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State of the Union: Taking things down a bit ...or a thousand
by Greg Mengel

Stumbling around the internet the other day, I ran into this gem. Besides making me want to rewatch all three of Doctor Horrible's original blog posts (one of two musicals that made me realize I actually like musicals), it got me thinking of what other stories would benefit from an 8-bit resurrection. Anything with a sweeping, recognizable score... Indiana Jones. Anything with a famous nude scene set to Celine Dion... Titanic. Anything with the potential for strange, pupil-enlarging sprite-animated acid flashbacks, in which characters duck under invisible flying objects, because they're in "bat country" while the screen jumps from color to color like a strobe light-kaleidoscope with a broken off button... Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. I could go on all day. In fact, I think I will. Here are a few pieces of media that I would like to see redone with only 8 visual bits.

5. Schindler's List
Like the movie, an 8-bit rendition of this moving account of one man's attempt to save the lives of thousands of Polish Jews fby employing them in his factories during the holocaust would be a beautiful work of art. Many of the features in cinematography that made the film so striking, like the black and white color tones, broken only by the girl in the red dress, could be translated into an 8-bit feature easily. If this 8-bit version of the film were a game, and not a short movie like Doctor Octoroc's Doctor Horrible rendition, then play would be marked by be a few eerie moments - choosing which Polish Jews to hire, knowing that the ones not chosen will likely be killed for uselessness by the SS. Watching the massacre of Operation Reinhard from a hill outside Krakow. Dealing personally with the Nazi war criminal, Amon Göth. I imagine that something about doing these deeds and making these choices, even in a setting of ancient NES graphics, would have a similar effect to reaching inside one's body and wrenching out one's soul in the same way a person attempts to squeeze all the moisture droplets out of a soaked towel.

Why would it be better in 8-bit?
Abstraction. This guy named Scott McCloud talks about it all the time. The basic idea is that oftentimes, a person will relate more with a cartoony, unrealistic avatar of a person than with a clear, crisp, uber-realistic photograph of them. So while Steven Spielburg's Schindler's List the film does a fantastic job of connecting its audience to its characters, somebody else's unrealistic 8-bit portrayal of the same story could feasibly be even more emotive, especially if it were a game. It's something to think about.

4. Any Pornography
Wow, did you see how his block penetrated her... square? That is hot.

Why would it be better in 8-bit?
Besides it just being funnier, I'm pretty sure the only way porn would be better for you in 8-bit would be if you're actively aiming to not enjoy it. Like if you were a preacher, or any guilt-ridden member of the Catholic church - then 8-bit would be the style of porn for you. That being said, if any parents of fifteen year old boys found adult content in their son's room and replaced it with an 8-bit version, say on April Fool's Day, then they would be the most hilarious parents in the history of man.

3. World of Warcraft
Just close your eyes and imagine it... The entire Warcraft universe, all its players and zones, its gameplay, cutscenes, and weapon graphics... one day magically transferred into a world of 8-bit. I imagine it would look something like Final Fantasy Classic.

Why would it be better in 8-bit?
Besides it just being a funny image, social science. Creating a massive multiplayer RPG using nothing but antiquated graphics would tell us a lot about why people play games like World of Warcraft to begin with. By studying how many usual WoW players made the switch to this 8-bit version, we could examine whether people are willing to sacrifice modern technology for the sake of community, addiction, or a love of solid design in their games, or having the newest game technology is the key. It could also feasibly tell us why people play WoW in the first place, be it for the sense of community they find in the game, or the attractive sense of reality that Azeroth offers in an otherwise unattractive and competitive world. Perhaps it would even stop the war in Afghanistan, solve the oil crisis, and end the AIDS epidemic worldwide ...something like that.

2. Any collection of haiku
Any poetry would work for this, but haiku seems particularly appropriate (as long as the method was 8-bit films). Imagine a series of haiku, read aloud on a screen, with serious 8-bit animation accompaniment. Like this stanza given to the world in 1984 by Alexis Rotella:

Just friends:
he watches my gauze dress
blowing on the line.

Or this haiku by Robert Mainone, recently published in the latest issue of modern Haiku, Winter 2010:

pretty girl milking
at the fair goat also
looks embarrassed.

The combination would be magical.

Why would it be better in 8-bit?
Like most everything released in 8-bit post-1992, an 8-bit interpretive haiku would be all at once silly, comedic, interesting, and special in its own unique way. I have a lurking suspicion that, if they were made, I would digest hundreds of these NES throwback artistic haiku videos in a single sitting. I already do as much with 5-Second Films, and they don't feature a literary style that I've always loved, unless that style is referencing the-day-before-yesterday-when-everything-was-okay-and-there-weren't-any-zombies.

1. The Passion of the Christ
Something tells me that somewhere, deep in the Bible belt of the American South, this has already been accomplished for an elementary school project.

Why would it be better in 8-bit?
I once believed that the Jesus story had been told every conceivable way, in every available medium, from song to sock puppets. I mean, the son of God even has his own rock opera. You can't go much further than that. Unless there's already been an 8-bit version of the death (often referred to as the Passion) of Jesus, I was wrong. Though I came close, I was baffled after an hour of research to find not one video game directly revolving around Jesus's death, or even featuring it as a scene in a larger narrative. This seems to me like a grand injustice, and my religious beliefs are limited to a lingering hope in the existence of the Force.

By making an 8-bit game about the Passion rather than a crisp photogenic version of the story, Christian developers would be dodging a volley of politically loaded bullets. For example... what color is Jesus? In 8-bit, he could be brown, or just tan. Who can tell? Is that woman supposed to be one of Jesus's twelve apostles? Well, he could be. Or maybe he's just a man with long hair and shadows on his shirt that only look like breasts. And so on and so on. It seems like a win-win situation: the Christian developers get to release their game about the death of Jesus, and the unclear artistic nature of 8 graphic bits lets them avoid any scandals or theological debates that come with such a game's release. It's a solid plan, Christian game developers. Get on it.

Well, that's it for this edition of State of the Union. See you in a few weeks for another dose. Until then, stay away from that 8-bit pornography, or your legs will explode, your dog will get cancer, and you'll go thoroughly blind.


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- Greg Mengel

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