Ursula K. Le Guin died this week. Perhaps you have heard of her or maybe some of her writings have crossed your path. If you love reading about sci-fi, politics, or gender and class issues, then chances are good that Le Guin has something for you. She was 88 years old when she passed away and kept writing practically to the very end, even keeping up with her blog on her website.
My first introduction to Le Guin’s writings was by a very close friend who shared “A Wizard of Earthsea” with me. Though I had my reservations about reading it because of the ridiculous cover art of this particular edition, I read through it within about a month. The world that she constructed in that small book was deeper and more vivid than any other fantasy world I had read before. My interest and enjoyment from the book took me back to my friend who then gave me a copy of “The Dispossessed.”
Ever since reading through that book, I have made certain to always have at least two copies on hand so that I can give one to the next person I meet who hasn’t yet read it. Her thoughts and ideas on how vastly different cultures and societies can function is unparalleled. This sort of investigation and exploration into the human condition using fantasy and sci-fi as a vehicle to understand new concepts changed me. Shortly after widening my mental horizons with Le Guin’s writings, I began to look at almost everything differently, especially video games.
Before, I was what you might call a “gatekeeper” in the gaming world. I had very limited ideas as to what made one a “gamer.” No, you could not have just played “Tetris” or “Super Mario Bros.” when you were young. No, you couldn’t be considered a gamer because you had a Wii in your house and enjoyed the sports games. You most certainly were not a gamer if you just really enjoyed playing “Rock Band” with your friends. I believed there was a “right” way to enjoy video games. I thought you had to have suffered through what I had, memorized the “Megaman” level codes, practiced the fighting combos in “Street Fighter,” understood what it meant to clock dozens upon dozens of hours into a “Final Fantasy” game before starting it all over again. Thinking back on this makes me a little embarrassed.
After putting down that first book by Le Guin and booting up a similarly themed fantasy game, I found myself analyzing the story, the world, and the characters in a way I hadn’t before. I began playing games as though I was reading a book or watching a movie. This simple shift in perspective of learning to read something anew rather than playing to “win” made the library of games I had on my computer suddenly infinitely more rich. How could I have ever felt that the video game world was meant for a select few?
Perhaps Le Guin did not necessarily teach me to do any of this directly; she didn’t write a how-to on ways to see things. But I was opened to a new way of learning through her books. In this day and age especially, it seems that we can know what to expect from any given game. We know how the gameplay is going to direct us through a level, or perhaps what different characters’ roles will be in a story, years of playing games has sort of trained us to know what to look for. However, hidden between the big releases and “AAA” titles, there’s a vibrantly lush world of games pushing that envelope and exploring what more the medium is capable of. I only began to seek it out when I found that there was so much more worth investigating within video games.
From reading her interviews and essays, it doesn’t seem like Le Guin cared for or had much to say about video games. In fact, the few things I have found seem to highlight her distaste for them, or maybe just disinterest in them. That’s fine because the crux of what makes her so important to me is that she never stopped thinking and learning. A short column in dedication to her is the absolute least I could do to explain just how important her creative mind and works are to me, how her work introduced an immensely rewarding way of seeing the world. I suppose it is just enough for you to know that she will be sorely missed and I will always have a copy of “The Dispossessed” for you to read sometime.
Brett Massé is currently playing “The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim” and pretending to be Sparrowhawk.