Hey, I just found another reference to Haruki Murakami in another article about video games. This seems significant to me, as I first came across Murakami's name in this article about Metal Gear Solid 2, by the more than solid citizen Tim Rodgers. I had played MGS2 before I read the article, and found it to be the ultimate expression of video game as art form: it had surreal and moody graphics, unhaltingly smooth gameplay, quirky humor, just-plain-fun action, and a deeply ambiguous narrative which I hesitate to describe as "postmodern," so I'll qualify as "the best that postmodern can be." I would still argue that it is the best video game in my library, and the best game in yours too, if you have it, which you should. I had not, however, at the time of reading Tim's article, read anything by Murakami. I hadn't read anything by Tim, either, and this article was a shining example of how he can dazzle and entertain while reviewing video games. Set aside a couple of hours to read it. (Then read this one, too, which is just as good, but which concerns SMB3 and coming of age rather than MGS2 and the postmodern condition.)
So anyway, thank you, Tim, for introducing me to Murakami. After I read several of his books (Wild Sheep Chase, Norwegian Wood, Dance Dance Dance, the extra-long and super-ambiguous Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, and Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End Of The World, my still very-much favorite), Michael Blowhard made a comment about speaking to Murakami, which lead me to email him, which led him to flatter me by putting up my emails in a guest posting, which flattered me so much it led me to start up this blog you're reading now. That one posting, being on his worthy site, probably scrolled under more pairs of eyes than all of the postings over here combined.
So anyway, Murakami, who bridges literature and video games, is very much the reason you're reading this website today.
Here's what I wrote about Murakami last year over at the Blowhards':
You got to speak with Haruki Murakami? I am jealous. I discovered his work a couple of weeks ago while reading a review of the video game, "Metal Gear Solid 2." The game gets quite surreal towards the end and that put off many of its players and reviewers, but the review I read defended its merits as a thought-provoking work of art and put it into context as a product of postmodern Japanese culture, comparing it with Murakami's work (specifically "Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World").
As the game had given me toe-curling paroxysms of delight, I rushed out to scoop up "Wonderland." What an unexpected pleasure! High-concept surreal sci-fi elements, neuroscience, mystery and eroticism all told with the clear voice of an accomplished storyteller. I kept thinking, "This is what all these new lit'rary snobs could do, if they could just get their own egos out of the way and tell the damn story!" Not that the language is plain, it's just clear, I guess. It does what it needs to perfectly, without unnecessary embellishment. His descriptions of natural phenomena give me the same serene feeling that Japanese landscape prints do.
And here's the quote about Murakami from Gamespot, which got me excited today:
"In the summer 2004 issue of The Paris Review literary magazine, the renowned Japanese author Haruki Murakami, in an interview, says, "I think video games are closer to fiction than anything else these days." The interviewer responds, "Video games?" with transparent surprise and bewilderment. Murakami then explains that he doesn’t play video games, but feels the similarity. "Sometimes while I'm writing I feel I'm the designer of a video game, and at the same time a player. I made up the program, and now I'm in the middle of it; the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing. It's a kind of detachment. A feeling of a split." Murakami is a traditional pen and paper writer. He works at his kitchen table and is not, as his fans know, in any way part of the so-called digital revolution. His awareness of the role of narrative in video games is instinctual, not studied. Murakami's comment may be interpreted as a sign that video games are becoming more influential than we possibly know."
I like this description of his creative process. It fits with how I feel, when writing fiction. Whether writing straight or science fiction, I'm constantly setting the rules and boudaries of the world my characters inhabit. And then when I need to get the characters moving, I can either make them just want to do something, or I can change the world in a way that makes life very uncomfortable for them. Murakami seems to go mostly with the second approach: his characters are all very much depressed, weak-willed Japanese businessmen who don't so much act as react to a world whose rules seem consistently uncomfortable for them. But it's the constancy of the world's behaviour that's so very important. Keeping it consistent is a challenge game designers face. (In some games, for example, you cannot make your character walk off a cliff. Danger of falling is just not part of the challenge or the experience of the game. Then, some other games are all about jumping from cliff to cliff - developing your skill in avoiding a fall is a great part of the challenge. Having a game behave one way in the beginning and then switch partway in immediately ruins your sense of immersion; you're reminded of the artificiality of a world that can change arbitrarily. Designers introduce new and harder challenges as you progress, of course, but the physical rules of the world should remain the same.)
I also admire Murakami for not being afraid to use video games as a metaphor in high literary circles. His particular brand of postmodernism has never struck me as just showing off with fancy writin', the way, say, David Foster Wallace's or Umberto Eco's does. He's still trying to tell a good story, even when he gets gloomy, weird, and postmodern. He's not afraid to get his hands dirty with some plotting, and he's happy to hang out with genre writers. "Even now, my ideal for writing fiction is to put Dostoevsky and Chandler together in one book. That's my goal." He told this to the folks at Paris Review, too. So, if video games are the proper metaphor for his creative process, he's not afraid to cite them.
William Gibson is another writer who used low-tech tools (a manual typewriter) to write stories that interpreted complex technologies and their effect on the human condition. He'd never used a computer when he wrote Neuromancer. In fact, he derived the whole idea of "virtual reality" from observing kids who were drawn into crude 1980s era arcade games. (Of course, he's been consigned to the genres, while Murakami still pulls off a "Literature" classification.)
What is it about these luddites that makes them such good chroniclers of our age? The perspective of "writing from the outside?" The fact that maybe they are more interested in the human element of the story, and what our machines do to us, than in the machines themselves? Or is it just that they're spending all their time writing, instead of playing video games?
Or am I simply ignoring hundreds of other good writers who do use technology, and write just as well? If so, please recommend me some titles, right there in the comment thread.