Yesterday, Kotaku journalist Kirk Hamilton and I shared a short Twitter chuckle over a hilarious e-mail subject line he received. It read ‘Ninja Theory to explore psychosis in new game – Hellblade’ and it expressed painfully much about Today’s Video Games in its scant few words, most of all the tendency to produce hilariously stupid-sounding names by mashing together two sufficiently badass words, german compound noun style. (German compound nouns are the force behind ‘There’s a german word for that!’ – we can just mash two or more nouns together and they make a new one.) Our shared chuckle revolved around being instantly reminded of Warface, the apex predator of ridiculous video game names.
Post-chuckle, my thoughts kept going back to the process of making video game names from two parts, and how there is an upper limit of possible combinations when the dictionary of sufficiently macho words – the canon – stays constant. One day, these names might all be taken, presumably after a bloody struggle for the last of the less good combinations, long after the good combinations were taken away by developers completely unaware of such a scarcely good combination’s value and the utter finiteness of the resource they were exploiting. Would people fight for the inclusion of new names in the canon? Would other people regard that as heresy? Given the many attempts at gatekeeping true gaming and true nerddom, I’d be surprised if they wouldn’t.
This began sounding more and more postapocalyptic.
Imagine the landscape bereft of the former riches of Good Names. Combinations as varied as wild flowers abounding on the market, but plucked away by people unaware of the riches at their hands. Now, the supply of combinations is running dry. Dreamers search for the hidden gem, the leftover Name everyone overlooked, or didn’t give the second look it needed. Working people are fighting over posession of the few leftover Names like vultures over the last dry strands of flesh on the only rotten carcass between here and far away.
There will be an eschatological movement looking forward to the incoming depletion of names, the fulfilling of The Prophecy and the End of Games. (Yes, gamers will be truly and metaphysically over when rapture comes.) They will fight the heretics proclaiming an Open Canon who actively quest for New Words, undertaking grave adventures and all hoping to – just once in their life – find a New Word. Some will be in it for fame, for money, the furthering of the Cause, or all of the above. The theologians of the Open Canon will have discourse on the meaning of ‘badass’, the defining metric of a Word’s worthiness of introduction in the Canon. Especially modern and daring ones will even proclaim revolutionary concepts like the mutability of ‘badass’ itself. To the Literalist, no question could be more wrong, more misguided and more worthy of eradication. Canon Words are Badass because they are in the Canon. The Canon is the Canon because its Words are Badass. To deny the untouchability of this holy dictionary is to defy the notion of scripture itself. To them, Open Canon Cultists are the agents of anti-creation, wrongly believing in the prolonging of development, preventing the deliverance the Canon promises. To the Cultists, the Church of the End of Games is adherent to old and long obsolete notions of culture, blind believers in a purported ‘salvation’ someone somewhere read into how Games were Named. There is war. Flocks of questing Cultists and armies of devout Church Gatekeepers to root them out.
Underneath the big war between these two, a more or less fraudulent black market for Names will flourish, sometimes selling Names to eager developers, only to have them turn out taken by an obscure title long ago that didn’t turn up on the first three pages of google results. Small sects will form around ideas of combining Words with themselves, or even combining more than two Words to a Name. Some strongly independent developer monks spend much of their time in meditative coding chants of endlessly linked-to-themselves Words.
And before I noticed, I found that this would actually make an open world RPG I’d love to play. Am I weird?