfectly good games that I simply can’t play anymore, for a wide variety of reasons.

            I can’t play Darkest Dungeon, for example, because I made it to one of the final levels only to watch my carefully-cultivated party of powerful champions get utterly wiped out before my eyes—the stressful, arduous prospect of building a new one from scratch with no promise of success was too much for me to bear.  I can’t play Demon’s Souls (or any of the Dark Souls games) because I don’t have hours to spend beating my head against the same boss only to get repeatedly knocked back to the start of the level.  I can’t play The Swindle or Heat Signature, despite how much I like both games, because losing progress makes me frustrated and irritable—unpleasant for my wife to be around.  I can’t play Minion Masters or Magic the Gathering: Arena because I’ll spend whole nights spiraling from loss to loss.  In short, I can’t spend my time playing games that will put me into a worse mood than I’m in already—certainly not when grading papers, skimming social media, or reading the news does enough of that.

Taking a Week Off from the World

Part of the reason this is on my mind lately is because I took last week off—not just from work responsibilities, but from the Internet altogether.  I scrolled no Facebook, read no news, and disengaged entirely from everything that stresses me out.  It was a valuable experience, complicated significantly by the fact that it was interrupted by an attempted insurrection (or something; words fail).  But that’s another story for another day.

Among other things, I decided to use some of that time to revisit at least one of the games I wouldn’t be able to play under more stressful conditions, namely Lobotomy Corporation.  The sequel, Library of Ruina is one I’m terribly eager to play, and I enjoyed the time I could afford to give to Lobotomy Corporation, to the point that I did, honestly, want to revisit it at some point.  Now I had the opportunity, and capitalized on it.

Screencap from my actual facility, before all he** breaks loose.
Just another day at the office

            Lobotomy Corporation is a Simulation/Management game (in the vein of a SimCity or, more accurately, SimTower), but your job is to manage the titular corporation as it harvests energy from the multitudinous Lovecraftian horrors that populate humanity’s nightmares—like a reverse Monsters, Inc., where the monsters yield energy rather than the kids.  You do this by gradually expanding the facility, one day at a time, incorporating new “abnormalities” into your facility, performing “work” on them (in one of four categories/colors), and using the resulting energy and equipment to research and understand the monsters, upgrade your staff, and fulfill your daily quotas.

            There are a lot of layers to Lobotomy Corporation: each abnormality is wildly distinct, with its own preferences and quirks to navigate around if you want to keep it happy and contained.  For example, I currently have an abnormality that will escape from containment and carve through employees with a buzzsaw if I watch it while someone works with it.  I have another that bestows a bonus on any employee that performs teal work on it, but will decapitate the same employee if they ever try to do purple work on any abnormality.  A third altogether is a sentient teddy bear, mostly harmless, but will hug employees to death if they work with it more than once in the same day.

            But since many of these quirks will interfere or trigger other abnormalities’ quirks, one mistake often leads to a series of other catastrophes.  If I forget and end up with an employee decapitated for doing purple work, then the abnormality he was working with escapes, which causes my tree to summon another employee to it, which causes everyone with a seed to die, which causes a horrific nightmare monster to break out and start terrorizing the place.  What’s more, these catastrophes become part of your routine.  After you’ve worked with enough abnormalities in a given day, other event abnormalities suddenly appear in your halls, killing employees, releasing monsters, or causing unpredictable havoc.

Pictured: Havoc

            I really like the game for its wide variety of creative monsters on display, as well as the challenge of keeping the plates spinning through careful planning and decisive responses to crises (and it’s also occasionally fun to watch everything go wrong, too).  But it is predictably stressful, and while the save system is very forgiving (thankfully), it’s not much fun returning to the beginning of a day because you accidentally forgot to send someone to turn off the express train that ran through your facility, killing three of your best employees and loosing that awful bird-thing into the Safety department.

            But now that my week off is over and the game’s story has just gotten really interesting, I’m faced with the difficult quandary of trying to squeeze sessions into my schedule, at the risk of growing frustrated and anxious in my free time, or leaving it on the back burner for months, and thus getting out of all the important routines that are necessary to managing my delicately-balanced facility.

Entertainment, Consumption, and Emotional Self-Management

I realize that a lot of this is stuff I’ve talked about before.  I’m preoccupied with my own relationship to video games because I am earnestly trying to figure out how to manage my mood in this chaotic, uncertain time.  I, like many, am trying to figure out how to relax in a time that doesn’t give us many opportunities for it.  But part of the trouble here is the vast disconnect between some experiences and others.  Just yesterday I read Film Crit Hulk’s long article about managing his own anger, and he expressed his discomfort about having frankly endless amounts of free time and no motivation to do anything with it, thanks to the haze of fear, anger, and frustration he feels at watching news stories about insurrections and failures to manage the pandemic play out.  I, on the other hand, have had the opposite problem.  Last semester I spent feverishly working to move all my classes online, trying desperately to keep in touch with students across five classes at three different schools, all while making a pittance of a salary that could only be confused for full-time pay if you squint and ignore the fact that I was making MUCH more on unemployment over the summer.  Some people are facing homelessness; others paralyzing boredom.  I personally feel like the man trying to brace the dam with his hands—hopelessly, desperately pushing back against the barrier while water streams over me, knowing that it’s just a matter of time before it all comes apart.

            And that disconnect extends directly to our relationship to media and entertainment as well.  In the last few years, as streaming services have come to dominate the consumption of TV and movies while video games have become utterly ubiquitous, what with mobile games, free-to-play games, and high-profile titles modeled as services with endless hours of content, I’ve found that my ability to acquire games (and books, and movies, and TV) has far outpaced my ability to consume them.  But what’s more, it has become consumption.  With the horrors of real life surrounding us, we increasingly turn to these things for escapism, indifferent to the quality so long as it distracts us just long enough to get on with our day, to give us the confidence or comfort or contentment to face another series of hard choices and unpleasant jobs.  Around every proverbial corner of the Internet is another critic or influencer or close friend saying “you have to watch [X], have to play [Y],” even if you end up cheating out by watching Let’s Play videos or reading online summaries to avoid being excluded from The Conversation.  We consume these things like potato chips, with roughly the same nutritional value.  A week or two ago, everyone was talking about the end of The Mandalorian.  No doubt by this time next week, we will be equally enraptured by Wandavision.  At Christmas you couldn’t go online without hearing about Cyberpunk 2077, several weeks before that it was Assassins’ Creed: Valhalla, or Among Us, or Fall Guys, or The Last of Us II.  And some of these games, movies, or shows might be truly great—but for all I’ve heard, I honestly can’t tell.  The Conversation about The Mandalorian was not whether it was great TV, insightful or profound or creative or personally-meaningful—it was: “Look at how they’re setting up the new show!”  “Can you believe they brought [REDACTED] back?”  “That episode sure was exciting!”  It reminds me of Mildred in Fahrenheit 451: intimately relating to her parlor walls despite the fact that the programs are calculatedly insubstantial.

Francois Truffaut Fahrenheit 451 (1966) - Yellow Barrel
But what will they burn in the sequel?

            This is not a criticism, mind you.  It’s an observation.  Calculated insubstantiality has been serving Disney well as a business practice for several years.  (And that isn’t to dismiss all Disney properties, either, though they do seem especially susceptible to that criticism.)  And if anything, I think we are growing allergic to substance—for all the hoopla and subsequent critical paddling surrounding the release of Wonder Woman 1984, nobody bothered to mention how utterly heartfelt it is about its message—or at least nobody I saw.  I wonder if that earnestness didn’t contribute to critics’ negative reactions, even as it fired my empathy in a way no other movie in 2020 could.  And maybe now isn’t the time for substance, just as I couldn’t handle This War of Mine’s overabundance of difficult themes and depictions in 2016.  Instead I just wanted to play more games that made me feel good.  Maybe in an age where people are killed storming the capitol building over election results, we could use a bit more pablum.  But at the same time, I wonder if it isn’t that very same pablum that is causing the problem.

Nietzschean Morality in the Age of Donald Trump

So in October of last year, I had a student plagiarize an assignment.

This is not a remarkable occurrence.  I think I’ve only had one or two classes across my entire career as a philosophy professor in which I didn’t catch someone plagiarizing.  Last year was indeed anomalous insofar as I ended up catching nearly one-fourth of my students plagiarizing at one point or another, but what makes this particular case special was the fallout surrounding it.

            See, when a student plagiarizes in one of my classes, I leave a little note on their assignment that says: “Evidence of plagiarism from (source).  No Credit.”  They get a zero for the assignment.  Usually, that’s that.  Students are a skittish bunch, and if they get caught plagiarizing, the last thing they want is to have an awkward conversation with the professor about the situation.

            Occasionally, usually once or twice each semester, I’ll get a follow-up e-mail from a student.  They usually take one of two forms: either the student meekly, innocently asks why they got a zero for the assignment (in which case I explain that I found evidence of plagiarism, they hem and haw a bit maybe before ultimately accepting the zero); or they come out totally indignant: “How DARE you accuse me; I’ve always been a straight-A student, etc., etc.” (in which case I explain that I found evidence of plagiarism, they hem and haw a bit maybe, then inexplicably go silent).

            But this year, I had a student explain to me that it was utterly unfair that his grade should be so seriously affected by this “grading technicality”, and that plagiarism should not be punished so severely.  I invited him to contact my department chair (as I often do when these things escalate), and he actually did, at which point my chair incredulously contacted me to try and figure out why I had a student who insisted that, yes, he had plagiarized, but he should get an ‘A’ in my class anyway.

            Now I have the advantage of being a philosophy professor, which means that I get a little bit more insight into the values my students hold dear than, say, their math professor.  And I had seen this student positively light up when we discussed Nietzsche toward the end of the class, demonstrating a familiarity with Nietzschean thought that far surpassed the meager reading for our class.

            This isn’t totally strange to me—Nietzsche appeals to a lot of my students, and I’ve often found students who have spent a lot of time reading Nietzsche before they ever end up in my class.  Heck, when I was a high-schooler, I remember devouring Thus Spake Zarathustra and Beyond Good and Evil along with my Ayn Rand and Fight Club.  Teenage boys have a lot of anger and a lot to prove, and they often find compelling a philosophy that tells them to blow up the world and make it anew in their own image.  They are eager to kick out the social systems keeping them in check and do something stupid and heroic.  (I at least had the good sense to grow out of that phase.  Mostly.)

Swiped the image from a news article.  I hope they don't mind.
Not what Nietzsche had in mind, folks

            But more and more I think our society has lost the ability to correct that tendency.  We’ve enshrined open-mindedness so deeply in our collective psyche that we tend to forget that this particular breed of quasi-libertarian, “virtue of selfishness” philosophy is actually really destructive and unhealthy and should be gently and thoroughly quashed before it turns out monsters.  And when we’ve also started idolizing successful businessmen like Steve Jobs or Jeff Bezos or Donald Trump as though they are the ideal every American should aspire to be—when we encourage them to watch Captain America rebel against corrupt political institutions in favor of his own conscience—when we encourage them to play game after game in which they heroically kill people by the thousands, all the while reinforcing that they are the “only one who can save the day”—well, that sends an unmixed signal to any teenage boy trying to figure out their identity that they should aspire to power and command, no matter the cost or immorality.  Empathy is passé; the Will to Power is very much in vogue.  Whatever people in their lives push back against that philosophy are just futilely pushing back against the bursting dam.

            There’s nothing wrong with a little power fantasy, for sure, especially when one’s day job is a slog and your uphill efforts to make the world better are trivial and thankless.  But to reinforce that power fantasy, over and over, to generations of impressionable young men without emphasizing what is worth fighting for—when you portray more dark-and-gritty anti-heroes than true-blue, self-sacrificial heroes of virtue and decency—well, that’s certainly a part of how you get mobs of misdirected protesters following conspiracy theories instead of good sense and strong moral virtue.  Socialization is the product of a wide variety of causes, absolutely including the media we consume; if we lack the moral courage to sow virtue while profiting off indulgent power fantasies, we have only ourselves to blame for teaching our students to disregard responsibility and social order.

All Things in Moderation

There’s a balance to be struck here, between the over-serious, over-stressful games I’ve lost the ability to play—and the over-indulgent, amoral pablum that defines so much of the entertainment industry today.  It used to be a balance we valued and treasured: I think of Link losing his childhood in Ocarina of Time, the mantra of 2001’s Spider-Man (“With great power comes great responsibility.”), or the heroes of Star Trek navigating difficult moral quandries and heavy personal responsibility under Captains Picard and Sisko.  Instead, the plot and moral responsibility is abstracted away in Breath of the Wild, confused to senselessness in Spider-Man: Homecoming (though NOT in Spider-Verse, I should stress), and reduced to background noise in modern Star Trek.

I suspect part of the reason we at Video Game Academy keep gravitating toward older games is that we very much adopted these lessons for ourselves—even as children, we knew that we were being told something important when we had to decide whether or not to adopt the powerful Magus to our team (and thereby stunt poor Frog’s development); or that Sephiroth’s super-cool power could only be had at the cost of poor Aerith’s life.  Villains were greedy, indifferent to human life, and monstrous as a result; heroes triumphed not because they were more powerful, but because they had better things to fight for.

The gender politics here aren't great, though.
Everyone remembers that Sephiroth is the villain, right?

            And that’s a lesson that’s supposed to be as old and ubiquitous as dirt.  Homer in The Iliad, Lao-Tzu in the Tao Te Ching, Jesus in the New Testament, the legends of King Arthur, Robin Hood, and the Three Kingdoms—all these greatest stories echo these lessons.  They’re not gone from our culture, nor forgotten.  But I haven’t the faintest idea how we’ve somehow missed passing them on in so much of our recent storytelling.  “Courage is fighting for the people you care about” isn’t supposed to be some great secret or controversial opinion.  Nor is “with great power comes great responsibility.”  You can have your power fantasy, sure, but we would do better to extirpate the stock revenge plot and replace it with the stock protection plot.  We’d do better to embrace the clichés that emphasize empathy and self-sacrifice than the ones that ignore or bypass them.

Creative Responses to Chaos and Horror

But, believe it or not, my intention was NOT to deliver a moral soapbox-lecture today.  As tempting as it is to segue into art/morality directions and reinforce the vision here at Video Game Academy, my intention here is to be honest and frank about my own experience, and how video games like Lobotomy Corporation are situated at the nexus at a lot of what I’m thinking about these days, amidst the horror of 2021.  I suspect part of my confusion here has to do with conflating “substantive” with “stressful”.  Starcraft manages to be substantive (insofar as it has a compelling plot with characters driven by important ethical concerns and moral values) while still offering the player a power fantasy (controlling entire armies of units) and engaging, rewarding gameplay.  The Swindle is utterly insubstantial, but still stressful to play.  A good example of this disconnect comes out of my favorite game of 2020: Superliminal—which managed to do a lot of interesting, thoughtful (substantial) things with its perception-based themes and mechanics—but which is an utterly relaxing puzzle game to play (except for one horror-themed level that proves to be a misdirect).

            But I also think some of this is purely subjective: what I find stressful, others may find relaxing, and vice-versa.  I sunk hours into Monster Train this year, which very nearly won Steam’s “Best Game You Suck At” award for 2020.  Some people find Dark Souls’ lonely, quiet level design a comforting departure from modern bustle.  Others find release in Call of Duty’s frenetic shooting. 

See, much as my gaming tastes have gotten rather tame in the last year, I’ve also taken a certain (perverse?) pleasure in trying to find books that speak to my discomfort in the age of COVID.  When the Trump administration was busy mishandling the crisis with confused, insipid direction, I read Kafka’s The Trial—which narrates the endless circuitous bureaucratic nightmare of K’s trial, in which he is accused, convicted, and executed without ever knowing what his crime was supposed to be.  When conspiracy theories claiming that COVID was a hoax, or overrated were invading my Facebook feed, circulated by nihilists and adopted by the gullible, I was reading Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum, a novel about concocting meaning out of conspiratorial madness for fun and profit—until the reality the characters weave starts to snare them in their own occult trap.  When death rates skyrocketed while protestors refused to wear masks, I was reading Joe Hill’s The Fireman, which describes a pandemic that causes people to burst into flame, and features a right-wing antagonist who spouts hateful nonsense on his radio show between hunting down and killing infected persons.  When George Floyd’s death spurred mass outrage across America, I was reading Octavia Butler’s The Parable of the Sower, which described social and racial injustices like police brutality and disproportionate protections to the rich in aching detail.  And while the church parroted QAnon conspiracy theories, I was reading the sequel, The Parable of the Talents, which features a right-wing religious cult taking over a town to enforce their misguided morality through violence, under the leadership of a charismatic and morally-bankrupt president (this was written in 1998, mind, though that fact floored me after I’d finished reading it.  I would’ve sworn it was anticipating the Trump presidency, at least).

            What’s more, through all this uncertainty I’ve struggled to start a new writing project, and ended up waffling between two diametrically-opposed reactions to the pandemic.  One of the novels I’d like to write is a Utopian fantasy work celebrating academic rigor and opportunity: a redemption work about a fantastic library and a young person who is trying to become a librarian there.  The other is a dark horror work about a woman who investigates a horrific cult only to discover that their ideals have proliferated into her organization and beyond, culminating in her realization that she is the only sane person left.

            To me, these two poles are the logical reactions to the chaos and uncertainty I find myself surrounded by today.  On the one hand, I strive to hope for tomorrow, and I try to remind myself each day that there are beautiful, meaningful things in this world worth fighting for.  On the other, I desperately need to understand and express the abysmal horror and loneliness that pervades our fractured society as we try to pull ourselves out of this collective nightmare.

            And I think we are all trying to situate ourselves between these two poles as well.  We need to find a reason to get up every day, whether it’s to an empty home and day, filled with the terror of uncertainty and insolvency; or to meaninglessly throw our effort into another task dwarfed by the threat of insurgency or violence.  And we need to vent our fears, our anger, our despair, and our loneliness.

            Which, weirdly, brings me right back to Lobotomy Corporation.

Lobotomy corporation wallpaper (Punishing bird) by Chilli-Chi on DeviantArt
But do we really want to go back? (Image Credit Chilli-Chi on DeviantArt)

Core Suppression

The main characters of Lobotomy Corporation are the company’s proprietary AIs: Angela, a wistful administrator who spends her time trying to prepare you for the pressures of the job while also waxing nostalgic about the company’s idealistic goals and her own isolation as an AI; and a number of subservient, lesser AIs, each with their own department, specialty, and gnawing fears.  Malkuth, the director of Control, is trying to figure out how to be an effective employee while also remaining sympathetic to the constant mental breakdowns and actual deaths of the employees in her department.  Yesod, in Information, is torn between the dual responsibilities of gathering research on the abnormalities while simultaneously redacting and restricting information to the already-terrified employees (and the public).  Hod just wants to be a good person, using her position as director of Training to prepare her employees to be the best they can be, even though the best protection she can offer still leaves them likely to die under the corporation’s indifference.  Nezach has checked out, doing drugs to cope with the pain, sadness, and suffering on display each day—it’s hard to say whether that is the response of a monster, or the most human of the lot.  Tiphereth—the twins—are malfunctioning; one of the two is regularly destroyed and replaced; the other twin doesn’t know how to deal with this, or with the player’s complicit role in the operation.  (Yes, they are named after the Sephirot of the Kabbalah and FFVII fame, as well as Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum— though the order is strangely reversed; the significance of that decision in the game is troubling.)

            And there’s something strangely, terrifyingly familiar to me about all of this double-think on display.  As my AIs start to break down, one by one, requiring “core suppression” (suppression of the self?) to advance the plot, I have to think of my relationship to my students, and the butcher’s work of preparing young minds for a world that has grown hostile and unfriendly, cruel and stupid—how hopeless it seems sometimes to teach the writings of old dead white men to young people facing modern terrors with contemporary blind spots.  How impossible it is to communicate in the course of fifteen weeks the alternatives to our craven consumerism and desperate greed.  I am Angela, dreaming of better days, covering over the horrors of the facility with cartoon blood and animé caricatures of cold machine logic to keep my students from losing their minds, ignoring the suffering going on around me because I have no choice but to keep going, and can’t stop to address every lapse in logic or judgment along the way.  I can’t fix students who see nothing wrong with plagiarism; I just have to keep teaching to the rest and quell as much of their amorality as I can.

Angela, misquoting Hamlet

            I identify, deeply, with the horror on display here.  I, too, face the decision to despair, disengage, or fight just a little bit longer until one of the other two ultimately beats me.

            The motto of Lobotomy Corporation (the fictional in-game facility, as well as the tagline of the game) is: “Face the Fear.  Build the Future.”  On your first day as manager of the facility, Angela asks you which of the two you find more compelling.  Both times I’ve started the game, I’ve chosen that second: “Build the Future” without hesitation.  The Future is an end to strive for; facing fear is simply a means to that end.  But what I’m learning, in the game and outside of it, is that you can’t do the one without the other.  Every day I have to fight despair, lethargy, indifference, and distraction to have any chance to build some small part of the future.  I have to stare down my fears: of students attempting to overturn my decisions, of rioters disrupting the government that protects me, of failing to reach or persuade people, of being wrong and ignorantly sowing evil in my wake, even fear of sickness and death itself—just to be a person and go on building the future.  We all do.

            I don’t know how Lobotomy Corporation ends.  I’m not sure I’ll ever reach that ending, as the challenge of managing the facility grows greater and greater with each additional abnormality, each escalating danger; and as my time and ability to engage with it dwindles.  I’m afraid, too, that I’ll never know—never reach the end, never start the sequel.  For all I know, the times ahead will be much darker, much more tenuous, much more stressful, with even less time or energy to expend on frivolous, stressful games, much less major personal projects like my nascent novels.  I don’t know.  I face that fear.  I balance my needs against my students, my family, my friends, my aspirations, my church, my school, my wife—in an intricate balancing act that all threatens to spin wildly out of my control.  What worries me most is that ending: is the Lobotomy Corporation a necessary evil, as Angela suggests, or is it just the cruel mechanism of some nefarious, diabolical entity, doing harm for no more reason than personal gain and profit?  Whose future am I building?  Am I fighting off the flood, or holding back real progress?

In Lieu of a Conclusion

I don’t know.   That’s the bedrock horror of it all: I don’t know.  For all my faith in the truths of the Bible, I am unable to measure my own place in creation, my role in the divine order.  Slavers, conquerors, and tyrants professed Christianity, as did false prophets and hypocritical evangelists.  I look around and see many of my fellow believers following idols and principalities; I wonder if my alternative is any better.  The advantage of intellectual independence is not falling in with evil teachings; the disadvantage is having few checks to validate your decisions.

Not pictured: validation

              But what does bring me solace is the fact that this is all familiar ground.  I have lived many years under the protection of society, despite the countless voices warning me of these horrors.  For every empty-pablum commercial game or movie, every Nietzschean writer tempting me to Will to Power, there was an Umberto Eco, an Octavia Butler, a Joe Hill or Jeremiah or Kafka, a Lobotomy Corporation or Darkest Dungeon or This War of Mine, a Homer or Sam Raimi or Gene Roddenberry warning me about the fragility of our social order, encouraging me by example to stress substance over indulgence and never tire of standing up for real virtue and integrity: courage rooted in love; power rooted in responsibility. 

I am not alone.  You are not alone.  We are not alone.  I fight for you; for a day that you and I can speak rationally and truthfully together, without fear that our words may offend the powers that don’t wish to listen to them.  For a day when we do not have to fear for our lives, our safety, our livelihoods, our families.  For a day when lies are exposed in the cold light of good thinking and obfuscations fall apart under trustworthy scrutiny.  I fight not with guns or phasers, Master Sword or Masamune, sniper rifles or even the managerial power of an occult corporation, but with intellectual humility and a love for good thinking, creativity, and the virtues recorded through all our history and culture.  I fight by taking a good hard look at myself, facing my fears, and choosing to see past them. 

I may not be able to finish Lobotomy Corporation.  I may not be able to keep paying rent.  I may never write those novels.  I may not have any power to stop the tide of greed and ignorance in this country.  I may even be doing more harm than good.  But I’ll keep doing my little bit—teaching what students will listen, reaching out to those who will hear—and at least pass on my paltry victories to people who might be able to improve or correct them.

            Today I’m not the hero that will save the day.  None of us are so lucky, or so burdened, thank God.  But that just means it’s OK to fail.  The world won’t end.  No one of us is responsible to stop all the evil in the world.  But as long as enough of us stand up enough of the time, we’ll still win out.  Save the strength you spend worrying and play a game.  You’ll be all the more ready when your time comes.

2 thoughts on “Facing the Fear; Building the Future: Lobotomy Corporation and Processing Horror

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