See the web version of this USA Today article…
With less than ten hours to the release of Halo 3, USA Today last week posed the question of whether the trilogy of Halo could bear the status of “classics”, much in the likes of Star Wars and Lord of the Rings.
While our perception of classics instinctively triggers us to think of something written in ancient times, it does remind us… whatever happened to the fairy tales and stories almost everyone in the world had some variation of? Where are the myths and lores of today?
Roger Travis, an associate professor of classics at the University of Connecticut, told USA Today that he certainly doesn’t have any problem putting Halo on the shelf next to classics such as Beowulf.
Perhaps classics indeed transcend according to where we presently share the most meaning. Where it once was spoken (fairy tales), then written in books (William Shakespeare), drawn in comics (Superman), made into radio broadcasts (War of the Worlds), filmed as movies (Star Wars), we now have shared meaning in the realm of video games (Halo).
Interestingly, while each step of the media transcendence affords the user / audience a richer and more complex experience (greater sensory), it also starts to decrease in accessibility and longevity.
In terms of accessibility, old fairy tales simply required the natural ability to listen and speak (with basic language cognition), video-games as purveyors of our modern lore require greater skill as well as prosthetics, such as the game console, networking know-how, and a higher reflex to perform well in the game. In essence, a greater digital divide, entitling only the elites the ability to experience a new found classic, while the rest reverting to hearsay.
In terms of longevity, Moore’s Law already dictates the exponential increase of processor speeds, rendering computing technology obsolete at a faster rate. While we can always retell classic tales of the Little Red Riding Hood to our children, how are we to explain the complex myth of Halo when Xbox 360s (or any game console) become irrelevant in the near future.
On the survival of ideas, I’m brought back to the idea of memes, most popularly experienced as nuggets of Internet phenomena (see popular memes). According to Susan Blackmore, memetics is an intellectually rich but controversial field which seeks to explain how our minds and cultures are designed by natural selection acting on replicating information, just as organisms evolve by natural selection acting on genes. A key question is why certain memes (such as stories, songs, technologies, games, theories, lectures) survive at the expense of others. Researchers like Susan explore factors in the propagation of “selfish memes” that may be passed virally from human to human based on genuine utility or through trickery. Thankfully her Oct 2005 lecture is available as a podcast, so do take a listen.
Given the rate of thinning in our shared meanings (existent in classics), I have this fear that we as an intellectual race are running on fumes (i.e. no energy left), where our dependence on our past has us mashing and remixing our culture into degenerating variations, with oblivion just over the horizon. Is there a specific depth to our intellectual well, and if so, is it drying up?