Playing Pretend - Dynamic Playacting and its Relationship to Our Psyche

Life imitates art far more than art imitates life, and Mr. Wilde could not be more correct. If anyone doubts this claim, they need only to look at their childhood to see the truth of that statement. When children play, who do they become? Do they become plumbers, bankers, regular people? No, they become John McClane, they become Luke Skywalker. Children live out fantasy in a way that transforms reality. For me, I was never living a fantasy, what I considered to be reality was my fantasy, there was no defining line and everything was tied together. Balancing a checkbook was as foreign to me as Pokemon, thus there was no real or unreal, only what I saw. The world in which I lived in (and still currently do) was defined by what I saw on television and video games, or what my friends told me or what I read in books. This  was most evident in the way we played. What most adults consider to be  “playing pretend” was never pretend for my friends and I. We played “Games in Human”, and the distinction is important as it wasn't just pretend, it was a new form of experiencing something. There are the classic forms of art, books, paintings, movies, and the newly emerging artistic potential of gaming. And then there are Games in Human. I would go to my friend Tyler's house almost every day, and the options for us seemed limitless. He had all the latest systems, a Nintendo 64 and a Playstation, and every VHS tape you could imagine. It all went to waste though, as neither watching Pokemon nor playing Pokemon could ever compare to being Pokemon.

            So I go to his house, we watch an episode of Pokemon, and then decide to do that episode in real life in our own way.  I get on all fours and I start crawling around, “Charmander, Char,” I say, spewing fire across the land, “Mander.” Tyler on the other hand is a Squirtle, because he's that awful kind of person to pick a water type right after you pick a fire type just so he can beat you. We battle, and oh, what a valiant battle it is. He shoots me with his (admittedly nonexistent) water gun, I dodge, he says I can't dodge and that it hit me, I say he's wrong, he says I'm stupid, I say he's stupid, we argue, we decide to resolve the argument with another Pokemon battle. This time he shoots again, I manage to dodge it again with a cool somersault, Tyler concedes its coolness and agrees, only to shoot me again. This time it hits. The flame on my tail extinguishes, I'm not meant for long in this world, I'm dying. Tyler walks over to me and looks down, reveling in his victory. He's cocky, ignorant of the impending attack. I feign death, only to come back with a flamethrower attack as he turns his back on me. He falls to the ground, burnt to a crisp. We lie there in agony and in our final moments a voice cries out, “Draw?” “Draw,” I agree. We get back up, returning to human form. Not being one for competition, I suggest that we team up next time. He points out that we're the only ones here until I point out the massive army of robots marching on our land. We go outside, scavenging for stick-swords, trying to find the perfect balance of weight and energy concentration (which is a very, very important element of a stick-sword). Blades in hand, we return to vanquish the robot-hordes, but all does not go according to plan. So caught up in my robo-slaughter, I end up lost in the battlefield (all the way across the other end of the basement) and Tyler is left by himself to guard the base. He shouts across the room, informing me that the Robots killed Raul. I don't know who Raul is, but I won't stand robots killing my fellow man (the backstory of the horde is actually quite deep, a precursor to my love of storytelling). Fighting back both tears and robots I cut a swath of destruction through the horde and make it back to base. Back to back, we spin around the room slicing off heads and stabbing metal hearts. Suddenly stillness. The robots shut down, the battlefield is calm. Tyler and I pause for a moment in our collective fantasy. Then the robots begin to march backwards, combining together to form one big mega-robot. It charges its ion cannon and in perfect unison, we charge together, charging up our own attack on the monster's core. He falls to the ground, shaking the earth as he stumbles. The battle is won. We high five.

            The games we played were not mere self-aware pretending. I knew what that was, I had an imaginary friend named pretend. I made him up so I could be like the other kids and the tv shows that talked about imaginary friends. With Pretend, I was playing. I knew he didn't exist and I just toyed with the idea of an imaginary friend. The Games in Human that we played were different. We knew they weren't real either, but it didn't deter us the same way I was with Pretend. We acknowledged that the fantasies were our own creation, but we still lived them. As children we were powerless in our lives and so we became gods. Willfully creating and destroying at a whim. When our friends died, we cried. When we died, we were scared. When we fought, we felt the glory of battle. To us it didn't matter that we created it, it was real to us because we felt it and we lived it. Pokemon was created by someone else and it influenced us in just the same way. Our parents felt alien to us, alone in a world we could not understand. We knew that the shows we watched and the games we played were fake, but the culture it produced was real. Attend any science fiction or anime convention and you'll notice the same sentiment. The things we see are fake, but the things we feel, the bonds between characters and our connection with the shows, are real. To the human mind it is all the same, what we know to be real is really only what we perceive, the things we feel and see and hear. At its most basic level, a movie is real. If something is felt and believed hard enough, it becomes real. Art imitates life and in turn life imitates art, a dog chasing its own tail, not knowing where he begins or where he ends.  We were children raised by culture, by an idea. Weened on television and video games, acting out the fictional in our real world, bridging the gap between the real and unreal.