Kafka In The Friend Zone

In The Friend Zone is a Twine game by me that you can play (for free!) on itch.io.

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My work on Friend Zone began with the game’s ending: a sort of prolonged joke riffing on a parable called “Before The Law” by a writer named Franz Kafka. Here are the parable’s opening lines:

Before The Law stands a doorkeeper. A man from the country comes to this doorkeeper, and requests admittance to The Law. But the doorkeeper says that he can’t grant him admittance now. The man thinks it over and then asks if he’ll be allowed to enter later. “It’s possible,” says the doorkeeper, “but not now.”

The man might overpower the doorkeeper if he wanted to, but behind this doorkeeper is another; behind that one is yet another, and so on. Each, if you believe what the doorkeeper says, is more powerful than the last. The man tries for years to talk his way in. He begs, he pleads; he bribes the doorkeeper with everything he owns. Nothing works.

Eventually the man is old and dying, and still he has not seen The Law. Then, as his death approaches, blinding light shoots from the doorway. He experiences an epiphany. All his thoughts and memories coalesce into a single shining question, which he puts forth to the doorkeeper: “Everyone strives to reach The Law,” says the man. “How does it happen, then, that in all these years no one but me has requested admittance?”

The doorkeeper tells him that no one else could have passed through this door. This door was made only for him.

I think the parable is about mistaking the subjective for the universal. The man imagined The Law within his own mind, so vividly that he mistook it for something outside himself: something tangible, something real. He further mistook it for something after which everyone strove, when in truth only he could strive after that which only he had imagined. The man desired something to seek, and not to feel alone in seeking it; and so, like a dog chasing its own tail, this man came to chase The Law.

My joke—what would become the conclusion of my Twine game—plays off the very same mistakes, though replacing “The Law” with “The Sex”. Before The Sex sits a casual acquaintance. A man from Reddit comes to this acquaintance and asks to gain admission to The Sex. He believes that as a man he must pursue some universal ideal of manhood: that this is his purpose and birthright, sought by him and all men like him. In truth he is more like a dog; though he hopes chasing tail will bring meaning to his life, the only tail he really chases is his own.

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Form and its Discontents

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A year and a half ago I was commissioned to write a piece for a cool new alternative games publication called Arcade Review. I was halfway down a rhetorical spiral that kicked off with my Problem Attic piece; a followup, called Cult of the Peacock, became the first thing I’d ever written to garner more than ten thousand readers. The AR piece was supposed to conclude my little games crit trilogy, solving once and for all the problem of ‘form’, ‘content’ and videogames! (lol.)

I made it five thousand words in before realizing I would never hit my deadline. I then decided to split the thing in two, sending the first part to AR and resolving to work the rest out later. I called this piece “Form and its Discontents”. It goes something like this:

At great cost it is possible to draw players along a trail of breadcrumbs through the labyrinthine structure of a videogame. Yet what beauty will they find in there with their eyes fixed so firmly upon the ground before them? What will they think of you when they step past the final crumb and look up, at last, to discover nothing but an unskippable twenty minute credits screen?

If you read me very often, you might know what became of part two. Yet part one has now become available—free as in gratis—on AR’s website! It’s about how a film form is ‘exposed’ while game form is ‘subterranean’: how popular attitudes around spoilers and consumption do not apply consistently to both media, forcing game critics to approach each one differently. You can find the piece here, alongside all manner of truly excellent words about videogames:

Arcade Review Issue #2