When I read on Jurie Horneman's blog that there was a novel about videogames I had to buy it immediately, of course. I didn't expect to like it; Jurie made it sound overly pretentious, and…hey…how good can a novel about videogames be?
I freakin' loved it.
Now, I'm a pretty weird guy. Philip K. Dick's Valis is one of my favorite novels ever. And whenever I've recommended Valis to someone, and they've read it, they've been like,"uh . . . okay . . .whatever." For some reason, when I read Valis for the first time, (I was sixteen) it really got its hooks into me. Valis is the story of a guy who thinks he's seen God, and for the duration of the book you're not sure if he's crazy or he really has seen God or both. It's only barely science fiction.
I also enjoyed Haruki Murakami's The Wild Sheep Chase and Dance, Dance, Dance and Kobo Abe's Kangaroo Notebook. These are very surreal Japanese novels about ordinary guys getting sucked into pure weirdness.
Once, my thumb on the pulse of American culture, I set down to write a novel that combined elements from Valis and The Wild Sheep Chase. I wrote two hundred pages before giving up on it. (But I did transplant the main character into my other novel.) I finally decided that I was the only one in the world who would want to read such a book.
Well, D. B. Weiss wrote a book that combines elements from Valis and The Wild Sheep Chase. And it's about videogames. It's almost as if he sat down and said, "I think I'll write a book for Jamie Fristrom. That way I can guarantee to sell at least one copy. Money in the bank!"
The protagonist of Lucky Wander Boy is heavily, heavily into videogames. His obsession is so strong I imagine it alienates ordinary readers. I bet most people, upon reading that Pac-Man is the first metaphysical videogame or that Donkey Kong is the Gnostic demiurge would say, "This guy's full of shit." And he is, sure, if you're one of those people who can't enjoy critical theory for what it is, a form of play in itself, using the works of others as a springboard for your own ideas. I found myself recognizing that the protagonist was obsessed to the point of psychosis but was sucked right into his psychosis with him.
(Or was he psychotic? Perhaps his delusions about videogames were real; the same sort of ambiguity I enjoyed in Valis.)
A couple parts of the book I enjoyed: at one point the geek-hero goes to a classic videogames convention and discovers that he is the alpha male, the least geeky guy there. There have been times I've had a similar feeling within a crowd of fellow geeks. The illusion is shattered, though, when he plays some basketball and fumbles it horribly -- raising the question, does every geek in the crowd think they're the alpha male, that they're just slumming when they hang out with their fellow geeks?
Now, I've never played the actual game Lucky Wander Boy after which this novel is named. (I'm pretty sure it doesn't actually exist.) It does not sound like the kind of game I would enjoy. As Weiss describes it: "The moment Lucky Wander Boy grabbed his first pencil, however, a new species of Sebiro appeared less than a body’s length from him to the left, one twice his size with a bird’s beak on his human head. This Mega-Sebiro was faster than Lucky Wander Boy, and whether or not he immediately caught the hero depended entirely on whether the Mega-Sebiro first turned left or right. In the coming weeks, I would hear of numerous ‘tricks’ or ‘cheats’ to make the Mega-Sebiro turn left every time, away from the Lucky Wander Boy, but none of them worked. The Mega-Sebiro’s behavior was entirely random, beyond the sphere of human influence." Thus violating one of our cardinal guidelines of game design, that the game not be capricious. The protagonist, truly hardcore, takes this as a challenge, and suffers at the hands of Lucky Wander Boy, never making it to the third stage.
Near the end of the book we discover that the designer of Lucky Wander Boy now operates a spanking-fetish parlor. She's a mistress of punishment. Is D. B. Weiss saying that the reason some of us respond to videogames is because they are fundamentally punishing in nature? It's not so much for the challenge but pure masochism? Is the success of games like Viewtiful Joe, Ninja Gaiden, and Splinter Cell partly due to this fetishistic desire of ours? Maybe playing videogames is a punishment we mete out on ourselves because we feel guilt for transgressions real or imagined.
Ugh, I better leave the critical theory to the experts.
Anyway, even if you're not into critical theory, Lucky Wander Boy is a delightful surreal trip through geek culture.