We’ve been talking a bit on the Electron Dance comments about Edmund McMillen–spurred on by a lot of us finding Super Meat Boy a little too childishly gross to play. Opinions on his other games are mixed, but in thinking about it, his aesthetic is too distinctive to completely dismiss.
I will say that McMillen came off the best in Indie Game: The Commercial–that was certainly very deliberate on the filmmakers’ part, but he really does seem to be an exciteable, overgrown kid who’s made it big drawing funny characters in his notebook, and after all that’s what any of us want out of life, really. He and his (wife?/girlfriend?) remind me of so many people I hung out with in high school and college, and to a lesser extent now, while I don’t really click to his aesthetic, it’s at least an honest and unpretentious one.
I mean, there’s something to be said–one of my songwriting techniques, sometimes, is to imagine myself at 15 years old, where I was a freshman en route for the coveted Most Likely To Be Shoved Against A Locker And Punched In The Stomach By A Wrestler While A Teacher Looks On And Shakes His Head at Morris Catholic High School, angry and confused and hurt and slightly suicidal, and I get on the bus, and I sit, sliding my ass so it’s leaning against the edge of the seat, my torso at a 45 degree angle, my shoulders wedged against the back of the seat, my knees buttressing the whole thing on the back of the seat in front of me, and I take out my CD player, and I put on my headphones, and I hit play. I want to write songs that make that guy okay–that tell him, no, life isn’t shit, these people are shit, and you’re gonna be okay one of these days. I know it’s not trendy to give a shit about teenage boys–we’re being bullied into a slow hatred of them–but I was that guy.
And McMillen was that guy, and IG:TM makes that very clear. Let’s not fool ourselves–we’re all dudes around here, right? I spent my middle school years hanging around AOL and downloading all sorts of weird-ass games, a lot of ZZT stuff, some text adventures, weird BASIC shit–anyone want to start a BASIC revival with me, by the way, because I could probably easily relearn to program in it–and chatting with other lonely, frustrated 13-year-olds, and I don’t know–I don’t think you grow up to hang out in a place like Electron Dance without having spent a good portion of your time in a dark room with a monitor flickering against your glasses.
You know, I’ve just flipped on McMillen’s stuff because, you know, I ultimately think it’s healthy. I’m thinking of the prevailing sentiments in identity politics games or Zinester games or queer games or whatever–I’m not interested in talking much about this any more, because I’ve said ultimately what i need to say about them and I am beginning to find the aesthetic so reprehensible that it should be given as little attention as possible, but I’m beginning to get really sick of games which end with the sentiment “it’s all bullshit”. You’re going to be hated wherever you go, the world will never understand you, you’ll die alone–because I’ve *been* there, maaaaan, we’ve all been there, and that kind of bleak perspective, that “the world is against me” thing is so–well, maybe that’s the real puerile attitude.
I’m tired of well-received, much-discussed, attention-getting works which bemoan how little people will understand the authors, of authors being widely quoted as saying they have no voice and how they’re invisible. I’m goddamn tired of works which have no point beyond, oh poor me. Last night I saw Blake Schwarzenbach of Jawbreaker give a solo performance. Jawbreaker has never been the happiest band, but I love them for Schwarzenbach’s treatment of loneliness and alienation as feelings that are possible to be transcended. The title track of Bivouac has lyrics about isolation and abandonment, and yet it ends in a soaring epic guitar solo. The show last night was all dirges and awkward rambling and, when someone shouted for him to play some fucking music, hostility. I left.
I guess I can’t responsibly look at the world and say that it’s bullshit. Dan Savage’s It Gets Better is really the motto of a lot of the work that I like and create myself. I often say that a lot of works lack perspective; when I read an article by a writer who’s financially independent and yet bitching about Mommy Issues, I get turned off because, come on, you’re *past* that. Look at the shit you *have*. Stop fucking romanticizing depression and get some fucking help. I’m tired of works which are a pornography of self-pity and self-regard. I was once at a poetry reading where a girl read a poem she’d written about how she needed to focus less on herself (irony), and there was one line I particularly liked: “I already live in his head 24 hours a day”–meaning, she’s got an unrestricted, all-access pass to herself and can check in with her thoughts at any time. Focusing so much on herself in her writing and conversation, she seemed to feel, was out of fear that she’d miss something or lose herself. But that was stupid: The hour she spent writing about something outside herself wouldn’t take anything away, and would, frankly, connect her to the larger world. To other people.
So yeah–that’s who McMillen is making games for, the current generation of teenage boys sitting by the glow of their monitors. That is, after all, what Newgrounds is, isn’t it? McMillen was that weird kid sitting by himself, or maybe with one other isolated guy, in the corner of the playground at recess drawing monsters in his notebook, making cool drawings that his parents and teachers would worry about if they saw, not doing well in school because it was all so boring, picked on by the other boys and teased by the girls. He is one of those people whose success suggests that the standard plaudit of “be yourself” might not actually be complete bullshit.