Thursday, October 9, 2008

On Swords; on Giant Apes

Sometimes I get on weird jags. Crime novels, or Indian authors, or movies about scrappy girls' soccer teams (the fact that there is more than one of these movies occasionally shakes my faith that all is right with the universe).

This week, thanks to a delicious dyad of documentaries I watched on back-to-back nights after work, it was nerds at play. I'd thought I was plenty nerdy. I do crossword puzzles, for God's sake. I go to bed at 9:30 PM. But after viewing King of Kong (2007) and Darkon (2006), I know I'm only a postulant in the Great Order of the Nerd. I mean, I can sometimes, with effort, pass as a normal person (it helps if I don't open my mouth). The stars of the two documentaries, on the other hand, could never pass. Not in a million years, not in a dark room on a dark night in dark clothing, not in the event of alien takeover. These folks are nerdiness incarnate. They are lustrous, incandescent, efflorescent paragons of Nerd.

They are also fun to watch. In King of Kong, a laid-off former high-school baseball player challenges a hot-sauce entrepreneur for the world record on the classic arcade game, Donkey Kong. In Darkon, a whole bunch of nerdy people run around city parks in full armor and bearing plastic swords, doing pseudo-battle and speechifying mightily.

Both activities were enrapturing. Not so much because I was interested in Donkey Kong (snooze) or mock battles (double snooze, plus shades the Great Laser Tag Debacle of 2002). Rather, I was enthralled by the strange interleaving of these folks' game lives and "normal" lives, of the ways in which passion presses up against mundanity.

It's an uneasy proximity. Omnipresent in both films, the elephant in the room full of Star Wards action figures, was hunger. Hunger for narrative, for childhood dreams, for connection, for the infamous something more. The stars of Darkon and King of Kong were ravening. They were starving. They'd scraped their plates, licked their forks, and raised their eyes heavenward. Is this all there is? The world beats its tattoo.

Fortunately it turns out there are also elves, and crashing around the underbrush in a padded jerkin, and Pac Man.

Who am I to judge? I'm hungry, too. Where did that cheese get to?

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