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8-Bit Philosophizing in ‘The Forbidden Forest’

Existential explorations of video gaming demise.

by Robert Florence
May 20 2017, 4:00pm

100 Deaths is an exploration of 100 deaths across 100 games, and what they might mean in the grander scheme.

"In such condition, there is no place for Industry; because the fruit thereof is uncertain; and consequently no Culture of the Earth; no Navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by Sea; no commodious Building; no Instruments of moving, and removing such things as require much force; no Knowledge of the face of the Earth; no account of Time; no Arts; no Letters; no Society; and which is worst of all, continuall feare, and danger of violent death; And the life of man, solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short." — Thomas Hobbes

I am going to die 100 deaths.

In the stillness and darkness between lives, I feel the unsteadiness and trepidation that comes with the knowledge that, in all likelihood, I will open my eyes to a life of slaughter. Why, when we imagine a new existence, do we so often begin with the scent of blood in our nostrils? Why so ugly? Why so defensive?

The philosopher Thomas Hobbes argued that the natural state of man is "Warre." And why such a descent towards war in the hearts of men? "… In the nature of man we find three principal causes of quarrel: first, competition; secondly, diffidence, thirdly, glory..."

Competition, diffidence, glory. Private drives, but monolithic. Ingredients in the sickly potion that we instinctively thirst for. In any one life lived in a popular wargame, we might cut the throat of a number of our peers, proving our superiority within a fleeting capsule of time. Our insecurities are momentarily eased, as others feel our hands around their throats. We call in a nuclear strike, and we are hailed as champions. And then we go again. We go, inevitably, again.

We enjoy this dance. We enjoy stepping through it, and we enjoy choreographing it. Man is nothing if not predictable, and it seems that we are never happier than when we have a gun in our hands. I must be prepared for more of this, much more.

My eyes open and all the world is green.

I am in a forest. A crude, Pointillist imagining of a forest. I am too close, too inside, to see it properly. I would love to be back, far away, on the outside. I would love to look upon it as you would look upon the Garden at Arles—across a gallery space, a little merry on wine, reflecting on the plight of the poor artist who was constantly at war with himself. Instead, I am knee-deep in picture-book green, with a bow in my hand.

I would like to tell you that I nocked an arrow and prepared myself for what was to come. I would like to tell you that I moved my arms, swung my bow, and let loose an arrow towards my target. But here is the thing with philosophical thought—it really slows you down.

Sometimes, when an artist creates, the world they visualize is not a canvas for the Pollockian splatter of man against man. Sometimes, when an artist is probing for truth, it is the primal and ancient battle between man and nature that they envision. War, yes, but war against an enemy so profoundly unknowable that no measure of preparation can secure a true advantage. Again, competition, as man seeks to establish dominion over the wild beasts. Again, diffidence, as man bows to the howling mystery of the winds. And yes, glory, as man breaks the beast to ride it, work it, drive it, and builds his monuments upon virgin plains.

Perhaps the forest is all life. And it follows, then, that all life is war. Is that the terrible secret of this forbidden forest?

We can know other men, but the wild world is different. We can best our rival in the village, but we must not venture out of the village after dark. The forest is forbidden.

The spider that kills me, within seconds, is driven by pure instinct. What would Hobbes have said about him? I fancy he might have simply said, "Run," and fled to the safety of his little philosopher's house, to light a candle and pen an essay about the need for a powerful central authority who can smash up giant spiders.

Me? I am dead. My life, nasty, brutish, short.

Mere seconds of life. Enough time for me to wish for the simplicity of the gun and the trench and the blood of my foe on my knife. Enough time for me to wish for the homely comfort of my hands around a human neck and the sight of a human eye sliding into blank thought.

We are a truly horrible species, and the forest is forbidden to us.

But why? Is it because the forest explains to us the true nature of life? The nature of man is war, says Hobbes. But life itself wants to kill us, that much is clear. Perhaps the forest is all life. And it follows, then, that all life is war. Is that the terrible secret of the forest? Is that why it is so forbidden to us? Would it be too much for us to know that everything— everything—is our enemy, and that we are taking a sound beating? Are our foolish wars of man against man, in both reality and fantasy, just a playground sideshow to the broader cosmic despair of this human race slowly bleeding out in the polluted, filthy trenches we managed to dig out for ourselves in the No Man's Land we call Earth?

Hobbes died hundreds of years ago. We gaze upon him only as a painted portrait, across a gallery space. We are, as ever, a little merry on wine. But I think we should be sober when we look upon his works. We should be sober when we consider Hobbes or Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and sober when we find ourselves holding the bow, the gun.

Regardless, Hobbes is dead, as are we all. His final words, at the tree-line?

"A great leap in the dark."

I follow.


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