Escapism, transcendence, and secrets.
Early memories of videogames are magical. Even those crummy, ugly games we grew up with were magical — although that seems preposterous, looking at them now.
And some of the best memories are of the little secrets hidden in our games. Easter eggs epitomise the folkloric magic of fondly remembered gaming. They are secrets that reach into the personal worlds of games, inhabited privately for tens or hundreds of hours, delivering a friendly greeting from the outside.
Secrets are like divine dictates, to be remembered by all good gamers.
The Easter egg is a transdimensional miracle, a holy vision, a message from a higher plane of existence. It’s a crystallised trace of the magical feeling of being immersed in a great game. Let’s explore.
Escape is the essence of fiction. When I read novels, watch films, and play games, I escape into parallel worlds. I don’t merely leave my troubles in another room and close the door, or pack them in a box and shove them out of sight; I actually transpose myself to a parallel plane where those troubles don’t exist at all.
Rarely, as I play SimCity, do I imagine that my settlement’s just a long way from where I really am. Rather, I imagine that where I really am doesn’t exist at all — that I don’t exist at all. Of course I’m not consciously thinking that through — I don’t need a hug or something; don’t worry about me — but if I were to extrapolate the world I’m imagining in SimCity, I would not encounter my real self slouching at a glowing screen in a house a few towns over.
Essentially, a fictional world I contemplate is parallel to the real world: the two never touch. That parallelism is, for me, at the heart of escapism.
God, or a god, The Matrix (or a matrix), astrological truths, ghosts, the Loch Ness Monster — just any kind of invisible guiding force. We believe in things, or want to. There’s a powerful attraction to overarching truths that can put the whole entirety of everything into a reassuringly (but impossibly) broader context.
Good conspiracy theories, for example, are irresistible. What seems like the traumatic mess of the unknown is in fact, when seen from some other perspective, just some mundane and explainable machinations kept secret by schemers. People even see apparitions of spirits, receive messages from God, or get probed by creatures from outer space. We want to believe: we want to be certain it’s real. But these higher-level answers-to-everything always have to rest on parallel planes — never meeting reality — because otherwise they would just be other parts of everything, and not the answers to it. Visitations, divine commands, and abductions are fantasies that faith will be consummated, that it will no longer only be faith. They are the craving fever dreams of desperation to know.
Sadly, though, with knowledge, faith collapses. Complementing knowledge’s gaps is faith’s raison d’être. No raison; no être.
Enough has to be enough: that’s the paradox of transcendence. To transcend to another plane is to cross what should be parallel. Once another world is accessed, it’s no longer another world.
Faith is, essentially, always tested, always under tension, or it’s not faith. Is there a parallel plane that makes sense of everything? We can do nothing but cling to the abstract idea of it — even that being more accessible than transcendence itself.
Fiction is different. As audiences to works of fiction, we must entertain two planes at once, and know that one transcends the other. However, despite our knowing, the characters in a fiction are as necessarily blind to their superior plane as we would be to ours. Uniquely in games, however, we can inhabit both of the planes we entertain. We can inhabit the game world — be a cause in it and suffer its effects — and yet know for certain that our own world transcends it.
In games, strangely, when we crave as ever to join the two planes, to reveal the superior to the inferior and collapse the paradox of transcendence, we have a shot at doing so. The author can reach into the fiction and leave signs, and the audience can recognise the author while the characters do not. But as both character and audience, the videogame player can see from the perspective of the fictional world even with knowledge of the author's plane, and see an artefact of a higher reality manifest in the mundane world of the game.
Now the Easter egg is a holy apparition. The hidden sign on top of Gant Bridge is the tablet on top of Mount Sinai. Game secrets are messages from known gods, manifest in proxy earthly realms. They are transcendental liniments, embalming faith as knowledge kills it.
Holy Easter eggs! They epitomise the folkloric magic of fondly remembered gaming. They’re secrets that both betray and affirm the transcendental nature of gaming’s escapism. We escape into games, and find secret, transcendental experiences that completely enslave our imaginations. Well, I do.
(One footnote: I hope any religious readers will forgive my ill-informed and superficial religious comments and take this post in the friendly spirit it’s intended. I’m not one of those holier-than-thou atheists they have now, and the point I’m trying to make isn’t a religious one. In particular, those who believe in God, apologies for comparing him to the Loch Ness Monster.
And vice versa.)