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StarCraft in the early morning cold

By Patrick 'chobopeon' Howell O'Neill
Apr 29, 2011 20:08


ImageStarCraft as a religious experience

The Terran sets up his siege line just so.

A couple dozen Marines have their heads on a swivel, watching the clouds, watching the ground, watching for any movement whatsoever. God forbid the wind should blow, the Marines would shoot it right out of the sky.

The command comes to move forward. Tanks unsiege and lead the march with Marines running at their side.

It all goes to hell in one instant. The hill up ahead is suddenly crawling with Zerglings, Roaches, Banelings and all sorts of life that will never have a name. The sky is filled with floating beasts, screaming and pulsing as they fly forward as one. The escape is cut off with Zerglings beyond count. It’s cold out and the swarm is close enough to taste, to feel man’s hot breath.

The Overlords are flying fortresses carrying an atomic payload. They drop Baneling bombs, indiscriminate mass killers. In a few seconds, twisted metal is covered in red blood and green acid, the ground is disfigured and black. The field is empty. The victors have moved on and the defeated are a fleeting memory.

ImageThis was Choi Jong Hwan’s work. The Zerg known as CoCa’s wrath was let loose upon Noblesse in a GSL match early this morning, while the sun was still a quarter of the way below the horizon outside my window and the breeze was too cold by half. But no matter how chilly it got, I couldn’t get up to close the window. The goose bumps seemed just right.

For spectators, StarCraft is a game with at least two sides.

The first side is obvious. Almost anyone can come upon a game and appreciate the beautifully presented conflict playing out in front of them. The visuals and the sounds are a feast for the senses.

The hope is that that feast will intrigue you and lead you to the other side.

The second side is a mystery. It has layers, twists and turns. It is a thousand piece puzzle with a hole in the box. It is the years of experience, the months of build up, the days upon days of practice, the careful hours of planning, the minutes of play and the seconds of action. It’s a unique explosion for every encounter, a singular feeling for each move. Every finger stroke has a reason, one fought for over long practice sessions. Every click has a cause.

The Banelings carpet bombing the the Terran army was the beautiful end result of a long series of moves and thoughts that stretches back much further than the beginning of that game.

Look at the attack in one light, and see an elaborate, eloquent equation, fought for and won with great struggle. The Overlord flight path here, Banelings dropping there, Zerglings maneuvering through the chaos with a thousand goals serving one. The angles, the symbols and the solution is laid out in front of us. There is no question as to the mathematical beauty of it, “a beauty cold and austere,” wrote Bertrand Russel, “without appeal to any part of our weaker nature, without the gorgeous trappings of painting or music, yet sublimely pure, and capable of a stern perfection such as only the greatest art can show.”

Look again. In a new light, black becomes white and cold becomes warmth. The entire scene changes.

The game’s beautiful artwork provides us with the first shot. The vivid explosions, the dying screams, the supremely ominous and omniscient look of a Zerg swarm marching as one on their enemy. The second shot is of the player, performing an entire symphony on his single piano, intensely focused at the expense of the rest of the world in one moment, breathing deeply in the next, hands over his eyes in the next, a deep breath of exultation, a look into the camera and a nod. The final shot is reflective, the viewer wondering hard about himself.

It’s a painting, it’s a movie, it’s music. It’s beautiful.

In sports and e-sports alike, talk of beauty and grace tends to be avoided. The most notable exception to that rule is David Foster Wallace.

“Men may profess their ‘love’ of sports,” wrote Wallace, “but that love must always be cast and enacted in the symbology of war: elimination vs. advance, hierarchy of rank and standing, obsessive statistics, technical analysis, tribal and/or nationalist fervor, uniforms, mass noise, banners, chest-thumping, face-painting, etc. For reasons that are not well understood, war’s codes are safer for most of us than love’s.”

Image
Don't let me get away without giving Noblesse credit where it's due.

Game 2 saw beautiful drop play. One Medivac would unload Marines on the right side of the map and draw CoCa's attention before another was already unloading clear across the map. In boxing terms, it is the stern left jab that sets up the devastating right hook. In tennis, it is the short gambit that sets up the long slam. Musically, it is the slow before the storm.

When the Banelings exploded, my jaw became heavy and dropped. I couldn't help but stare. It may have be the war of the moment or it may have been the beauty and genius that captured me. I only know that I was captured.

The greatest attribute of beauty is that it can remind the witness of his or her own potential. Very few of us can pull off what these guys have done, of course, but it doesn't matter. Inspiration is contagious and multiform and underappreciated always.

Every once in a while, I remember why I love this game.

Credit to DFW - I wish I could pull off footnotes like you.


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