JOHN OSTRANDER: Boomshine Zen
I prefer not to tell my editors – including ComicMix’s own Mike Gold – how I spend my workday. They’re generally happier thinking my nose is always to the grindstone but, as the ever delightful Elayne Riggs has pointed out in her column this week, you can’t be writing 24/7 and that, sometimes, playing a video game helps clear and even focus the mind.
My Mary recently turned me on to a web-based game called Boomshine and I play it usually once a day. It’s a simple game: on the screen bounce a number of colored dots, like the ball in the old Pong game. They randomly float around, bounce off the borders, come back. There are twelve levels in the game and the number of dots bouncing around vary from five in the first level to sixty in the last one.
At each level, you can click only once and this creates an explosion – a boom, a circle of light. Boomshine. Any dot hitting that circle also becomes a circle of light and so on, often in a chain reaction fashion. You have a goal pre-set for you at each level of how many dots you must change, from one at level one to fifty-five at level twelve, before you can go on to the next level or complete the game. The goal is the minimum amount of dots that must change; you actually want as many changed as you can get to increase your final score. Your final score determines where – and if – you place on the list of daily/weekly/monthly high scores.
Music accompanies all this. There’s a vaguely New Age piano playing under the game or you can click the speaker icon at the start of the game and a single random piano note plays every time a dot changes, which is what I prefer.
The motion and speed of the colored dots are random and the “explosions” where they change to circles of light appear to affect this. It’s not really predictable and, outside of when and where you place your initial explosion, you have no control on what happens next. It just happens.
I’ve found myself doing a form of meditation while playing Boomshine. I don’t do well with meditations that ask me to sit quietly and let my mind go blank and just open myself to the Universe. My mind has to be tricked. It has to think I’m doing something. There’s a whole series of meditations that are like that; I know them as “moving meditations.” My church has a labyrinth pattern where you walk a pattern in to the center and then out; the repetitive act of walking as I follow the pattern frees my mind. Same thing happens when I follow my walk around the block – at some point, my monkey brain shuts off and allows other thoughts to come. I’ve sorted out plots this way sometimes. Almost any repetitive act will do that.
As I’ve played Boomshine recently, some observations – perhaps insights – occurred to me.
You can try to plan when and where is the best spot to make the first “boom,” but the little dots don’t always do what you expect them to do. They slow down; the boom seems to send them away; they skirt the edge of the circle of light without actually touching it, without transforming, and escape. Control is an illusion. That thought touched another in my mind and – boom – another little explosion. That’s Iraq. Those who brought us into the situation thought they had it under control; they had a clear vision of how things were going to be. They still think they can make it what they will. However, there are all kinds of random elements at work and there is no control over those elements.
We all do that. We think that, “If I do this, then that will happen, and then the other will result.” Sometimes they do and you get to the next level; sometimes they don’t and you miss. Or we think the converse, “This happened and I must have caused it because I did X, Y, and Z.” There is an odd comfort in self-blame. It suggests a reason and that’s easier to live with than the possibility that it’s all just random. Colored dots on a screen that connect or they do not. That explode, that transform and then fade out. It suggests that, since there is a cause, there is some kind of control.
Stories do that. Plot selects events that are linked to form scenes, acts, whole stories. This word connects with that word to form sentences, paragraphs, pages, an essay. I write, you read, an explosion goes off – a connection – or it does not.
I watch the screen and I see peoples’ lives. One connection – one boomshine – triggers another in someone else who then triggers it in a third and so on. Doesn’t history work that way? An event happens that triggers other events down through time. It could be a war or a work of art. Events don’t happen in a vacuum. The historian Barbara Fields, at the very end of Ken Burns’s documentary The Civil War commented that, in many ways the American Civil War was still being fought – and could still be lost. At the time, I thought that was hyperbole; as I’ve grown older I see it as a reality.
I then look down the road towards the future, still keeping in mind how events continue to play out, that they aren’t isolated to he time in which they happen, and I wonder about the effects of our misadventure in Iraq, of the staggering national debt we’ve taken on, of the effects of climate change, of scarcity in oil reserves as the century progresses, of the secret deaths of bees. What will be the boomshine effect of these events?
I know, of course, that Boomshine is a computer game which means its written in computer code which is math and zeros and ones and, I guess, algorithms or whatever alchemy that goes into computers. What I know is that I turn on my computer and it works or not and, if not, I may have to resort to blood sacrifices to appease whatever demons lurk within. What this all means is that the little colored dots on the screen and the explosions aren’t really random; they’re generated according to certain clear rules. Sometimes, a game is just a game.
What the hell, though – I’ll take my enlightenment where I can get.
As the commercial goes, your mileage may vary.
Writer / actor / playwright John Ostrander is man behind the typewriter at such vaunted comics as GrimJack, Suicide Squad, Star Wars: Legacy, Munden’s Bar and Batman. His own personal blog is at http://www.comicscommunity.com/boards/ostrander/