Odin bless caffeine. I have a very small, very tolerant coterie of friends who are willing to put up with my various musings, interrogations and molestations in the online world, and they tend to be good for prodding with apparently totally off the wall theoreticals.
A couple of weeks ago, after my first post about Darth Vader, and my need for an uber villain, my friend Laura hooked onto that idea, and actually started quizzing me more specifically about what it was I wanted, and needed. She also posited the option of what she described as “parasite villains”, which of course meant something to me, but she gave the example of say, the Borg. While I really liked the thought, my intuition was that a collective type of villain just didn’t fit with the tone of my story. My gut feeling that I wanted a big, mean dude in a mask stuck with me, but since then the slow cooker of my mind has kind of boiled the skin off these various ingredients, and opened up some new flavor sensations.
When I started thinking about the Borg I start thinking about what they really represent, which is being co-opted rather than being obviated, which is what’s really disturbing about them. Being visibly taken over, and the carapace of yourself, the vision of you –your body—remaining, is really disturbing, and conjures all these terrifying fears about identity and personhood, all of which are favorite issues of mine, but I don’t really want to tackle too much with this story. But then thinking about the Borg reminded me of The Nothing, the highly allegorical antagonist/force/destructor that is ruining everybody’s good time in The Neverending Story. The Nothing doesn’t transform you, it, in its very nature, just Nothings you so that you’re so thoroughly gone, no one will even remember that you existed. It’s literally an existential threat, in a world where that term is very popularly bandied about. This is all a very thin metaphor for illiteracy, as in the failure to read awesome books about giant rock monsters, and that Phantasia, the parallel fantasy world of fancy and delight, will be gone forever if this one little boy doesn’t believe that all these goblins and racing snails and luck dragons and ethnic stereotypes are really real real, just like T-Bird says, and not just awesome shit in books.
Also, for some reason, this can only be attained by screaming his recently deceased mother’s name into a lightning storm as the name of the creepy, immortal, child-like Empress that lives in a giant ivory labia tower at the highest point of Phantasia. The creepiness of the Childlike Empress deserves a whole thesis paper on its own, but Germans made this movie, so I don’t have nearly the time to unpack the creepy implications.
Aaaaanyway, The Nothing and the Borg share a very immense, metaphysical power to induce fear. You thought your shit was like this? Well BLAM! Your shit ain’t like that no more, and further, your ass won’t even know that it ever was that way. You were a cool dude from Pittsburgh? Now you’re a fucking spotted mushroom. Start getting tasty. Game Over, better luck next time.
And for some reason these two evil collectivist monsters synthesized for me in the imagery I’m always seeing online of this game MINECRAFT (that I’ve never actually played), which looks and sounds to be a highly addictive constructivist world of very basic, early 90s graphics, and endless gameplay. Apparently the regular game itself is very nice, but what really turns into a timesuck is the hackable version where people create these insanely intricate worlds and replicas of 3-D space, kind of like a 1st person, infinite Lego playset. Anyway, the image of these basic blocks, and how smashable and corruptible they are, lends itself to how a digital infection might look from the inside. How, say, a gaming world might look if it was rotting with a pestilence.
So, now I have the idea of a digital pestilence in a feudal style medieval game, which allows for a very dynamic allegory. The sickness, obviously, could be a virus, or a special kind of malware, and creates symbolic alacrity for our villain being a hacker or hacking group from the “real world” with any number of possible motives, possibly only to be fully stood at the end of Act II. Also, lots of potential for switcheroos: You think it’s hackers then it’s actually the game itself turning intelligent. Or you think it’s the game destroying itself and it’s hackers trying to save it, but through a Machiavellian plot that makes them have to look like the bad guy a la Ozymandius in THE WATCHMEN (the graphic novel for you noobs, not the well intentioned, but far too brief feetcha film).
Ooooh, OOOOH!!! Now this just hit me. Your Vader character could be badass, but also, kind of like a red herring. What if the Vader dude is a pawn, like, the true avatar of an actual person who plays the game, and has motives to want to take Frankie down, but is actually just a figurehead utilized by the self-aware game/benevolent hacker villains to disguise their ultimate intentions?
BLAM!!! Also, Engines of Victory is built on a literal flat world. The floating continents (servers that cannot reach each other), have a top side, where the 90% of the games denizens and kingdoms reside, but a dark, vicious mirror image world exists on the underside of the coin, living on tails, so to speak, in a world of bleak, perpetual night. Originally cast as villains, these dark elves and goblins and trolls will be pulled into the fold and whipped out as an ace-in-the-hole a la the legions of undead warriors in the battle of the armies at the end of Lord of the Rings. See? A perfect “How do you like me now!?” moment.
ALSO! And I can’t believe this hadn’t hit me until now, because this is a central plot device I’ve had in mind for a few different stories, is to use the “real people” playing all these in-game avatars as a sort of hilarious Greek chorus a la the television viewers in THE TRUMAN SHOW (anybody that thinks Jim Carrey is a hack, I point you at TTS, which remains one of my favorite films of all time, and perfectly encapsulates our urge to surpass isolation and individualism, and re-enter a state of community, which is then ultimately rejected).
Ok, boom. So here’s what we’ve got:
Frankie’s world is small, ineffective, insular. His weird, generally unhelpful coterie of friends don’t take him seriously, and he pines for the girl that hosts karaoke at their local watering hole, but is made a total fool of by his social anxiety, and is sent retreating into stonerville and online videogames, where he is comfortable, powerful, and safe.
However, upon retreating there, he is sucked full on into the world of the game, where he discovers the disturbing onslaught of a new, and bizarre pestilence of unknown origin, that all of the denizens and powerbrokers of this world are made extremely anxious by.
Frankie comes back out of the Engines of Victory landscape, totally jarred, and attempts to write it off as total dream/hallucination, but what he experience in game is continuing to play out now that he’s back in “real life”. The in-game pestilence is manifest as a virus or vicious malware that is destroying the EoV community from the inside out, causing a strange transformation of vast stretches of “real estate” (as bizarre as it is, as this story is meant to evoke, these online places really are a place, with space and dimension. More on that later).
Frankie consults with his reluctant friends and the snarky videostore owner that gave him the arcane device that sent him headlong into the EoV world, but he starts to look and feel like a crazy person. Another bad episode in “real life”, probably related to the karaoke girl will send him back into the game, and this time will be way worse. What was before a small, somewhat disconcerting problem is now a full on plague.
At this point we can fully illustrate that game time is many times over faster than in-real-life (irl) time. This should be analogous to dreams, wherein if you appear to spend an entire day in the game, it may only be 30 minutes or an hour for your irl body. Also, we have to contend with what is happening with Frankie’s body during this time. I think he’s still really there, in front of his computer, in a kind of stoned coma, mostly because this allows for a lot of zany antics of his friends trying to wake him up, etc. Also, I think him actually disappearing while in the game is a little bit of a shark jump, but what the hell do I know?
Anyway, this time differential creates a ticking clock scenario wherein real life becomes less real, and when Frankie is in it, he is becoming all the more agitated and manic, as he knows that the destruction of the EoV world is happening at an accelerated rate. This will lead to the corrosion of his irl relationships with is friends, and his cute-yet-badly-wrought attempts to make friendly with karaoke girl, let’s call her Kaitlyn Coldiron (full disclosure, this is the last name of a chick on some mail in my apartment building. How awesome is that name?) At this point, Frankie will be fully embroiled, although very reluctantly, in the crusade of save EoV from the corruptive villainy of –Darth Vader-like-masked-figurehead- and the pestilence that is turning them all into monochrome zombie avatars. This might require some further thought, but sort of like the Borg, it would be awful if instead of wiping your character and account, your online self was co-opted for service in the pestilent army. This could also manifest in irl ways, as a form of identity theft, which could go a lot of ways.
Frankie will spend a long period of time in the game world this time, battling through various villains with his in-game comrades in an attempt to find the Villain, and the truth behind this evil force taking over their world. This will all be extremely real and not at all zany/wacky, other than for brief asides and allusions to interference from the “real world”.
Frankie’s friends, really worried about him, will show up at his place to find him comatose at his keyboard, fried out of his mind. They will go through various hilarious shenanigans, as in-game Frankie is at an excruciating point of extreme danger. One of his friends will actually notice the goings-on on his computer as his friends finally manage to rouse him from the fantasy world, which will both save his in-game life, but prevent him from unmasking the secret to the Villain and his plot.
Frankie, back in the world, is totally incensed, inconsolable, a man on fire. He’s lost basically all of his concern for real life matters, and manically plots everything he can do to get back in the game with the resources necessary to save it.
Then it hits him, if the bad guys can use the real world to affect the game, then so can he. In an uncharacteristic turn, Frankie will turn to one of his friends to ask help from his shady, sadistic cousin who lives on the wrong side of the tracks. (This is our Dirty Deeds Done Dirty Cheap moment). They will, reluctantly, go to the trailer park and solicit the help of these very sketchy individuals, who will use their ignoble resources to find and coerce some real-life villainous players of the game to cough up what they know about the plot. Finally convinced that this business might actually be “real”, Frankie’s friends commit to do what they can to help him.
They go back to Frankie’s house, and whether by accident or intention, they pull Kaitlyn the karaoke girl back with them, as they need someone sober to supervise them as they go in-game (or some other damn reason that will get her into the action as a skeptical observer).
Frankie will go in-game harder than he has before, but his friends won’t be immediately successful, in an hilarious sequence of painful, pot paraphernalia humor, they will keep failing to get stoned enough to fall into the game.
Meanwhile, Frankie has already been in EoV for hours, from his perspective, wandering a desperate landscape of plague and wrath. Frankie will lead a charge against his enemies, but ultimately be captured by the Villain, and taken back to the now-conquered castle, previously held by one of his comrades/the most powerful lord of EoV. Stripped of his power, Frankie will be at the worst place ever. In game, they will begin the agonizing ritual that we’ve previously established of wiping his character and account. I’m thinking something incredibly awful like the theft of the souls of the little potato dudes in DARK CRYSTAL, where their essence is sucked out via a big phallic crystal and put into little bottles for the skeezy Skeksis to drink like awful juice boxes of life force (bet you didn’t think you’d read that sentence today).
So this really terrible ritual is going on in-game, with the soulless avatars of all of Frankie’s comrades around, watching helpflessly (also helplessly watching from their computers at home), as their final hope for triumph over evil is being eviscerated. Also, in real life, Kaitlyn is seeing Frankie for the pathetic, fried, stoner loser that he is, contrary to what his friends are trying to explain, when, having apparently given up, his smart friend plugs in the Rock-Band style video game on the tv, opening up some kind of badass AC/DC-like (if not actually AC/DC) anthem, pulling the other friends to get into it, and, what-the-hell, being a karaoke chick, Kaitlyn does the singing part, and this irl badassedness travels—via Frankie’s meat-body, into the game, and manifests as the serruptitious return of his trusty battle ax/broadsward/whatever, all of a sudden in his hands. And in an epic rock sequence, Frankie smashes through his shackles, turns to the court of villains, and starts a campaign of decapitation. Yeah. In real life.
In real life, one of the gamer-comrades of Frankie will realize what’s happening, and run over to Frankie’s house, on something ridiculous like a cruiser bike or a moped, and explain to his friend’s what’s happening, and convince them what they’re doing is working, to keep playing, and will sit down and type to Frankie in-game how to free his zombiefied comrades.
Thus, more anthemic rocking, freed in-game avatars, more decapitation, and the addition of irl comrade to Frankie’s house will bear witness to how all of this is really real, and illuminate it for Kaitlyn.
Final epic battle of the armies, utilizing the ace-in-the-whole previously thought to be villains from the darkside of EoV, happily ever after, Frankie comes out of the gaming world truly disoriented, but a winner.
Then the second half of Act III, aka the end of the movie. I’ll worry about that later. Ending movies can be extremely difficult, but this won’t doesn’t stress me.
(All outlining subject to change)