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Friday, October 06, 2006

South Park - Losing touch with the real world

I watched the season premiere of South Park on Wednesday night.

The boys of South Park are all excited because of a new online battle video game called Warcraft. Unfortunately there is a middle-aged man out there who has dominated the game to such a degree that no one can make any progress. This is a concern for the makers of the game because everyone will quit playing as they get discouraged by their lack of progress.

Cartman, however, develops a scheme whereby they can get enough experience points to defeat this middle-aged man. However, it will require hours on end of dedication to the game. Cartman is ready to go, but the other boys balk. Finally Cartman convinces them by saying, "You can stay out here and play in the sun, or you can get to the computer and do something that really matters!"

The boys all get on board and in the end all their hours and days on end of playing the game pay off when they defeat the middle-aged man. In the process of playing, however, their bodies get deformed: They gain weight and develop grotesque acne on their faces. Doing something that matters has a price!

Now, initially we would be critical of such an endeavor. Have the boys really done something that "matters"? All the time they spent was simply in a fantasy world. They are impacting an game that is on the internet: an artificial world - a created reality. The internet isn't real, right? So what the boys did doesn't matter, right?

For the boys we can understand. I mean, after all, they're just kids. But what about the unemployed, middle aged man living with his mother who plays the game for 20 some hours a day. That's the dude that we are going to be hardest on, right? I mean, what is he really doing with his life that "matters"?

But before we condemn the middle-aged guy, what about the career-man who works for 18 hours a day? Has he done something that matters? What if he's doing it for God? Does it matter that he has disconnected himself from anything outside of his office?

One might say that the career-guy is superior because he is in the real world. Ok, then what about if we go home at night and disconnect from the real world by losing ourselves in a novel for a few hours every night? Is this an illegitimate activity? I mean, when I'm into a good novel I am absolutely gone - my mind is in an artificial fantasy world. Is this any different than the middle-aged guy playing Warcraft?

What do you do to lose yourself? Don't we all have fantasy worlds to escape the real world? Books, television, the internet, music, and the list goes on....

I have to hand it to the middle-aged South Park character, at least he had passion. He certainly had commitment. I have a problem with how he was channeling his passion, but I'm sure he had his reasons. Without anything going for him in the real world, why not make a go of it on the internet? In Warcraft he has managed to manufacture some small amount of success and pleasure. He has accomplished something here in his fantasy world. To him that is what really "matters."

From our perspective here "under the sun" it seems difficult to really condemn the guy. But from God's perspective things may be different....


Douglas Groothuis said...

I would never, ever watch South Park, but it is simple to say that anyone who spends hours on video games, especially violent ones, is a vidiot. These are nothing but vain, hopeless amusements--as in a-muse (not thinking).

Mere passion is worthless or dangerous: Hitler had passion, so did the 9/11 murderers. Passion must be directed toward virtue and virtue toward God.


Dawn said...

I see things from a different angle.

Where are the kids' parents? Why aren't they engaged in the children's lives? Nowadays, who leaves their kids alone with a computer for hours on end?

And for the older guy...who cares about him? What happened in his life that makes him want to retreat into a world of pseudo human interaction?

I feel bad for both sides.

ktismatics said...

To Douglas I offer a Baudrillardian comment: amusements exist to give the illusion that the rest of the world is "mused," inspired, thoughtful, important.

To Dawn I offer a similar comment: pseudo-human interaction exists to make you believe that the rest of your human interactions are "real."

And finally, all of this stuff comes out of the imagination of the guys who write (who are from my old home town of Boulder, by the way), draw, do voices, produce, and otherwise create South Park. They get paid, they generate revenue for the television industry -- is what they're doing "real"?

Jonathan Erdman said...

I agree with Doug's thought about passion being directed toward virtue and virtue toward God...

But the K-man offers an interesting thought about the fact that amusement can stir imagination and inspire a sense of wonder about an existence that could otherwise be dreary and mundane. This stiring of the imagination can direct our hearts towards the spiritual and towards the true God. I think this ties in with some of what C.S. Lewis wrote and why he wrote the Chronicles of Narnia and other fictional works.

Qohelet (the voice in Ecclesiastes) seems to applaud finding joy and happiness within an existence that could otherwise frustrate us with its lack of coherence and perceived lack of justice/equality.

Whatever you do, do for the glory of God???

It seems the middle-aged man is simply coping for the sake of self-preservation. This is understandable, of course, but what happens if you plug in to the Matrix and never come out again???

Jonathan Erdman said...

Where are the kids' parents? Why aren't they engaged in the children's lives? Nowadays, who leaves their kids alone with a computer for hours on end?

It seems that a lot of parents take advantage of the "electronic babysitters" in the house: TV, computers, hand-held video games, etc. It keeps the kids occupied, right?

In the case of the South Park kids, they are over at Cartman's house. Cartman's mom is actually assisting them in their 21 hour per day video gaming by providing snacks, food, and whatever else they need. Cartman has a walkie-talkie that he uses to communicate with his mother and tell her what he needs.

Cartman's mom always dutifully complies with her son's requests because she is more looking to have a friendship with her son rather than truly be a parent. She is a single mom who has been unsuccessful in building a meaningful, long-term relationship with any men. She seems to compensate for this by pandering to her son's every wish...

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