We All Live in Purgatory

By Jin-yeong Yi

Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry - Fiery Purgatory

Trapped in purgatory
A lifeless object, alive
Awaiting reprisal
Death will be their acquisition

The sky is turning red
Return to power draws near
Fall into me, the sky’s crimson tears
Abolish the rules made of stone

Pierced from below, souls of my treacherous past
Betrayed by many, now ornaments dripping above

Awaiting the hour of reprisal
Your time slips away

Raining blood
From a lacerated sky
Bleeding its horror
Creating my structure
Now I shall reign in blood!

—Slayer, “Raining Blood”

One time in an art class in high school, I was listening to a conversation being held among classmates I was sitting with. One of them, a female punk, wondered aloud if this world was Hell itself. When her friend disagreed, arguing that it wasn’t “bad enough,” she immediately shot back with “How do you know?” Incidentally, the late Chuck Schuldiner (Death) actually once said that this world was Hell, and that there were demons in people.

I tend to take a more moderate position. In my post on Painkiller, I noted that I saw the game as a metaphor for life, and I feel strongly as ever about this. This world is neither Heaven nor Hell. This world is Purgatory. Unlike Heaven and Hell, Purgatory is a mixed bag–here one finds beauty as well as ugliness, good as well as evil, reasons to live as well as reasons to die. Also, unlike Heaven and Hell, Purgatory is not static; it’s a journey rather than a destination. It is a temporary state of being, one full of perils–and possibilities. Above all, it’s a perpetual war, full of uncertainty, chaos, horror, suffering, and death.

If we’re here for a reason, I doubt it’s to pursue happiness, which is as elusive as a pot of gold on the other side of a rainbow. The sum of my observations and experiences suggests to me that, if we’re here for a reason, it’s to do battle, to oppose our wills and wits to the howling fury of demons within and without us.

So pick up your sword–or your Painkiller, if you happen to own one of those–and brace yourself for the next battle, with a smile of grim determination on your battered and bloodied face. Having some kickass music playing in the background wouldn’t hurt either.

Visual Novels and Real Life

By Jin-yeong Yi

“When you say that you are free to choose—say, between the train and the surface car, or between the movies and the theater—you are using rather ambiguous language. All common speech for expressing mental experiences is loose and ambiguous. You have the two alternatives—movies or theater—in your mind. You hover between them. You do not feel any compulsion to choose one or the other. Then you deliberately say to yourself—not realizing that you have thereby proved the spirituality of the soul, which has made apologists perspire for centuries—‘I choose Norma Talmadge.’

Well, let us examine it patiently. In the ordinary acts of life you behave automatically. You don your clothes and shave and eat and walk, and even work, in a mechanical way. The motive arises, by routine, at the proper moment, and the action follows. It is only in grave things—such as whether you shall go to see Norma Talmadge or Bebe Daniels—that you use your freedom. To be quite accurate—am I not right?—it is only when two or more motives seem to have about equal force that you are conscious of your freedom. If one motive, if the reason for doing one action, is palpably stronger than the reason for doing the alternative, you do not hesitate. The ‘will’ follows or acts on the stronger motive.

Why, you ask, do I put ‘will’ in inverted commas? It may shock you to know that psychologists are not sure that there is such a thing. You may be surprised to know that your ‘will’ is only a theory (like evolution). What you are really conscious of is a series of acts. It is just a theory of yours that there is a thing you call your will behind them.

Well, to come back to the ‘acts of will.’ When you hesitate between two courses, do you for a moment doubt that your will eventually follows the one which seems to you wiser or more profitable?

Yes, I know. Just to prove your freedom you may choose the less wise course. But in that case you merely have a new motive thrown into the scale. Your ‘will’ always follows the weightier motive. How, then, is it free? All that you are conscious of is the hesitation of your mind, because for a time one motive balances the other. They may remain so balanced that you do nothing, or leave it to others to decide. But if you do decide, you are merely conscious that the battle of motives is over and the stronger carries your will.”

—Joseph McCabe, “The Myth of Immortality”

“None of us enjoys the thought that what we do depends on processes we do not know; we prefer to attribute our choices to volition, will, or self-control….Perhaps it would be more honest to say, ‘My decision was determined by internal forces I do not understand.’”

—Marvin Minsky

“What individuals do, alone or together, over a moment or a month or a lifetime, is really just the product of the process of blind variation and environmental filtration operating on neural circuits in their heads.”

—Alex Rosenberg, The Atheist’s Guide to Reality

Da Capo II was the first (and so far, only) visual novel I read. It didn’t take me long to notice just how little interaction the “game” involved. I had more or less expected this, because I’d read a little bit about visual novels before actually trying one out, but I wasn’t quite prepared for the long stretches of passivity that the “game” entailed, especially in the first hour or so. In that time, I probably made a grand total of three to four choices; the remaining hundred were made for me.

What makes visual novels so appealing, then? After thoroughly “playing” Da Capo II, I think I have some idea. To put it simply, the appeal lies in everything that makes the VN different from real life. First of all, the novel has you living in an idealized world with idealized people. What’s more, you are the main character in this world, surrounded by pretty maidens with flawless features and attractive personalities. They don’t exactly throw themselves at you, but you feel quite confident that, with enough effort, you can end up with any one of them, because you know that they are meant for you.

Furthermore, the sense of time passing is somewhat muted in Da Capo II. There’s not a single clock to be seen; the only indication of linear time is the month and day, which is given at the beginning of each day. Time is ultimately moot in this world. You can take as much (or little) time as you like to take in what people say to you, because every word is spelled out for you, and you can even access a “Text Log” if you either forgot or failed to catch some part of the dialogue. Since time freezes for as long as you need it to, you can literally spend an entire year or more (in real time) in making the most trivial of decisions, one that would normally take you up to 5 minutes to make. In this game, life waits for you. You can save your progress at any time and pick up where you left off anytime you feel like it. Above all, you can do what the vast majority of people with any sense of possibility and potential no doubt wish they could do: start over. In Da Capo II, you can start your life over from Day 1 anytime you wish. Having gained knowledge and experience from your previous run, you’ll have a better idea of how you can shape your life in the way you desire. You can explore all the could-have-beens that you didn’t before. So “losing” is a non-issue. Didn’t get the ending you wanted? No problem; just start the novel from the beginning, figure out what you did wrong, and make different choices. In this world, second chances are infinite. Got the ending you wanted, but want more? Same principle applies. In this world, you can eat your cake and have it too.

I was also quite struck by the insights Da Capo II conveyed to me regarding free will. I realized that the very choices that the player makes ultimately depends on his predilections, which are, in turn, shaped by genetics and environment. So simple, yet remarkable. The player is supposedly “free” to determine the trajectory of the story, but in actuality, he is only free to act on his strongest motives—just like in real life.

Although you will be given the freedom of choice at key points in the game, much of the novel is scripted. The overwhelming majority of what you think, feel, say, and do in-game are determined for you. Can more be said of our own lives in the real world? Just how much control do we really have over what we think and feel? Over what we say and do? Over what happens to us? Could it be that we are much like the protagonist of a visual novel, a self-aware marionette being directed rather than directing?

Painkiller

By Jin-yeong Yi

Painkiller was an unexpected discovery for me. I found the game on sale on GOG.com during one of their weekend promos. As a longtime fan of first person shooters who had recently rediscovered gaming, I was definitely eager to exercise my trigger finger again. So when I saw Painkiller, I thought, “A gory, M-rated FPS that has you starring as God’s hitman? Good enough for me.”

It’s about a man named Daniel Garner who was killed in a car accident along with his wife Catherine when he was taking her out to dinner for her birthday. Catherine goes straight to heaven, but Daniel is stuck in purgatory, fighting for his soul against Lucifer’s legions. Eventually, God takes notice of Daniel’s fighting abilities, and sends one of His servants to make a deal with Daniel. If he successfully assassinates Lucifer’s four generals, he will be allowed into heaven and be reunited with Catherine. With little left to lose, Daniel naturally accepts, and begins his long trek through purgatory.

I found that Painkiller was definitely not my standard FPS. Save for the boss fights (in terms of sheer size, I’ve never seen creatures that deserve the title of “boss” more than the gargantuan, Lovecraftian monstrosities found in them), there is generally very little strategy to speak of. Stealth is meaningless. Your weapons don’t need to be reloaded. You can’t even crouch. The game is basically the polar opposite of, say, Rainbow Six or Deus Ex. Your only real goal is to kill, kill, kill.

The game apparently gets its odd title from your basic weapon, which is a hideous device that can alternately shred or pierce through flesh and bone with blades that can be either rotated or discharged. The rotating mode is called “Pain” and the projectile mode is called “Killer.” Pretty apt, if you ask me.

In spite of its cheesy plot, tactical simplicity, and quirkiness, the game works. The music is highly generic and unoriginal heavy metal, and yet it gets me pumped up for a fight, as it is undoubtedly supposed to. The locations (ranging from opera houses to Middle Eastern palaces) are beautifully crafted and often imbue each battle with a sense of grandeur. No other video game I’ve played hitherto makes me feel like such a badass as when I’m nailing unruly ghouls to walls with a stake gun, blasting them apart with a shotgun, or sadistically slicing and dicing them with a mutant buzz saw.

I find that Painkiller can be taken as a metaphor for life itself: Sometimes, God fucks you over, and you find yourself with two choices: lie down and perish, or “take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them.”

Video Games

By Jin-yeong Yi

I started playing video games when I was about 6 years old. I was introduced to Donkey Kong Country when it first came out in 1994, and I had become an avid gamer ever since, pouring hours upon hours into the relatively small number of titles I owned, which included the Donkey Kong Country trilogy, The World is Not Enough, Perfect DarkMax PayneMax Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne, and Heroes of Might and Magic III Complete, which were among my favorites.

Then at some point in 2010, I gave up gaming. I decided that video games were just a glorified waste of time, that my accomplishments in them translated to zilch in the real world.

Fast-forward to 2012, and I’m playing video games again. Not just the usual titles, but also ones I’ve never played before, like Deus Ex and Painkiller.

Why did I change my mind? Well, for the starters, because I agree with Bertrand Russell when he said, “The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.” I enjoy video games. Not only that, video games are for me often more interesting than real life.

Real life has great moments. But I find that they are generally few and far in between. I suspect that most people would agree with me; if they didn’t, they would have no use for novels, television shows, movies, and other means humans invented to transcend the limits of daily existence, of reality itself.

Furthermore, in my view, life is not so much about “reality” as it is about experience. As anyone who has ever had a lucid dream would know, an experience doesn’t have to take place outside of one’s mind to be “real.” And if that’s the case, video games are well capable of delivering experience in spades.