440. Christianity in Video Games

In my last post, I wondered whether video games can be art. They’re fun, sure, but can they be anything more?

My own belief is that video games have artistic potential. Whether they actually fulfill that potential is an entirely separate question. For the most part, they favor fun over artistic expression, leaving weighty subjects to other media.

Religion is an especially weighty subject, and its effect on art is incalculably great. Christianity in particular has inspired art for two thousand years, and some of it isn’t particularly religious.

Of course, much of the art informed by Christianity is overtly religious in nature: works by Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, classics like The Pilgrim’s Progress and Dante’s Divine Comedy, music like Handel’s Messiah, and countless more. However, Christianity has also influenced many secular works—watch nearly any movie by Quentin Tarantino or the Coen brothers and you’ll see what I mean.

Pulp Fiction

The book of Ezekiel is apparently a bit more vengeful than I remembered.

Yes, the influence of Christianity has reached some unlikely places. It begs the question: If video games have artistic potential, have they used any of it to explore the subject of Christianity?

The answer is… hardly.

Christianity has informed many video games, but its influence is mostly superficial. Many games draw upon Christianity for its cultural or symbolic flair—or, if I may put it another way, its flavor.

The Legend of Zelda, one of the most important games ever made, uses Christian iconography not to make a point, but rather to convey an impression. For example, the game’s protagonist has the symbol of a cross on his shield.

Zelda NES screenshot

Is it just me, or does the hero of The Legend of Zelda look like he’s going from door to door with a Gospel tract?

I don’t know why the game’s developers put a Christian cross on the shield. Perhaps it was inspired by the cross designs on shields in medieval Europe. Maybe it was supposed to represent nobility, righteousness, or heroism. Either way, this symbol of Christianity is literally front and center in one of the greatest games of all time.

Incidentally, the game features another Christian symbol: the Bible, whose title was translated for Western versions as the Book of Magic. In the game, the Bible empowers the protagonist to throw fireballs, which isn’t something Bibles generally do. (At any rate, mine doesn’t.)

I’m going to discuss a few more games in this post, but for full disclosure, I should admit that I haven’t played most of them. I know them mostly by reputation, by reading about them, or in one case by following the game’s story on YouTube.

Christian imagery shows up occasionally in video games, many of which avoid association with the religion itself in order to avoid controversy. This has led to fictional religions that bear outward resemblance to Christianity—particularly to Roman Catholicism.

Video games such as the Final Fantasy series sometimes feature Christian (especially Roman Catholic) elements such as priests, churches, cathedrals, holy water, and baptisms.

Final Fantasy VII church

Can we take up an offering to repair the church in Final Fantasy VII? It could use a new floor. And some more pews. And a table in the back for coffee and doughnuts.

A few games even tackle the subject of religious corruption, but always within fictional religions whose resemblance to Christianity is only superficial.

Of course, some video games take a more direct approach, depicting Christianity itself (instead of a fictional religion) for its imagery, culture, or history.

The Hitman series—which, as its name suggests, is all about assassinations—uses “Ave Maria,” a song based on a Christian prayer, as its theme. It may be meant to evoke a somber mood, or perhaps to suggest an ironic parallel between the Church and the syndicate that employs the eponymous hitman. Either way, the series doesn’t have anything meaningful to say about Christianity; the games merely borrow from it.

The Assassin’s Creed series uses religion as a backdrop to its fictional history. The first game takes place in the Holy Land during the Crusades, and the second in Italy during the Renaissance. That second game apparently ends with the player beating up Pope Alexander VI, which seems weird to me. What developer, when given the limitless possibilities of game design, decided to make a game that climaxed in a fight against a fifteenth-century Pope? Did that developer just assume that all Christians are evil? Should I be offended?

There are a few games—just a few—that try to say something meaningful, whether good or bad, about Christianity.

The Binding of Isaac is an indie game named for the biblical account of Abraham nearly sacrificing his own son. It follows a young boy through an underworld of twisted imagery: much of it Christian. The game seems almost blasphemous with its lurid imagery and grotesque monsters.

The Binding of Isaac

This is, um, not a game for children.

I’m not sure what point The Binding of Isaac is trying to make. The game definitely has something to say. It may be an exploration of how religion can be abused, or maybe an outright censure of Christianity. I’m in no hurry to find out; I prefer my video games not hopelessly gloomy, thank you.

The most interesting treatment of Christianity I’ve seen in a video game comes from Bioshock Infinite, a story-driven first-person shooter. (For the uninitiated: a first-person shooter is a game in which the player shoots things from a first-person perspective, simply enough.) The game doesn’t focus on religion itself as much as on what it brings out in people.

The original Bioshock game is set in Rapture: a ruined underwater dystopia. It was built by an atheist who was convinced he could harness the potential of humankind in an enlightened society. The city fell apart, its remaining inhabitants fighting for the survival of the fittest.

No gods or kings

Welcome to Rapture?

By contrast, Bioshock Infinite is set in Columbia: an airborne city bustling with religious folks and overseen by Father Comstock, a self-proclaimed prophet. Despite its bright exterior, Columbia is also a dystopia. It reflects not a Darwinian struggle for survival, however, but the ugliest blunders of American Christianity.

The religion in Bioshock Infinite is the Christianity that excused slavery, oppressed Native Americans, reviled foreigners, and mistook love of country for love of God. It’s an exaggerated picture, but also one based on history.

Bioshock Infinite mural

Welcome to Columbia?

I appreciate that Bioshock Infinite doesn’t blame Christianity for Columbia’s problems, but acknowledges how it has, throughout history, sometimes brought out the worst in people. The game suggests the problem is not with faith, but with human beings.

Fortunately, Christianity also brings out the best in people. The game’s debt-ridden protagonist, Booker, is hired to rescue a woman from Columbia on the promise that his employer will “wipe away the debt.” As the game unfolds, it becomes clear that Booker’s debt isn’t just a matter of money. He needs to be forgiven.

Besides forgiveness, Christian themes in the game include baptism and longing. The latter is beautifully expressed in the hymn “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” which is part of the game’s soundtrack.

Bioshock Infinite isn’t a perfect game, and its depiction of Christianity is definitely upsetting. However, it’s a more ambitious and nuanced take than I’ve seen from any other video game, and I respect it for that.

While a few games offer thoughtful explorations of Christian themes, others exist simply to appeal to a religious market. They’re the worst. They often steal their ideas from other games, and they’re nearly always terrible.

What are your thoughts on Christianity in video games? Let us know in the comments!

431. My Creative Heroes

Creative people are fun, quirky, smart, and responsible for most of the entertainment in my life. (The rest of it comes from acting silly in public to make my younger brother uncomfortable.) I have many creative heroes: people I know personally, people on the Internet, and professionals in the media.

Today’s post honors three of my creative heroes, one each from the media of film, video games, and literature. I admire and respect the heck out of these people. If I were the sort of person who cries and gives hugs, I would embrace these heroes of mine and weep tears of joy and gratitude. I’m not, however, so instead I’ll ramble about them, because rambling is what I do.

John Lasseter

[Update: I wrote this post long before the #MeToo movement exposed Mr. Lasseter’s history of sexually harassing coworkers and others. While I admire his creative genius, I hasten to add that success and talent are never acceptable excuses for being a sleazebag.]

I considered naming Hayao Miyazaki one of my creative heroes, but this brilliant Japanese filmmaker is also demanding and grouchy: not qualities I admire in anyone, creative or not. John Lasseter, like Miyazaki, is a legend; unlike Miyazaki, he seems like a nice human being.

John Lasseter

Lasseter’s career is one of the most incredible rags-to-riches stories I know. As a boy, he dreamed of working for Disney as an animator. He achieved his dream—only to be fired after just a few years. His mistake was annoying his superiors by experimenting with a brand-new form of art: computer animation.

Heartbroken, Lasseter drifted to a division of Lucasfilm, which later became an independent company called Pixar Animation Studios. (You may have heard of it.) For a decade, Pixar pioneered computer animation with masterpieces like Toy Story and its sequel, both of which Lasseter directed.

It seems strange to us nowadays, as we enjoy terrific films like Wreck-It Ralph and Zootopia, but just ten years ago Disney’s animation studios were stuck in a losing streak. Their films found neither commercial nor critical success, and their fans yearned for the good old days of Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King. Disney, the most successful animation company in history, had sunk to the unimaginable low of mediocrity.

Faced with this crisis, Disney’s newly-appointed CEO, Bob Iger, did the only sensible thing: oversee Disney’s purchase of Pixar, and then put Lasseter and his colleague Ed Catmull in charge of basically everything. After more than twenty years, John Lasseter returned to the studio that had fired him—as its chief creative officer. His employees welcomed him with cheers and applause.

In the following years, Lasseter renamed and restructured Disney’s main animation studio, canceled cash-grab projects and lazy sequels, and oversaw the release of superb films from both Disney and Pixar: all while wearing colorful Hawaiian shirts.

I admire John Lasseter for his creative vision, which blends an appreciation for tradition with a dedication to cutting-edge innovation. Mr. Lasseter emphasizes teamwork, strives for quality in art and storytelling, and seems like a genuinely nice guy. He’s one of my heroes, and a colorful one at that.

Shigeru Miyamoto

Several decades ago, the president of a company on the verge of financial collapse made a desperate plan to salvage unpopular hardware. He tasked a young employee named Shigeru Miyamoto with creating a new game for old arcade units. That game was Donkey Kong, that company was Nintendo, and that employee went on to create Mario, The Legend of Zelda, and many of the greatest video games ever made.

Shigeru Miyamoto

Nintendo is awesome, and Shigeru Miyamoto is the genius behind many of its successes. Many of the turning points in the history of video gaming hinge on Miyamoto’s games. Donkey Kong established the platforming genre. Super Mario Bros. helped save the video game industry after it crashed in the eighties. Super Mario 64 and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time pioneered movement in a virtual 3D space, and the Wii experimented with motion control.

Miyamoto has helped shape the video game industry for nearly four decades, but you wouldn’t guess it to look at him. He’s a mild gentleman who enjoys music and gardening, and walked or biked to work until his company pressured him for his own safety to drive. For a creative visionary, he seems entirely down to earth.

Nowadays, Miyamoto is more of a creative consultant for Nintendo than a game designer. He is notorious for “upending the tea table” during game development, flipping design concepts on their heads. (His suggestions are game-changing, so to speak.) Miyamoto seems like Nintendo’s idea guy, stepping in when a development team needs a boost.

I admire Miyamoto’s design philosophy: he values fun over fancy graphics or technical intricacy. Most of his games are based on his own life experiences, from exploring woods and caves as a child to gardening as an adult. (He even made a game inspired by his attempts to lose weight!) His work is colorful, charming, fun, and friendly. Nintendo is basically the Pixar of the video game industry, and Miyamoto-san, like Pixar’s Mr. Lasseter, is one of my heroes.

J.R.R. Tolkien

Of course this man is one of my creative heroes. Really, they don’t get any more creative than J.R.R. Tolkien. The man created an entire world—an earth with its own geography, mythology, languages, cultures, genealogies, and thousands of years of history—and he did it in his spare time.

J.R.R. TolkienLong before he published The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien was a noted academic renowned for his groundbreaking work in literary criticism. He lectured, graded papers, translated old texts, published books, raised a family, and still found time somehow to create his own vast, private, intricate mythology.

Tolkien was irrepressibly creative. For example, every year his children wrote to Father Christmas, aka Santa Claus—and, incredibly, Father Christmas wrote back. For twenty-two years, Tolkien played the role of Father Christmas to amuse his kids: writing and illustrating stories about his misadventures at the North Pole. These letters were published as a children’s book after Tolkien’s death; I’ve read them, and and they’re delightful. Even in his little pet projects, Tolkien’s creativity and cleverness were astounding.

Of course, Tolkien’s greatest project of all was Middle-earth and its stories, the most famous of which is The Lord of the Rings. The sheer size and intricacy of Tolkien’s world is astounding; by some estimates, it’s the largest and most complex ever created by a single person in all of human history. Tolkien’s influence on literature and pop culture is literally incalculable.

In his vast mythologies and in his little stories for children, at work and at home, J.R.R. Tolkien was incredibly creative, and he’s one of my heroes.

Whew! That was a long post. What can I say? Creative people inspire me!

Who are your creative heroes? Let us know in the comments!

422. Lance Eliot Is Not Dead

A long time ago, I declared the death of a dream. My attempts to tell the tale of Lance Eliot, a sarcastic and reluctant hero, had finally failed. I pronounced Lance Eliot dead… well, mostly dead.

I announce today that Lance Eliot is alive… well, somewhat alive. (I thought about titling this blog post Lance Eliot Is Alive, but that seemed much too optimistic, so we’ll have to settle for Lance Eliot Is Not Dead.)

After Typewriter Monkey Task Force concludes later this year, I will rewrite the first part of Lance’s story, The Trials of Lance Eliot, before moving on to its two sequels.

At any rate, that’s the plan. God only knows how many years it will take me to write the Lance Eliot saga, or whether I shall even finish it. I don’t know if I can, but I suppose I’ll try.

The Lance Eliot story cycleAt this point there are three questions I should probably answer. Why am I rewriting The Trials of Lance Eliot instead of working directly on its sequels? Why am I revisiting Lance Eliot’s story instead of starting something totally new? And who the heck is Lance Eliot anyway?

Let’s start with that last one.

Who the heck is Lance Eliot?

From pretty much the moment I could read, I wanted to write a book. Years later, in middle school, I steeped my impressionable imagination in the fantasy novels of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Stephen R. Lawhead; I also played a lot of fantasy games, such as the outstanding Legend of Zelda series. It was then, during my awkward transition from boy to slightly-taller-and-less-chubby-boy, that my vague dream of writing a book crystallized into a clear ambition of writing a fantasy novel.

It wasn’t until my sophomore year of high school that I stumbled upon a decent idea for a story. People in fantasies and fairy tales are often summoned from one place to another by magic. What if a magician summoned the wrong person by mistake? What she tried to summon, say, Lancelot from the Arthurian legends, but got some unsuspecting loser instead?

Over the next six years, the idea became a short story, and then a completed novella, and then one or two incomplete manuscripts, and then finally a published novel—and then it failed spectacularly, failing even to recoup the expenses of publication. I struggled for a year or so to make progress on its sequels, and finally gave up.

This brings us to the next question.

Why am I revisiting Lance Eliot’s story?

I no longer dream of publishing novels. Even if I finish all three parts of the Lance Eliot saga, which is by no means guaranteed, I may not bother publishing them. If I do take another stab at publication, I will probably self-publish instead of working with a literary agent or trying to court a major publishing house.

My reason for revisiting Lance Eliot’s story is a simple one: it’s a story I want to tell. In the vast scheme of things, it isn’t remotely special. It won’t be particularly deep or clever or original. I have no delusions of grandeur this time around. The Lance Eliot saga won’t be a masterpiece. It will be nothing more than a story I want to tell—a story I feel compelled to tell—a story I’ve struggled for more than a decade to tell.

I’ve already told part of it, but not very well. This leads to the final question.

Why am I rewriting The Trials of Lance Eliot instead of moving on to its sequels?

A few people have said ridiculously nice things about my novel; in response, I’m touched, flattered, and grateful. When I look at it, however, I see an embarrassing number of clichés, oversimplifications, cheap coincidences, and lackluster characterizations.

I believe I can do better. There are so many things I want to change about the story, including some I haven’t mentioned. Instead of writing reluctant sequels to a failed novel, I want to start over with more experience and creative freedom, and less emotional and literary baggage.

Am I excited to revisit the Lance Eliot saga? Nah, not really. What I feel is a mixture of resignation, determination, nervousness, and cautious optimism.

After four or five manuscripts, one failed novel, and more than a decade of hard work, I am now almost ready to begin working on the Lance Eliot saga. Oh, boy.

Here I go again.

A Portrait of the Artist as a Hero Drinking Coffee

Link Drinking CoffeeLook at that picture. Look at it. I wish I could draw pictures like that.

While I fool around on this blog, my younger brother sketches fantastic pictures in pencil and posts them on his DeviantArt page. Seriously, I don’t know how he produces drawings like these. I’m guessing pencils and paper are involved somehow; the rest is a glorious mystery.

The image above is my brother’s profile picture: Link, the protagonist of the Legend of Zelda games, drinking coffee and drawing… himself. (If his coffee cup is to be believed, Link is also the World’s Best Hero.) As a Zelda fan, I find my bro’s profile picture clever and hilarious.

I strongly recommend taking a look around my brother’s DeviantArt profile. Seriously, it’s cool. Check it out!

This post was originally published on November 27, 2013. TMTF shall return with new content on February 22, 2016!

Strange American Valentine Rituals

The United States of America has many strange customs and holidays, and I consider it my duty to research them. With St. Valentine’s Day soon taking place, I set my studies of Halloween and Thanksgiving behind me in order to give this latest holiday the anthropological scrutiny it deserves.*

My findings were… dark. Despite its popular image as a time for giving gifts and expressing romantic love, St. Valentine’s Day represents bloodstained history and wanton consumerism.

Verily, of the various letters vividly visible above, the very first veers vaguely toward the visual vibe of a violent yet entertaining film I once viewed.

Verily, of the various letters vividly visible above, the very first veers vaguely toward the visual vibe of a viscerally vicious and violent film I once viewed: V for Valentine, or some variation.

As the holiday is named for a historical figure, my first task was to research St. Valentine himself. Little is known of this ancient Roman martyr, whose death is celebrated every year in America by the sale and distribution of gifts such as flowers, chocolates, cookies, cards, jewelry, and frilly undergarments. St. Valentine, who is known as Valentinus in some accounts, is surrounded by legends, but few facts remain.

Upon finding the study of this dead saint to be a dead end, I turned my researches toward the holiday itself, and discovered a sordid celebration of Valentine’s demise.

The name of the event, St. Valentine’s Day, is generally shortened to Valentine’s Day by the disgraceful omission of Valentine’s hagiographic title. Just as the Christmas season is marked by certain colors (viz. red and green), so Valentine’s Day is recognized by the colors red and pink.

The significance of these colors is open to speculation. Given what little is known of St. Valentine’s personal history, the color red may represent his violent death as a martyr. Pink generally represents love or sweetness; its association with the bloody red of Valentine’s death demonstrates a disturbing veneration of violence.

More than fifteen centuries after Valentine’s tragic end, why is it celebrated by the giving of gifts? Why is romantic love the legacy of Valentine’s martyrdom? What aspect of his brutal death inspired sappy cards, heart-shaped candies, and other mawkish gifts?

These are distressing questions, and my best researches have yielded no answer.

Do you know what else is distressing? These awful pills. I don't know what kind of medication they contain, but they taste awful.

Do you know what else is distressing? These awful tablets. I don’t know what kind of medication they contain, but they taste awful.

Perhaps it would be prudent for me to narrow the lens of my researches from the purpose of the holiday to its specific observances.

The greatest tradition of Valentine’s Day seems to be buying things, such as the aforementioned flowers, candy, cookies, cards, jewelry, and lingerie. This eclectic assortment of romantic items has no discernible connection to Valentine himself, leaving me to surmise that their popularity as Valentine’s Day gifts is prompted by the theme of romantic love that has left its indelible and inexplicable mark upon the remembrance of that saint’s death.

Never mind the occasion—coffee is always an appropriate gift.

Never mind the occasion—coffee is always an appropriate gift.

Although these gifts are generally exchanged by romantic partners, it is common for celebrants of Valentine’s Day to distribute cheaper and less intimate gifts among friends, classmates, and coworkers; candy and cards are among the most popular options. Other Valentine’s Day traditions observed in America include going on dates or to parties.

A romantic card or letter given on Valentine’s Day is known as a valentine. This eponymous designation is shared by any person to whom such a card or letter is given.

(If I may permit a personal view to interfere with my serious studies of American holidays: I strongly opine that video game valentines are the best valentines.)

If you recognize all of the games represented in these Valentine's Day cards, you deserve a cookie.

If you recognize all of the games represented in these valentines, a winner is you!

In conclusion, Valentine’s Day seems to celebrate the violent death of a good man, associating it (for dark, unknown reasons) with romantic sentimentality. I acknowledge, regardless, the importance of the virtues venerated by the holiday—to wit, love and friendship.

Thus, with sincerity and due caution, I wish you a happy St. Valentine’s Day.

*I should remind my dear readers that my studies of American holidays are silly, sarcastic, and absolutely not serious. This blog post is a joke. Please don’t take it seriously!

This post was originally published on February 13, 2015. TMTF shall return with new content on February 22, 2016!

410. Looking Ahead, and Hoping for the Best

It’s a new year! By the grace of God, Planet Earth and its population of grouchy humans staggered through 2015. The year 2016 has begun, promising new adventures and opportunities, and also a new Legend of Zelda game.

This is going to be a good year. At any rate, that’s what I keep telling myself.

Zelda Wii U

Nothing brightens up a new year like the promise of a new Legend of Zelda title!

For me, 2015 was a year of change. I quit a lousy job, found a better one, changed job positions, lost a dear friend, grew a beard, and acquired a cat. What lies ahead this year? God only knows. I begin 2016 hopeful, highly caffeinated, and armed with several New Year’s resolutions.

In my last post, I reviewed my old resolutions for 2015. What are my resolutions for the new year? Well, I’m glad I asked. Here they are!

I will be more purposeful.

I’m easily distracted, and my life is full of distractions. Consider my cat, Pearl, who jumped onto my lap while I was trying to write this blog post and began licking my arm. I’m not sure whether to be flattered or concerned. Is the licking a gesture of affection, or is she making up her mind whether to eat me?

Do you see what I mean? I try to make a point about distractions, only to end up worrying about my cat. In my day-to-day life, I often drift from meaningful activities to worthless ones. I spend too much time reading random articles on Wikipedia and brooding over frivolities, and too little time reading books and writing stuff that matters to me.

I work in a nursing home. Surrounded by old people, I realize that I too shall be old someday (assuming my cat doesn’t eat me first). At that time, I don’t want to look back with anguish, regret, and gnashing of teeth. (Heck, I may not have any teeth left to gnash.) When I’m old, I want to look back on a life well spent.

That must begin now, here, today, this year, with purposeful living. It begins with little day-to-day decisions. I have to start somewhere, right?

I will value prayer more.

As an orthodox Christian, I believe prayer is the most important, powerful, significant thing I can do, yet I don’t spend as much time in prayer as in years past. Why is this? There are a number of reasons, but I won’t discuss them today. What I will say is this: I need to value prayer, and to pray faithfully.

It’s a secret to everybody.

My final resolution is a well-kept secret, locked carefully in a well-kept chest in the tidy depths of a well-kept dungeon. (I like to keep things neat.)

It's a secret to everybody

Today is a day for Legend of Zelda references. I regret nothing.

If I make enough progress on this resolution, I’ll announce it later this year. At this point, it’s either a surprise I don’t want to spoil, or a plan I won’t reveal in case it fails; take your pick.

These are my resolutions for 2016. Yes, I know there are only three, and in years past I’ve had six. As 2015 reminded me, six is too many. The more resolutions I set, the easier it is for me to forget or ignore them. By setting only three, I’m more likely to remember and keep them.

At any rate, that’s the plan.

Do you have any resolutions for this year? Let us know in the comments!

The Best History Lesson in the History of History

Never before has video game history been so awesome… or so darn catchy.

Fun Fact: Nintendo existed for nearly a century before it began producing video games. It dabbled in everything from card games to cab services before striking gold with franchises like Donkey Kong, Super Mario Bros. and Legend of Zelda in the eighties.

This post was originally published on September 18, 2013. TMTF shall return with new content on November 30, 2015!

Everything I Know about Creativity I Learned from The Legend of Zelda

Today’s post was written by Wes Molebash, blogger and cartoonist extraordinaire. Be sure to check out MOLEBASHED, his latest webcomic!

Like most people my age, I grew up playing the Legend of Zelda video game series. I loved every minute of those games, and Ocarina of Time played a defining role in my young adulthood.

Now I like to consider myself a “creative person.” What I mean by this is that I love to create art and I’m always scheming of my next “big” project. Ideas are cheap; art is work, and I’m absolutely in love with the creative process.

That being said, I realized the other day as I was toiling in my basement office that everything I know about creativity was learned from playing the Legend of Zelda video games.

For instance:

It doesn’t matter how small you are or what tools you are using

In several of the Zelda games, Link starts his journey as a little boy who wields a measly wooden sword and a Deku shield. A DEKU shield! No one is afraid of a Deku shield. But he doesn’t let this stop him. He goes straight into his first dungeon and defeats the baddie with his slingshot David-and-Goliath-style. The journey has begun. He’s received his first taste of victory, and he’s off to the next dungeon.

So what does this tell me about the creative process? Simple: It doesn’t matter how skilled you are or how big your platform is or how expensive your tools are, just create! Don’t be hindered by your limited experience or lack of resources. I know famous cartoonists who draw awesome cartoons on three-thousand-dollar computer tablets. I also know a lot of amateur cartoonists who draw awesome cartoons using Ticonderoga No. 2 pencils and Sharpie markers. Take the resources you have and use them to the best of your ability.

Every obstacle has a weak spot—exploit it!

The Legend of Zelda series has been around since the eighties and it continues to follow a familiar formula: go into dungeons, collect maps and compasses and special weapons, and fight seemingly indestructible beasts who all have a glaring Achilles heel. Does the beastie have one huge, rolling eyeball? It’s a safe bet that you’ll want to shoot some arrows into the beast’s ocular cavity. Does the baddie occasionally stop to roar for a prolonged period of time? I’d grab some bombs and make it rain inside that guy’s maw. No matter how big the monster is, his weak point is right there in front of you begging to be struck.

The same holds true with our creative obstacles. They seem impossible to topple, but—the fact is—they’re quite easy to destroy! If I had to guess, I’d say that 99% of our creative obstacles can be toppled by simply CREATING. Are you having a hard time motivating yourself? Get out your tools and create. Do you have some naysayers telling you that you suck at life? Tune them out and create. Are you swimming in a sea of rejection letters from agents and publishers? Take the critiques and criticism with a grain of salt and create.

It really is that simple. Once you get started it’ll be hard to stop. The weak spot of your obstacle is right there staring you in the face. Exploit it.

You’re going to get better

As I said above, when Link starts his journey he is just a little boy with a crappy sword and shield and three hearts in his life meter. However, as he continues his quest he gets better. He collects more weapons. He becomes more resilient. He ages. By the end of the game he’s got the Hyrule Shield, the Master Sword, some rad magic powers, a pair of flippers that help him swim and hold his breath under water, a bunch of sweet weapons in a bag that would be impossible to carry in the real world, and eighteen hearts in his life meter. He finally ends up at Ganon’s door and he’s ready to—as they say in the UFC—“bang.”

The same is true for your creative endeavors. The more you create, the better you’ll get. You’ll also acquire new tools and awesome advice from other creators. Most importantly, you’ll gain experience. No longer will you feel completely daunted by project proposals, pitches, and rejections. It’s all part of the process and you’ll get better and better at those things.

So wipe your brow, keep creating, and—when you need to take a break—dust off your N64, pop in Ocarina of Time, and wander around Hyrule Field for a spell.

What have you learned from video games? Let us know in the comments!

This post was originally published on November 18, 2011. TMTF shall return with new content on November 30, 2015!

The Ability to Pull Stuff from Nowhere

Art by iangoudelock on deviantART.

Art by iangoudelock on deviantART.

I’m sure you’ve seen it. As you watch a movie or play a video game, a character pulls out something from nowhere. Bugs Bunny and Wakko Warner reach behind their backs and bring out anvils or sledgehammers. Solid Snake and Link produce an endless assortment of gear and weapons from thin air. As Link demonstrates in the clever picture above, actually carrying around all that stuff is a physical impossibility.

The ability to pull stuff from nowhere is sometimes called the back pocket, a wry suggestion that the things characters pull from behind their backs were in their pants pockets the whole time. (This concept is particularly amusing in the case of characters that don’t wear pants.) In anime, the concept is called hammerspace. A comedic trope in Japanese animation is for characters to express anger by hitting something (or someone) with a large hammer produced from nowhere, making hammerspace the hypothetical place where all those hammers are kept.

The back pocket concept is usually played for comic effect in animation. Pinkie Pie, an exuberant character from a surprisingly awesome show about ponies, produces a wide assortment of items (including freaking cannons) from nowhere. Other characters know better than to question Pinkie’s defiance of physics.

In fact, when back pockets are used in any show or film, no one ever seems surprised.

In video games, back pockets are utilitarian rather than comedic in nature. The fact of the matter is that Link from the Legend of Zelda games needs his gear—all of it. Limiting his inventory would be a hindrance to the player, who would have to backtrack every time she needed something Link didn’t happen to be carrying at the moment. Constantly retrieving items, or plodding slowly under their weight, would be horribly annoying.

Thus Link carts around enormous shields and heavy explosives and iron-shod boots without any trouble. (Humorously enough, the iron boots only weigh down Link when he’s actually wearing them.) Solid Snake somehow sneaks through enemy territory burdened with cardboard boxes, sensor equipment and an entire arsenal of weapons (including massive rocket launchers). Every Final Fantasy character carries up to ninety-nine of every kind of weapon, armor and potion.

Where is all that stuff kept? Where does it come from?

Some questions, dear reader, are simply beyond answering.

This post was originally published on April 2, 2014. TMTF shall return with new content on November 30, 2015!